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August 2018 – upcoming London pop and rock gigs – The Mantis Opera, Bozo Zoo, The Butterfly Wheel and Imogen Bliss (25th August); Norwood & Brixton Foodbank fundraiser with Treasure Of Woe, Carl White and Apocalypse Jazz Unit (also 25th August)

15 Aug

The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss, 25th August 2018There are several reasons that I’ve been following the exploits of The Mantis Opera this year. One is the music: an illuminating synth-rock rush through cunningly orchestrated post-classical complexity and brainiac alternative pop, topped with similarly cerebral lyrics which slide fizzing, thinking ribbons through philosophy, logic and linguistic theory before binding them back into more down-to-earth life situations.

If this sounds hideously dry or snooty, it isn’t. This is simply music which is neither ashamed of its own cleverness, nor too self-absorbed or chilly to invite you along for the ride. They’re among an increasing number of newish, bumping-along-in-the-underground acts who share this kind of quirky enthusiasm and possess the requisite smarts and chops to back it up. Tom O.C. Wilson, Prescott, Thumpermonkey and Lost Crowns spring immediately to mind: bands and songwriters who see nothing wrong with turning out songs with the depth and twists of playful short stories, of compressed novels-of-ideas or of meandering Flann O’Brien-esque digressions.

As regards The Mantis Opera, I’ve been chucking around terms like “wide-awake brain music” and “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” and I’m not going to drop those yet, although I might have to come up with a few more if the band are going to keep up regular performances.



 
The other reason that I’m keeping an eye on The Mantis Opera is that they tend to keep interesting gig company. Whether they’re good at being invited or are inordinately good at charming their way into lineups, the band seem to have a knack for fitting onto a wide variety of different bills, and this end-of-the-month gig at Paper Dress Vintage is no exception.

Two summers old, already pegged as “rust-bucket swing” and compared to “Mark E. Smith manning the Hot Five”, Bozo Zoo play rootsy jazz-folk and rhythm & blues on drums, double bass and comfortably sleazy sax. Hollering, theatrical vocalist and off-the-wall lyricist Mark Warren (who also handles the inevitable, ubiquitous ukulele) ensures that they tilt into a similar realm of bulging-vein vigour and twisted circus berserkery to that of The Tiger Lillies. A few decades ago he was bobbing about in the kind of lucky-dip underground bands that showed up on Org Records compilations: now he’s singing up budding cabaret gallimaufries of music hall songs and ditties about chess grandmasters. On top of all this, Bozo Zoo seem to have fused Spinal Tap with Schrödinger, via recent online mutterings about “a new drummer but we’ve also kept our drummer… but it ain’t a band with two drummers… but we have got two drummers… it’s complicated.”


 

Hailing from east London and extensively festooned with mysticism, The Butterfly Wheel aren’t quite the esoteric revelation that they’d like to make out. Plenty of their surface schtick – the Gothic theatrical trappings, the Early Music dirge-wails, the stripping away of Western pop tropes in favour of frowning middle-continent antiquity – is more than familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Dead Can Dance (or of the host of intense, tousled imitators DCD spawned over three decades). What is refreshing is the shifts underneath those surface. A female duo, their songs reshuffle and transform archetypes for an increasingly feminised new time. There’s the sense of old stone patriarchal gods and legends being chipped away at; of more hopeful alternatives being birthed out of the sea; of the stories sitting up and rewriting themselves. We’ll have to see where it leads.



 
From Camberwell and Coldharbour, Imogen Bliss reshuffles Eastern European folk songs and tufty pop covers on voice, mandolin and loop station. The examples below are Armenian and Balkan/Romani, sandwiching a reworked Cure hit: the latter may not sound a great deal different to those pixiedreamgirl uke songs which still bog down every other cinema advert, but Imogen sounds awake and illuminated rather than sun-drenched and casually dreamy. I’m guessing that she’s got other tricks up her sleeve…

 
Paper Dress Presents…
The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Saturday, 25 August 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

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Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit, 25th August 2018On the same night, there’s this. Lovers of righteous noise, here’s your chance to sample some noise that’s a bit more righteous…

“London promoters Wrongpop and Chaos Theory have gotten together for a one-off special event to raise money for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank: some of the best new underground bands out there have agreed to bring you their sounds for this excellent cause, so it’ll be a phenomenal evening with extra positive vibes. 100% of ticket sales go to the charity.

“Formed from members of Long Slow Dissolve,The Love Me Tenders and Witchfist, Treasure Of Woe play stoner and psychedelic jams on guitar and drums. We’ve seen this duo doing their thing at The Facemelter last September and they just keep on recording their jams and releasing them online, so have a listen at the link and get down for the full live experience.


 
Carl White are a guitar/drums experimental rock duo, originally formed in Brighton and now based in London. Over the years they’ve shared the stage with acts such as Nitkowski, Alpha Male Tea Party, Flies Are Spies From Hell, Witching Waves and The Mae Shi.They’re currently working on a new EP, from which there will be a single/video released in the next couple of months.


 
Apocalypse Jazz Unit were started in 2013 by Rick Jensen as a recording project, after nearly three years of not making music. After numerous albums, Rick recruited some new and old musician buddies and started playing live. AJU quickly went from a small group to an over-the-top collective of psycho improvisers, with up to seventeen members at any one time. To date, they have released over seventy albums and have played a ton of gigs. AJU harnesses the spiritual fire of free-jazz of the ‘60s, mixed with a bit of disco when the mood takes them. Always high-energy and with a heavy sense of humour, AJU can easily swing from delicate and sombre, to full-blast horn mayhem.”


 
Wrongpop & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming gigs – Bauhaus’ David J plays solo in London and Wellingborough (25th & 26th August)

13 Aug

Peter Murphy tour with David J, 2018This week, half of goth-rock godfathers Bauhaus – in this case, sculpted singer/self-styled myriad of colours Peter Murphy and bass player David J – embark on the latest of their intermittent reunions: the Ruby Celebration Tour, which commemorates the original band’s fortieth anniversary (and on which they’ll perform the whole of their 1980 debut album ‘In the Flat Field’, ending up with a crowd-pleasing encore of Bauhaus classics).

Sprawling sonorously across several months in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the UK, the tour’s probably already old news if you’re a committed member of the eager bat-chasing hordes, but full dates are available here if you want them. What you might have missed is that, in parallel to the tour, David J. is playing a couple of special solo shows.

David J, 2018 (photo © Circle23)

David J, 2018 (photo © Circle23)

Soft-spoken and thoughtful, David’s been regarded as one of the peacekeepers within Bauhaus’ sometimes belligerent emotional ferment, ameliorating the ongoing turbulence and “psychodrama” between Murphy and restless guitarist Daniel Ash. He was also a prime contributor to the oft-underestimated intellectual weight of the band, weaving references to Zen Buddhism, funk, art and architecture into the dark, dank, post-punk shape-throwing.

Yet aside from Bauhaus (and regardless of various reunions), he’s made a multi-faceted post-band career for himself, taking in sculpted noise, drama scoring, playwriting and fine art as well as songwriting. In addition to solo music, this has included work with The Jazz Butcher and Amanda Palmer; with Dutch downtempo trio Strange Attractor; with original Bauhaus art movement member René Halkett; and in particular with his fellow Northampton occultist Alan Moore (initially through the macabre campfire singalong of The Sinister Ducks, then a ‘V for Vendetta’ tie-in EP, and most recently and rewardingly via five albums of intricate words-and-noise psychogeographic “workings” as members of The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, digging up and expounding on weird history on location).

David J, 25th August 2018Both the tour with Murphy and the solo dates coincide with the early September reissue of David’s second solo album, ‘Crocodile Tears and The Velvet Cosh’. Initially released in 1985 (shortly before David re-engaged with a Murphy-less Bauhaus lineup to form alt-pop pioneers Love & Rockets) it was part of a determined move to shed the cloying Bauhaus image. Its bright semi-acoustic pop sound (with David comfortably swapped over to guitar and fronting) and its assured singer-songwriter stance had more in common with the songs of Aztec Camera or the deft wit of the Postcard Record bands, simultaneously freeing up and revealing the genuine breadth of his influences and ideas. He now remembers it as “a personal pastoral favourite… the album that really set the tone for all of my future solo endeavours.”


 
David J, 26th August 2018Of the two shows, the London performance looks like being a relatively straightforward affair. The truly committed and intrigued will need to make a pilgrimage the following day – up to the Midlands and to Wellingborough, where David will be playing a special acoustic show in Bauhaus’ original stomping ground Beck Studios, in which the band recorded much of their early work).

A limited-capacity event (with a boutique price tag), it’ll focus on songs spanning David’s career as well as songs originally recorded at Beck, and will also feature a live interview conducted by Andrew Brooksbank (author of ‘Bauhaus – Beneath The Mask’) and a Q&A session with the audience, with the whole event being recorded and filmed for later release.

Dates:

  • The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England, Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • ‘Back to Beck’ @ Beck Studios, 2 Gisburne Road, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, NN8 4EE, England, Sunday 26th August 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

August 2016 – upcoming gigs – Carina Round’s “Deranged to Divine” British tour with She Makes War (3rd-11th); Money play Borderless in London (3rd)

1 Aug

This week sees the start of a short British tour featuring two of the most inventive and self-propelled women in alternative rock.

Of the two, headliner Carina Round is inevitably the best known. A self-starter at seventeen, she’d made her first album by 2001 when she was twenty-two. The subsequent fifteen years have seen her carve out her own space as a persistently creative stylistic reinventor in a way that’s somewhere between Beck and Madonna, but with a gutsier and murkier undertow than either. Her songs often explore dark flashes of mind and temperament alongside wrenching declarations of desire and entanglement, which in turn have led to assorted comparisons to PJ Harvey which might have done as much harm as good.

In truth, Carina is her own woman, guiding each transformation and collaboration, and shopping from producer to producer in search of the right noise and effect for each stage. Her profile and image haven’t exactly been hurt by her additional work in recent years – helping Tool’s Maynard James Keenan to write and tour his raunchy electro-rock project Puscifer project, and exploring alt.country with the Early Winters supergroup. Five albums and various EPs into her own work has given her enough of a hoard of her own material to spread out in this year’s ‘Deranged to Divine’ compilation: touring and promoting it gives her and us the opportunity to take stock and chew it all over.


 

Many of the same inspirations which drive Carina also seem to drive Laura Kidd, the woman behind She Makes War. There’s a similar determination to explore and to control her work, a similar attraction to dark and brooding material with a driving alt.rock motor. If anything, Laura’s determination runs faster and harder – gaining even more control over her work by her continued cottage-industry approach (mastering as many instruments as she can in order to make the music, self-releasing her albums, directing her own videos) and gaining the admiration of the likes of Belly’s Tanya Donnelly and Levellers’ Mark Chadwick (both of whom show up on her latest record, ‘Direction Of Travel’) as well as Portishead/Radiohead drummer Clive Deamer. But I’m not trying to set these tourmates up against each other: it’s enough to be able to celebrate this solid and worthwhile pairing, and to catch what looks like a powerful no-apologies show.


 

Tour dates:

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Money, 3rd August 2016

In London, the Borderless concert series at Battersea Arts Centre continues with sadcore kings Money. In a few short years, this band have become the darlings of Britain’s wasted, romantic, beautiful people… or at least of people who wallow in fourth-generation Rimbaud and Bukowski paperbacks and flirt with the transgressive but well-worn glamours of wastrel addiction. That said, they’ve calmed down since their grand beginnings in Manchester, when they were bards of any given counterculture. Back then they were a tense four-man alliance, staging gigs which moved from celestial installations to caged cells and with Jamie Lee, their hard-drinking human-hangnail of a frontman, regularly stripping naked (as he also did on the sleeve art for their debut single – his arms straining to raise a rifle above his head, his penis spilling below, like a demented hillbilly patriarch in a final fit).

If this makes Money sound like another round of trash-kings, I’m giving you the wrong impression. Although their songs do stumble along the hinterlands of addiction and self-harm, and are frequently soaked by loss and squalor, they’re neither a straight confessional band nor a dirty-laundry act. Even when their songs toy with penny-dreadful Burroughs names such as A Cocaine Christmas And An Alcoholic’s New Year, much of the squalor is happening offstage. As both life-liver and songwriter, Jamie’s very much in the Mark Eitzel mode – a man steeped in art and literacy and perverse to a fault; too bright, skeptical and doubting to ever find a comfortable compromise. He’s simultaneously consumed by self-deprecation but blazing with bullish talent and the ruthless desire to perfect and broadcast his art. The nakedness (mostly retired by now) is simply a flag of intent, a signifier of honesty.


 

A Money song is usually a mixture of the skeletal and the uncontainable, couched in warm and surprisingly delicate musicality. While the band’s second album, ‘Suicide Songs’, has added extra trappings – choral parts, string sections, Indian dilruba drones – usually there’s just a starveling, swaying acoustic guitar strum or a paper-thin, stumbling piano part allied to Jamie’s edge-of-the-ladder voice: raw and gawkily romantic, explosively frail. What’s remained consistent is the band’s alcoholic lucidity and welling, rumpled romanticism.

I’ve mentioned Eitzel and Burroughs, but there are also echoes of Jacques Brel, of the declamatory cries of Mike Scott with the early Waterboys; of Daniel Johnston’s fall-apart songs; of Anthony Reynolds’ bohemian booze bleakness or Fyfe Dangerfield’s crane-fly sprawl. Also somewhere in the mix are Irish balladry (whether via pure routes or Shane McGowan’s backstreets), the post-Cure Gothic romance of Arcade Fire; of The Blue Nile’s blend of crooner romance with hints at terrible emotional damage. Like the latter’s Paul Buchanan, Jamie sometimes seems to be trying to sing songs of love and faith against an encroaching, dissolving darkness. Unlike Buchanan, he doesn’t deliberately wring through the inadequate rags of pop clichés, desperate to squeeze out the juice of real inarticulate feelings; instead he sifts through detailed layers of metaphor, memory and bleak reality to create a fragmented composite of how life is in the dark corners which he frequents.


 

The Borderless gig features “special guests” who, a few days before the event, still haven’t been formally confirmed. It’s tempting to think that Money will fill this ominous gap by trawling up some terrifying fellow spirits at the last minute, via chance encounters at a random pub…. but let’s wait and see.

GOAT Music and Battersea Arts Centre present:
Borderless: Money + tbc
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN, England
Wednesday 3rd August 2016, 8.00pm
information


 

Upcoming gigs, second week of November 2015 (9th-15th) – Julia Holter’s experimental pop tours the UK; chamber music at the Forge (Ensemble Perpetuo’s galactic tour, CHROMA’s British Music Collection show with Martin Scheuregger & David Gorton premieres); Baba Yaga Hut London rocktronica double (Tropic of Cancer + Shift Work + Telefon Tel Aviv down south, Teeth Of The Sea + Charles Hayward’s Anonymous Bash out east); Olga Stezhko takes her Lucid Dream piano concert to the Wigmore & Bridgewater Halls; Vôdûn rocks out Afro-psych-metal at Westminster Kingsway; Dub Trio/Thumpermonkey mix it up at The Underworld; Haiku Salut/Camden Voices/Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch bring post-folk, soundtrack classical and community chorale to Daylight Music

8 Nov

Since when did November become so generous? There’s plenty to see and hear this coming week, including the continuing Jenny Hval/Briana Marela tour (with Bristol and London dates), Laura Moody following up recent shows in Cardiff and Sheffield with a house concert in Edinburgh on the 12th (email her directly in case tickets are still available) and, in London, the opening dates of the London Jazz Festival and the End Festival. Plus the following:

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With Briana Marela, Jenny Hval and Holly Herndon all touring or playing in Britain this month – and with Joanna Newsom having already sold out her lone British date at the Eventim Apollo on Monday – it’s a good month for seeing art-pop with a distinctly female hue or ethos (although to be honest there’s always a wealth of such things around, if you look hard enough and dip under the radar).

To the above, add  Julia Holter, who’s working a short British tour over the course of the week. It’s an opportunity to see how rapidly Julia’s exploratory, highly literary work has evolved and altered over a decade of recording time: from the Debussy-an glistenings of 2006’s ‘Eating The Stars’ to the oblique sonic and textual puzzles of 2011’s ‘Tragedy’ (mixing transfigured Greek drama, disorientating found sound and transparent barely-there parings of songcraft) and the impressionistic jazz-novel assemblage of ‘Loud City Song’ in 2013 (which drew on Collette, MGM musicals and belle-epoque).

Julia’s newest album, this year’s ‘Have You In My Wilderness’, is something of a step into the known. Her once-baffling minimal musical stylings – which, on ‘Tragedy’ in particular, hung precariously on the edge of what might be described as “song” – have by now transformed themselves into what sounds like dreamy, distracted takes on late-‘60s/early-‘70s Brill Building songwriter pop. That said, the album’s meditations on solitude and companionship (real, imagined, rejected or deconstructed) retain Julia’s distinctive tone of lateral thinking and musing, and if the songs seem more conservative on the outside they soon reveal themselves as different, more fluid creations, if Carole King had been enticed into French surrealism (note the nods to Dali, Bunuel, Germaine Dulac and Gérard de Nerval in the video for ‘The Sea Calls Me Home’, above). It’s also clear that if ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ does invite a broader audience by way of its more comfortable textures, it’s not a sell-out: keeping firmly in touch with her earlier impulses and schemas, Julia has included a re-recording of Betsy On The Roof (a pre-‘Tragedy’ song best known from her rare 2010 live tapes).

Julia Holter:

Note that the Leeds gig at the Brudenell is part of their High & Lonesome Festival in which Julia will be sharing a stage with Josh T. Pearson, Neil Halstead &and many others.

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There are two chamber music concerts coming up at The Forge in London:

Ensemble Perpetuo

Ensemble Perpetuo presents: Heavenly Sights (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Monday 9th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00 to £12.00 – information & tickets – more information

Founded in 2013 by English oboist James Turnbull, Ensemble Perpetuo is a dynamic and versatile collective of musicians who perform a wide variety of traditional and contemporary chamber music in new settings; bringing it to new audiences through exciting collaborations and innovative repertoire choices; and seeking new pathways in which to experiment and augment the concert experience through multi-art form collaborations. Perpetuo has embarked on a number of exciting mini-residences throughout the UK and is taking music to new venues including concerts in theatres, museums, cafes, found spaces and other unexpected locations.

Join Perpetuo for the final event in their groundbreaking series of chamber music concerts for 2015 – an evening of incredible music that takes you on a journey to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. ‘Heavenly Sights’ is an evening of music inspired by space, flight and motion. Featuring music from Beethoven and Piazzolla to Weir and Muhly, experience over two hundred years of chamber music in one evening.

Programme:

Robert Schumann – Mondnacht (arr. Colin Matthews)
George Benjamin – Flight
Nico Muhly – Motion
Judith Weir – Airs From Another Planet
Anthony Powers – In Sunlight
Charlotte Bray – Trail Of Light
Astor Piazzolla – Milonga del Angel
Ludwig van Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata
Cheryl Frances-Hoad – My Fleeting Angel

 

CHROMA ensemble

CHROMA: Gorton, Scheuregger and British Music (The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK,Wednesday 11th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00-£12.00 – information & tickets – more information

Founded in 1997, the critically acclaimed CHROMA is an acclaimed, London-based, flexible chamber ensemble dedicated both to new music and to revisiting classic repertoire in fresh and exciting contexts; mentoring the next generation of composers, and involving audiences in compelling, inspirational experiences. Closely associated with the performance of contemporary music the ensemble has forged close links with many prominent British composers through many commissioned premières and collaborations (including work with Luke Bedford, Michael Nyman, David Bruce,  Tarik O’Regan,  Michael Zev Gordon, Raymond Yiu, Claudia Molitor, Julian Grant, Arlene Sierra, and Marcus Barcham-Stevens) .

CHROMA has a lively strand of intimate chamber concerts combining music and storytelling, which has resulted both in its first own-label album ‘Folk Tales’ and in various opera stagings in association with the opera festival  Tête à Tête,  the Linbury Studio Theatre and others.  The ensemble’s mentoring programme includes ongoing work with student composers at the Royal Academy of Music, Royal Holloway University of London and Oxford University.

This concert (featuring Roderick Chadwick on piano) is the culmination of composer Martin Scheuregger’s residency at the British Music Collection. Martin’s new work, ‘Harlequin’, and ‘Burgh Castle’ by David Gorton form the centre of the programme. Harlequin engages with and reflects on the themes and ideas Martin has been exploring through the music of The Collection, whilst ‘Burgh Castle’ – a CHROMA aural-visual commission for piano and ensemble – is inspired by the landscape of the East Anglian Fens. Pieces from the BMC – from both lesser-known and established composers – place these new works in the context of Martin’s residency and the music with which he has surrounded himself for the last 18 months.

Programme:

Philip Cashian – Horn Trio
Helen Grime – Snow and Snow
Martin Scheuregger – Harlequin (world premiere)
David Gorton – Burgh Castle (world premiere)
Anthony Powers – In Sunlight
Sadie Harrison – The Bride’s Journey In Three Songs And A Memory

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On the 12th November, Baba Yaga’s Hut are presenting a double event in London: simultaneous gigs in the east and the south, each blending rock and electronica in different ways and at different intensities.

event-20151109-tropicofcancTropic of Cancer + Shift Work + Telefon Tel Aviv (DJ) (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £10.00 – informationtickets

Gauzy, morbid-romantic dream pop project Tropic of Cancer (comprising murmurer and instrumentalist Camella Lobo plus collaborators) return to London for another set of blurred lyrics and slow-burner Gothic psychedelic-tinged tunes. Expect lapping echoes, grey-draped music and a numbed atmosphere with concealed drama: self-confessed romantic and “hyperbolic dramatist” Camella admits that the driving concept behind most of her songs is “a love so supernatural it lasts beyond death, but also a love that is sometimes not strong enough to conquer human weakness in the living.” 

The live Tropic Of Cancer band now includes Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv (and also Sons of Magdalene, Puscifer and the Nine Inch Nails tour band) who’ll apparently be playing a DJ set under his TTA moniker.  Further support comes from London dance-electronica minimalists Shift Work.

 

event-20151112-teethoftheseTeeth of the Sea + Anonymous Bash (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Brewhouse, London Fields Brewery, 369-370 Helmsley Place, South Hackney, London, E8 3SB, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00 – informationtickets

At this gig, the increasingly acclaimed Teeth Of The Sea launch their fourth album – the subtly-titled ‘Highly Deadly Black Tarantula’.

The London band’s assured and stormy concoction of spacey psychedelic guitar rock  dramatics, heavily-processed Fourth World trumpet, counter-culture festival techno,  electronica and drone music – plus their assured-to-arrogant stage presence and mastery of performance – has been winning them a wide range of fans from across the board. The clips below should give you an idea of what to expect both on record and onstage.

Support comes from Anonymous Bash, featuring veteran experimental drummer Charles Hayward (of This Heat, Camberwell Now, Massacre and the myriad collaborations of Accidents + Emergencies). Based on the music springing from last year’s four-week Hayward residency at Salford’s Islington Mill (during which Charles collaborated with over twenty musicians from the Manchester regions), the project features a taut, dubby experimental sound centred around the sonic marriage of his own percussion, melodica and vocals with shifting, abrasive rock aspects brought in by his collaborators.  The Salford-based Gnod ensemble (a mixture of  kosmiche and cult-spoofery) played a substantial role in the Anonymous Bash album, and join Charles in the ongoing live lineup.

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Olga Stezhko, 2015Increasingly a ‘Misfit City’ regular, the Belarusian classical pianist Olga Stezhko (whose superb technique is equalled by her audacious, densely intellectual approach to programming her repertoire) chalks up two landmark concerts at two British classical music institutions this week as she makes her debut at both the Wigmore Hall and the Bridgewater Hall. To each venue, Olga is bringing her ‘Lucid Dreams’ programme – a selection of pieces exploring ideas of childhood and children’s music.

Olga comments “this programme is deeply personal to me. It is a conscious attempt to rediscover those things that were central to the development of my musical identity. Inevitably this can appear to be a sort of light musical psychoanalysis, but as I recall my childhood I remember vividly being surrounded by magic, with all its signs and symbols, which greatly affected how I felt towards the world around me at the time. To some extent, I have never lost touch with my younger self thanks to my extensive teaching work with children. Their distinctive personalities are an endless source for artistic inspiration; I wish therefore to dedicate my concert to those boys and girls.

“The narrative of the programme reflects the development of our perception of reality during different stages of life. It moves from the magical realism of a child’s worldview in the first half (Toys & Dances) to the broader metaphysical questions we all face at some point in life in the second part (Images & Visions).”

Olga Stezhko: ‘Lucid Dreams’ piano recital (Kirckman Concert Society @ Wigmore Hall, 36 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 2BP, UK,  Tuesday 10th November 2015, 7:30pm) information & tickets

Programme:

Part One: Toys & Dances

Sergei Prokofiev – Old Grandmother’s Tales Op. 31
Sofia Gubaidulina – Musical Toys
Dmitri Shostakovich – Three Fantastic Dances Op. 5
Claude Debussy – Suite Bergamasque: Menuet
Lev Abeliovich – Tarantella
Aleksandr Skriabin – Deux Danses Op. 73

Part Two: Images & Visions

Claude Debussy – Images, Series 1
Aleksandr Skriabin – Cinq préludes Op. 74
Claude Debussy – Images, Series 2
Aleksandr Skriabin – Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72

Olga Stezhko (The Manchester Mid-day Concerts Society  @ Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street, Manchester, M2 3WS, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 1:10pm) – £7.00-£11.50 – informationtickets

Programme:

Sergei Prokofiev – Old Grandmother’s Tales Op. 31
Sofia Gubaidulina – Musical Toys
Claude Debussy – Images, Series 1
Aleksandr Skriabin – Vers la flamme, poème Op. 72

(Note that the Manchester concert features a much shorter version of the ‘Lucid Dreams’ programme.)

Throughout the programme, Olga explores the further deeper brought up in her music choices, investigating Debussy’s complex psyche and relationship with his daughter, the cognitive differences between children and adults (including the former’s belief, often shared with adult musicians, that they shape the world by thought and action), her own childhood impulses as a pre-teen musician, and the roles of parent figures in successive generations of composers. She also challenges the subordinate role that children’s music seems forced to play, arguing “what is the definition of children’s music anyway? I believe when these works emerge as an innermost urge from a mature master, it epitomizes their most sincere and unpretentious artistic output.

“Such music as Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys (part of my future recording project ‘Toys & Tales’) or, for example, Debussy’s Children’s Corner (to be included into my next all-Debussy album) is as rich with imagery, colour, trepidation, emotion and symbolism as any symphonic masterpiece. Moreover, it is perhaps the most accurate musical description of any composer and their inner worlds. Both performers and listeners can relate to this kind of music precisely because there is something universal about it as we all were children once, authentic and genuine in our relationship with the world.”

Olga’s full thoughts behind ‘Lucid Dreams’ (from which the above notes and quotes are taken) can be found here, and are well worth reading.

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Another couple of London rock gigs show up midweek and at the end of the week. Summaries below:

Vôdûn + support t.b.c. (WestkingMusic Live @ Westminster Kingsway College Theatre, 211 Grays Inn Rd, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, UK, Thursday 12th November 2015, 6.30pm) – £2.00-£5.00 – information

Emerging out of a cloud of voodoo-scented bombast (in the centre of which you’ll find former Do Me Bad /Chrome Hoof singer Chantal Brown) Afro-psych/doom metal band Vôdûn bring a welcome taste of old-school Black Rock Coalition determination back to the party along with their artfulness. A churning bass-less power trio – multi-racial, two-thirds women, and taking on the names of loa spirits – they set wall-of-noise guitar against galloping drums and full-throated soul-power vocal melisma.

The band make much of West African spirit power, possession and cosmology: but from what initially seems like a stew of schtick brewed from heavy metal and voodoo swagger, various Afrocentric and feminist images bubble up (not least in the assertive vigour of the female players, and in the way they remind us of the passionate feminine component in the rituals and worldview of the original vodun culture). The current Vôdûn single Mino’s Army is a tribute to the fearsome all-female musket regiment which (by the nineteenth century) made up a third of the Dahomeyan army, played a leading role in the nation’s military policy, and honed female ferocity into a powerful fighting force which dismayed and won the admiration of male opponents (including the French, whom the Mino repeatedly mashed in early stages of the colonial wars). The blood-and-fire video pays tribute to this, and to the acres of severed heads which the victorious Mino left behind them, though perhaps not to the fact that the Mino came to strive against slavery in their own nation as well as the slavery fostered by the Europeans.

Inevitably, Vôdûn are going to be inspiring questions and challenges about the African traditions they’re playing with, and perhaps a deeper approach to storytelling doesn’t currently fit the spontaneous and immediate nature of the band as it stands. But in spite of this, and behind the surface theatrics, the signs are promising. One to watch…

Thumpermonkey, 2015

Dub Trio + Thumpermonkey (Nightshift/Rock-A-Rolla @ The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, Sunday 15th November 2015,…. ) – price – information – tickets

Later in the week,  Dub Trio return to London, bringing their live dub/rock skills and their interdependent mutually-looping interactions back to the stage of the Underworld. Here’s a long clip of a full, relatively recent show to get you in the mood.

In support are London’s Thumpermonkey (another bunch of ‘Misfit City’ regulars) whose intricately-constructed heavy post-progressive sound is in some ways the antithesis of Dub Trio’s semi-spontaneous instrumental tightrope act. I’d argue that that was the joy of a well-arranged rock gig – in this case, the contrast between two equally deft, clever and complementary bands keeps one’s brain fizzing away happily, and you leave the gig feeling smarter and more alive than you did when you arrived. Certainly Thumpermonkey’s crammed and ingenious musical constructions, topped off with Michael Woodman’s theatrical songlines and multi-layered lyrics, remain one of the current underrated treasures of British rock.

* * * * * * *

On the Saturday there’s another Daylight Music – a typically involved crossover gig of post-rock, soundtrack classical and communal musical spirit. Details and promo blurb below…

Haiku Salut, 2015

Daylight Music 206 – Haiku Salut + Camden Voices & Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 12.00pm–2.00pm) – free (£3.50 donation suggested) – information

The wonderful Haiku Salut are best described as an instrumental dream-pop-post-folk-neo-everything trio from the Derbyshire Dales, and their talent for combining joyous folk, intricate electronica and spellbinding neo-classical has seen them compared to everyone from Beirut and múm to Sigur Ros and Aphex Twin. Their second album ‘Etch And Etch Deep’ has received acclaim from ‘Uncut’ (who called it “both warmly familiar and completely, fearlessly new”) and ‘Popmatters’ (“vividly coloured sonic canvas”), while ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ described the opening track and recent single, Bleak And Beautiful (All Things), as “uniquely stunning… isn’t afraid to tear up the rulebook and begin fresh.”

Formed in 2013, Camden Voices is a choir of thirty passionate singers, instrumentalists and teachers, as well as those working outside of the music world. Rehearsing weekly in the heart of Camden Town, they aim for high musical standards whilst keeping a friendly and fun sense of community at our heart. With groove and harmony as their foundation, they develop new approaches to ensemble singing; using new arranging talent, they dust off neglected gems from the worlds of jazz, soul, gospel, and a cappella with a vibrant contemporary twist.

You can also hear the elegant, beautiful music of Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, an award-winning French pianist/composer currently living in London. Spanning film score, bespoke composition and art installations, her work is connected by both its high quality and evocative, meticulous craft – a common sensibility of elegant, instinctual composition. In 2015, she created a sound-walk for London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and her debut album ‘Like Water Through The Sand’ is set for a November release on FatCat’s post-classical imprint 130701.

* * * * * * *

If ‘ve got a moment over the next few days, I’ll post up something on the London Jazz Festival and on The End – failing that, more November gig news to follow.

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

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

Laura Moody:

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny Hval:

* * * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

More concert previews coming shortly for November…

REVIEW – The Four Disorders: ‘Cat Lady/Hell And Hackney’ demo, 2014 (“both dark and breezy”)

21 May

I don’t know much about The Four Disorders, and that’s how they seem to like it. A brief heads-up email arrived about them the other day, but lyrical hints and a single downcast, distracted photo don’t tell me much more than that they’re probably based in Hackney, that they’re a boy/girl duo (Mi-Shan and Joe), and that they’re not big on eye contact.

Mi-Shan and Joe of The Four Disorders (photo © The Four Disorders)

Mi-Shan and Joe of The Four Disorders (photo © The Four Disorders)

There are just two Soundcloud demo tracks so far, both demos. Not quite a secret, not quite a single. There’s a contradictory whiff of reclusive hipster to this (not necessarily a bad thing – I dip into hipsterworld sometimes, and it’s a guilty relief to find someone there who hates self-promotion). What I can glean about The Four Disorders, therefore, comes mostly from their sound, which somehow manages to be both dark and breezy.

Rhythms are closures : minimal drum machine clacks and markers, enough to pump the songs along up-tempo but otherwise just nails holding the box together. Sidelining (or suppressing) the sparse and begrudged clusters of starved, spangly guitar, Mi-Shan offers greyed-out nighthawk pads of budget string-synth. Moods are made or broken on Joe’s upfront bass guitar, which looks and sounds almost as big as he is, whether it’s trudging down the beat with a dour plectrum-hammer or traveling on a supple, pianistic twist of growling melody. Allowing for home-studio roughness, they end up somewhere between Sisters of Mercy (circa the clenched and hooded cynic-rumble of ‘Floodland’) and the brighter, more forgiving dance-pop of Saint Etienne (sprinkling reappropriated, refiltered tints of classic pop sounds over washed-out London suburbs).

Whenever Joe opens his mouth, however, it suddenly turns a bit teenaged-Neil-Tennant. He sings with a similar small-voiced and beady tone – brittle and nasal, watchful and dry. Like Tennant, Joe also wears heartache and reflection as if they were part of the same, wrong jacket; tight and a little irksome. On Cat Lady he sighs, with a hint of exasperation, “I could love you if you drop this nonsense.” Over glum keyboard chords and a chilly, thudding bassline (and with a hint of cocaine weariness), he outlines the stagnant mind games which keep score but eventually lead to nil. “You think you know it all, you think you’ve got my life worked out, you think you see right through me, / but you don’t know me and I don’t want to show you. / You think you’ve got me in a corner, you think you’ve outmanoeuvred me – / but I show you only half the truth / and it cuts me out, it cuts me out…”

With excruciating – and accurate – teenage gawkiness, the song flickers between states and stances. It travels rapidly from poised bleakness (“you think you’re only using me to satisfy you when you need it / I wish that’s all you wanted from me, but I can feel the pain inside you”) to the unwanted sympathy, sincerity and pathos of the schoolyard underdog scratching for love. (“You’re smarter and more popular than me – / it’s true, but I just wish that you could believe it too / and put yourself at ease.”) In its dance of masks and blushes, it feels like a mash-up of Brett Easton Ellis and ‘Waterloo Road’.

That awkwardness, that inability to maintain a fixed pose, seems deliberate: a conscious, complicit songwriter’s choice. On Hell And Hackney, Joe takes on the insubstantiality and self-indulgence of his peers, but even while taking it to task with verbal barbs and jabs, he brings in the rueful tone of the implicated. “Aimlessly we drift, like a frivolous emotion, or a dream that fades into the day / Further round the bend, delirium advances; / we bite the hand that tries to save… / We’re still pretending there’s another life, / parallel and far away.” There’s more fizz to this one, too: counterpointing her blocky keyboards, Mi-Shan fires out digi-gastric hi-NRG gurgles, bell-tones and sub-bass quirks over Joe’s rolling bassline.

Joe, meanwhile, lunges into the malaise to root out the muck, distraction, and confusion. “We’re only alive when we drop out of skies, wash away the compromise, / we’ve nowhere to hide, nothing left inside, forgotten what we’re trying to find… /Sad to say, we wash away the day, / destroying our time. / Cast away, sleepless we lay, /wasting our pride.” As he breaks his own cool surface, skidding vigorously between scold and clarion call, you can almost forgive him for skidding for hideously out-of-tune; especially when he tears a window in the torpid clouds towards the end. “Yes, I know how miserable it seems, / laying blame and thinking of those long-forgotten dreams; / but I hope someday we wake up, laughing at the mire we’ve left behind, / to find it’s not too late.”

Dour tones and duff notes notwithstanding, this has promise: at the very least, I like the idea of a more Gothic spin on Pet Shop Boys. Even if Joe and Mi-Shan still won’t look me in the eye…

The Four Disorders: ‘Cat Lady/Hell And Hackney’
The Four Disorders (self-released, no catalogue number or barcode)
Stream-only demo tracks
Released: 10th April 2014

Get it from:
Stream only on Soundcloud and YouTube.

The Four Disorders online:
Facebook Soundcloud YouTube

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