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August 2020 – single & track reviews – Jakko M. Jakszyk’s ‘The Trouble with Angels’; Minute Taker’s ‘The Darkest Summer’; Ivan Moult’s ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

14 Aug

Jakko M. Jakszyk: 'The Trouble with Angels'

Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’

He’s a great asset to the current King Crimson, but it does often seem as if some of Jakko Jakszyk‘s talents are neglected there. With the band mostly concentrating on reinventing and reworking a fifty-year back catalogue, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jakko’s original songs. A shame, since there are few better at shaping and refining plangent ballads which keep both their grand pictorial scale and their sense of shared confidences.

Heralding the release of a new Jakko solo album, ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (released via a Sam Chegini pencil-shades video) demonstrates all of this yet again. Jakko claims that it’s about “the innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo… combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical.” Maybe so, but only half the story is in there. The song’s aching sadness (expressed through caressing arpeggios, a curving arm of bass, a far-off raindusting of piano and cymbal, and above all by the vast pining space which stretches the song out) contains a mingled looping cord of pain and regret, kindness and guilt.


 
It’s about the desire to do better (“a bruised romantic’s futile plan”) while owning the fact that one might still contain harm, deception and shortfall; still not sure whether the need for a coherent story might override proper self-awareness. (“Fate, vows and happy endings / turn to dust and disappear. / Yet the search for clues is never-ending, / to justify our presence here… You search for signs and keep pretending / that all these moments brought you here.”) All at once, it’s a love song to a passing moment, a hint of wrongdoing done, a confession of fallability continued; and, in that, a archetypal Jakko song. The trouble with angels who have longed to be kissed, / and every mortal distraction that they try to resist, / and the trouble with me and all the signals I missed – / the thing about angels is, they don’t really exist.”

MInute Taker: 'The Darkest Summer'

MInute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’

Continuing the stream of singles from his audiovisual fictional-historical ‘Wolf Hour’ project (which explores, in dream sequences, the emotional lives and social position of gay men across time), Minute Taker releases ‘The Darkest Summer’. This time, the key year is 1989 – the year of the Vatican AIDS conference, and one in which ignorance and lack of understanding regarding the disease was finally on the turn. That said, AIDS itself is never once referenced in the song: a haunting ultramarine pulse of Germanic synth pop which rhapsodies memories, swimming in ghostly warmth – “all of the years that went away / carried away with the tide… / When I close my eyes, I find you in the half-light / standing on the sand, your hand in mine.”


 
The key is the video element: a dusk-blue recounting of a beachside romance carried out amongst the sand dunes and amusement arcades, which suddenly slips into a nightmare of loss and haunting down at the waterline. Saturated colours give way to video glitches as if beset by repeated blows: a lover’s features become a screen for static and violent effacement; a man writhes in oppressive darkness as if drowning and trying vainly to beat his way free.

There are shades, though not explicit ones, of The Communards’ For a Friend: the song, especially in its video incarnation, is trip-wired by shockwaves of loss. You can draw your own conclusions about what brought it on (the swathing of a huge impersonal pandemic, or the small cruelties of people’s individual failings) since the song itself is not giving anything more away. Instead, it focuses in on the furious, futile attempts to cling to the brilliance of what was lost; to fix it in time and to fix oneself to it. “I’d stay this way forever / as long as you were by my side. / (Oh) we’ve got the summer, baby / (oh) if you wanna waste some time… / don’t talk about the future, we can leave it all behind.”

Ivan Moult: 'What More Could I Say?/Toxic'

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

Previously known for his own kind of singer-songwriter confessionals (a succession of neo-folk baroque songs in the Nick Drake/David Gray vein), Ivan Moult seems to have been infected with a different enthusiasm during coronavirus lockdown. Already the owner of a dreamy, slightly weightless voice, he’s now bouncing and slurring it around the back of the mix for a decidedly Americanised remodelling.

Behind the reverbing “doo-doo”s of his backing singers and the electric country-telegraph-blues guitar he’s now favouring, ‘What More Could I Say?’ initially seems to meander delightfully within its classic framework, like Glen Campbell coming unstuck at Sun Studios. Once you get past the murmuring slurs, the high flutters and momentary keenings, though, you’re left with a true-to-form evocation of the wobblings of love. Its yearnings and its grumps, its desires and trepidations of settling on what might be unreliable ground. “Is it all in my mind / or are you sending me signs,/ ‘cos I don’t want to be that guy… / The way you turn your shoulders, you’re gonna loose smoulderings in my senses… / Are you staying over? / What I wanna know is / whether this is more than a lie…”

 
Not content with that, Ian dials up the reverb even more for a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic that’s part slowcore country and part space rock, and therefore pretty much a hundred per cent ‘Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. Discarding the brassy energy in favour of the high, lonesome sound is a kind of masterstroke, transforming it from a tingling celebration of forbidden fruit and remaking it into a dread-stricken mourning over addiction’s pull. Perhaps it always was, but giving it a touch of the Hank Williamses (or perhaps the Michael J. Sheehys) doesn’t hurt. Well, in a manner of speaking, it doesn’t.

 
Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’
Inside Out Music (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon; stream via Apple Music or YouTube
Jakko M. Jakszyk online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Minute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’
Octagonal Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th August 2020
Get it from: Minute Taker shop
Minute Taker online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’
Bubblewrap Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Apple Music, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music
Ivan Moult online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

February 2020 – single & track reviews – Gallery 47’s ‘I Wish I Was’; Wugo’s ‘Océan’; The Powdered Earth’s ‘Blossom’

28 Feb

Gallery 47: 'I Wish I Was'

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’

From the land of drifting day-jobs and lo-fi song nights, Nottingham’s Jack Peachey, a.k.a. Gallery 47, moves into his second decade of music. As ever, he sounds like a slacker Jon Anderson; one who never left the shared flats and scruffy bedrooms, nor left the airy space of ’60s pop: there’s the high birdy voice, the elevated melodies, the melancholia that only faintly tinges the carefree tunes (cloud shadow on a fine afternoon). His drowsy electric folk-pop is fragile without being brittle or vulnerable: he’s a blade of grass in the breeze, capable of bending in the unwelcome currents.

 
Look a bit deeper, though, and there’s existential horror, treated with a feather-light touch, belying the Andersonian falsetto with a touch of Elliott Smith. Even more, perhaps, a shade of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, in which everything under the sun also has an ominous shadow. Launching from a tabla zing but immediately settling for drums which flap and billow like a pair of antique flares, ‘I Wish I Was’ shows Jack gently adrift in a world of options, finding in each of them a nearing ghost of entrapment. “Did you know you can search for conditions online? / Read a graph of relative norms and real lives? / How close or far you are from the day you’re gonna die?” The gentle disappointments mass, almost imperceptibly, into a pall, neither family nor travel a solution, with escape into a spliff the only temporary remedy. “See, the jail we’re going to has no get-out card at all…” Throughout, though, the shrug is a gentle-spirited one. Jack doesn’t rail or sulk about things, just gently regrets them and lets them slip over him.

Wugo: ‘Océan’

Wugo: ‘Océan’

‘I Wish I Was’ is about helplessness settling around you like the flapping wings of a friendly pterodactyl. ‘Océan’, the latest song from French bedroom-popster Wugo, is apparently about “a sea change in people, a hope of a collective conscience to set things right.” It’s in his native French, so I can’t quote him directly. Translated, though, it’s a sighed state-of-the-world lament for a literal and figurative sea that’s been polluted by human short-sightedness and greed.

Wugo’s not slow to lay the blame, but he’s not quick to stagnate in despair either, travelling backwards in memory to honour how things once were, hoping that things will be in a better state in future decades, gently dropping a simple ultimatum. To catch the feeling for how it is, bask in the music: powder-blue puffs of synth and wriggly electronic lines like a kite-tail in the sky. Chillout minus the complacency.


 

The Powdered Earth: 'Blossom'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’

With their third single (after the curtain-raising instrumental of ‘The Atlantic‘ and the illustrative folk testimony of ‘Hold Your Breath‘), The Powdered Earth feel as if they’ve found their centre with ‘Blossom’. Neither of them men in the first flush of youth, they’re well aware that not all lives end in crashes or operatics: that some longer lives will fade delicately instead, like old watercolours.

While instrumental half George Moorey provides misty piano, gently lagging guitar and a touch of synth cello, vocalist Shane Young comes to the fore with a gently narrated observation of an ageing widower’s rituals as he gathers tree and hedge flowers for his empty house; male and meticulous, understated but kindly. If you’re looking for it, there are parallels with Wugo’s chillout in the overlaying of memory with the present (“he chuckles into space / at her disapproving face / as he takes the crystal glassware from its ornamental case. / Along the window sills, / beside dispenser packs of pills, / are the fragrance bottles salvaged from the sale. / She would joke his perfume was brown ale…” ), plus the overlapping of times and promises altered. What’s different is the matter-of-factness about the protracted aftermath of someone’s death, its quietus and continuance: “he ties each sandwich bag / with a disused Christmas tag / and documents the scent with studious care. / Then he shuffles round the house / that he once shared with his spouse / and he fills up every piece of crystalware.”).


 
The spoken poetry is deliberately workmanlike, relying on its sober intimations rather than on over-flowering, and it’s all the more effective for that. Last time around, I mentioned Arab Strap as an unlikely comparison; if Moffat and Middleton stood as witnesses and recounters to dirty realism and damn well made you care about it, Moorey and Young could be said to be doing the same thing for a more genteel and understated strand of realism. You could picture the lyric being spelled out on a bereavement card, or a silver-surfer web meme, but that doesn’t take anything away from its understated compassion. “So precious quick the petals start to brown – / once more into the fields in dressing gown…” Logging the quiet and unspectacular dignity of carrying on. Someone needs to do it.

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’
Bad Production Records/AWAL (Kobalt)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play or Spotify
Gallery 47 online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Wugo: ‘Océan’
Echo Orange (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
24th February 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Deezer, YouTube, Spotify
Wugo online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

October/November 2019 – upcoming London gigs – (mostly) female pop and poptronica and dance – Caroline Polachek (30th November); Kin Leonn and Geiste (1st November); Imogen Heap and Frou Frou (15th November); Kedr Livanskiy and Detalji (21st November), and Yeule at nearly all of these…

23 Oct

Some interesting technological pop shows (at various scales and predominantly female-driven) are arriving in London shortly.

First of all, Caroline Polachek is playing a small show at Hoxton Hall on 30th October. Though she spent her first musical decade as the leader of clever, multi-media-aware New York pop band Chairlift (best known for their Bruises single) she’s overlapped this with forays into ad hoc/lo-fi/female-fun supergrouping (the Girl Crisis cover band) and pastoral/theatrical electronica (from 2013 to 2015, as Ramona Lisa) as well as being the prime writer and arranger for (if we’re being honest, being the creator of) Beyoncé’s ‘No Angel’. Along the way, she’s established herself as a signally complete and disciplined performer, profoundly hands-on-involved with her own image and how it relates to her music, from designing her own choreography and makeup through to choosing all aspects of wardrobe and video presence.

It seems that in her mid-thirties – and after six years of releasing music on her own in various shapes and forms – Caroline’s starting to settle into the idea of a solo career. Her latest album – this year’s ‘Pang’ – is the first to emerge under her own name: a well-packed set of contemporary R&B/alt.pop with the same kind of expansive ear and mind for exploratory forms as peak works by Kate Bush, Jane Siberry or Björk (or, more recently, f.k.a. Twigs and Jenny Hval). Calling it some kind of solo revelation is over-simplifying; Caroline’s use of various pseudonyms for her one-woman projects always seems to have had more to do with creating useful self-eliding masks in which she can unselfconsciously explore different musical ideas. Like Björk, she’s also a frequent, restless and productive collaborator with others (most recently, with PC Music’s Danny Harle), and like Bjork similarly firm in that she’s ultimately the person in control and making the choices.

The ‘Pang’ singles so far, both musically and visually, show a talent and imagination at a comfortably full (and wide-ranging) stretch. Here are three of them in video form, showing off Caroline’s particular vision.




 
Playing support at Hoxton is Yeule – a persona project by visual artist and sometime synth builder Nat Ćmiel. A Singaporean-born nomad “obsessed with tinkering and discovery” and currently settled in London, she’s taken her talents for construction, reconstruction and textural explorations of the subconscious deep into her own music. The latter, merging a kind of transplanted Chinese pop with a slippery international EDM lucid drowse and sugary whispery vocals, sometimes makes her resemble an East Asian Julee Cruise settling, like a dreaming moth, into clubland’s sensuality and wilfully fluctuating identity space.

Certainly there’s plenty of surreal Lynchian lushness and reverie to her sound, complementing the smoke-and-mirror verbiage which she generates and which one has to stumble through while trying to get to the bottom of what makes her tick and flutter. Yuele characterises the main component of her work in terms both sensual and psychological (“(a) stifling psychological haze turned into perfume”) and adds, Sybilline, that “it’s difficult for my mind to stay in one place. I can go back to revisit the person I was in my dreams. I see them as multiple people. Sometimes they talk to me, but I’ve cut most of them off because they start screaming in my ear.” All of this inspires her ongoing fluid and successional approach to performance personae, which she continually tries to break down and move through in a series of metaphorical deaths and album tracks exploring the hinterland between death and rebirth, awareness and oblivion. The aforementioned Twigs might be a closer comparison than Cruise: there are similarities in the wispy softness of tone, the lightly assured stepping between different art forms, the moving body as creator’s canvas, the simultaneous exposure and walling off; the final definitions which slip through the fingers of any external searcher.



 
* * * * * * * *

Yeule is also playing two further London shows in November. The first is her own – a headliner down in the basement at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston on 1st November, at which she’ll have a full chance to stretch out and take control of proceedings.

Ijn support is French-born Geiste, who creates her own dramatic, multi-instrumental pop: compelling undulator songs containing slow-burner stories. Also around is Yeule’s fellow Singaporean Kin Leonn, extending the warm, blipping, ambient/electronic instrumental side of the pillowy dream-pop he’s known for back home as a third of Midst. His debut solo album, ‘Commune’, deals with “longing, nostalgia, revelation, and other curious introspections… a dive into the subconscious and a documentation of the sensibilities encountered along the way.”



 
The second Yuele appearance during November is another support slot nearly three weeks later, over in Hackney Wick, supporting Moscow EDM-er Kedr Livanskiy at a Bloc night. A onetime Russian punk turned electronica explorer (and a member of Moscow’s Johns’ Kingdom collective), Kedr embodies a particular Russian spirit at the moment: the outward reach in collision or contradiction with its own bullish sense of identity. Her wavering vocals are distracted white dance-diva slipping into semi-operatic chant phrases: since it’s all sung in Russian, it all sounds strangely ritualistic and ancient to the ignorant or linguistically challenged (so that’ll be me and most of the rest of us, then). The music itself sometimes summons up some classic old London dance tropes of jungle and drum’n’bass; sometimes lonely analogue darkwave contortions and streetlight synth pads; sometimes international techno blurb and dubby keyboard clanks rebounding off blippy little traffic bleeps and horns.




 
Also supporting Kedr is Finnish techno diva Detalji (a.k.a. Krista Myllyviita), the night’s smoothest and most direct proposition. Making her UK live debut, she creates a mixture of cellar throb and of clear and arresting pop songs around a sleek IDM chassis, preoccupied with intimacy and detachment, with their overlap with sexuality, with the ups-and-downs of clublife friendships and power games and with the struggling state between urges and self-awareness. You can get suckered in by the cruising beats and the urgent electronic slither: afterwards, you may be nagged and haunted by the words that have slid across your eardrums, carried by the pulse and the needing.

 
* * * * * * * *

While looking into the Caroline Polachek date, I couldn’t help but notice how her recent single So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings has certain similarities with Imogen Heap’s similarly sweet’n’horny Goodbye and Go, from fifteen years ago. Most people probably know – and knew – the latter from last year’s slice’n’dice acquisition and remodelling by Ariana Grande. It’s all amicable, all supportive, all respectful – Immi and Ariana are mutual fans, share assorted tips and in all respects are the model of a supportive cross-generational female friendship. On top of that there’s still plenty of Heap sales, shows and activity (more of which in a moment).


 
Yet it still sometimes feels as if Immi herself has slipped through a crack of public awareness. A fully self-contained female writer, singer, producer and instrumentalist almost a generation before it became commonplace. Known, loved and worked with by other musicians from Ariana to Joshua Radin to Jeff Beck. A polymathic grafter with plenty of industry success over two decades plus a field of work covering theatre, film and classical concert hall as well as pop songs (that’s her score you’ll have heard in the Harry Potter play)… For all that, still in too many respects a cult artist, at least in her home country. I was trying to work out why this was, and whether it was in part the twists of image. While Immi was being overshadowed by fellow BRIT School graduates like Amy Winehouse, it can’t have been because her own songs lacked spirit or immediacy: anyone who thought that couldn’t have heard the suspended tech-apella heartache of her other best-known song, Hide And Seek (or can’t have caught up, later, with the deceptively dense lines of her mother’s-lullaby Tiny Human).



 
It’s probably more that, in a country that likes its imported and its homegrown pop divas to fit specific strands of celebrity (the light entertainment celeb sprung from national reality TV, the party provider, the own-brand corporation juggernaut selling scent and other beauty-myth trapping, the icon playing out huge-scale soapy stories in public, or a combination of all four), Immi has never really fitted the measures. There’s that lack of mystique, for which she’s happily substituted an affable beanpole strut combined with a chatty, cheery, Essex duchess-next-door poise. There’s that wild sense of dress-up that’s ultimately more about the laugh and the moment than it is about eight hours in wardrobe.

Then there’s the way in which, rather than stamping her name on perfumes and couture, she’s enthusiastically and publicly involved herself in ambitious, constructive and practical tech geekery which is all about shifting control into the hands of artists: investigating blockchain, developing and marketing ungimmicky wearable MIDI instruments and, more recently, putting together the cloud-based Mycelia Creative Passport (which streamlines a user’s digital credentials and payment channels, bringing the workings and remunerations of their career directly into their own hands). Finally, there’s the fully-integrated talent: as well as the dancing and fronting, the skills which guarantee that (Prince-like) she’s responsible for every single note, noise and shaping on her own records – and that its happening at a level which could challenge any other pop producer or instrumentalist, rather than simply being a make-do necessity.

In some respects, then, Imogen Heap symbolises a kind of drive, inquisitiveness and achievement which we don’t associate with (or encourage in) women enough – in or out of pop. A bright, squirrelling intelligence. I’ll admit that such things won’t necessarily smear much righteous mascara; it’s unlikely to fuel and enable some cathartic life-changing bawl’n’bitch right at the moment when you really need one. On the other hand, she won’t sell you crap and you don’t have to trail in her glory: you never have to be the friend who’s ultimately just another fucking minor courtier.

In short, beyond the songs and sounds there’s something about Imogen Heap that makes her seem more like an inclusive brilliant friend than an out-and-out pop goddess. Perhaps in some respects, that’s all for the better. I don’t know whether her model of self-sufficiency and practical enquiry has influenced the other, younger women mentioned here. I’d like to think that in some ways it has.


 
At any rate – Immi’s ongoing year-long Mycelia world tour touches down at the Roundhouse in London for one of its three British dates during November (the others are in Gateshead and Manchester). Thematically and practically, it links in with the ongoing Creative Passport project, using workshops and talks alongside the concerts to build a canny community of new tech-savvy users.

In addition, this particular tour sees Immi re-united with her old friend and fellow instrumental/production boffin Guy Sigworth, for the first time since their short-lived/one-off album and tour in the early 2000s as Frou Frou (in the meantime, Guy’s busied himself working with a bevy of other singers including Alanis Morrisette, Bebel Gilberto, assorted Sugababes and Chinese electropop chanteuse SingerSen). A new version of Frou Frou takes over part of each of Immi’s shows to resurrect old Guy-and-Immi collaborations. Here’s a live rendition of their old album-launcher Let Go from earlier in the tour, plus a rare of-its-time Frou Frou video from the old days.



 
* * * * * * * *

More on other upcoming November femmetronica soon…

Meanwhile, dates for now:

Parallel Lines presents:
Caroline Polachek + Yeule
Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6SH, England
Wednesday 30th October 2019, …pm
– information here, here and here

Parallel Lines presents:
Yeule + Kin Leonn + Geiste
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Friday 1st November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

DHP Family presents:
Imogen Heap & Frou Frou
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 8EH, England
Friday, 15th November 2019, 7.00pm

information here, here and here

Bloc presents:
Kedr Livanskiy + Detalji + Yeule
Bloc @ Autumn Street Studios, Unit 3, 39 Autumn Street, Hackney Wick, London, E3 2TT, England
Thursday 21st November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

May/June 2019 – upcoming pop/rock gigs – VLMV and Thomas Stone (30th May); Daniel O’Sullivan and Tega Mendes (4th June); The Cesarians and The Silver Field (6th June), Thumpermonkey, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (31st May)

27 May

VLMV + Thomas Stone, 30th May 2019

Purveyors of a limpid and extroverted dream pop, Pete Lambrou and Ciaran Morahan previously operated as ALMA. Now, since the advent of a certain “BBC-Sound-of-2018-nominated green-haired Finnish pop star, they’re known as VLMV. Apparently it’s pronounced much the same way, but murmured through hushed lips, presumably to sneak it past the lawyers (just because your lips are compressed, it doesn’t mean that you can’t thumb your nose at the same time).

At the tail-end of a European tour, VLMV are playing a London show at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. A former music hall (currently slanted towards hosting comedy and improv), within its recent history it’s frequently been the home of passionate gay drama, or of chansons – so, loosely speaking, there’s some kindred resonance with VLMV’s epicene falsetto romances; the kind of resonance you might not get at the Water Rats or the Underworld.

To be fair, you need theatres for this kind of music. No matter how many slo-mo/light-show pianos, loops and strings they pile under Pete’s voice, this is blushing drama-pop at root. If you’re taking in one of the Tim Bowness gigs this coming fortnight but suspect it still might not entirely slake your appetite for stricken empathetic romance, maybe you should give these guys a try too.



 

In support, Thomas Stone also serves as a signifier and reminder of VLMV’s experimentalist sympathies. An increasing presence on the London avant-instrumental scene (in which he won NonClassical Records’ Battle Of The Bands in 2015), he creates strong but delicate slow-reveal improvisations for contrabassoon, loop pedals, backup samples and (occasionally) bass guitar; tapping into the grace of classical chamber music and threnodic jazz, and stirring in noise, incidental distortion and other dysfidelities.



 
* * * * * * * *

Westking Music & Performing Arts, who are putting on next Wednesday’s ‘Overlaps‘ concert, are bookending it with a couple of other gigs as part of their Summer Series (which also includes performance showcases for various graduates).

On 4th June, it’s Daniel O’Sullivan supported by Westking alumna Tega Mendes.

Daniel O'Sullivan + Tega Mendes, 4th June 2019

It’s easy enough to own a varied music collection; to shuffle quickly and smoothly between folk music, noise, synthtronica, experimental psychedelia, arthouse sound design, prog, proto-punk, pseudo-Zeuhl and the rest. It’s quite another to work, as a creative musician, across all of these: inevitably some purist will call you out as a fraud or a daytripper. Daniel, however, has made a name for himself as one of the few people who can apparently flit and slide between the scenes without being stalled by suspicion or rejection. Formidable multi-instrumental skills help, as does his apparent willingness to be a utility man as often as a leader. Over two decades, he’s piled up a pyramid of projects – his own Mothlife and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses; duo work with Miracle or Grumbling Fur; a stint effectively directing Guapo; contributions to live and studio work with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Is Not This Heat; plus sound installations and soundtracks in the fine art and cinema worlds. During the course of this, no-one’s fingered him as an interloper; no-one seems to have frozen him out. It’s a rare talent to be so ubiquitous, so flexible – or so insidious.



 
Daniel’s most recent album, ‘Folly’, is the second one he’s released under his own name, pursuing something more intimate and personal. Written around the death of a friend and the birth of a son, it sees him continuing to tack away from the experimental rock he made his reputation with in favour of hushed, rich-textured chamber folk, burnished like a picture window by the warm depth of Thighpaulsandra’s production. Still ,a psychedelic perspective follows in its wake, like a contrail of blossom; easily found in the swirl of instrumentation and in the way that Daniel dips in and (more often) out of straightforwardness like a flying fish, offering transient reveals and kaleidoscopic digressions. Live, he’ll be performing solo and won’t be able to dodge behind the arrangements, but will be inviting up a couple of special guests to play along.

There’s some tie-in between Daniel’s work and Tega’s; they currently share a taste for a dreamy sheathing of instrumentation, but rather than chamber folk Tega follows on from the quiet storm soul-pop currently exemplified (in Britain, at least) by Lianne La Havas and Laura Mvula, and previously in the States by Roberta Flack and Minnie Riperton. On record, she displays a knack for deepening re-harmonisations of established songs; live, she works on a nourishing and playful full-band exploration of the assorted moods and genres that she touches on. It’s still early days for her, with not much more than a handful of Soundcloud songs to show yet, but even with her musicality still on a slow stir there’s a lot of promise here.

 
On 6th of June, The Cesarians are supported by The Silver Field.

The Cesarians + The Silver Field, 6th June 2019The musical love-child of onetime trash-rocker Charlie Finke (who sang sleaze with Penthouse in the mid-90s) and Justine Armatage (formerly pianist, composer and violinist with ill-fated ’90s theatrical indie types Gretchen Hofner), The Cesarians are virtually ambassadors for the hope of “older, wiser, sexier and funnier”. A loose troupe centred around houseboat life on the River Lea, they encompass showband horns, cabaret, puckish and sometimes self-deprecating wit, via enormous pop hooks which sweep glam, art-punk, chanson and singalong onto the table. They somehow manage to be down-to-earth while still being splendidly glamorous, by dint of turning their lives into theatre: following their songwriting inquisitiveness wherever it leads them and inviting you along.

For today’s crop of twentysomething band players, The Cesarians could (and should) be like anarchically cool uncles and aunts – the kind that zoom in and out of the family on their own orbits, winking as they swing past; cheerfully using inappropriate language and carrying handfuls of intrigue. They’re people whom you feel you could learn from: learn how to be naughty and to be wise; how to smoke and to make mistakes, but also how to become yourself. For us older dogs closer to their age, they’re more about an irrepressible spark persistently pushing up; there’s something luminous about them, as if they’d thrived on misspent youths and come through it all broader and happier as people. For what it’s worth, I get bored by musicians who embrace or act out too much debauchery, but occasionally I meet some whose mental vividness transcends the partying, and when I do I can’t stop talking to them; and generally, they turn out to be a lot like The Cesarians.

The songs? Well, the songs sound a bit like this…



 
The rural post-folk compositions for The Silver Field start off in Coral Rose’s bedroom. A digital delay inherited from her musician father serves as the cauldron for her own multi-instrumental inventiveness on a cupboardful of instruments, within which guitar, harmonica, mandolin, small drums and harmonium make room for cello, double bass, bagpipe chanter and electronics, plus loops captured on a rackety antique reel-to-reel tape recorder bought for a quid at a car boot sale. Assisted on occasion by Vanishing Twin’s Cathy Lucas and by Kiran Bhatt of Red River Dialect, It’s a kind of rough-edged chamber-folk shunting yard, in which plangent instrumental melodies are nudged by noise interference and spatial effects woven in from smartphone field recordings.

Live, Coral calls in more instrumentalist friends (Kiran again, plus Rachel Horwood from Bamboo and Trash Kit, Rachel Margetts from Yr Lovely Dead Moon) to help her recreate and reconsider her work: not absolute reproductions of what’s on record, but pickings-up and hand-ons, the instrumentation and looping shuffled under the requirements of necessity and community and of keeping the music as a living thing. Her debut album ‘Rooms’, meanwhile, comes complete with its own sonic metaphor of growing up, moving on and moving out; of both dispensing of childhood homes and coming to terms with departing from them.



 
* * * * * * * *

Closing off May, there’s a triple-threat art-rock show from Thumpermonkeyc, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi – all of whom I’ve already written about so frequently in here that I’m constantly, increasingly in danger of repeating myself. So I’m going to pre-empt myself by collaging some of the things I’ve already said into a new mashup, for the benefit of any of you who might be new readers or just new to any of these people…

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 31st May 2019Thumpermonkey – “mordant, tricksy brilliance… the missing link between Mastodon and China Miéville (or perhaps between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson)… One of Britain’s most ambitious rock bands, deftly striding and shifting between different musical kernels from prog, dark pop or experimental metal to a kind of science-fiction cabaret, languidly licking up and stirring in any intriguing nugget or story fragment they birth or encounter… A latterday Thumpermonkey song’s more like a contemporary classical song: protracted, a lyric-driven musical wandering from thought to thought, but always with that solid rock foundation, that return to purpose… Michael Woodman’s voice (is) pure theatrical cordon bleu hambone, from the bottom of its ominous deep-tenor declamations to the top of its horror-struck falsetto…

“The music, meanwhile, is an ever-flexing full-spectrum crunch and hush, full of stalking shapes and hovering convoluted melodies… Unpacking their decade-plus back catalogue of recordings is like getting trapped in one of those clever-dick contemporary polymath novels written about everything and anything, stitched together with a little magic and mystique – they’ve sung about computer games, Nigerian fraudsters, Mexican acid westerns and strange diseases and made it sound as if it were all part of the same complex semi-submerged story… Game-playing geeks for sure, and clearly ones who are proud of their astonishingly broad armoury of sly references, veiled jokes and fantastical imagery; but also geeks who revel in their absolute mastery of those most un-geeky of rock qualities – muscle and poise… The particular genius of Thumpermonkey is that they can unroll these kind of parodic slipstream plots without ever toppling into cute whimsy.”


 
Lost Crowns – “a barrage of word-dense songs overflowing with full-on prismatic structures and outright rock drive, as if Lewis Carroll and Flann O’Brien had called on the massed forces of Henry Cow to help them hijack Battles… A vortex of influences funnel around (Lost Crowns leader) Richard Larcombe, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier…

“If he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring… Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher… A rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”


 
Kavus Torabi – ” (His) dusky psych-folk EP ‘Solar Divination’…. perhaps draw(s) some influence from (his) other lives in Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and others, but not nearly as much as it draws from ominous imagined dusk rituals and mysterious old ghosts on the darker hippy trails… A darker, more agrarian take on his psychedelic homeground, this time it’s drumless, bassless, hornless – rinsed clear of the capering squirrel energy he’s shown for twenty-odd years, in order to reveal muted, angsty bones… (It’s) a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs.

“For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance…. Mostly based around slow, smoky-lunged harmonium stretches and sparse flotsam drags of guitar chording, this is a more foreboding turn of song, haunted by deaths, loss and disintegrations… (It’s a) sullen, trepidatious, post-nova ember-glow… trawling through shimmering webs of harmonium, effected drones and knell-clangs of acoustic guitar, exploring a forbidding hinterland of vulnerability and permeable spirit-space… the gravel-grain in Kavus’ voice welling up from deeper, ghostlier territories than before.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

VLMV & Nice Weather For Airstrikes present:
VLMV + Thomas Stone
The Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 3DT, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Thumpermonkey + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Friday 31st May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Daniel O’Sullivan (& special guests) + Tega Mendes
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Tuesday 4th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here

The Cesarians + The Silver Field
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Thursday 6th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May/June 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – ‘Towards A Progressive Magic” at the Horse Hospital with Amy Hale and Hawthonn (30th May); ‘Overlaps’ #2 with Kay Grant, Keith Moliné, Jasmine Pender, Tim Hodgkinson, Frank Byng and Chlöe Herington (5th June); the Sonic Electronics Festival at IKLECTIK (30th May to 2nd June)

26 May

At a time when our politics are tangibly darkening with currents of bigotry and nationalism and vicious, exclusionary stories, you might consider that looking at fascism within magic is a frivolous exercise.

Anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale (Atlanta, US) would disagree with you. She’s delivering the spoken-word part of an upcoming “night of magical resistance” at the Horse Hospital (London’s home of esoterica, underground cinema, public magick and wild frocks) for which the musical aspect’s being provided by Leeds-based Hawthonn, made up of “dual star daemons” Layla and Phil Legard, who specialise in “twenty-first century moon musick… underground spectralism meets edgeland herbalism…”

'Towards A Progressive Magic': Amy Hale + Hawthonn, 30th May 2019

This isn’t necessarily a new thing. Plenty of the frowning white-nativist movements in Europe and the States force parasitic roots into ideas about submerged culture, or ideas of a purity predating Christianity, liberalism and rationalism, into which disappointed or indignant people drift in the hope of finding and defining themselves. If you’ve dabbled in Nordic revivalism, for example, you may well have brushed up against it: racism smudging the runes. Similarly, some sonic pagans have always pushed back (having always associated their own musical explorations with a live-and-let-live freedom or a rejection of the controlling homegenisations of fascism), and even more of them are pushing back now.

Amy’s lecture, ‘Is A Progressive Magick Even Possible?’, examines what happens when “as the world takes an awkward lurch towards right wing authoritarianism, underground and fringe cultures, organisations and scenes are becoming increasingly attuned to the attempts by radical right wing groups to infiltrate and coerce their members… Modern occult practice, for many, relies on structures, ideas, values, and aesthetics that are inherently linked to conservative and reactionary thought. Examples of this are the valorisation of tradition, the idea of an initiated spiritual elite and the notion of a highly-ordered Neoplatonic universe, where everything is in its right place – including people and cultures.

“These conservative traits create opportunities for activists to use the social mechanisms of occult subcultures – for example festivals and conferences, book publishing, the music and fashion industries – to promote radical political and cultural agendas without people even noticing that it has happened. Tonight’s presentations discuss how, and why, contemporary magical cultures have become attractive territories for recruitment and expansion by far right organisations… I will discuss how ideas of tradition and “nature” are exploited, and how the discourses of “free speech” are deployed to create and justify platforms for radical, intolerant politics in an occult milieu… We will also learn to recognise such entryism in action, and how to stop it.”

As for Hawthonn, this is their first London appearance; their first live musical ritual within the M25; and their first chance to present their particular stance to the capital. Delving (in the tradition of Coil) into post-industrial esoteric drones and vocalisations, their work has so far embraced edgeland/feminist associations on ‘Red Goddess’ and implied erotic ritualisations on ‘The Well Head’, with more associations and purposes evolving. I don’t know what they’ll be coming up with on this occasion; but I’m assuming that it’s going to pull on their increasing conviction that ritual needs to engage (if not necessarily with materialism) with the fabric of daily practical necessities and practical history.




 
To quote them – “as esotericists we often believe that we have stepped beyond ‘mere politics’ – that our minds are turned to a higher world, which has little relation to the mundane – despite, paradoxically, believing that our magical actions influence the phenomenal world. Yet many contemporary scholars of esotericism and religion analyse the currents of occultism, paganism and the New Age as socially constructed phenomena: elaborate mythic structures enforcing certain norms, beliefs and practices, while justifying themselves through appeals to authority, lineage and experience, even science and rationality. Such historiographic or sociological approaches have been accused by many practitioners of base reductionism, undermining the authority of their particular traditions.

“Yet, what if practitioners of esotericism were to accept – or at least entertain for a moment – a constructivist, rather than transcendentalist, paradigm? We posit that such an acceptance can lead to another form of practice, which acknowledges the way in which esotericism is inseparable from the historical, social and economic fabric of our lives and which – rather than denying the viscerality of ritual and experience – uses them as tools to question the traditions and assumptions of the esoteric worldview, leading to a fluid and reflexive ‘critical magick’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Drifting through Kings Cross – away from the cosy confines of the Harrison and back to its spiritual home at Westminster Kingsway College – and still driven by joint organisers Chlöe Herington (V A L V E, Knifeworld, Lindsay Cooper Songbook, Hirvikolari) and Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Prescott), the Overlaps “six musicians on the spot” concert series continues to burnish its particular niche. Improvising, but outside of the usual free-jazz grammar; perhaps owing something to art rock, but tearing one end wide open. Assimilating injections of the wilder shaggier side of experimental pop. Tag-teaming, but with a little friendly risk; part-prepared, but mostly of the moment.

'Overlaps 2', 5th June 2019

In addition to Chlöe’s avant-rock reeds and home-made noiseboxes and Keith’s startling bricolage guitarwork, the debut Overlaps evening back in January also featured jazz/art-rock-toned drum-and-bass artist Farz and fringe-pop experimenter/spoken-word persona shifter Merlin Nova; plus another British art rock guitar mainstay in Chloe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi and creative sideslip drumming from Keith’s Prescott bandmate Frank Byng (also of Snorkel and This Is Not This Heat). Chlöe, Keith and Frank are all back for round two, with the remaining three players coming in from other assorted corners of noisework, avant-garde and New Classical – often simultaneously.

While performing her dramatic, noisy electric cello soundscapes, Jasmine Pender usually goes under the alias of Rotten Bliss, sousing her sound in effects and singing along with a terrifying gorgeousness: storm-strings and surreal marine tales. For Overlaps, though, she’s performing under her own name. Perhaps it’s in solidarity with the other, unmasked performers not hiding behind their project names or band tags; or perhaps it means she’s going to be trying something a little different. You’ll need to turn up and see.


 
Originally coming up through the New York downtown arts, in her time Kay Grant has sung pop, jazz, rock, choral classical and opera (and built the ranges for each). She still touches on several of them today – most notably the jazz, with her own vocalise-based Kay Grant All-four and song duo Living Standards, and via guestings with the more standards-slanted Cyril Bass Quartet and Big Swing Big Band. But when she gives herself full improvisatory range her voice is an untethered exploratory device – coasting, feinting and arcing with the full subliminal structural knowledge of her training, but completely free to embrace a scattering palate of noise, tones and intimations.


 
Tim Hodgkinson, of course, is best known for his 1970s work as a founder and consistent member of Henry Cow: foundational art-rock radicalism within which he and his bandmates pursued a continuous course of questioning, dissonance, learning and overturning. Since then (usually armed with reed instruments, tapes, lap steel guitar and keyboards), he’s maintained a core Cow method: exploring, playing and composing via a cerebral and committed musicality which initially challenges and overwhelms his own technical skills but constantly forces him to advance. He’s equally likely to be found at work in art-house shows worldwide or in ferociously experimental British pub gigs, stretching his skills between improvised blowings, committed collaging or the conduction of post-classical chamber music which sounds like the skitterings of unruly ghost feet pursuing an unfinished argument.

Again, I’ve little idea of what he’ll be doing – it could be solo clarinet, it could be something with tapes and counterpoint, it could be something which bridges his interest in shamanic music and cultural anthropology.




 
* * * * * * * *

Sonic Electronic Festival, 30th May to 2nd June 2019There’s also time to mention (in brief) the concerts and chat around the sprawling Sonic Electronics Festival coming up at IKLECTIK and straddling late May and early June. Fascinated by coding and by digital evolution, the event’s as much academic as it is instinctive and will contain far too many ideas, implications and theory to be easily abridged and listed here. So this is a quick sketch of what’s lined up rather than a definitive description.

On 31st May, the evening concert is a London live AV performance incorporating toys/scrabbles/tapeloops collective Morphogenesis (bolstered by audio sculptor John Wall and electro-acoustic/noise performer Mark Durgan), the electronic-junk-assisted dronescapes of raxil4, woodwinder-turned-synth minimalist Bernhard Living and masked audio-visual circuit-building ritualists Isn’tses (the last of whom will also be running a Fort processor building workshop on the morning of Saturday 1st June). The Saturday evening is a pass-it-on event of international live audiovisual performance with VJ and visual/sonics encoder Chris Speed, videomapping performance artists Blanca Regina, extended vocal/multimedia performer Alessandra Eramo and feminine-industrial explorers Slow Slow Loris

The show on the evening of 2nd June involves the 4.1 Soundsystem. Here you can hear and watch a teaming of sound foleyist Rebecca Glover and the squelchy Fritha Jenkins (who’s inspired by shorelines of sand and mud);
spacial-stereo sound artist Bioni Samp (whose work and subject matter is informed by his own beekeeping and by concerns about bee extinction); the “theogynous” industrial/classical polyphonic vocals of Vera Bremerton; “grainyl”-ist Tony James Morton (who takes the cut’n’plunder techniques of hip hop DJs and feeds them through the alterations of granular synthesis); and the deep-listening drones of Johannes de Silentio (a.k.a. Lucius Works Here, a.k.a. Barcelonan sound art DJ Shak Benavides).

If you want to immerse yourself in theory, debate and other verbals, you’ll be wanting to go along to the event launch on the evening of 30th May. Here, there will be talks from Lucia Farinati, Nina Power and Giles Greenaway (about the intersections, overlaps and interferences of audiovisual technology with philosophy and live culture, and about process patterns taken from living creatures). There’ll also be a live AV performance of experimental electromagnetic power noise from Laura Netz, using hand-built technology.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Strange Attractor presents:
‘Towards a Progressive Magic’ (featuring Dr. Amy Hale + Hawthonn)
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Sonic Electronics Festival: Digital Arts & Analogue Devices
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 30th May 2019 to Sunday 2nd June 2019, various times
– information here, here, here, here, here and here

Westking Music and Performing Arts presents:
‘Overlaps’ #2: Kay Grant + Keith Moliné + Jasmine Pender + Tim Hodgkinson + Frank Byng + Chlöe Herington
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Wednesday 5th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s cabinet of pop disorientations featuring Famous, The Guest, Wharfwhit, Bianca Scout and Great Dad (24th July)

18 Jul

Sometimes it’s particularly rewarding to see a new band emerge. I’m feeling that way about Great Dad. Springing from the chrysalis of genderqueer punk-poppers Worm Hears (who, however interesting their component people, pronouns and propositions may be, maintain an unsurprising musical approach), they are currently breaking out – humming, carolling, blurring – into something far more promising. They’re making journeys into avant-pop, approaching it with a thin-skinned sense of wonder and detournement via a multiplicity of FX-sculpted vocals and the implication of an identity whose fluidity moves even beyond gender, and by soundbuilding which flitters between different pop forms, different cultural tones.

I’ve previously tagged them as “electronic bricolage”, but they’re also like some kind of tiny relentless broadcast drone, flying precariously between much bigger, looming shapes ideas and experiences; crashing into them and rebounding, reporting back in half-processed bursts. Some day they’re going to land and clarify, even if it’s only for a moment. Until then, I’m enjoying the buffeting ride and what I also tagged as “free-associating mashups of love, political paranoia, consumer anomie, salty language and an ever-strange out-of-step physicality half-trapped between distress and wonder.”




 

Great Dad are appearing next week on the bill for a Multi-Storey show which makes a lot of noise about being one to attend “if you unashamedly love indie” or “if you want reckless, guitar-led, drum-heavy aural delight”. Unless there’s been some new shift in language and I’m too dull to pick up on it, Multi-Storey are wantonly taking the piss. This is an unabashed weird pop evening, collaged together out of DIY electronica and from increasingly pixellated and fluid performance identities. The guitars (when they’re present at all) are struggling their way through Ballardian refractions or assorted studio fuckery. If you’re out for mediocre-white-hope guitar rock, look elsewhere.

Famous + The Guest + Wharfwit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad, 24th July 2018

Headlining are post-disco/art pop/glam crooner sextet Famous fronted by blazer-sporting singer Jack Merrett. They’ve been gigging for at least a year and a half, but I don’t know much about them. Like the enigmatic Black MIDI (and like Sistertalk, Multi-Storey headliners from earlier in the week) they’re a band who save their promotional energies for their live shows, percolating a word-of-mouth campaign that pretty much relies on your ears being around the right mouths (which mine often aren’t).

Famous’ web presence is matter-of-fact, minimal – almost disdainful. Single videos pop up on Youtube and are whisked away; the Soundcloud page just features a ‘Fitter Happier’-esque four minutes of spoken-word manifesto delivered by the Fred speech synth. Odd bits of gig promo blurb have pegged Famous as “combining pop craftsmanship with a penchant for the theatrical”; and back in April, ‘Not Another Music Blog’ sketched them out as “stylistically look(ing) like six strangers that wouldn’t even talk at a bus stop” and as delivering a set of “Joy Division, disco, and punk-influenced indie-pop bangers”. So we’ve got a shape, we’ve got faces and we’ve got a peg… the rest you’ll need to discover for yourself.

One thing’s for certain: Famous are the straightest band on the bill by far – the cement that holds the other acts in place and provides a link to standard underground pop.

A while ago, Gus Lobban (one-third of up-and-coming bitpop/dancehall act Kero Kero Bonito) played a solo gig as Augustus. Now it’s the turn of his bandmate Jamie Bulled, who – for a while now – has also been writing and performing as Wharfwhit. Under this fresh alias, he gobs out waywardly explosive, dynamically physical digital pop stunts involving a variety of collaborators. A typical Wharfwit piece might features sampled body noises – motions, grunts, wheezes – plus a deliberately inconclusive/confused hank of rapping from some emergent South London MC, or a shrill cutesy barrage of Mandarin from an Asian underground pop act.



 
There’s something a little lightweight about Jamie’s post-vaporwave/post-chop-and-screw stunts, but that’s part of the point. They’re divorced from any concept of gravity. They’re meticulously giddy, apparently still in love with a coalescing teenaged mindset of consumer-tech connection and sensual disarray (Skype hook-ups, the fading narcotic contrail of purple-drank culture) while still being able to comment on it… inasmuch as there’s any comment apart from arranging these chunks of experience, connection and distraction together into one pumping track: the components of a spread of options too busy happening to invite analysis. Log on and go.

No less fractured are the works of spectral deconstructer Bianca Scout – loose, yawing things clinging onto the edge of pop by a casual fingertip. Beats struggle like cocooned insects; synthesizers billow slo-mo smoke-clouds and kitchen metals scrape like a knife-drawer ballet… it’s a kind of timeslip electronica, in which the listener always seems to be nodding out into split-second blackouts. Bianca’s own voice winds intermittently and erratically through the mix, sometimes sounding like a Raudive voice – an incomprehensible ghost on the wire or muttering in between radio stations, now slipping to the foreground. At other times, her narcotic girlsing piles up like sediment; her voice pillow-muffled, her message prolonged and complicated by fuzzy detailand disintegrating enunciation, sliding from her murmuring lips. Other tracks are swaying, tide-tossed arrays of new age atmospherics mingling with urban air currents and sounds drawn around tower blocks. Unpicking all of this will be a long job, like teasing out a knotted tangle you’ve found in the back of a forgotten drawer.




 
Also back from a couple of other earlier Windmill gigs is enigmatic cheapsynth narrator and electronicist The Guest, unspooling low-budget electro/techno and odd little faux-stream-of-consciousness stories and commentaries. A touch of blank, owlish humour to season the mysteries.

 

Multi-Storey presents:
Famous + The Guest + Wharfwhit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Tuesday 24th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – another delightfully eclectic pop evening with Multi-Storey’s HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk, A House In The Trees, Thidius, The Mantis Opera, Chartreuse, LL Burns and Sunken (21st July)

14 Jul

Having recently celebrated a year of gig-staging, as well as a growing reputation for broad thinking and clever band picking, Multi-Storey are back next week with seven hours worth of Saturday night music, reasoning “we don’t know about you, but having only a few short hours for a gig never sits quite right with us. So we took a lineup of bands that have blown us away, and blew it up to tremendous proportions. Turbulent corridors of endless interlocking rooms full of inventive sounds await you – picture that one corridor from the intro to Scooby Doo, except each door is a band, I guess.”

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

Spivvish, Horrors-compared pop dramatists Sistertalk headline: one of those bands so young (and possibly so strategic) that they’ve not slapped any tunes online yet. Still, rumours emerge from the live gigs – talk of saxophones and backing singers, a “serene and sensual” stage presence. I’m hearing hints about “ghoulish keyboards”, “deliciously confident” and “melodramatic stories with a menacing undercurrent” from DIY Magazine, along with rumours of “suave ‘60s suits” and “genre bending at its most excellent (from) psychedelic, post-punk and the experimental” from ‘Clash Music’. On spec, they sound like a post-punk Cockney Rebel with a twist of goth and Roxy glam: in practice, they’re probably something else. I’m particularly interested in the storytelling: the feeling of greater substance emerging through the stylistic signifiers.

New Cross-ers Thidius (led by sister-and-brother Izzy and George Risk) may offer a tingling dream-dub pop, but rather than the usual post-Banshees/post-Lush trudge they instead choose to sneak and skip across a songscape infused by Latin pop and yé-yé, while blowing some of the sleep-dirt off it. It’s the gaps which are crucial – the warm spaces within the rhythms, the little games of silence and hopscotched accents, the shifting play of beats underneath the songs (and the slightly rubbery lyrics) which light them up. Meanwhile, Thidius continue to play with instrumental ingredients which, within pop, have always travelled under a shifting light of cool and uncool – Fender Rhodes, echoed jazz chords on guitar, the discreet touches of post-‘80s drum pads. Their debut EP ‘Rush You’ is four years old: this evening’s performance might show us what the band have learned since then.



 
The evening has a definite air of classic pop recipes undergoing various remixes. Certainly it seems as if recent re-evaluations of yacht-rock has left its mark, with Fleetwood Mac and George Benson showing up in the mix of influences under the glossy, part-ambient surface of Birmingham indie-pop quartet Chartreuse (alongside that of the cruise-ier elements of mid-‘70s Pink Floyd and the bluesy folk-soul of John Martyn).

Meanwhile, Sunken initially recall the retrofitted trip-hop of Portishead (and not a little of the delicacy of the latter’s underrated peers Mandalay). They’ve got a nice line in shifting accents and little swoops of rhythmic spacing; in dreamy soul and jazz memories filtering from turntable to ear to brain and to re-emergence. Seventeen-year-old singer Poppy Billingham delivers watchful, slightly detached little-black-dress murmurs in a perfectly pitched and angled voice. Backed by the band’s swathes of after-hours melody, she’s already full of finesse, singing ambiguous statements of will (or of love) which aren’t quite pleas and aren’t quite demands; they’re more statements of what’s necessary, or what’s happening regardless of intent. Wise before their time, Sunken still refuse to preach musically or lyrically: preferring instead to embody a contradictory mix of lethargy and sharp lucidity with Poppy keeping a poised distance, as if she’s looking down a long spiral staircase at the machinations and desires being played out in the ballroom below.

 
More detached ambiguity comes from London “collective of angels” A House In The Trees, who produce contemporary electronic pop with a strong visual streak; not just in the motion-study video they’ve produced for recent song Summertime, but in their increasingly fluid, subtly dysfunctional arrangements. From tentative, stiffer beginnings four years ago, they’ve turned into a smooth channel for hypnagogic studio/headphone simmers. Lazy-toned songs slide unconsciously or imperceptibly into haunted ones. Duality and disassociation are accented by setting sped-up backing vocals against protracted drawn-out beats and slowed-down guitar arpeggios; or by the way in which the alternating male and female voices offer not even the hint of a duet, but stay encapsulated in their own cool, heavy-lidded solipsism.

The aforementioned Summertime evokes the gravity-drag of heat against the bliss of sun, the sensuous delight of season warmth against the sudden shock of a murderous gunshot. Don’t Fall Asleep takes hold of the sonic fabric of a slow jam and pulls it out of shape… like fingers through oil paint, like a willing slither into narcosis or the slow loll into a Dutch angle. How this works live is anyone’s guess. Somehow they’ll have to draw us into their sound while refusing to touch us: an impersonal, unsettling seduction at a mask party.

 
The evening isn’t all strolls through pop. A completely different experience is offered by The Mantis Opera, synth-and-guitar-rock purveyors of Allister Kellaway’s wide-awake brain music. I’ve previously described them as “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” with Allister’s lyrics wrangling their way through “themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.” Their complex but clearly-delineated thinking tunes (with the bustle of a busy engine room underneath, and a superstructure bristling with antennae) should go hissing through the pop atmospherics like a particle beam through silk. Also on the bill are LL Burns, another underbubbler band from the Brixton scene. Led by the Morrissey brothers, they provide “brooding atmospheric electric soul noir”: a romantic Big Easy feel from south London, their whiskey-and-heat Americana balladeering like a less vicious Michael J. Sheehy.

 

DJ-ing is provided by “the mysterious collective who, just this once, go by the name “4/4 Grilled“… out of hiding for one night only, but until then their identity remains a secret”. There’ll also be a slew of in-venue artwork and ‘zine business from ‘Delinquent Magazine‘, ‘Cool Brother‘, ‘Spit Tease‘, ‘Saxon Zine‘ and ‘This Must Be For You‘.

Multi-Storey presents:
HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk + A House In The Trees + Thidius + The Mantis Opera + Chartreuse + LL Burns + Sunken
The Moth Club, Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, Hackney, London, E9 6NU, England
Saturday 21st June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

June 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – electro-acoustic pop and world-folk with Gazel + Seaker at Birthdays (15th June)

13 Jun

Another quick, late-in-the-day signal boosting – this time for an interesting-sounding female double bill of experimental cross-cultural singer-songwriters, over in Dalston (inevitably)… so from here on in it’s the press release.

 
Piu Entertainment UK present:
Gazel + Seaker
Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London, N16 8BJ, England
Friday 15th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Turkish-rooted, London-based singer-songwriter Gazel‘s music is a blend of electronic pop with Middle Eastern folk and philosophical influences: a unique sound that gained nominations in the 15th Independent Music Awards with her debut EP, ‘Bone Key‘ (Best Pop EP, Best Electronic Song). She is a mesmeric live performer and multi-instrumentalist. Since 2017, Gazel has headlined shows at the Waiting Room, The Lexington and Borderline, as well as playing support shows at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and a sold-out Hammersmith Apollo.

“At Birthdays Gazel will play new music from her upcoming debut album ‘Gazel’s Book of Souls’, which she’s described as “a collection of songs that tell the story of a curious nomad girl abandoned in the desert, and the strange encounters she has with a cast of surreal characters as she embarks on a journey in search of her soul”. The production team behind it includes Shuta Shinoda (Hot Chip, Ghostpoet) and Haydn Bendall (Kate Bush, Massive Attack). For this show, she’ll introduce projected scenes from a musical she is developing based on the album, with the first in a series of animations developed by close collaborator Acid Lake.



 
“Having cut her teeth as a folk singer-songwriter, Seaker‘s sound has evolved to become ethereal, layered and sparkling. In a world that sits somewhere between Portishead and Sufjan Stevens, Seaker’s intimate songwriting is enveloped in expansive and atmospheric soundscapes. Lead by her unique and rare voice, Seaker’s songs cycle interminably between a sense of loss and hope. Shortly after the May 25th release of her new single, ‘Words’, Seaker will take to the Birthdays stage to bring audiences through soft and roaring, delicate lightness and raging inner fire.”


 

July 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Pram at the Lexington (22nd July)

12 Jun

Expect a happy gathering of the original British post-rock tribes next month when this little gift to them starts up and starts whirring…

Pram, 22nd July 2018

Dictionary Pudding Promotions presents:
Pram
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 22nd July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Dictionary Pudding are hugely proud to welcome the long-awaited return of Kings Heath legends Pram. With a new album out shortly on Domino Recording Company – these are very exciting times for Pram, one of the most uniquely enthralling underground artists of the last 30 years – their return in these troubling times is extremely welcome!

“Birmingham’s Pram craft fairytales from concrete reality. The second city’s spin cycle of perpetual renovation, from the slum clearances to its current cosmetic upgrade, is etched in Pram’s restless groove, an endearing and gently refusenik mix encircling early Rough Trade innovators The Raincoats, astro jazz, sci-fi soundtracks, creepy Victoriana, tropical analogue and tumbledown funk.

“To say Pram have always ploughed their own furrow is to underestimate the breadth and scale of their music. To listen to this record is to hear a group who have learned to play together whilst teaching each other a new language. The Moving Frontier is Pram at their most widescreen, they’ve created a mysterious and wonderful landscape that’s sky-wide open.”

Pram: 'Under The Blossom That Hangs On The Bough', 3rd June 2017

And here’s a slightly trimmed version of what I wrote for when they resurfaced quietly for their British comeback almost exactly a year ago, back in Birmingham with the park installation ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough’…

“This isn’t quite the same Pram that charmed us and subverted pop for a surprisingly long stint in the ’90s and noughties across a string of albums which included ‘Dark Island’ and ‘Sargasso Sea’ and a sound that seemed to be part child’s murmur, part clinking post-kosmische stroll and part friendly haunted house. Most obviously, singer and lyricist Rosie Cuckston (she who used to mount her keyboard on an ironing board at concerts) is absent, having moved on into academia and a more direct form of the social activism which the band’s eclectic inclusiveness and tendency to take philosophical side roads only hinted. That said, the rest of the band’s original creative core (multi-instrumentalists Matt Eaton, Sam Owen and Max Simpson) are all present, having spent the interim years of Pram downtime working with wonky loops as Two Dogs, creating film and theatre sound and making sonic art out of books with the Sound Book Project.

“This also isn’t the first time that the post-Rosie Pram’s reappeared. Earlier in May they made an appearance at Imaginary Musics in Switzerland, playing a “music for Kopfkino” audio-visual set in a festival dedicated to “cinematic, recomposed and fictional musics”, and it seems as if losing Rosie’s quiet reflective voice and cocooned lyrics has shifted them further over into the areas suggested by Matt’s sound design and by Sam and Max’s live sound art. On-spec, it seems as if they’ve succeeded in becoming a kind of “post-band”, with a foot in their old live work, song-structures and performance coherence, but leaning towards something far more abstract and ego-free. ‘Under the Blossom That Hangs On The Bough’ sounds as if it will be something fascinating to be immersed in – an urban psychedelic afternoon stroll with the family, an aural refraction of Birmingham through leaves, greenery and company.”

Here’s a minute or so of the ‘…Blossom…’ project:


 
And here are some more moments of Pram past: rattle-pop, glows and musings…





 
Pram, 2012
 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

* * * * * * * *

Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

April/May 2018 – Worthing worthies – upcoming gigs at the Cellar Bar for The Golgis and My Giddy Aunt (20th April) and for Bob Drake (9th May) plus William D. Drake, Crayola Lectern and the mysterious Drones For Tim play St Pauls Church (19th May)… and a Gothic film showing for ‘Deep In The Woods’ (19th April)

18 Apr

I mentioned the burgeoning ambitions of Worthing’s Cellar Bar Club a few months ago. It’s been quietly setting itself up as a plucky regional rival to the riot of venues in Brighton ten miles away. I thought it was time to revisit it.

Fruitcakery first. Playing in a couple of days time (on 20th April) are The Golgis, described both as “an outrageous alt.folk pantomime band” and as “a revamped version of a band that were almost popular fifteen years ago”. All very Worthing so far, and we’re told to “expect catchy songs, a spot of juggling, audience participation, and some interesting and unique wind instruments.” Among other tunes, they’ll be playing their recent online single debut ‘Mr Fisher‘ and celebrating its failure to chart. There’s not much to link to yet, but here they are running through it live for the benefit of a phone cam.

 
Support act My Giddy Aunt features the singing and songwriting of Sue Chewter, who (back in the 1990s) was once the wildly imaginative pint-sized driver of ideas behind the remarkable, mostly-female London psychedelic-acoustic band The Wise Wound). Also featuring Shirley Paver, Luke Pritchard and another former Wise Wounder, Brian Madigan, My Giddy Aunt’s a lighter undertaking than Sue’s old firm, playing up the angle of yer ageing, slightly glammy relatives enjoying cake, sherry and semi-retirement by the sea.

The following promo gabble got tossed my way in a battered toby jug – “Come and listen to the Aunties and Uncles you prayed would never kiss you. Proudly we are supporting The Golgis. More fool themin order to get that authentic Friday feeling you must drink vodka from a teapot and get touched up by the Giddy Aunts . We are the lipstick on your teeth; a mental wet-patch of entertainment. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust and Sue has Giddy Ass Dust. Bring on the talcum powder, it’s Friday night. Line ‘em up. Monty!” Sodding nonsense – and it tells me nothing about what they sound like. But anything with Sue’s songwriting attached is worth a listen.

On 9th May, the Arts Cellar sees something simultaneously more serious and even further off the wall in the shape of Bob Drake. For more ‘Misfit Cit’-tery on Bob, click here, but in the meantime, it’s enough to know that Bob was “a founding member of the band Thinking Plague in 1978, and has been a member of the 5uu’s, Hail, and The Science Group. He has engineered and mixed many albums on the Recommended and Cuneiform labels, and has worked with artists ranging from Ice Cube to the Art Bears, but it is with his series of solo recordings made between 1994 and the present that he has really found his own voice with individual, always highly melodic tales of unusually intelligent animals, hauntings, chemistry, geology and who knows what. He began doing solo shows in 2015, and is currently at work on what will be his tenth solo album.”

Here he is solo and live in London in 2016 – filmed all dark and grainy, but shooting off songs like a batch of crazy fireworks.


 
Both gigs are at The Cellar Arts Club, 70 Marine Parade (basement), Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England. Times and links as follows:

  • The Golgis + My Giddy Aunt, Friday 20th April 2018, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.30pminformation

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Also coming up in Worthing…

Expect to see a warm exodus of psych-speckled enthusiasts swimming over from Brighton on the 19th May when singer-songwriters William D. Drake (no relation) and Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson play St Paul’s Church for a Tim Smith benefit gig promising to be full of pianos, wistful humour, soft voices and romantic drift. Bill will be bringing his own songbook of material criss-crossing his solo career and his work with Cardiacs and Sea Nymphs, with steepings of old poetry, Neverland folk and classical billows. Chris is celebrating the release of a brand new Crayola album, ‘Happy Endings’, which ought to build on its predecessor’s mixture of post burn-out hopefulness, psychedelic throb and sweet songs from the end of the road. All show profits for this show are going to the fundraising campaign for ailing Cardiacs leader Tim Smith’s ongoing care, which has achieved startling successes earlier this year since belatedly jumping into the world of crowdfunding.

Both Chris and Bill usually have friends in tow to help fill out the sound. These are all most likely coming together as part of “niche supergroup” Drones For Tim, specially conceived and formed for a one-off performance to make this particular gig special. Previous Drake and Crayola onstage allies have included Joss Cope, trumpeter Alistair Strachan, former Cardiacs Christian Hayes and Jon Poole, the Rodes brothers (from CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs), ubiquitous art-rock drummer Damo Waters and the Larcombe brothers (Stars In Battledress, Lost Crowns, Arch Garrison) so you can make an educated guess as to who might be in the ranks, but you might still be surprised… Further standalone guests and DJs to be announced in due course, so keep an eye on the event pages…

Alternative Worthing and Musica Lumini present:
‘A Very Special Evening Beside The Seaside’: William D. Drake + Crayola Lectern + Drones For Tim
St. Paul’s Church Community Centre, 55B Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, West Sussex
Saturday 19th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here





 
Fans of the Cardiacs/Brighton psych crossover may also be interested in yet another Cellar Arts Club occasion – a showing of Button Pressed Films‘ recent comedy short Deep In The Woods (written by onetime ‘Doctor Who’ writer Simon Messingham, directed by Mark Tew) on 19th April. According to the synopsis, the film also sports a “gothy rock/4AD type” soundtrack composed and performed by Chris Anderson and Christian Hayes, with additional spooky singing from Jo Spratley of the revived Spratley Japs.

The film showing is the jewel in the setting of a one-night-only goth shindig, with dressing up and wild-waif dancing encouraged to the usual soundtrack – early Cult, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Ghost Dance, Sex Gang Children, the lot. Perhaps inevitably, they’re calling it the ‘Sea Shells Sanctuary’… which is better than ‘Hair Of The Downs’, ‘She’s In Patching’ or ‘Tarring Couple Kill Colonel Mustard’, I guess.
 

 

March 2018 – pop/folk/etc gigs in London – Roshi Featuring Pars Radio (plus KES, Ivan Bushbye and Euan Sutherland – 6th March); Bella Spinks, Laura Frances and Gillie Ione (1st March); SOIF Soiree including Society Of Imaginary Friends, Hungry Dog Brand, Gisela Meyer, Tamara Canada, Blert Ademi, Global Warming Records and others (2nd March)

23 Feb

Roshi Featuring Pars Radio + Kes + Euan Sutherland + Ivan Bushbye, 6th March 2018Westking Music presents:
Roshi Featuring Pars Radio + KES + Ivan Bushbye + Euan Sutherland
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Tuesday 6th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Multiple influences come into play in the music of Roshi Nasehi – her Iranian heritage (embodied in her parents, their memories and their old cassettes), the folk songs and choirs in the Welsh milieu of her upbringing, the bleeding-in of tunes from 1980s British pop radio; piano and violin lessons and the jazz she studied at college in Cardiff; her early stint singing with Keith Tippett. All of these have settled somewhere in her current work, but none of them in a fixed and permanent location: they’re loose factors, like an office full of papers which can be picked up and whirled about by a fresh gust of wind from an open window.

Roshi Featuring Pars RadioDuring eighteen years in London Roshi has made a name for herself as performer, collaborator, workshopper, academic, installationeer and recorder of musical events. Her main song outlet is Roshi Featuring Pars Radio, a collaboration with Graham “Gagarin” Dowdall (prolific percussionist, producer, Pere Ubu-ist and John Cale/Nico collaborator). They describe it as “Welsh-Iranian folk pop”, with an electronic, experimentalist edge to it; a shuffleable span of folktronica strata which somehow captures the thinning links, the stubborn clingings and the disjunctive adaptations of the immigrant experience (whether circumstances have blown you into town from Alavicheh or from Gorseinon).

Some of Roshi’s ‘80s pop heritage manifests in its echos of Kate Bush – I don’t mean in Bronte-pop twirls or vocal lushnesses, but in beautiful cramped murmurs which recall the subvocal/sublingual keenings and chamberings of ‘The Dreaming’. The soundworld is deliberately intimate but obscure; Gagarin’s signature “sound-leakage” palette of finely-milled noises interpenetrating field recordings, Roshi’s keyboard parts questioning and unanchored; her language shifting between English and Pharsi, with versions of Iranian songs cut and rising up through the deck.

 
Also playing are the usual Westking gig-gaggle of emerging students, undergoing their solo live performance assessment by being hurled into support slots. This time round it’s lo-fi electronic pop/soul musician KES, “understated folk” performer Euan Sutherland and contemporary pianist Ivan Bushbye. All of them are too fresh on the scene to have much online to follow up on (Euan also shares his name with a Scottish clothing magnate who got tangled up with the Co-op a few years ago, and this doesn’t help either). However, I did find this video of Ivan playing Ryiuchi Sakamoto’s ‘Forbidden Colours’, so that will have to do for now.


 
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Back at the very start of May, there’s a summit of young female songwriters tucked away into the basement of Servant Jazz Quarters.

Sublime Music presents:
Bella Spinks + Laura Frances + Gillie Ione
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 1st March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Bella Spinks + Laura Frances + Gillie Ione, 1st March 2018Brightonian Bella Spinks has been performing in public since she was twelve: not annoying R&B impressions on the top deck of the bus to Worthing, but a full-blown debut at the Concorde 2 round about 2006. Since then, she’s had plenty of time to broaden and hone her ideas, and has filled the interim years well, preparing her developing work and playing teenaged support slots to a range of performers from Martha Wainwright to Sea of Bees, Ellie Goulding to Ron Sexsmith, The Staves to Viv Albertine. As for herself, she’s already a mistress of the verbally and musically articulate solo piano ballad, a songwriter who can build a hooky and accessible pop single around Platonic philosophy, and a woman with a knack for sonorities (be it undulating basslines, hot-space gaps in the vocal lines or the woody rhythms of a struck’n’knocked piano frame).

The debut album isn’t due for another few months, but come along to celebrate the recent, aforementioned Platonic single ‘Noble Lie’, in which Bella muses and storytells across various forms of implied alchemy. Right now, she’s on a cusp – some idiot could talk her into smoothing everything down into mainstream kitchen-radio ballads, or she could hang onto her inquisitive nature and keep driving down the path of her subtle, slightly bookish originality. I really hope that she sticks with the latter.



 
She’s tagged as “a dark, baritone Joni Mitchell baring herself in her songs with a refreshing depth and brevity”, but rather than carrying out yet another sub-Joni confessional shtick Laura Frances wraps herself in the robes of yearning, classic dark-folk: the kind which I first heard on my mother’s Cynthia Gooding records from the 1950s folk revival – rich-voiced, majestic and ancient. It’s unsurprising to hear that her songwriting springs first and foremost from poetry, her stark modernity constantly slipping back towards mediaeval mystique. It’s also unsurprising to hear Mazzy Star and Leonard Cohen also mentioned in her train of influences. There’s a touch (just a touch, mind) of the urban-playing/rural-dreaming Gothic to her tunes: solemnly waltzing guitar, lonesome woodsaw string parts, and the abiding melancholy in her tone.

 
With a mini-album (2016’s ‘Misapprehension’) and a couple of standalone download singles behind her, Welshwoman-turned-Londoner Gillie Ione makes quick darts through self-produced restless talky songs, like well-made Tracy Chapman /Melissa Etheridge pieces with an experimental pop bent and bonus scurries of motormouthing. On record, she floats about between introspective guitar lines, spacious drum patter and strange ambients knocks and wanders; the scenery shifting behind her fluttery chatting, her glinting disparate observations being molded into a larger, broader picture of meaning.



 
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Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
SOIF Soiree: HARE !!! (the Musical) – Society Of Imaginary Friends + Hungry Dog Brand + Gisela Meyer & John Human + Outre Dan Steele (Darren & Isobel Hirst) + Tamara Canada + Blert Ademi + Global Warming Records + Cian Binchy
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 2nd March 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here

SOIF Soiree, 2nd March 2018Greeting the alleged arrival of the English spring (I’ll believe it when I see it), Society Of Imaginary Friends are bringing another of their art-pop mini-musicals to the March event in their monthly Wood Green soirees. This time, it’s ‘HARE!’ about which they’re saying nothing yet, though you can pick up a few clues from the evening’s lead-in text – (“…we climb out of our warm dark burrows into the golden slanting sunlight, our hearts swell with joy, and we dance a manic tarantella – chase each other in crazy circles, play-box under the serene blue sky and, as the moon rises, the static electrical frenzy of fizzical freedom – it’s mating time!”)

All right – stand by for sex, violence and gratuitous crocuses. Meanwhile, here’s something they did earlier…


 
Making Soiree returns are pianist/composer Blert Ademi and regular-of-regulars Cian Binchy (actor, standup, spoken-worder and autism activist, just back from his Mexican tour). Fresh to the Soiree stage are emerging R&B singer Tamara Canada, post-apocalyptic ecologically-obsessed techno burster Global Warming Records (a.k.a. ‘Driftshift’ presenter Franziska Lantz from Resonance FM) and author/reviewer/punk-poet Martin Dowsing’s Hungry Dog Brand (providing “very English sounding fictional narrative-based songs in a new wave / garage rock style with a touch of seaside gothic” plus a touch of the abrasive wit of their “No Wankers Aloud” club nights from the much-missed original 12 Bar Club).

In typically diverse Soiree fashion, the evening’s rounded off (or thrown engagingly off course) by a turn from internationally acclaimed cellist and concert pianist Gisela Meyer (who, surprisingly, is dropping bow and abandoning keyboard in order to sing three Debussy love songs accompanied by Anglo-Indian classical/improv pianist John Human) and by what looks like a partially-exploded performance by the Outre Dan Steele duo, a.k.a. Darren and Isobel Hirst. Darren (who’s squeezed writing for the NME, working as a vicar, reviewing theatre and being a “professor of baseball” into his life so far), will be interrupting, or moonlighting from, the duo in order to deliver Shakespearean soliloquys. I’m presuming he means actual Shakespeare rather than anguished cod-Tudor monologues about the pains of being a twenty-first century Renaissance man…

The usual Soiree terms and conditions apply – free entry, but you pay for the fine vegan grub. As regards some advance listening, with music and sound for several of the acts wilfully obscure, stuck in the MySpace graveyard or mysteriously pulled from circulation, here’s what I could throw together. Apologies for the occasional bedroom/phone footage look…




 

February/March 2018 – Minute Taker mini-tour of England with Runes (2nd, 3rd, 10th, 17th February); Holly Penfield’s rescheduled Fragile Human Monster dates in London (23rd February, 23rd March); Joss Cope and Emily Jones in Worthing (2nd February)

26 Jan


 
Ben McGarvey, better known as ambient-torch-y folktronicist Minute Taker is heading out on a brief February tour taking in a brace of Saturdays, a Friday and four of the country’s more impressive churches. It’s in support of his new mini-album ‘Reconstruction‘ which he claims reflects “the search for new improved ways of rebuilding yourself when your world has been blown apart.”

Ben’s last pair of tours were more directly theatrical multi-media affairs, fleshing out the doppelganger/ghost story of ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ with tie-in animations, strings and extra guitars. This time, it’s just him – piano, looped harmonies, distorted Eastern-influenced percussion parts, glockenspiel and synths. In addition to the slow dream-jazz-styled songs from ‘Reconstruction’, he’ll be playing rearranged songs from ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ and his previous albums ‘Too Busy Framing’ and ‘Last Things’, plus some rethought-out cover versions from his various influences. Expect an atmosphere of drawn-out, deliciously lovelorn confessions and self-realisations set to luscious, trembling tunes, each with a core of silver-wire determination.


 
Also along for the ride is Greek-turned-Mancunian singer-songwriter Harry Selevos, a.ka. Runes, who has two albums of dreamy cherubic pop behind him – 2015’s ‘Orphic’ and the 2017 OP3 collaboration ‘AWSS’, sublimating his classical piano training via Asian-influenced vocals, a near-ambient synth pulse and a blissful energy (ending up somewhere between Jimmy Somerville and Mark Hollis).


 
Dates:

Prior to the tour, Ben will be performing a couple of live-streamed concerts from home via his Facebook page on Sunday 28th January. The first, at 7.30pm, is a general one with a Q&A session; it will be followed by a bonus session for his Secret Facebook Group covering the ‘Secret Songs’ album series in which he explores cover versions and reinventions.

* * * * * * * *

Live At Zedel/Crazy Coqs presents:
Holly Penfield: ‘Fragile Human Monster’
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Friday 23rd February & Friday 23rd March 2018, 9.15pm
– information here and here

The last Minute Taker tour, in October last year, coincided with Holly Penfield scheduling time out from her ongoing reign as jazz-cabaret queen and camp icon in order to return to the ‘Fragile Human Monster’ show she’d spun into a strange and shamanic synth-pop cult-of-the-broken during the early ‘90s. Back in October – and earlier – I wrote about how the old show had a “compelling and bizarre Californian theatrical edge which variously sat in your lap and purred, wailed over your head, broke down in front of you, or made you feel less alone – always in the same set” and about how “being a member of Holly’s audience meant being enticed into shedding those cloaks of cynicism and reserve we use to insulate ourselves, and opening your heart up to the rawest kind of sympathy and honesty. The show became a part of us, as much as we were a part of it, the church of the misfits she embraced. We dropped our guard, she sang: a voice for our odd angles and our visceral fears… If you led with your sense of cool, or your cynicism, there was no chance. But at full tilt, it was unmatchable.”

Holly Penfield, 23rd February & 23rd March 2018Both ‘Fragile Human Monster’ and its related ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album had been a second-stage reaction to Holly’s previous career as a blow-dried Los Angeles rock starlet (during which, in classic fashion, she’d been sidelined, ground up and spat out by the dream machine). Both had starred Holly alone but for the saxophone and suss of her partner and husband Ian Ritchie and for the evocative night-time sound of her Kurzweil sampler-keyboard. Over these, she spilled her self-composed, gloriously-sung narratives and metaphorical fantasias of collapse, vulnerability, madness and healing like an obsessive, loving, slightly deranged blurring-together of Laurie Anderson, Jane Siberry and Pat Benatar; framed by a stage set of trinkets and keepsakes which assumed the magical associations of a voodoo shrine – or, as I put it previously, “a travelogue of places been, of people touched and gifts given and received.”

It was the kind of gig into which, whether performer or audience member, you had to throw your whole self… and in turn it eventually flamed out, eventually making way for Holly’s camper (yet straighter) third stage as a knowingly decadent flaunt-it-all singer-performer of jazz and torch standards, commanding top-notch acoustic bands. It’s that latter stage that finally made her name – yet some of the willing therapeutic madness of FHM has always been present in those slinks through Fever and I Wanna Be Evil, the wigs and costume changes, the brassy fragility and the phenomenal voice. (Back in California, Holly had shared a voice coach with Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. It showed.)

It wasn’t clear what was impelling Holly to bring the old show back; nor whether she was resurrecting the synths and sequencers and ditching the jazz quartet and feather boas. In any case, it was promptly derailed by her surprise leather-clad showing on ‘The X-Factor’ in full-on kook mode, teasing Simon Cowell with a riding crop during the auditions phase. She did get a market-friendly Cowell soundbite out of that – “a cross between David Bowie and Liza Minnelli” – to go with her Tim Rice citation (“more than one fine diva – she’s a whole host of them, and they all look wonderful and sound sensational”) but it also meant that the planned Vauxhall Tavern FHM shows got showbizzed, and abruptly morphed into the familiar jazz cabaret albeit with a Halloween tinge. Escape velocity lost and an opportunity missed, even if some of the FHM songs still got stirred into the mix.

Now she’s rescheduled the Monster for a couple of dates at the swish London Zedel eaterie: a luxuriant art-deco cabaret capsule. Again, not much about how she’s going to do it, or how much habit and setting is going to shape instrumentation and presentation, but I’m hoping that after last year’s false alarm this will be the real deal, and that whatever twenty years away have added to the show’s energies will add to the spice. Sadly, there’s nothing directly from the Monster on Youtube – and nothing of ‘Parts of My Privacy’ – so instead I’ll have to whet appetites one of the more Monsterous moments from the cabaret show, an excellent new number Holly posted up the other year (like a Bowie torch song for the American dream), and an FHM ballad in its original glossy LA-pop ’80s garb before Holly pared it back to an art-pop synth shimmer.




 
* * * * * * * *

Musica Lumini presents:
Joss Cope + Emily Jones
The Cellar Arts Club, (basement of) 70 Marine Parade, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Friday 2nd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here

Joss Cope + Emily Jones, 2nd February 2018It’s always nice to hear about a new venue, pushing back against the swelling tides of blandness and land-banking; and Worthing’s Cellar Arts Club must be a godsend for the more inquisitive characters who live in Brighton’s smaller, sleepier cousin town. I say “new”, but in fact it’s been in existence for nearly a year – a small, sprightly co-op effort providing music, poetry, stand-up, discussion and small-scale theatre and film showings. This February, it celebrates a small coup in pulling in both Joss Cope and Emily Jones for a concert.

Any discussions of Joss inevitably involve invoking (and then quelling) the shadow of his big brother – Julian Cope, the ‘80s psych-pop chart star and holy fool who spent the next three decades evolving into a garage-rock pagan shaman, a looming Archdrude and more recently a heathen-folk Biker of Ragnarok. So here I go… While there are a few shared traits (a sibling similarity in tone, including the Midlands yawp that occasionally cuts through their middle-class diction; their West Coast way with a melody; their tendency to move from proclaimer to informal intimate in a heartbeat by slipping a conversational twist into a driving lyric) they more often sound like two boys who heard the same records but went away having heard and learned different things. For all of his anarchic ways, whenever Cope the Elder yomps off on his Odinist trip, dooms Christianity or tries to brain-bugger you into enlightenment with 12-strings and Mellotrons, he always seems anxious to please, impose and impress; to garner attention from (and for) his assorted upendings and derailments. More outrightly affable, Joss may have come along on some of Julian’s musical trips, but his own are more relaxed and chatty, drawn from the confidence of one who takes more pleasure in the deft shapework of being a craftsman than in being a noisy prophet of the heath.


 
Ever since his emergence thirty-odd years ago (with short-lived bands such as Freight Train Something Pretty Beautiful and United States Of Mind), Joss has brought Cope-ular bounce and chattiness to the acid wistfulness and garage grooves. Since then, apart from a longer stint with counter-pop collective deXter Bentley, it’s been mostly innumerable multi-instrumental pick-up collaborations between Brighton and London (from Sergeant Buzfuz to Crayola Lectern). However, with last year’s ‘Unrequited Lullabies’ (recorded in Joss’ part-time home of Helsinki with a set of amenable Finnish musicians including Veli-Pekka Oinonen of the Leningrad Cowboys) he’s unveiled an album where his own voice comes clear to the surface. A luscious living-room tranche of psych-pop with a sharp wit; dappled with dextrous pop guitars, carousel prog, fake horns and laps of Mellotron, it also shows that there’s more than enough in Joss’ songwriting to ensure that it’s worth listening to him even if he just rocks up alone with an acoustic guitar. With a delivery not too far off the drowsy cut-glass musings of Guy Chadwick (and travelling through similar musical territories to or the Robyn Hitchcock or The Monochrome Set, although he’s less frivolous than either), he provides deceptive sunny reflections on our currently souring culture with its intolerance, its blame-shifting and the growing poisoning of discourse (“fell voices charm the crowd and there’s a bill for everything / Heard the claim that destiny was waiting in the wings… / Gotta get out of this cauldron before it starts to boil / there’s the frog and the kettle, pour on toxic oil”). At the same time, he’s got a healthy disregard for the idea of singer as preacher – admitting, in Cloudless Skies, that “the truth is understated, there’s no reality to be debated, / but no-one wants to hear that in a song.”

So far, the singer-songwriter work of Truronian hinterland-folkie Emily Jones (daughter of cult sixties folk singer and instrument inventor Al Ashworth-Jones) has rambled across two albums and a collection of Bandcamp oddments. In these pages, she’s mostly shown up in connection with the regular support slots she’s played backing up the Spratleys Japs revival. Opening for Joss should provide a bit more of a window for getting across her own particular songview, which layers ancient drone-lays and Sandy Denny musings with latterday and merges ancient folk tropes with latterday horrorfolk tales and strands of modern rurality, in particular the mystical fraying of reality that comes with too much time alone in a remote cottage. Picking at her songbook reveals the makings of an intriguing psych-folk visionary, with stories of strange transformations, blurrings and exchanges (from her recasting of traditional selkie tales to the peculiar trash-moth creature that flits through Hermegant And Maladine to her musings on the supernatural interplay of housework, psychic memories and ghost-hopes in Pieces Of People).




 

May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – The Magic Lantern, Nick Ereaut, Amy Walker and Sky Coloured at Rain Today (May 18th); Vanishing Twin and Dijf Sanders at Total Refreshment Centre (May 19th); Quiet Boy, Roxanne Tataei and Brigitte Aphrodite at Total Refreshment Centre (May 25th)

9 May

Pulled out of the bag for today’s post of “soon-to-arrive” shows in the capital – a free baroque pop songwriter’s night and a pair of oblique pop evenings with fairly diverse bills. Almost entirely cut’n’pasted info here, since I’m up against time again.

* * * * * * * *

The Magic Lantern + Nick Ereaut + Amy Walker + Sky Coloured, 18th May 2017Rain Today and Sky Coloured present:
Rain Today: The Magic Lantern + Nick Ereaut + Amy Walker + Sky Coloured
The Junction, 171 Coldharbour Lane, Loughborough Junction, London, SE5 9PA, England
Thursday 18th May 2017 , 7.00pm
– free event – information

The Magic Lantern is the musical moniker of Jamie Doe. A multi-instrumentalist with an immediately arresting voice, he is currently recording his third album ‘To The Islands’, mostly written during a tumultuous journey to Australia, where he was born, after nearly ten years away.

“Following the stripped-back intimacy of Jamie’s second album, ‘To This Islands’ features a powerful new ensemble exploring memory, hope and our perennial search for acceptance with an intriguing variety of musical textures. ‘To The Islands’ is due for release in the winter of 2017/18.


 
Nick Ereaut is an East London based singer-songwriter and jazz musician. He grew up studying classical piano and double bass before becoming a jazz bass player by trade. Aside from these roots, his influences include Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Donny Hathaway, Nik Bärtsch and the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Ted Hughes. He’s currently working on his debut EP, featuring a string quartet.


 
Amy Walker‘s slow, folky songs tell tales of dropping out of university, facing adversity in the workplace and the treasures and trials of love. Born in London in 1984 (and recently returned after a decade in Paris) she originally studied songwriting and the physics of sound in Dartington, Devon: she has gone on to record in an aircraft hangar and a mine, and her piano duet ‘My Head Is A Piano’ called for the pianists to sit cross-legged under their pianos.

“Her first studio album, ‘Unravel’, tells the story of the last decade of her life, from abandoning university (Michael And The South West Useless Brigade), to being paid less than her male counterpart (Filthy Little Shrew), to finding peace (Angels Come Down), and losing it again (She Did Tell You).

Sky Coloured are a symphonic pop band from south-east London. A collective of brilliant musicians playing songs of outstanding craft and originality, they put out their debut LP, ‘Starting Time’, in December 2016.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Vanishing Twin + Dijf Sanders, 19th May 2017Total Refreshment Centre presents:
Vanishing Twin + Dijf Sanders
Total Refreshment Centre, 2a Foulden Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7UR, London, England
Friday 19th May 2017, 7.00pm
information

“Oblique pop ensemble Vanishing Twin formed in 2015 over a love of unusual instruments, freaky records and the irresistible seduction of A Good Groove. Founder Cathy Lucas, after releasing a string of conceptual cassettes on her own RAM* label under the name Orlando, put a band together and named it after her Vanishing Twin, a sister absorbed in utero, when they were both still a cluster of cells.

“For the launch of the project’s new EP, Cathy is joined by drummer Valentina Magaletti (Tomaga, Shit and Shine, Raime, Neon Neon), bassist Susumu Mukai (a.k.a. primitive electronic producer Zongamin), library music head Phil M.F.U. (Man From Uranus) on strange sounds, and film-maker/visual artist Elliott Arndt on flute and percussion.


 
Dijf Sanders‘s last album, ‘Moonlit Planetarium’, takes you to a trip of yet undiscovered regions where the most diverse individuals have met in a flawless vibe to retire in harmony and peace whilst wondering what so-called civilization has done to their former planet. Tribal rhythms, warm melodies, electronics, deep melancholy and spoken word fused to a seamless and beautiful musical work in utopia. Dijf is based in Gent, Belgium and produced ‘Moonlit Planetarium’ in collaboration with brass and flute players Nathan Daems and Jon Birdsong.”


 
There’ll also be a DJ set helmed by psychedelic “out-of-this-world music” band Flamingods.

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Quiet Boy + Roxanne Tataei + Brigitte Aphrodite, 25th May 2017Quiet Boy presents:
Quiet Boy + Roxanne Tataei + Brigitte Aphrodite + Gemma Cairney (DJ set)
Total Refreshment Centre, 2a Foulden Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7UR, London, England
Thursday 25th May 2017, 7.00pm
information

“Multi-instrumental pop quintet Quiet Boy (offering a heavy poly-rhythmic punch, weaving lines, pretty piano, romantic strings and deep bass webs) are celebrating the release of their first EP, ‘Earwig with an evening of new material and video projections. It’s an incredibly important night for the Quiet Boy project, which has been in the making for over three years.


 
Roxanne Tataei (a.k.a. Rox) describes herself and her new music as “the lovechild of Minnie Riperton and Stevie Nicks, by way of South London”: her critically acclaimed debut album ‘Memoirs’ was released in 2010 on Rough Trade and led to tours with Mark Ronson, Paul Weller and Nitin Sawhney.

“Wanderlust sated, the last few years have been dedicated to writing and recording new material. Her second album’s on the way with new creative collaborators including Nick Trepka (Emmy the Great), Grammy award winning producer Al Shux (Lana Del Rey/ Alicia Keys) and NTS maverick Lord Tusk (Dean Blunt, Hyperdub) in tow. Roxanne Tataei is gearing up for 2017 – more expressive, exploratory and emancipated than ever before.


 
Brigitte Aphrodite is a multifaceted punk showgirl and performance artist committed to social expression. She is most recently known for her critically acclaimed show ‘My Beautiful Black Dog’ a part-gig/part-theatre punk musical exploring depression. The show sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe, featured on the BBC 10’O Clock News and in the Guardian and Elle magazine, and toured the UK with sold-out shows at Southbank Centre and The Wellcome Collection in London.

“Brigitte is soon to release her debut album, book and second theatrical show (‘Parakeet’).”

 
To round things off there’ll be a DJ set by Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney.
 

March 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Ghost Car, Secret Tongues and Strange Lipsticks in Peckham (11th); Hanging Valleys and Swan Levitt in Camden (21st)

4 Mar

Ghost Tongues (photo © Maria Dela O Garrido)

Ghost Tongues (photo © Maria Dela O Garrido)

Ghost Car + Secret Tongues + Strange Lipsticks
The Montague Arms, 289 Queens Road, Peckham, London, SE15 2PA, England
Saturday 11th March 2017, 7.00pm
– information here

What’s on the invite:

Ghost Car are inviting you to the launch party celebrating their debut single ‘Stuck In The Mud’ (released on New York label Greenway Records), on Saturday 11th of March at The Montague Arms, with support from Secret Tongues and Strange Lipsticks.”

What you get:

From Ghost Car – careening, shifting, minor-key garage rock with sweet’n’sour organ punches plus flavours of bolshy girl-group and of honey-and-yoghurt Gallic pop (despite the fact that, although the members hail from a wonderful pre-Brexit splatter of Spanish, Irish and British roots, none of them are French). The video for ‘Stuck In The Mud’ is a little low-budget hymn to female tensions – office-girl restlessness, transposed rage at impenetrable masculine spaces. It’s a collage of impeccable makeup methods, fusty corridors, and slammed or locked doors, with a nod to the way in which the women’s toilets can double as a sanctuary, a place to compose yourself, even a rallying zone.


 
From Secret Tongues, you get relatively conventionally dreampop indie. Permeated with a lazy but lipsmacking eroticism, it switches between languorous, scenic verses and upbeat, jouncy choruses. Recent single ‘Glass Beach’ is typical of their work – a song of arousal, of “pheromones playing with our hormones” (and it comes with a sloppy-sensual video full of orality and come-hither eyes).


 
For my money, the most persuasive reason to pitch up for the gig is for show opener Strange Lipsticks, a.k.a. singer-songwriter Mary Fritz. Over the times during which she’s shuttled between London and Boston, her music’s evolved from lo-fi tick/echo/strum songcraft (orchestrated with tremolo, warble and skate) to a shifting, half-moored folk sound interpolated with background noises and a wan tone of solitary council-estate psychedelia. Mary’s weary folk-chant of a voice (a little reminiscent of the unsettling intonation of Scottish post-folker Pinkie Maclure) remains the key note: breeding her songs’ atmospheres of ill-health and of a disturbed, distracted intelligence feeling its way around, angling for clarity.



 

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Hanging Valleys + Swan Levitt, 21st March 2017Hanging Valleys + Swan Levitt
The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England
Tuesday 21 March 2017, 7.00pm
– information here and here

What’s on the other invite:

Hanging Valleys is an alternative band founded by Thom Byles in 2016, in which he’s joined by Mike Phillips (guitar, vocals) and Alexis Meridol (beats, synthesizer). Their music is centred around soaring falsetto vocals accompanied by ethereal atmospheric phrasing on electric and acoustic guitars, which combine to create a rich shifting soundscape. An unusual percussive playing style on the acoustic is blended with percussion and self-produced samples to create pulsing rhythms with captivating crescendos. The band’s debut EP will be released on 10th March 2017.

Swan Levitt is an English singer-songwriter from the Isle of Wight, UK. Blending together acoustic folk with refreshingly modern themes, his emotionally charged voice lets you in on a personal level, taking intricate melodies and crafting them into a fully cinematic experience. Uniquely adept at songwriting, Swan Levitt carries the listener on a character building journey. Using his personal struggles and his passion for science to create music that is acoustic at heart, yet interwoven with subtle electronic atmospheres. Levitt is currently recording his debut album at Studio Humbug on the Isle of Wight with accomplished production duo, Boe Weaver and Organ Records.”

What you get:

Beyond the initial hype (and the little cloud of thumbs-ups from various people at BBC Radio 6), you get two acts coalescing from their initial post-folk vagueness. For the past year or so, as they built themselves up from being Thom’s solo project into being an actual band, Hanging Valleys have been dotting Bandcamp and Soundcloud with individual tracks. On the positive side, they’ve got an exquisite, downy, murmuring sound which – if anything – their press releases undersell. On the other, they’ve sometimes used it to be over-evasive, apparently more interested in capturing the perfect curve of a shadow-croon or the glint of a guitar-string harmonic over anything requiring a commitment of story or setpiece. Their most recent track, ‘T.B.D’, seems to indicate that they’re finally hitting the right balance.



 
As for Swan Levitt, he initially came to general attention last year thanks to two softly pained, quietly dramatic post-Damien Rice-ish singles – ‘Alive’ and ‘Singularity’ – which sounded gorgeous but also on the lazy side of sparse: as with the early Hanging Gardens stuff, songs which seemed to prioritise furnishing over content. His third single, ‘You Were Human’, is a big step forwards; a mourning, brush-drummed lament with an offbeat, unsettling perspective, casting an eye on the destructive vortex of male desire and sentimentality while weaving together ideas of artificial intelligence and human feeling cribbed from ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Ex Machina’ (and blurring the lines between lovesong and murder-ballad). He’s a lot more interesting now that he’s come out as a questioning geek instead of just being a beautiful attic voice.



 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – this weekend’s Wakizashi music festival in Bristol – two days of underground allsorts (22nd, 23rd)

19 Oct

Wakizashi Festival, Bristol, 22nd & 23rd October 2016There may still be tickets left for the “glut of experimental and cross-genre artists” descending on Bristol this weekend for the two-day, twenty-band Wakizashi music festival.

The shared brainchild of two Bristolian gig engines – PROBO Titans (who incubate and deliver bi-monthly rock, pop and experimental gigs) and Harry “Iceman” Furniss (restless jazz cornetter and leading fringeman within the Avon jazz underground), Wakizashi offers an exciting, intimate and intelligent spill of psychedelia, noise, post-punk, math rock, jazz strains, electronica and much more.

PROBO Titans & Harry Iceman Furniss present:
Wakizashi Festival:
– Get The Blessing + Hysterical Injury + Twin + Iyabe + Iceman Furniss Quartet + Human Bones + Charivari + Luui + Saltings (Saturday)
– Knifeworld + Edward Penfold + Evil Usses + Milon + Halftone + Drone Soul + Rafael Dornelles Trio + Uther Modes + Perverts (Sunday)
The Old Malt House, Little Ann Street, Bristol, BS2 9EB, England
Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd October 2016 – starts 1.00pm, Saturday
– information here and here

Harry Furniss makes the most of his own involvement by appearing with his Iceman Furniss Quartet. His flowing cornet leads punk-art jazz moves over dogged springy bass rhythms and shuddering No Wave electric-curtain guitar (care of Danny Le Guilcher from Dynamite Pussy Club, whose other career as a printmaker seems to have literally rubbed off on his playing).


 
Further jazz directions are provided by Saturday’s headliners Get The Blessing (founded sixteen years ago over a mutual appreciation of Ornette Coleman,) provide rumbling, doomy trip-hop-tinged jazz-rock. They boast a rhythm section of art-rock/trip-hop/drum & bass go-to-men Clive Deamer and Jim Barr (who between them have kept the pulse going for Portishead, Radiohead, Hawkwind, Peter Gabriel and Roni Size) plus saxophonist Jake McMurchie (of Michelson Morley) and trumpeter Pete Judge (Eyebrow and Three Cane Whale), with another Portisheader, Adrian Utley, sometimes guesting on guitar. Their music brings along some of the flash and flair of jazz pioneers, but also the sense of being trapped in a small room with a lumbering, powerful inscrutable beast – with an equal chance of being either impressed or squashed.


 
Post-punk bass/drums/voice duo Hysterical Injury have a toe in the improv scene and a touch of folk. Their recent press tagging as some kind of “better version of Savages” belies the hovering thoughtfulness and the gentle dignity in their music beyond the softly roiling industrial bass textures. Singing bassist Annie Gardiner has a way with the writing and delivery of a surreal, conceptually suggestive lyric which baffles and entrances.


 
There’s something similarly compelling about the voice of Sophie Dawes, who sings for Iyabe further down the bill. As it was with missing-in-action Delicate AWOL singer Caroline Ross, Annie and Sophie’s voices and words are clear, weightless and elusive – keeping you listening while you try to figure out the messages and hidden narratives floating past in slow streams of isolated moment and fleeting detail.

Regarding Iyabe – considering that they’re a five-piece, they sound remarkably skeletal. Soft pings, drum clicks, bass shadows. At their most expansive, they’re a pencil-sketch ghost of Seefeel’s dub-rock dreaminess: other tracks are a hypnotic rain-drip of slowly growing consciousness. Recent moves towards alliances with remixers, further fleshing out the band’s sound, may point the way forward: but, as with Hysterical Injury, there’s already plenty in place.


 
Two more of Saturday’s bands provide further dispatches from rock’s dissolving, dreamier side. The mystery brainchild of Christelle Atenstaedt, Twin’s drawn-out one-woman Gothpop offers a wealth of detail in its hypnotic overlaid folk drones and its reverberant, tangled-roots guitar chug, which seems to reference both Cranes and Sandy Denny. With electric cello adding occasional extra texture to a droning, crashing armoury of blood-stained guitar fuzz, Bath-based post-rockers Charivari have a sombre lysergic depth; plus a repertoire of zurna-like Mediterranean melodies to add to their gloaming-murmurs, their evenstar twinkles and their post-Mogwai cascades of noise.



 
Begun as a solo project by Andrew Cooke (inspired by ancient ghost stories and the concept of the English eerie), Saltings has evolved into a three-piece drone collective. Andrew (plus string players Liz Muir and Caitlin Callahan) gradually unveil an occult soundtrack full of marine and maritime references, maybe as much inspired by Andrew’s origins in the port of Dublin as by the current trio’s Bristol harbouring. Sampler-moulded sounds (noise-grates, hull-knocks, whistles, water-throbs and motors) are enfolded with double bass and cello parts – whispered, minimal elegies for the undetermined; or baleful shadings; or queasy, discombobulated, John Adams-styled loops both shaken and slurred.



 
The sole hip hop representative on the bill, Luui, rolls out complex, constantly unfolding raps over seductively silky, time-flexed instrumental samples: slurred, narcotic Rhodes piano doodles, bits of glowing solo jazz guitar smeared into something blunted and sinister. Arced out in short, enveloping doses – most of his tracks are over and done in a couple of minutes – it’s both intimate and claustrophobic: a growing autumnal darkness, a slowly moiling confusion.


 
As Luui harmonises with himself (in subtle dischords), his flow folds over and over onto itself like piling lava, journeying from memories of childhood cheeriness into an increasing broody adult disaffection, shot with regrets, spiked with quick vicious jabs of obscenities and flashes of temper. As with the best, most unsettling confessional rap, you get a crooked window onto Luui’s unresolved world, see him wrestle with his conscience and his instincts and, though you see a little too much of him for comfort, for a while you’re matching breath with him too.


 
Initially known for upbeat Lou Reed drawls larded with guitar fuzz, Human Bones now seem to be moving towards a languorous cardboard-box take on Americana. Multi-instrumental looper Steve Strong, meanwhile, has set himself up as a one-man trip hop/math rock band, in which much of the emphasis seeming to be on the drum rhythm. See below for his Godspeedian live take on a grim, violent found story of road anarchy, in which his hopeful, orderly and dreamy guitar introduction gives way (under the growing brutality of the tale on tape) to the controlled heat of a drum beat through which he seems to be trying to slough off the increasing horror.




 

* * * * * * * *

It’s an odd festival indeed in which Knifeworld (Sunday’s headliners) are virtually the straightest act on the bill. That this is the case says plenty about Wakizashi, but it also says something about where Knifeworld are at the moment. Currently cruising on self-created, sunny psychedelic uplands, the London octet are enjoying a period of relative bliss and (for now) a more familial creative approach, as Kavus Torabi starts to share more of the writing with the crew of expert instrumental heads who make up his band. But if Knifeworld are the closest that the festival comes to pop, it’s still a zestfully spiked pop – brazen and crenellated, filled with monkey panache, their tunes still running exuberantly out of the ears with loopy spirals of melody and unexpected double-backs. If Henry Cow had woken up one morning and decided to steal a march on The Flaming Lips, they couldn’t have done much better than this.


 
More lysergic hints string through the day via the sleepy, lo-fi acidic pop of Edward Penfold, whose songs and instrumentals halo the everyday with a softly vibrating warmth. Sometimes they hint at a might-have-been Syd Barrett; one who ducked the madness and fled away to a healing West Coast hideaway, sending missives back to Cambridge in a rested, sprawling hand; faint blue ink on pale blue paper. On the other side of the coin are The Evil Usses – a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.


As with Saturday, two fringe full-jazz groups will be taking the stage. Led by saxophonist Dino Christodoulou, Milon are a mostly acoustic quartet, edging into something more speaker-warping via Neil Smith’s electric guitar and Pasquale Votino’s judiciously over-amplified double bass: Eager Legs sounds like Charles Mingus being pursued down a stuck groove by a bounding ball of Sharrock/McLaughlin electric guitar grit, with Dino keeping one hand on the wheel by some riffling, ruffling Coltrane-ish sax lines. While the Rafael Dornelles Trio might have Brazilian roots, don’t expect samba or even Tropicália: electric guitar, bass and drums are aiming for somewhere far more heatedly lyrical and direct. Tunes like Slave’s Escape and Indigenous Mass grab you straight from the title and power off in muscular, quick-sprung directions, with a fierce and formidable vigour (plus a buccaneering hint of the knife).



 
Saltings’ double bass player Caitlin Callahan returns as one-quarter of part-improvising, part-compositional, female quartet Halftone, alongside two similarly-inclined Bristolians (violinist Yvonna Magda, flautist Tina Hitchens) and a London ally (cellist Hannah Marshall). Formed earlier this year, the foursome play an unsettling, absently beautiful post-classical music evoking wind in the trees, unresolved conversations and difficulties around corners.


 
Drone Soul boast about their “sheer bleak nihilism” and stake a claim to the abrasive post-punk heritage of The Pop Group. At least part of that’s true – the post-punk bit, anyway – but I’d bat away the nihilistic posturings. This music might be on the dark and cavernous side, but it’s illuminated with a vivid energy which belies the band’s collective grizzliness. If they’re bringing you news of falling buildings or collapsing people, they’re doing it with an exuberant dark snarl. Think of Iggy Pop in-yer-face, think Suicide’s assault-by-sine-wave; and also give a little credit to a lost Bristol band, Lupine Howl, whose gonzo millenial motorik finds a fresh echo here.


 
Rhodri Karim – the Welsh-Arabian heart of Uther Modes – used to be a mournful pop scientist, making his name with sepulchural computer-pop songs which bobbed gently at the juncture of philosophy, physics and bedsit soul. More recently he’s swapped this for a new kind of songcraft, strapping up a bass guitar and pulling in other musicians. Now he reels out shifting part-sombre part-jazzy mutters, winding slate-grey but sensual vocals around echoing guitar curlicues; like a fresh breed of post-rock which refuses to stagnate and instead flexes its muscles and goes haring around the park.


 
While he can sometimes be found paddling around in the warm, shallow pools of downtempo electronica, Traces will shake the drips off his feet once he’s warmed up enough. His studio recordings are fine, but it’s his live improvisations that show him at full strength. They’re heart-warmingly intimate and cheery stretches of pick-you-up synthery – like an enthusiastic half-drunken 2am conversation between Max Tundra and Guy Sigsworth, following which they track down Jean-Michel Jarre, drag him away from his pyramids and lasers and force him back into a kitchen full of analogue keyboards. From tabletop synth noodles to Pong blip and cheekily squirting techno, a cunning wonkiness prevails without diminishing the music’s straightforward ambition. Traces sometimes labels it “devotional”, and I’m not entirely sure that he’s joking.


 
Finally, there’s the fall-apart electronic gagpunk of Perverts, with their squalling songs about angry muppets and guilty onanists; their one-finger clickstab of synth drums; their beady-eyed sampler-shreddings of lachrymose film music. I guess that they’re there to remind musicians and punters alike not to take it all too seriously. It’s just that they’re staring me out a little too intently. On record, at least, Perverts deliver their spoofs and squibs with a crazed and chilly eye: a brattier Residents with a crappier laptop; a young digital Punch waiting to knock everything down.


 

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…

* * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * *

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).



 

June 2016 – upcoming London experimental gigs – spiritual improv with Firefly at IKLECTIK (8th); electronic research-pop with ALMA, worriedaboutsatan, and Chagall at Whispers & Hurricanes (9th)

4 Jun

Here are a pair of imminent shows showcasing various directions in experimentation (from spiritual politics and improvisation to pop soundscaping and music technology) at two of London’s most undersung but exciting current venues.

* * * * * * * *

Firefly, 8th June 2016

IKLECTIK Arts Lab presents:
Firefly
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Wednesday 8 June 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Firefly is an improvising project led by Barcelona-born singer Cristina Carrasco, whose past work includes jazz, rock, soul and bossa nova. For the past five years Cristina has been working in free improvisation and experimental sound (she’s a recent alumnus of Cleveland WatkissStardust People’s Choir project, and also studied with voice improvisers Víctor Turull and Inés Lolago) and aims to combine this work with her other career in community arts and education, working towards promoting “equality and social integration, prioritising the idea of music and its benefits as a main element to heal any kind of society.

Cristina describes ‘Firefly’ as “a tribute to the surrender of human capacity. When we connect with our inner sound we are part of the universal vibration, we are in the present moment opening new channels of communication and creating expression. So, welcome to a free improvisation and experimental sound trip, where our soul leads the musical journey.” For this Firefly evening, Cristina will be joined by composer and broadcaster Daniel James Ross (Roddart, Mega Trio, ‘Beethoven Was Wrong‘) on electronics, former Goldie collaborator Justina “J Eye” Curtis on piano, and the remarkable arts-and-culture polymath Ansuman Biswas on percussion.

No soundclips for this one – you’ll just have to guess and attend…

* * * * * * * *


Chaos Theory Promotions presents: present:
Whispers & Hurricanes: Alma + worriedaboutsatan + Chagall
New River Studios, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 9th June 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Whispers & Hurricanes, 9th June 2016“We take our night of weirdly wonderful new downtempo sounds to one of London’s best new artist community venues, New River Studios. This month sees artists blending electronic production, post-rock and brand new technology.

“Alternative post-rock/pop duo ALMA – a project from Codes In The Clouds members Pete Lambrou and Ciaran Morahan (the former also of Monsters Build Mean Robots) – deploy a loop station, multiple delay pedals, a piano and strings to create a slow-moving, high-flying soundscape of luscious gravitas. Their sound has grasped the heartstrings of many, and led to them recently completing an extremely successful UK tour with Nordic Giants as well as a slot at Mutations Festival alongside Lightning Bolt, Metz, John Talabot and Chelsea Wolfe. At this gig, they’ll be launching their new double A-side single The Lighthouse/While Nothing, featuring remixes by maybeshewill and Message To Bears.



 
worriedaboutsatan are a Manchester-based electronica band made up of Thomas Ragsdale and Gavin Miller (also known for their other project Ghosting Season). They incorporate swirling ambient melancholia, skyscraping post-rock guitar atmospherics, dark house and pounding slo-mo techno. Since starting life as a bedroom project back in 2006, the band has always retained a strong DIY ethos, and pride themselves on being very much a live band, rather than just another electronic project with a laptop. They’ve so far shared stages on tours and supports with a diverse array of musicians, such as Ólafur Arnalds, Clark, Dälek, Apparat, Errors, Pantha du Prince, HEALTH, Vessels, and many more.


 
Chagall (Chagall van den Berg) is a multimedia vocalist, songwriter and producer from Amsterdam. Singing live, she creates and triggers her rich electronic production, vocal effects and visuals by moving, bending and swaying her mi.mu gloves – wearable “gestural” technology developed with a team including Imogen Heap). Having spent some time on Universal/EMI’s roster, Chagall decided to quit the major label life and now prefers to make her way through Europe’s independent and underground music scene. Her live performance is unlike anything you’ll have witnessed.”


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs in London and elsewhere – Boy and a Balloon, Russell Swallow and Jack Hayter at Daylight Music (4th June); Weird Dreams briefly drifting around England (7th-10th June); Tricity Vogue in residence at Wilton’s (also 7th-10th June)

2 Jun

Some more imminent shows, mostly of slightly skewed varieties of pop.

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Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 226: Boy and a Balloon + Russell Swallow + Jack Hayter
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 4th June 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation: £5.00) – more information

Daylight Music 226, 4th June 2016Subtitled “Inside/Out”, this particular Daylight Music session is a showcase for some of the long-running concert series’ regulars. As they put it:

“Under the moniker Boy And A Balloon, Alex Hall is a Hampshire born singer-songwriter. A London busker, and once a session guitar player (touring extensively for Motown legends Martha Reeves & The Vandellas) he now creates skewed indie music – reviving songwriting styles from the glory days, and fusing it with contemporary and chamber acoustic instruments.

“Dismantling the idea of cleanness, Alex accompanies his delicate vocals on his mainstay guitar (a bashed up three-quarter-size nylon-string version played through a StreetCube amplifier) to create glitchy and humanly imperfect timbre. Merged with a simplistic songwriting style to underpin and iron the creases out of the music, Boy And A Balloon attempts to create a new brand of idiosyncratic pop songs. It is a true and purposeful statement and philosophy that songwriting will shine through roughness. Taking major influence from musical icons from all his troubadour heroes of the ’40’s right up to the ’70s, Boy And A Balloon is about the innocent and inevitable loss of something human, precious and innocent – so apparent in today’s fast paced and overwhelming technological world.

“Calling on the classic grooves of James Bay, the storytelling of Tracey Chapman, and the gorgeous ambience of Howling, Russell Swallow‘s sound is brooding, confessional, indie. His songs and stories are driven by sensual imagery & sticky melodies, powered by rich tenor vocals, synths and driven guitars.

“Previously of the mighty Hefner (as well as Spongefinger and Dollboy), multi-instrumentalist Jack Hayter‘s beautiful, heartbroken music is full of folk-tinged dissonant woe. He’s a self-styled ‘singer and writer of no-tune showtunes’ and a ‘rotten-gutted, scorched-throated pedal steel machine’: a unique songwriter given time and freedom to blur the lines between the trad. folk of his influences and the London anxieties of his past with dirty fuzz, biting wit and of course, ‘the universal language of a drunkard’.”

(Jack usually appears at Daylight Music on acoustic guitar and voice: elsewhere on this blog there’s a detailed review of one such occasion.)

* * * * * * * *

When they emerged in London about five years ago, Weird Dreams perpetuated the well-worn image and substance of a literary indie band in a classic four-man mould. They jangled their guitars; they drew on ‘60s-tinted Beach Boys and girl-group inspired pop; then, citing a fascination with the underbelly cinema of David Lynch, they subverted that pop with dark and bitter lyrics about loss, misunderstanding and cruelties. To seal the deal, it emerged that they’d first been formed after a chance conversation in a retro clothes shop. Their debut album, ‘Choreography’, seemed tailor-made to appeal to the Edwyn Collins, Smiths and Belle & Sebastian fans. After that, it all seems to have gone wrong, though possibly wrong in the right kind of way. Dark hints at a four years of “loss, derealisation and the constructing of a new identity” suggests that the band hit multiple meltdowns.

Whatever happened, it’s seen the Weird Dreams base shifted from north-east London to Paris, left singer and songwriter Doran Edwards as the only remaining member, and altered the band’s sound from concise, short-story guitar power pop into something looser and more textured; more in keeping with their name; more electronic, decidedly psychedelic and definitely hypnagogic. Though you can still hear the skeletal outline of their previous musical identity, Weird Dreams’ current way of working cites unsettling photojournalism and avant-garde electronic composing as influences – alongside the grand synthtronic filmscapes of Ryuichi Sakamoto and the DIY radiophonic pop mistings of Broadcast. It sometimes sounds as if Doran might have kept in touch with his inner Lynch, but also turned up a little heat under his inner Splet.


 

Doran’s new approach also allows him to unhook from pithy storytelling and dip into a questing, introverted fantasy. One of the new songs, Calm, explores autogenic therapy – or to put it another way, the consciously-willed emptying-out of stress, body part by body part, suggesting a simultaneous emptying out of soul and identity, even as the music itself travels through phases of mood-shift from disassociation to rapture and rhythm. Another song, Heaven’s Hounds, revisits memories of 1980s synth pop and wraps them in a swathe of trickling dream pop guitar arpeggios and sampler gusts (the results echoing both the narcosis swoon of My Bloody Valentine and the unearthed-technology-meets-folk-reinventions of Eyeless In Gaza).


 

Performing as a Doran-fronted five-piece, the reinvented band are playing the following venues this month:

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Tricity Vogue (photo by James Millar)

Tricity Vogue (photo by James Millar)

If you’d prefer something a little more vivid and straightforward to fill your week, or just someone with dirtier jokes – in fact, if you happen to be in London and fancy a homburg-hatted cross between the dear-departed Victoria Wood and the still-very-much-in-yer-face Amanda Palmer, with a couple of twists of Lorraine Bowen and Marie Lloyd – then you could check out Tricity Vogue instead. The ukulele-toting queen of “thinking women’s burlesque cabaret” (and part-time tongue-in-cheek gender warrior) has an upcoming bar residency at London’s Wilton Music Hall which coincides or clashes with the Weird Dreams tour. You can expect her to deliver her own blues or jazz-inflected numbers about vampires or drunken penguins, list-songs about lady pirates and paeans to espresso coffee (which, naturally, accelerate into a distracted frenzy); and she’s a dab hand at nicking and recycling tunes (turning My Favourite Things into My Drag Queen Wet Dream’, or repurposing the ‘Doctor Who’ theme for a song about mundane parallel universes).

Tricity’s take on music hall proves that it’s an art form which, like Wilton’s itself, might need a careful patch-up, brush-up and infusion of new talent occasionally, but which doesn’t need that much refurbishment and alteration to remain fun. Plus, while she’s more than happy to deliver some snags along with the fluff. Alongside the kitschy daftness and double-entendres there are surprising delicate songs about lost origami, a sense of humour which ranges from cute to gallows (sometimes hitting both ends simultaneously, as in Pet Assassinator) and a set of ribald, pointed memoirs from an chequered love-life.

Wilton’s Music Hall presents:
Tricity Vogue
Cocktail Bar @ Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, Whitechapel, London, E1 8JB, England
Tuesday 7th June to Friday 10th June, 9.00pm
more information




 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – From Now On 2016 festival in Cardiff; Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies, Milo Newman & Matt Davies bring ‘The Lost City Of Dunwich’ to Bristol; Paperface, Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay, Dearbhla Minogue (The Drink, The Wharves) all play Daylight Music; an evening of Bad Elephant music with The Gift, Twice Bitten, Tom Slatter, jh; Teeth of the Sea + Ramleh at Electrowerks; The Centrals + Picturebox in Whitechapel; the Jonny Gee Quartet play Archway jazz.

9 Feb

Looking for further news on shows by Laura Cannell (mediaevalist improviser on fiddles and double recorder, previously covered here), I came across this:

From Now On 2016

Shape and Chapter present:
From Now On Festival 2016 @ Chapter Arts Centre, 2 Market House, Market Rd, Cardiff, CF5 1QE, Wales
Friday 12th-Sunday 14th February 2016
more information

“From Now On returns for the third year to fill Chapter with adventurous, fresh and boundary pushing music. Over three days you will be able to delve into a multi-genred soundscape of analogue dance, ancient re-imaginings, improvisation, silky balladry and lo-fi punk. We have sourced significant international visitors and some of the most intriguing performers working in Wales and the UK today.

As part of the celebrations, Chapter Cinema will be screening a compelling programme of music film and we are proud to present our first artist in residence. Acts include US experimental pop luminary Julia Holter; surreal electronic trio Stealing Sheep; paradoxical medieval/improv fiddler Laura Cannell; Bas Jan, a new krautpop trio from Serafina Steer; ambient explorer Mark Lyken and minimalist synth duo Happy Meals. Meilyr Jones will be presenting new work informed by his recent exploits in film and theatre that will be made in residence in the week leading up to the festival. Anna Homler & Stephen Warwick present a dance- and film-led performance of ‘Breadwoman’, a version of Tim Parkinson’s anti-opera ‘Time With People’; and Sweet Baboo invites you to join his ‘Synthfonia Cymru’, a collaborative synth performance.

We also have an alternative Valentine’s Day orgy of bands and short films curated by Club Foot Foot. In the cinema H. Hawkline soundtracks ‘Gwaed Ar Y Ser’ and experimental Welsh music films from CAM Sinema.”

(Other acts confirmed include Apostille, Sleeper Society, Club Foot Foot, L’Ocelle Mare, and Laura J Martin.)

Laura plays From Now On during Saturday 13th February. On the following day she’ll be crossing the Severn to play this event:

The Lost City of Dunwich

Onomato Collective present:
‘The Lost City Of Dunwich’ (featuring Laura Cannell, Rhodri Davies, Milo Newman and Matt Davies)
Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU, England
Sunday 14th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

“Onomato are delighted to bring together four artists to sonically explore the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the submerged town of Dunwich on the coastal region of Suffolk, East Anglia.

Matt Davies and Milo Newman will construct an 8-channel sound installation of their on-going work ‘By the mark, the deep‘. Utilising their field recordings from the waters of Dunwich’s ruins they will create a sonic framework for Laura Cannell with her evocative over-bowed fiddle and recorder, and un-traditional harpist Rhodri Davies to respond to.

Hailing from the region, Laura Cannell’s music draws on ‘folkish mysteries and the stark landscapes of East Anglia’s coasts’ and the event will begin with a conversation about a shared fascination with Dunwich’s esoteric submerged town.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, here’s something a little lighter. I’ve grumbled before about the encroachments and exclusions which lurk in the ongoing gentrification of the city but there are positive sides too. In Archway, amongst the brush-ups and the shouldering aside of community resources for what looks like the usual drive towards more and more luxury flats (see here for some of the fallout from that) there are sundry encouraging pop-ups and lower-key investments.

One such is the move of the Forks and Corks cafe from the edge of Parliament Hill to a new location, livening barren and wind-sucked plaza outside Archway station. Ensconsed in a former betting shop, twenty seconds walk from the tube station, they cook up deli food and serve craft beers, ciders and wines in an atmosphere of comfy sofas, child-friendliness and an encouraging make-do and mend spirit. Part of the latter includes a battered old piano, which in turn is leading to music evenings…

Jonny Gee Quartet @ Forks & Corks, 12th February 2016

Jazz in Archway presents:
The Jonny Gee Quartet
Forks & Corks, 2 Archway Mall, Junction Road, Archway, London, N19 5PH, England
Friday 12th February 2016, 8.00pm
– free event – more information

The Quartet are Jonny Gee (leader and double bass), Mick Foster (saxophone), Dan Hewson (piano) and Andrea Trillo (drums). From the photo, you can tell that they don’t take themselves too seriously, but don’t expect the same to apply to the music. Although you can expect a breezy, funky and accessible take on acoustic jazz, it’s going to be played by some serious musicians – most of them bandleaders in their own right – who don’t see why joy and sunniness can’t flood their playing. Between them they draw on years of experience with jazz, classical and dance forms (having collectively clocked up work with Stan Sulzmann, Ravi Shankar, Mike Garrick, Jacqui Dankworth, Zoë Rahman, The Sixteen, Pete King, the London Jazz Orchestra, Dave O’Higgins, Jon Toussaint, Jerry Dammers and Antonio Forcione). Not a bad collective draw for a scruffy, warmed-up concrete box in the middle of Archway…

* * * * * * * *

Still in London, on the 13th there’s the usual wash of Saturday gigs – acoustica, contemporary prog, electropsych and power electronics, and lo-fi pop.

In order of arrival…

Daylight Music 215, 13th February 2016

Daylight Music 215: Paperface + Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay + Dearbhla Minogue
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event (suggested donation £5.00) – more information

Direct from the Daylight Music press mill:

Paperface has just released (from his lighthouse studio) his critically acclaimed debut album ‘Out Of Time’, inspired no doubt, by the choppy waters of the Thames lying in one direction, and the urban sprawl that lies in the other. He is probably up there hard at work on his next creation right now (weather permitting, of course).

We also welcome instrumental guitar duo Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay. Sheffield-based Jim’s influences range from African music, jazz and Eastern European folklore. Toby is from near Rhayader in mid-Wales: he is influenced by Indian Ragas, African Kora music and ancient Welsh harp music.


Dearbhla Minogue is a singer and guitarist in both The Drink and The Wharves. She will be playing electric guitar and doing some band songs as well as songs written to be played solo – and a couple of folk covers.

The brilliant The Leaf Library will be our in-between performer this week creating some weird and wonderful soundscapes – the icing on our Daylight Music sonic cake!”


 

(There’ll be more about Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay in the next post – this is a busy month for them…)

Meanwhile, Bad Elephant Music have been one of the most industrious of British cottage labels this past year, putting out a steady and careful stream of latterday prog, post-prog, folk rock and sophisticated AOR albums. This home gig should live up to the label’s familial reputation…

An Evening of Bad Elephant Music, 13th February 2016

Bad Elephant Music/House of Progression/Prog Magazine present:
An Evening of Bad Elephant Music: The Gift + Twice Bitten + Tom Slatter + jh
Boston Music Room, 178 Junction Road, Tufnell Park, London, N19 5QQ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Straight from the Elephant’s mouth:

“With their powerful and hypnotic songwriting, The Gift are supreme purveyors of the storytelling art and the perfect band to headline this event. The band will be staging a performance of their classic first album, ‘Awake And Dreaming’. 2016 sees the 10th anniversary of this long-deleted album, and to celebrate its birthday BEM will be reissuing it in a deluxe version, with brand new design. It is available for sale bundled with pre-ordered tickets for the evening, and also at the show. It won’t be on general release until later in the year, so this is a unique opportunity to get your copy and hear the album before it’s in the wild.

Twice Bitten will be making a rare live appearance, following BEM’s release of their first ever CD, ‘Late Cut’, in 2015. Formed in 1982, this legendary ‘heavy wood’ duo performed with most of the second-wave progressive rock bands of the Eighties, and will be well-known to anyone who frequented the Marquee back in the day. In keeping with their idiom, this appearance represents the launch event for ‘Late Cut’ – only six months after its release!

Tom Slatter‘s music is a listening experience like no other, with epic songs and deliciously dark storylines. Tom has eccentricity, inventiveness and mad genius at the core of everything he does – musician who is continually re-inventing himself. Tom is currently working on his fifth full-length album, a followup to ‘Fit The Fourth’, released by BEM in 2015. Tom certainly knows the meaning of ‘left field’ when it comes to the ideas and execution of his steampunk prog.

jh‘s uniquely British songwriting is a testament to his love of the album as an art form and his to his integrity as a musician. His eclectic yet cohesive music is full of melodies that will glue themselves inside your head. ‘Morning Sun’, an anthology of jh’s first three albums, has been a favourite for many visitors to the BEM store, and 2016 will see the release his first new collection of material since 2013′s ‘So Much Promise’.”

LATE UPDATE:

Unfortunately Rog Patterson – one half of Twice Bitten – has suffered a slipped disc in his neck, and is unable to even hold a guitar, let alone play one. Twice Bitten have, therefore, had to withdraw from An Evening of Bad Elephant Music. However… all is not lost! At the eleventh hour We Are Kin have stepped into the fray with a special acoustic performance of songs from their album ‘Pandora’.

 

Something a little noisier…

Teeth Of The Sea, 2016

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Teeth Of The Sea + Ramleh
Electrowerkz @ Islington Metal Works, 5 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Having just finished a British tour in support of their fourth album, ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’, Teeth Of The Sea (returning to one of their London home-venues) have shown up in ‘Misfit City’ before. Their driving part-electronic instrumentals – packed with wailing guitars, rasping analogue synths and effected kaleidoscopic trumpet – owe equal debts to counterculture techno and to the aggressive end of psychedelic rock. ‘The Guardian’ has described their sound as “a more malevolent Morricone… widescreen and atmospheric throughout, but with a sense of dread running through its veins.” That’s close enough to nail it, though I’d also salute the four-to-the-floor beats, the cavernous space echo, and the dark pop shimmer that seals their overall appeal. Lurking epic dread notwithstanding, a Teeth Of The Sea gig is also a grand black-winged dance party – a huge Gothic laugh.

In support are Ramleh, whose lengthy and intermittent history dates back to the early ‘80s when they were launched as a solo power electronics project by founder and constant member Gary Mundy. As Gary and collaborator Philip Best developed, their sound generators, tunnelling shock-noise and lacings of screamed and hateful imagery gradually gave way to more flexible live instrumentation and more cryptically-inclined song-texts. Gary would become one of the key members of another crew of brutal noise-rock improvisers, Skullflower, whose explorations and personnel both contributed to Ramleh’s second and more psychedelic incarnation, which lasted through to the late ‘90s.

Since reuniting for a second time in 2009 (this time without Philip Best, now concentrating on the transcendently confrontational noise of his Consumer Electronics project) Ramleh have honed their sound to what you’ll hear on their newest album ‘Circular Time’ – dark guitar peals, blipping synth tones, pillared bass and supple, controlled-demolition drum-and-percussion flexings which can skulk in a kind of dubby minimalism or engage in furious death-spiral embraces of crowded noise. The Ramleh you see at this concert could be the rock trio version (Gary, Antony diFranco, Martyn Watts) or the drumless duo version of Gary and Anthony (I’m guessing that it’ll be the former…)


 

There’s just time to quickly mention this one too…

The Centrals + Picturebox @ The Union Bar, 13th February 2016

The Centrals + Picturebox
The Urban Bar, 176 Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, London, E1 1BJ, England
Saturday 13th February 2016, 8.00pm
more information

The Centrals return to The Urban Bar in Whitechapel. Expect a fast-paced set full of catchy scrappy numbers that rarely break the 3min barrier. No messin’. Alongside them will be Picturebox, with their unique brand of lo-fi pop music from the cathedral city of Canterbury.”



 

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More very soon…

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – from electro-salsa sizzle to cinema cello to sorry sighs with Daylight Music (Arcadio, Michael Price & Peter Gregson, Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq); Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Luminous Bodies, Casual Sect and Girl Sweat glisten in Hackney; LUME give us improvising strings, Fauré jazz and a female bandleader summit (Njanas, Percy Pursglove’s Far Reaching Dreams Trio, En Bas Quartet)

4 Feb

More assorted crossovers and team-ups via Daylight Music…

Daylight Music 214

Daylight Music 214: Arcadio + Michael Price & Peter Gregson + Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 6th February 2016, 12.00pm
– free/pay-what-you-like event – more information

Arcadio brings together London’s finest improvisers and percussionists to create a nomadic exploration of rhythm and movement. Led by composer Andrew Hall (also known as trumpeter for the vLookup Trio and Mak Murtic’s Balkan folk-futurist ensemble Mimika), Arcadio also features double bass player J.J. Stillwell, soundmangler Phil Maguire, woodwinder Rob Milne, multi-instrumentalist Ben Zucker, vLookup drummer Tom Atherton and several Mimika members (saxophonists Mak Murtic, Seb Silas and John Macnaughton; percussionist Paul Love). The band defines itself as the point where “electro-salsa meets free improvisation.” This will be their debut gig.

Michael Price is one of the UK’s most sought after composers and arrangers. His work for film and television includes ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ (both of which he co-scores with David Arnold), ‘Unforgotten’, ‘Hot Fuzz’, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’. Michael’s first film experience was as musical assistant, co-producer and arranger to the late Michael Kamen, with whom he collaborated for five years, working on a number of exciting projects including ‘X-Men’, ‘Band of Brothers’, ”The Iron Giant’, and ‘Metallica – S&M’. Having begun his career as a pianist and composer for contemporary dance, he has now established the Michael Price Trio and Ensemble to perform his own work in diverse venues across the world. His critically acclaimed debut album ‘Entanglement’ (on Erased Tapes Records, released in April 2015) was described as “gorgeous” by Rolling Stone.

On this occasion, Michael will be performing with New Music cellist and composer Peter Gregson, who has recently premiered works by composers including Daníel Bjarnason, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Steve Reich.

 

Now approaching its twentieth anniversary, Dakota Suite is not so much a band, more the brainchild of Chris Hooson. While holding down a full-time job as a social worker in Leeds, Chris produces affecting sadcore music under the Dakota Suite monicker, usually working in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist David Buxton, but sometimes with Italian ambient composer Emanuele Errante and American composer-cellist David Darling.

Since 2009, another regular Dakota Suite collaborator has been Parisian composer and pianist Quentin Sirjacq – improviser, New Music performer and composer of music for film, theater and radio. A musician who has performed as part of rock groups, big bands, symphony orchestras and avant-garde ensembles, Quentin has also worked Fred Frith, whose music he has performed (alongside that of James Tenney and Frederic Rzewski and José Maceda) as part of his continuing explorations of the avant-garde and its relationship with older traditions. Quentin’s other recent collaborations have included work with Akira Kosemura and Shin Kikuchi, leading to releases on the Japanese label Schole Records.

Current collective Dakota Suite/Sirjacq plans include an upcoming studio record featuring the Hooson/Buxton/Sirjacq trio and the release of a live album featuring the Hooson/Sirjacq duo, some of which may be touched on at this gig.”

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I’m not sure whether I’ll be covering as much garage rock this year as I did last year. I find that a little of it goes a long way without generating much to write about, unless you start reviewing the audience or pulling in some other contextual hobby-horses. That said, I do like what Baba Yaga’s Hut do, and part of what they do includes this noisy sweatbox of a show coming up at the weekend:

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs + Luminous Bodies + Casual Sect + Girl Sweat @ The Victoria, 6th February 2016

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs + Luminous Bodies + Casual Sect + Girl Sweat
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Saturday February 6th 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Heavy-motorik Tynesiders Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are pretty brutal. That psychotic iteration-stutter of a name gives it all away before you even get to the music. I dropped a few chromosomes just by listening to them. Imagine the tangled ball-web of a lurking cellar spider: imagine Hawkwind being carjacked halfway down Ladbroke Grove, the steering wheel dragged out of Dave Brock’s hands. Expect a dystopian thrum of attenuated gutter grooves, early Ubu synth sousings and righteously pissed-off howls from singer Matt Baty, plus tossing, turning rhythm and cymbal work from the band’s drummer Ewan MacKenzie, who adds a powerful synaptic crackle to the whole business. Here’s twelve-and-a-half minutes of them…

 

Regarding the support bands… Luminous Bodies lurched up from the underground back in December, when they were seen supporting Rocket From The Tombs in London. For those of you who don’t remember that particular occasion, they’re a noise-rock supergroup, a gang of self-proclaimed knuckle-draggers pounded together like clumps of dirty wet clay, sharing players with bands including Ikara Colt, Part Chimp and Terminal Cheesecake. Casual Sect began knocking out their ratchety noisepunk (part conspiracy paranoia, part wink-to-camera) across a set of demos and gigs last year. Girl Sweat is less familiar to me: a one-man show of soiled electro-pop exotica and psychedelic fringe from Stockton-on-Tees, where the smog chews at the fake leather in the pub furnishings.



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There are two more upcoming jazz’n’improv gigs from the LUME organisation:

Njanas + Far Reaching Dreams Trio @ LUME, Vortex Jazz Bar, 8th February 2016

LUME presents:
Njanas + Far Reaching Dreams Trio
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Sunday 7th February 2016, 7.30pm
< – more information here and here

Njanas is a brand new project consisting of four female musician/composers – Laura Cole (piano), Filomena Campus (vocals), Tori Handsley (harp) and Ruth Goller (bass) – who are all band leaders in their own right. The ensemble, which celebrates women’s art and music, started more than a year ago.

Njanas state “we often feel under-represented as women in the worlds of jazz and art, and in this project all compositions are inspired by a female artist (such as Frida Kahlo, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gertrude Stein, Franca Rame and many more) or written by a female composer. The name Njanas is an encounter between the gigantic sculptures called ‘Nanas’, created by painter and sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, and ‘Janas’, ancient legendary female figures and fairies/witches that relate to the myth of the Sardinian Goddess-Mother.”

Following the critically-acclaimed success of his ambitious nine-part jazz suite ‘Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls’, multi-instrumentalist and composer Percy Pursglove now debuts the music as re-interpreted by his fascinating new Far Reaching Dreams Trio, featuring himself on trumpet, Paul Clarvis on drums and Ivo Neame on piano and accordion.

Percy composed the original suite during 2013 and 2014, working with the support of a Jazzlines Fellowship. The multi-lingual piece (including sung texts referring to Anne Frank, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Charles Darwin, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin and Joan of Arc) was originally arranged for a nine-piece ensemble, conductor and eight-piece choir for its October 2014 premiere. Percy describes ‘Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls’ as “a project that has been in the back of my mind for a few years now. I had some wonderful experiences singing in choirs at an early age and the sound of and purity of massed voices has always drawn my ear. I wanted to find a way to access that broad spectrum of possible textures that Gabriel Faure had introduced me to all those years ago, but within a chamber ensemble setting that has the scope to offer another layer of unforeseen spontaneity.”

En Bas Quartet @ LUME, London Review Bookshop, 18th February 2016

LUME presents:
En Bas Quartet
London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, Bloomsbury, London, WC1A 2JL, England
Thursday 18th February 2016, 7.00pm
more information

En Bas Quartet are string-section improvisers. In order of rising pitch, they are Seth Bennett (double bass and group leader), Alice Eldridge (cello), Benedict Taylor (viola) and Aby Vulliamy (viola).

Seth comments “I’d long been interested in contemporary chamber music, and wanted to investigate that aesthetic in an improvised context. A ‘low’ quartet also allows me to join in – the bass part in a quartet is usually taken by the cello – and write music for a chamber ensemble, with all the interaction and rhythmic subtlety they use. I find the parallel between a small jazz ensemble and a string quartet very interesting; both groups will stretch time, allow the music to breathe and pause, and find a way to play as a single unit. I chose three of the best string improvisers in the country to form the rest of the ensemble, and was lucky enough that they all agreed to take part in the project.”

Here’s what they do:

According to LUME, at this gig the Quartet “will be playing Seth’s quartet for improvising low strings, based on the Northumberland folk song tune Sair Fyeld Hinny, and exploring various settings and provocations for group and solo improvisation. Inspired by the quartets of Shostakovich, Beethoven and Bartok, as well as more contemporary jazz ensembles like Arcado String Trio, the Masada string trio and contemporary British free improvisation, En Bas Quartet weave their disparate influences into a compelling whole.”

* * * * * * * *

More gig news shortly – Teeth Of The Sea, an evening of Bad Elephant Music, and much more (including plenty of folk-baroque guitar).

October 2015 – upcoming gigs – Jonas Hellborg & Steve Lawson in Birmingham, London & Leeds; Tim Bowness, Peter Chilvers, David Rhodes, Theo Travis quartet gig in Cardiff

7 Sep

Although there are still some September gigs to flag up, here’s advance notice of four interesting concerts in early October for those of you who are interested in the amorphous terrain between jazz, balladry, art pop and ambient electronica. (Just straight press release stuff – the analysis will have to wait for another time, although I’ve also stuck a few review links in where I’ve covered these musicians before…)

Hellborg & Lawson, 2015

Two of the world’s leading solo bass guitarists together on one stage.

Crossing musical boundaries and blowing listeners’ minds for over thirty years, Jonas Hellborg is one of the great innovators of the bass guitar. From the pyrotechnic flamboyance of his early solo electric albums, to his unique exploration of the richness and depth of the acoustic bass guitar, Jonas has changed the way people think about – and play – the bass. Whether as a solo artist, or collaborating with many of the most respected names in music, from John McLaughlin to PiL, Ginger Baker to Shawn Lane, Jonas’ signature sound and uncompromising creative philosophy have produced an unparalleled body of work, mostly on his own Bardo label. Lauded by press and public alike, this is a rare opportunity to hear Jonas up close in the UK.

Steve Lawson is one of the most celebrated solo bassists in British music history – early in his career, he opened for Level 42 on their first Greatest Hits comeback tour, placing his unique take on melodic looping-based live performance in front of tens of thousands of bass aficionados. Fifteen years of regular gigging across the UK, Europe and the US have solidified his place as a leading exponent of solo bass. Steve’s sound-world borrows liberally from electronica, jazz, pop, rock, ambient and experimental music, to form a sonic fingerprint as compelling as it is unique. Following on from two years of wide-ranging collaboration, playing alongside musicians as diverse as Reeves Gabrels and Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Divinity, (and with the imminent release of his twelfth and thirteenth all-solo albums – on the same day!) Steve is back with fresh explorations pushing the notion of what the bass can be in the twenty-first century. (Here are a couple of ‘Misfit City’ reviews of earlier Steve Lawson records for those who’ve not read/heard them -‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘ and ‘Conversations‘).

Full dates, details and links:

  • Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Rd South, Cotteridge, Birmingham, B30 3EL, UK, Sunday 4th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.
  • The Vortex Jazz Bar, 11 Gillett Street, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday 5th October 2015 – price t.b.c. – contact venue for tickets.
  • Left Bank Leeds, The former St Margaret of Antioch Church, Cardigan Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, LS6 1LJ, UK, Tuesday 6th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.

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Bowness/Chilvers/Rhodes/Travis, October 2015

Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers/David Rhodes/Theo Travis (Chapter in association with Burning Shed @ Chapter,  Market Road, Canton, Cardiff, Wales, CF5 1QE, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £15.00

A unique combination of atmospheric music and songs performed by the following four British art-pop, jazz and textural music mainstays:

Tim Bowness is vocalist/co-writer with the band no-man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson. He has also worked with Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree, Japan), Peter Hammill, Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport Convention), Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and others. He has released three solo albums – ‘My Hotel Year’ (2004), ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (2014) and ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World‘ (2015).

Peter Chilvers is a frequent collaborator with Brian Eno (including co-creating the hugely successful app Bloom), Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Tim Bowness, Chilvers has become known for his innovative work with generative apps and imaginative use of electronic textures. (Here’s a review of ‘Thin Air‘, an album Peter did with Michael Bearpark many years ago).

David Rhodes is one of the world’s most respected and inventive guitarists, having worked extensively with Peter Gabriel as well as with Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Scott Walker, Japan, New Order, Paul McCartney and Blancmange, amongst many others. David has also released two solo albums (2010’s ‘Bittersweet’ and 2014’s ‘The David Rhodes Band’) and was a founding member of the influential post-punk band Random Hold.

Saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis (making his Chapter return after performing with the cinematic/musical crossover project Cipher) has an international reputation as one of the stars of the contemporary UK jazz scene. Travis has more recently emerged as a key figure in the progressive and art rock sphere, working with David Gilmour, Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Bill Nelson, Gong, Soft Machine Legacy, Bill Bruford, Harold Budd and more. He has recently released his ninth solo album ‘Transgression’ (and here’s a review of an earlier one).

The evening is presented by Burning Shed, the online label and store founded by Bowness and Chilvers with Pete Morgan that has become a global specialist in progressive, ambient/electronica and art rock music. As well as releasing works on its own imprint, amongst others, Burning Shed hosts the official online stores for Panegyric (King Crimson, Yes), Ape (Andy Partridge, XTC, The Milk & Honey Band), Jethro Tull, Kscope (Porcupine Tree, Sweet Billy Pilgrim), Thomas Dolby, All Saints (Brian Eno), Medium Productions (Jansen, Barbieri and Karn), Gentle Giant and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera.  The label has recently expanded into book publishing, and at this concert musician and author Anthony Reynolds (perhaps best known as the former frontman of Jack) will be signing copies of his Burning Shed Publishing book, ‘Japan – A Foreign Place (The Biography 1974-1984)’.

More information here, and tickets available here.

REVIEW – Preludes: ‘The Moth’ & ‘The Swan’ EPs, 2011 & 2012 (“the shadow of a melody”)

6 Sep
Preludes: 'The Moth'

Preludes: ‘The Moth’

There’s the shadow of a melody in the house, floating in the dusty air. It’s coming from just around the corner, or maybe from up by the crumbling moulding.

Preludes is Matt Gasda (the sotto-voce poet who did most of the singing and keyboards in the ghostly riverbank psychedelics Bears in America) and his sister Emily. The Bears were a group so reticent and self-involved that listening to them was like spying on a set of old footprints, long-abandoned and filling with water. Some Preludes songs began life as Bears pieces before falling into this new form and flavour, so you can expect something of a family resemblance. Yet in their hypnotic and looping way, with their camp-fire canons and travelling-man guitars, Bears in America fitted (just) into the Americana bracket. In contrast, Preludes looks wistfully eastward, back towards Europe.

More specifically, Preludes capture a lost and fading atmosphere of East Coast grandeur: one which jealously guards its Old World connections, its cultural loftiness, its yellowing old money in a deadened and dreamy grip. While Matt may have relocated to New York City and settled in Brooklyn, Preludes seems to have set its heart further uptown. These songs emerge like a sigh haunting a shabby brownstone mansion on the Upper East Side, clinging to the scuffed books in its neglected library, or fluttering with a swirl of yellow leaves in its deep walled garden. It’s not that these are wordy songs of privilege; instead, they’re leisurely blurs of decaying luxury, drunk on elevated sensation and cut right back to free-drifting images of moons, flowers, loss and water, their stories dissolved. An encroaching darkness hovers around them, like time and chemistry eroding sepia photographs. At the same time, there’s a rapturous quality to the music: the thrill of the last gasp, the final pirouette of memory.

‘The Moth’ EP, and its title track in particular, set up the Preludes recipe from the start – pianos (drowned in a flat and musty reverb), blurry-edged keyboard layers (in this case, a wavering swoon of fake strings), and a faint and faded rag of vocal yearning after something it can’t quite describe, catching on whatever surrounds the moment. There’s a touch of Goth in the mix, and more than a suspicion of Nico or Anthony Hegarty; but the obliqueness and the gauzy obscurity are all Matt’s. Moonstruck, he murmurs soft, semi-operatic vocals in the backgrounds, muttering about cicadas and strange, longing transformations. Halfway along, a cheap drum machine begins to tap out a stately dance rhythm and Matt steps up to a new level of obscure, gently-impassioned reverie. (“And we’ll walk along the opening geraniums… /The light of the moon. / Open your milk-white eyes… We will never grow so old.”) It doesn’t mean so much when you pin it down. Just a handful of fleeting images, lighter than anything. Open your hand and let it drift on this sigh of breath, however, and it flushes gently with life.

It’s Emily Gasda who sings the out-of-focus waltz of The Moon And The Bonfires – sings in a small and distracted way over a softened skirl of goth keyboards; a spiralling distant dream of a barrel organ melody. Here’s more obscurity (nightswimming and natural lights; the sense of a particular, autumnal time of year). Here’s more plucking at floating, flowery images (“The violets of memory are growing in the water… / It’s like a debt you share…”) She sounds like a more peaceful version of Cranes’ Alison Shaw. The Goth tambourine and the bass drum thud behind her sound like a lull in a noisy evening. Perhaps these songs are some kind of refuge.

As goosefeather-soft as the rest, the last song – Nightlight Child – begins as a ghostly lullaby. A muffled drum and music box playout becomes a throb while Matt and Emily sing together, and for a while they’re Victorian in their magic and ruffles, their willingness to slip away into dream logic and wordplay and into ornamental fantasy. “Like water drawn from the well – moon drawn like a fish. / Nightlight child, it’s all right. / Nightlight child come to life / and from the shell alight. /A starry, starry night.” Gradually the lullaby play fades seamlessly into surreal and transforming fable: images turn macabre (moth eyes, floods rising from the throat to drown) and innocence and horror overlap. Unwinding ourselves from this particular gauze is less easy.

Preludes: 'The Swan'

Preludes: ‘The Swan’

Five-and-a-half months later (swimming back into view with a second EP, ‘The Swan’) Preludes are just as enclosed and enrapt in their consumptive old-world decay. “Snow falls in Central Park, / and for a day your fever drops,” sings Emily on a song which also coos “love is so cold” and reminisces – with a quiet, absorbed bliss – about kissing frozen hands. There’s never a suggestion that there’s any danger involved here, or a direct flicker of death. That particular disquiet just seeps into the gap that’s left for it.

In general the themes of sleep, death, illness and wasting-dream simply blush gently through the EP’s songs, each of them thinning the walls between experiences. The strangest of these is the title track, wrought with a chilly expressionism and drifting symbols. “I love the sorrow of your voice / and the wreckage of the old days” Matt muses, beneath a cloudy Blue Nile synth pad (a mirage of traffic in the evening sky) and a funerary piano line (a shard of dusty porcelain from a lost urn). Death and revival blur together (“you’re enclosed in the petals / made of snow, / born up into the clouds like ash”) in a way that’s as much phoenix as swan. “I’ll wait by the river / for the ice to tear itself up,” promises Matt, as the ritual works its way to conclusion. “Your blood will germinate the spring.” Over a minute of silence at the end of the song eases the point home.

On Sleepy Eye’d (backed by an enthusiastic music-box twinkle and lambent synth), Emily enjoys a much more innocent dream – “We’ll tear up the feathers of the stars / and make our bedding on the moon… / Take my hand, we’ll go skating on the glass, / catch fireflies with our hands.” For a while, Preludes sound as if they’ve slipped into ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland‘ and the air of rapt surrender lightens a little.

It’s only on The Well that brother and sister find out what happens when they write and sing together. Here, Emily sounds eerily like Mama Cass (moving almost imperceptibly from her previous ghostly solipsism to a kind of centred passion) while Matt murmurs an ashy, barely-there harmony. Somewhere in there is an ancient Scottish air, missing its drone but making do with a broken-limbed piano line and rising string-synth bleeds. “And the love you held in your hands like a bird / is waking up again.” sings Emily, cupping revival in her voice. “I will go down to the well / draw up water in my hands. / Tell all, all the dead / the world is now beautiful – / stop the clocks and open the windows. / We can’t understand.”

By the end of the song, it seems as if those strange arrested Preludes atmospheres might finally be breaking down, offering release. “Now I feel time as it flows / like the melting snow.” sings Emily. Somewhere out of earshot a gate is opening, a clock starting, a breath deepening.

Preludes: ‘The Moth’ & ‘The Swan’
Preludes (self-released)
Download-only EPs
Released: 21st August 2011 (‘The Moth’) & 8th February 2012 (‘The Swan’)

Get them from:
Bandcamp – ‘The Moth’; ‘The Swan’

Preludes online:
Bandcamp

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October 1997 – album reviews – Indigo Falls’ ‘Indigo Falls’ (“luxuriates in rich, sensual detail and blooms into a hothouse of musical perfumes”)

16 Oct

Indigo Falls: 'Indigo Falls'

Indigo Falls: ‘Indigo Falls’

This is as lovely as the insensuous smoke from a joss stick… and, in many respects, suffers from the same flaws and failings. But we’ll come to that later.

Indigo Falls are the husband and wife songwriting team of Richard and Suzanne Barbieri. He provides a mass of detailed keyboard fabric, she leads with a voice of immense clarity (a sort of cleaned-up, smoothed-over, less affected mixture of Kate Bush, Holly Penfield, and Sarah Brightman). And though the phrase “New Age songwriter album” may be loaded with suspicion, that’s precisely what this is, despite efforts to sell them as a pop duo or the noisy, mannered rock gestures of Only Forwards. All of the tell-tale signs are here: a soft delicacy of sounds, a rejection of urban tensions (and inspirations) in favour of vague spiritual atmospheres, and – inescapably – an unmistakeable ingenuous desire to play earnest folk music on synths, to touch the fragrant earth but keep your twenty-four-track studio regardless. Plenty of people have slid into waffle on those premises.


 
However, Richard Barbieri’s astonishing sonics elevate Indigo Falls far above the genre’s usual weediness. From his Mary Quant-ed days behind the Japan keyboards back in the early ’80s, through his ethnological textures with Rain Tree Crow and his contemporaneous dreamy synthwork as part of Porcupine Tree, he’s been one of the absolute masters of textured electronics. And ‘Indigo Falls’ is no disappointment in this department. Check out the undersea music boxes and the froth of musical bubbles building up the aquamarine tints of World’s End: and mixing with the inevitable organs are jangling harp sounds, harmonious turbojet squalls; swathes of thick, scalding distorted guitarry smears; the sounds of the air being sliced with a palette knife and refracted into traces of luminous colour.


 
The synths here have an organic tenderness, merging flesh-on-flesh with Jakko Jakszyk‘s lyrical, passionate guitar flourishes and Theo Travis‘ verdant saxophone. Consequently, ‘Indigo Falls’ luxuriates in rich, sensual detail and blooms into a hothouse of musical perfumes. Tunes flutter, soothe and arch like lazy ecstatic cats – in particular on Falling Into Years – where sax notes flutter down like rose petals, and which melts into an instrumental coda of sublime sensuality, breaking down out of its gentle pop rigour into fragmented little archipelagos; islands of sax, piano, bells and trade-wind electrophonics.


 
But even if Richard provides whatever big name cachet there is (as well as most of the duo’s sound) this is very much Suzanne Barbieri’s album. Her lyrical preoccupations shape and define the songs for better or worse, and whether or not you go for them will depend very much on whether you see eye to eye with her vision. And – unfortunately – relentless, vaporous symbolism dominates these songs. Shadows, nights, seas; dreamers, Babylon, totem animals; inner children. None of which are explored so much as checked off, as if the album was a spotter’s guide to mystical furnishings.

Let’s be fair, sometimes it works well. As on The Wilderness, where Richard’s sounds and Suzanne’s words mesh together most effectively. Sandstorm-under-stars synth, a big lazy open-skinned clatter of percussion, and Suzanne’s most direct singing: “no sign of life, just sand on sand / and hollow bloodless trees”. Steve Wilson‘s sparse acoustic guitar shadow-boxes with Suzanne’s rituals. Bones rattle, shadows pass overhead, past lives regress before our eyes… The magic works. But…


 
The thing about incense is that it transforms rooms and moods, making you feel as if you’re in touch with something… but it’s only smoke in the air. You’re being moved by something insubstantial. Immaterial. And if such a thing reaches towards profundity, and fails, it’s glaringly obvious. Feed the Fire obviously wants to fly with Rain Tree Crow: a thick percussive pulse propelled by Mick Karn‘s muddy bassline while Suzanne delivers her throaty take on Native American chanting (“The burning birds in spiral flights. / The hide within breaks through the skin. / The beast inside, the silent guide… / Muscles stretch and sinews snap / and spirits rise. / Sundancing…”). But unlike Rain Tree Crow’s immersive cultural explorations, this feels more like tourism: someone trying on a feathered headdress in one of those sad little souvenir shops scattered round the edge of the Navajo Nation.


 
The Achilles’ heel of Indigo Falls is the sheer bathetic naivety that slinks in under the cover of beauty. On Towards the Light, the ambition in Jakko’s yearning wails of aspirant guitar and Richard’s stratospheric synths (mountains carving notes out of the wind – oh, please, indulge me: here I can genuinely enthuse) is brought low by Suzanne’s beautifully-sung codswallop about sleepwalkers and her lurches into mediocre therapy speak. “We are all children, we are all crying”. No, we aren’t all crying: some of us are just griping because we want the nice lady to start singing something we can relate to. Music this sensuous should be devoted to something human, something real. Not to supernatural, psycho-babbling vagueness.


 
And if Indigo Falls ditched the New Age posing and got down to the nitty-gritty, they’d truly be on to what the sound of the record only hints at. There is a suggestion of what this could be like: on Sky Fall, which closes the album. The ghosts of beats sway sleepily, a pillowing organ and soprano sax curve gently around the melody as Suzanne sings. The hippy-chick histrionics are sloughed off. Instead, in comes a swathe of human vulnerability: the naked relief and wonder at the risks of love paying off. “We crossed a line, but the world still turns / The sky didn’t fall, and nothing has changed… we’re home again, home again.” There are flickers of doubt (“should I believe this is real? Should I believe in you?…”) and the knowledge of fallibility (“Keep a light in your heart for me / I’m not as strong as you think / I could slip away so easily.”) A whole album like this could melt the most cynical heart. Most of the songwriting on ‘Indigo Falls’, sadly, provides the cynical heart with as much ammunition as it requires.

Undoubtedly very beautiful. But is that enough? After the smoke clears, we need a genuine vision.

Indigo Falls: ‘Indigo Falls
Medium Productions Ltd., MPCD5 (6 04388 42402 3)
CD/download album
Released:
13th October 1997
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand; download version and some CDs available from Bandcamp.
Indigo Falls online:
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