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February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
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Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
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Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Lost Crowns, Ham Legion and Wryneck (8th February)

1 Feb

Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck, 8th February 2019

I guess it’s a thorn in Richard Larcombe’s side that whenever he launches one of his complex poly-referential music projects some reductive oaf like myself strolls up, latches onto those polished, extremely upper-middle-class English vocals, and then starts comparing him to the cuddly Canterbury end of Anglo-prog – Hatfield & The North, Caravan and so on.

This is what you get, I suppose, when you’re musically versed in everything from the Copper Family to English bell-ringing patterns to mid-period Zappa to ‘90s American math rock – and when you can prove it – but when you’re also compelled to ice your lyrical cake with such floating, whimsical humorous concoctions. Almost from the start (when he was banging out strangely Donne-ian Britpop with Magnilda twenty-odd years ago) Richard has sounded as if he’s quipping and musing from an Oxbridge punt floating down ever more complicated river systems. It’s too easy to visualize him eating strawberries dipped in lysergic cream, keeping the witty punchlines coming while the landscape around him gets ever more mozaic-ed and fractalized.

It’s a little unfair to say things like that. Richard’s raised-eyebrow/bell-clear diction might make him sound smug to some ears in these resentful times, but his humour and the content of his songs are far richer, more intricate and upfront than what’s suggested by those Cantabrian comparisons. Lyrically, he’s a driven, glittering absurdist – more interested in extrapolation and unravelling substance than he is in reducing everything to fluff. Rather than offering lazy-lidded Kevin Ayers dreams (or, indeed, weightless Hatfield-ish souffles and toilet jokes), he takes snipes about synaesthesia and develops them until they collapse. He reframes and bricolages ancient bits of mythology as knockabout British arthouse films; or serenade his wife with borderline-ludicrous, self-aware stack-ups of flowery tributes. All of which gives us an anchoring point for listening: if he is icing his work with gags, it’s partially because something so musically demanding needs a little judicious sugaring.

The freshly-released debut album by Richard’s Lost Crowns project is being hailed as his best work yet. It’s certainly his most unrestrained: 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. While Lost Crowns sound like few bands in mainstream British rock history, current or past, they take a longer more meandering path along which you can imagine them laying some loving snags on various left-field rockers as they travel. XTC, Field Music and The Monochrome Set to These New Puritans; Gentle Giant, Knifeworld and the Art Bears. Comparisons generally water bands down, but for this one they work more as a health warning. Imagine a cocktail which didn’t dilute as you built it up, but instead made all of its ingredients stronger, brighter and brasher…



 
You can see Lost Crowns in action again – with Richard backed by a dream team of underground music crack-shots from Gong, Scritti Politti, Knifeworld and NSRO – next week at the Slaughtered Lamb. Having made their debut at an Alphabet Business Convention several years ago, they’re proud members of the sprawling and joyous musical family that runs in barking loops around the feet of Cardiacs. Consequently, you can expect to see a batch of the usual Cardiacs-ish faces in the audience. You’ll also get to see some on stage, since Ham Legion are playing support.

Longtime Cardiacs disciples, the Legion started out years ago as the perma-bubbling Little Trophy but following a drawn-out process of shedding fripperies and members, they’re now down to a power trio. All too often, they’re the extra filling in someone else’s gig sandwich. For the first time in a long while, though, they’re coming out armed with an imminent new single, Georgie Porgie. Time, perhaps to reassess them and their grunged-up take on complicated post-Cardiacs songs. A cavalcade of mood-switches and charges in and out of the unknown; a puckish delving into the traditions of English pop eccentricity, but one that’s smeared by tarry black coffee-sludge and amp crunch.


 
A surprise addition to the bill is Wryneck. To find out about them, you’d need to dig even deeper: back to the 1980s when a band with the gonkish name of Zag & The Coloured Beads romped intermittently around London’s free festival scene, playing “complicated tunes in a ragged/bluesy style” fed through the same scene’s omnivorous, hyperactive-hippy mindset. Taking a British post-punk filter, they used it to strain Zappa/Beefheart weird-juice, with memories of trad jazz and kid’s television also cavalcading through. They usually sounded like a drunken race between a squad of seven-legged camels: there was a bit of math to it, for sure (they enjoyed their shabby Brit-squat takes on the New York minimalist pulse, and their five- and seven-time signatures) but it was probably best not to take that too seriously either. After all, the songs had utterly clownish sketchpad titles like Sweaty Thing and Bernard Crapshit, which usually fitted perfectly.

(Gives the critics hives, y’know. Whether you’re aiming for analytical authority or ineffable cool, embracing a certain level of outright and intentional silliness is a bit like cuddling a hand grenade; and Dada just don’t do-do…)

Anyhow… Wryneck was what was left when various Beads dropped off the string in 1989, once keystoner Paul Howard ran dry and ran out of interest and keyboard person Robert White headed on to better-known, less squirrely things with Levitation and The Milk and Honey Band. The remainder (led by guitarist/singer/songfitter Steve Arthur), tried to get serious and to get taken seriously. Duly recast, they dumped the comedy and pulled in and lashed down the ramblings: they took fresh notes from the flourishing noise-pop of My Bloody Valentine and the ringing drive of Levitation and The Belltower, and they acted upon them. Over time, they also factored in a post-James Brown/Zeppelin sense of dirty groove. They produced a few cassettes (and those in the know remember the band as “master tunesmiths”) but, like the Beads, they never rose beyond a backroom cult. After four years – and despite no-one actually turning into a casualty – Wryneck too was missing in action. Musically, everyone kept busy with something or other, but it was only when Steve, Paul and guitar/bass mainstay Mik Tubb resurrected the Beads for more intermittent shows about a decade ago that the old chemistry came back.

These days, it seems as if Beadery and the staggered musical family around it (everyone was always overcommitted to multiple bands) is somewhat like Cardiacs culture – a big attic trunk full of oddments and puzzles which people regularly pull out and reconfigure at while. Joining Steve and Mik (and whoever else they’ve managed to persuade into this micro-revival) is Paul, who might never have been a Wrynecker before, but who seems to be one now.

Sadly the shortage of Wryneck sonic memorabilia online means that there’s nothing I can post up as an illustration of the noise they’re going to make. Lost Crowns are describing them (with tongue in cheek) as “like Mud, but fancier’. Alternatively, you could draw a few clues from the clutch of Beads tangles I’ve crammed in below. If unconvinced, you could consider Wryneck’s presence as a pop-up indulgence and reward for those grizzled old ‘80s festi-veterans in Cardiacs fandom who stayed their course and kept the faith. If you’re any less cynical, you could try saluting them as (even with the post-Beads musical streamlinings) part of a strand of English musical playfulness that’s gone uncredited for too long.




 
Lost Crowns + Ham Legion + Wryneck
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Friday 8th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – The Yacht Club, Deafpony and Wild Tales (26th January)

23 Jan

The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales, 26th January 2019The Yacht Club – playing a free show in east London this week – have been accused of sullying their math-rock beginnings. If so, that’s all for the better, especially since math-rock has only been one component in their racing musical engine. Listening back to their early recordings from 2013, it’s clear that the core has always been Marcus Gooda’s desire to express himself in tumbling, outrightly emotional pop songs: but ones which are often better suited to cascades of notes, harmonic busyness and pushbacks against rhythm.

Other people’s ideas of stylistic restriction don’t really suite The Yacht Club – their music might thrive on additional dimensions and complexity, but it doesn’t thrive on being tethered to anything in particular. Across their five year career, they’ve pushed against the grain. For a while – while transient guitarist Dale Robinson was still in the ranks – they even sounded like the early Prefab Sprout, back before Paddy McAloon’s hedge-literateur songwriting had been buffed to a glossy sheen by Thomas Dolby and he was still rolling along like a tumbleweed of Irish arguments on the way to a fine art degree, snagging against James Joyce and Captain Beefheart on the way.

Having said that, although Yacht Club arrangements have tingled and tangled – guitars following their own cunning little patterns, popping their heads out in unexpected places – Marcus has always been a more direct, less whimsical songwriter than Paddy. Rip away most of that sparkling guitar bricolage and you’re left with soft cries from the heart, a prolonged sweet-ache adolescence with uncertainties and tremulous reach-outs, but no particular questionings of self or stance. Perhaps that’s why people also sometimes slap the emo tag on them, though they’ve got little in common with bawling, punky heart-on-sleeve confessionals. Recent songs see the band very much secondary to the interplay of Marcus’ voice and acoustic guitar, with the project now sounding like a meeting point between Aztec Camera, Boo Hewerdine and Michael Hedges with a touch of latterday pop polish, occasionally crashing into melodious electric thunder.




 
In a number of respects, Deafpony resemble the headliners. Their bedrock is a crystalline-clean guitar pop sound in which even when the distortion comes sailing in for assorted breaks it sounds impeccably buffed. Theirs is a rebuilt classic guitar-pop model with a brushup, based around a studied clear melancholy and boy-gang harmonising.

This vein of songwriting tends to be full of Big Star copyists, but in Deafpony’s case they’re more like science-fiction movie clones – beautifully turned out and improved on the surface, with a slightly unsettling mannequin perfection that sets them apart from the original; several strides up the other slope of the uncanny valley. Even their hints of emo roots feel lab-tinkering, obscured by reconstruction. Similarly, their music sometimes feels like flying through an architectural model of feeling. Not phony, don’t get me wrong; but somehow they’re turning the idea of perfect pop into a kind of mysterious hinterland. If they burp onstage it’ll destroy everything.


 
Self-described as a “brand-spanking-new poppy rocky twiddly band”, Wild Tales are actually relative veterans who’ve given themselves what I can best describe as a “method facelift”. Stemming from two previous gangs of Guildford indie rockers (predominantly Trails, with some in Atiptoe) but now reshuffled and renamed, they take the rampant cavorting meanders of guitarist Iain Kerr’s original math-prog guitar lines, march them promptly into a song-forge, and hammer them briskly into slick chord-clambering new work (abundant with pop hooks, grab-riffs and frontman Adam Rains’ join-in lyrics).

As such, they’re a cheering and uplifting opening act in what looks set to be an evening of cleverness and cleanliness. You can vote amongst yourselves as to whether you’re annoyed at the cleanliness. Personally, I’m happy to take the cleverness.


 
Beth Shalom Records presents:
The Yacht Club + Deafpony + Wild Tales
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm
– free event – information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Brudini and Silent Cities (24th January)

22 Jan

Not too long ago I was bitching about post-rock (probably not for the first time) and how it had been corralled – especially in its math rock iteration – by reductionists who turned it into something dour and clunking.

Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities, 24th January 2019

At the time, one of the bands I excluded from the griping was Rumour Cubes – a conglomeration of classical refugees and of malcontents from post-rock’s straighter/blander end, aiming to revitalise the genre via honesty regarding all influences. They attempted to engage audiences (rather than passively endure them), and continually shifted their expanded lineup around by agglutinizing with poets and visual artists. Back then I hymned the Cubes’ “slow-building pastoral ecstasy”, their seeking of “a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory”, their “delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological”.

Looking back, I realise that this could have backfired in that I might be making Rumour Cubes sound like a self-regarding Anglo-Americana take on the form: musical humblebraggers with fake straws in their teeth. Certainly, if you’re coming from a Godspeed You Black Emperor! perspective of stern, black-flagged resistance to death-spiral capitalism and its dirty ops, there’s enough in their arts-and-crafts wholesomeness to annoy you.

Time, then, to acknowledge the fact that the Cubes are a political band too. They’ve persistently touched on hip hop with their inviting of guest rappers into the mix, and recently explicitly identified themselves with anti-right-wing resistance via two themed singles last autumn. While they might not be growling about black helicopters, horrible winds of death and dying governments pulling us all into the chasm, they’re currently trying to push back against “the hollow nationalism that has infected our politics and allowed far-right narratives to become normalised” and aim to highlight “the true face of Brexit and Trump: racist and fascist projects that threaten our values of tolerance, diversity and freedom of expression.”

A Flicker Of Empty Flags and ¡No Pasarán! – both of which you’ll hear at their London gig this coming Thursday – sound like the first gusts of a dirty, heralding wind blowing through a cosy latterday folk session: a bit of Godspeed-ing minus the concrete dankness and the permanent frowning dusk. Still a little cosy, perhaps, but this is an honest attempt to re-engage and to grasp the nettle.



 
In support, there’s a couple of singer-songwriters. Norwegian/Thai-rooted Londoner Brudini offers melodic noir-pop in the same darkened-crooner vein of Michael J. Sheehy or David Hurn, although he’s more conspicuously glam-dazzled than either: another loper down the boulevards of Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. Rolling funk/rare-groove rhythms, watchful piano and occasional brass frame his weary, distracted lover’s voice. Last year’s Reflections encapsulates his hooded Soho-boho obsessions and the dark romantic tropes he re-imbues with meaning (“out in the night, my beautiful machine, /in the depths of your eyes, an animal on its knees”). His earlier collaborations with Californian storyteller Chip Martin – wounded, picked-out soundtracks to doomed, unsettling romantic encounters which are as surreal as they’re anonymous – seal the deal.

 
Opening the evening, Silent Cities (Durham singer-songwriter Simon Maddison) creates spooky modern-day urban dream-folk in breathy whispers and heady falsetto, wreathing it with smoke-rings of gently but insistently effected guitar and gusting ambience as his songs manoeuvre themselves in and out of magical realms.



 
Lost In The Manor presents:
Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities
The Finsbury, 336 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park,London, N4 1BY, England
Thursday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London eclectic gigs – Chlöe Herington curates ‘Overlaps’ with members of Knifeworld, Prescott, Two Pale Boys etc (15th January); No One’s Watching #4 featuring Ale Hop, Jylda, flies+flies and Famous Eno (19th January); a side-date with Dowry and Participant (23rd January)

9 Jan

While she’s been active for much of the past two decades as an ubiquitous reed-blowing sidewoman, 2018 was something of a breakout year for Chlöe Herington in that she became more ubiquitous in her own right. Last year, her V A L V E project seemed to be popping up everywhere. Originally a solo effort (in which she worked her bassoons and saxophones around peculiar avant-garde musical concepts, and orchestrated by building Heath Robinson-meets-Hugh-Davies instruments out of tobacco tins, transistors and bits of shelving), it’s now an all-female singing/multi-instrumental trio with a post-punk/immediate-music ethos. Sporting concert harps, bass guitars and microsynths, it happily dances up what initially look like musical cul-de-sacs only to raucously redecorate them.

'Overlaps', 15th January 2019

On top of that there’s been the regular work – helping to keep Lindsay Cooper’s music alive and performed; adding horn and woodwind razz (and a touch of glamour) to Knifeworld; and (most recently) joining brass-dappled techno outfit Hirvikolari to fatten up the hornwork. Meanwhile, Chlöe’s also been working behind the scenes as promoter and realiser for Westking Music, setting up assorted concerts and musical outlets at the Harrison in Kings Cross covering avant-pop, folk and more. The latest burst of the latter comes in the shape of the new ‘Overlaps’ evening she’s put together for the 17th this month with fellow Westminster Kingsway tutor and current Pere Ubu/Prescott guitarist Keith Moliné (whose own music sounds like a restless cross between a swamp musician, a distant train horn and a 1960s telephone exchange, when it’s not running off into morphing MIDI).

Apparently inspired by a circle of chairs they noticed in the Harrison one college lunchtime, ‘Overlaps’ is intended to be a dedicated experimental tag-team workout involving six different musicians joining up for improvisation, collaboration and the overlapping of work. For the first of these sessions, Chlöe and Keith themselves will be taking part.

 
Of the other players signed up for the launch gig, art-improv drummer Frank Byng usually works with Snorkel (both the band and the recording studio) and plays with Keith in Prescott. For two decades he’s driven, adjusted, pounced around and subverted the beat behind a host of playing projects from This Is Not This Heat to Crackle. Chlöe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi has spent the same two decades overturning rock applecarts as guitarist with Knifeworld, Guapo, Cardiacs and others. Depending on mood, he can sound like Fred Frith throwing it all up one illuminated lysergic evening to go hillbilly, or like a coffin-dragging psych-folk Django staggering home under a black sun.



 
The remaining two contributors are less well-known. Singer/ranter/sound manipulator/explorer Merlin Nova came into music-making via spoken word and radio soundcaping. Last year’s ‘Protect Your Flame’ EP is a happily unsettled beast which sees her travelling between batsqueak acapella songs, fractured megaphone poetics, experimental pop-bounce and strange devotional noise abstractions. Earlier work is a mixture of unsettling sonics and persona-shifting performance art.

Even less is known about the sixth musician, Farz, other than that he’s another shadowy figure from the Westgate Kingsway staff who released a debut EP on drum-and-bass label Peer Pressure last September. Whoever’s lurking behind the mononym, his music’s a dankly ornamental take on the d&b idea. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the oft-overlooked ventures into art-dance by ex-Japan refugees Jansen Barbieri Karn from the tail end of the ’90s – deracinated from its direct origins (and losing a little of the context and directness), but gaining other context from its expansion elsewhere; carefully textured; occasionally yarping into digressions of curving, cirrus-tailed jazz-fusion synths.



 

If this evening works out then it’ll apparently develop into a gig series with a constantly shifting roster of players. I hope so.

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'No-One's Watching #4', 19th January 2019The people behind another semi-experimental music evening, No-One’s Watching, have already managed to get to their fourth night before I got around to noticing them. Par for the course with me, unfortunately, but I think I’ll be keeping an eye on them in future. Tagging their latest event on 19th January as “three wonderfully surreal live acts topped off with a serious session of leftfield dancehall heaters”, they’re aiming for some kind of umami spot between basic pop appeal, beat impulse and avant-garde perspectives, happily seizing on the backdrop of new-ish Dalston art house SET with its mingled milieu of “the Twin Peaks Red Lodge (sic) and a northern working man’s club.”

Despite a name which reads like a Sussex pub folk session, headliner Ale Hop is Peruvian, currently working in Berlin after a spell in New York. Her early work was a strange wedding of discombobulated synthpop, psychedelic guitar sludge and vocal murmurs clinging together in fall-apart structures: sprawling, untethered songs moving sluggishly in drugged amber. Since then she’s been moving even further from formal areas, mostly using her effects-mangled guitar and voice as sonic sources. The results have a strange, off-the-wall drama to them: subterranean tunnelscape walkarounds in which ringing tones, distant treated guitars and scratchy rat-choir vocals are heard around corners and in which surprises lurk (synth-organ steamclouds, club kickdrums, computer register bleeps and sudden bursts of beat program). Her cover of the old black spiritual Sinnerman incarcerates it in a confounding, refracting trapfold of echoing guitar and voice (given additional heft by Caroline Araoz’ huge shofar-ish saxophone parts which rage in the background like natural disasters).




 
The other two live acts are gentle in comparison, but have their own charm and ambition. A recent transferee from Berlin to London, Gianna Gehlhar – or Jylda – strays along the line between a fairly conventional dreamy pop trip and more avant-garde distractions. Not much has been recorded/released beyond The Body, a slightly slurred, distractedly eroticised slice of distraction, with a narcotised drag weaving itself into a gloriously woozy climax of glockenspiel rainfall and synth tingles. Apparently the live show is where it’s at, with Jylda giving full reign to her vocals “constantly drift(ing) between extremes, from sounding high and soft, sometimes operatic and siren-like on the one hand, and keen and metallic on the other.” She won over a Paper Dress Vintage audience a while back, and now it’s Dalston’s turn.


 
No-One’s Watching house band Flies + Flies create their own unsettling pop that hovers that crucial two or three degrees of the normal. Admittedly it’s taken them a while to get there. Early material was bogged down in lead-footedness, but over four years though, they’ve evolved to the point where the interaction of Dan Griffis’ mellifluous vocal and Pet Rok’s subtly tussling instrumentation sounds like Jeff Buckley taking a wrong turn into a Mute-flavoured analogue-electrophonic dystopia. Chilly electronic skybuzzes and analogue bass, along with the clicks and clacks of old school drumboxes, frame a vocal sounding like a balladeer wrenched out of romantic simplicities and forced to navigate stranger dream-logic terrains. There’s a welcome hint of Robert Smith here too, albeit a Smith shorn of The Cure’s rolling, roiling rock traditions and given a tent, an incomplete map and some more interesting books.

 
Bringing some DJ culture to the night, Pet Rok will also be showing up on the decks in tandem with DJ PLS in order to play “weird bangers from across the globe”; while Swing Ting label DJ/producer Famous Eno brings a set of his own, touching on his work in grime, bashment, Afro-house and a host of other overlapping dance genres.


 
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On the 23rd, Éna Brennan is quietly slipping away from the ongoing Bell X-1 tour, on which she’s providing the Irish indie-rockers with violin parts at the helm of her Dowry Strings quartet, and spending an evening simply as Dowry. As part of this, she’s hooking up again with Stephen Tiernan, a.k.a pop soloist Participant, with whom she went out on a successful double-header tour in Ireland last year. This month, London gets its own taste of this down in the basement at Servant Jazz Quarters, now well established as one of the best rough’n’ready showcase venues in town.

Dowry + Participant, 23rd January 2019

Dowry is Éna’s loop-fiddle project. While drawing on her experience as multi-instrumentalist, broadcaster and composer, it sits off on its own as a
kind of unification of Terry Riley systems music with the oft-sidelined traditions of Irish classical (generally overshadowed by the more readily exportable folk tradition, but offering its own Eirean essence of rainsoaked strings and staunch intransigent romance). In a typical piece, overlaid violin parts will pile up like slowing lava flows, increasingly hallucinatory and vertiginous. They’re like a growing conflation of idiosyncratic conversational voices; mutters both gentle and harsh, running increasingly out-of-sync and punctuated by actual subvocalisations and breath punctuations from Éna as she plays.

 
In comparison to Dowry’s heady confusions, Participant could hardly be clearer or sharper. A Dubliner, Stephen Tiernan’s been releasing assorted singles and EPs for four years now. A gawkily handsome presence, he’s an unlikely baby-voiced literalist who rides his intricately-worked-out songs from folk-cellar plucking to enormous, romantic Disney orchestral arrangements. Presumably he’s brought his arrangement dynamics along with him in a black box: otherwise, expect an unplugged hearthside show with trace-elements of other Irish songwriters in there (I can hear the ghostly solo work of Martin Furey, as well as a touch of Damien Rice) but Stephen’s understated precision is all his own.



* * * * * * * * *

Dates:

‘Overlaps’ (featuring Chlöe Herington + Keith Moliné + Frank Byng + Kavus Torabi + Merlin Nova + Farz)
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Tuesday 15th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

No One’s Watching presents:
No One’s Watching #4: Ale Hop + Jylda + flies+flies + Famous Eno
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Dowry + Participant
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Agathe Max and Dream Logic in London (14th September); Major Parkinson’s European autumn tour (various dates, 26th September to 6th October)

9 Sep

Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic, 14th September 2018

Like progressive rock before it, post-rock ended up disappointingly short of genuinely inspiring exponents. The blueprint was all very well: retaining rock’s technology and what remained of its countercultural drive while dissolving its rigid methods, its predictable narratives and textures and its conservative exclusions In practise, few could reach (or be bothered to reach) the heights of the movement’s most inspired figures and their new paths: such as Tortoise’s integration of jazz, dub and electronica; Slint’s taut, grinding refusals; Godspeed’s sprawling/brooding scapes of punk-cinema-versus-conservatoire-grandeur; Talk Talk’s mendicant, increasingly hermetic passage from synth-pop to a dissolution of blues, prog and folk into distressed noise and silence; Moonshake’s abrasive post-everything groove and careening samples; Disco Inferno’s angst-ridden music concrete and social challenge. Most post-rockers, then and now, have stuck with a glowering reduction, a boiling-out of rock posturing leaving a glum muted residue of passive riffs and patterns… actually, more of an opt-out than a boil-out; in which say, the impact of Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit Of Eden’ is much-cited but rarely remembered in terms of how it can inform and colour the music, much less for the intimations it can throw up.

Though they’re not overturners – at least, not in the tradition of the bands I’ve cited above – third-generation London post-rockers Rumour Cubes are a welcome exception to the procession of drab refuseniks that make up the bulk of the post-rock movement. It’s probably partly because they’re proud and self-confessed “counter-revolution(aries)”, founded from the start around violin, guitar and electronics and obtaining their rock instrumentation later rather than using and rebelling against it from the start. Their origins, too, stick in post-rock’s teeth. Violinist Hannah Morgan lied about her knowledge of the genre in order to bluff her way into the starting lineup, while guitarist/main composer Adam Stark and drummer Omar Rahwangi were already impatient with its dour restrictions. In an interview with Chaos Theory, Adam’s stated that “as a band we are painfully aware of how boring post-rock can be… what we are trying to do is take what we find amazing about those bands that have influenced us and that are part of our community, and do something new with it.”

What Rumour Cubes have done is in as much in the in the lines of good prog rock as good post-rock – opening the gates to a variety of ingredients and described as a “luminous re-imagining of very many constituent parts” by ‘Louder than War’. As with underrated Aussie unit Apricot Rail, the toned-down interweave of guitars and the Krautrock groove bass often aim for a slow-building pastoral ecstasy while the band seeks a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory. The dancing interplay, in particular, between Hannah and viola player Terry Murphy ducks lemony-minimal string textures in favour of something that’s more country hoedown or folk fiddle. Rumour Cubes often hit their own delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological, performing on bowed banjo and (the ubiquitous) post-rock glockenspiel in addition to the guitars, strings, keyboards and percussion, adding brass and harps where they can, and regularly bringing in instruments like the gestural technology of mi.mu gloves, new uses for joystick controllers, software-synchronised video displays and a battery of custom effects pedals to create new textures. Their gigs are, in consequence, joyous and open-ended experiences: collaborations, on and offstage with poets and filmmakers result in the music never stagnating.

Following two years of silence, and four without new music, Rumour Cubes return to live work via a gig at the Underdog Gallery near London Bridge, in order to premiere a batch of new music (including upcoming single ¡No Pasarán!, which will be out in a few week’s time). Meanwhile, here are some previous bits of Cubery to whet the appetite.



 
A couple of other acts are joining the show – firstly, amplified French acoustic violinist Agathe Max, who fled classical music around twenty years ago in favour of improvised sonic textural music and electrically-enhanced string-drones. Currently playing with Kuro and Mésange, she’s appearing alone on this occasion in order to offer a set of solo violin works. Secondly, Dream Logic: the recent solo project from Adam Fulford (previously known as the guitarist for Bristolian post-rockers This Is My Normal State) It’s pealing, cool-busting stuff which sees Adam all but drowning his own plagent piano lines, guitars and basses in eager tides of yearning orchestral strings and feverish noise clutter, bringing him comparisons to Nils Frahm and to A Winged Victory for the Sullen. This is Dream Logic’s third show (following previous support slots for Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment’s rulebreaking alter-ego the Night Shift and for rebranded ambient post duo VLMV (previously ALMA) and live arrangements usually involve a string quartet: let’s hope he comes up with the goods on this occasion, too.





 
Echoes And Dust presents:
Rumour Cubes + Agathe Max + Dream Logic
The Underdog Gallery, Arch 6, Crucifix Lane, Southwark, London, SE1 3JW, England
Friday 14th September 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

A little later in the month, jumpy and unpredictable Norwegian art-rockers Major Parkinson are dipping into England as part of an autumn European tour presenting their new ‘Blackbox’ album (and which also includes Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands). A jaggedly muscular alternative pop proposition, Major Parkinson’s music recalls a host of eclectic forebears such as The Monochrome Set and Faith No More: most notably, they’ve become a hit with the sometimes partisan (and often hard-to-impress) Cardiacs fanbase, who appreciate unrestrained complex melodicism and truckloads of energy, and have been up and yelping about this band for a while now.

I can’t really top this for an intro…

“Major Parkinson write tunes. But with influences from across the rock and classical genres (from The Beatles to Cardiacs) and a warped vision of the musical world, their tunes are like no other. You may hear a snippet of an East European folk song, a nursery rhyme, a stage musical, even a rock anthem, all played out on a range of instruments that a symphony orchestra couldn’t muster – synths, strings, old typewriters, brass and reputedly a decommissioned jet fighter engine. The musical scores behind their songs are both monumental and breathtaking – explosive synth and guitar sections that pound at your heart and then instantly make it melt with beautiful choral harmonies, and then drawn in you will dance and sing along as if centre-stage in a West End show.

“With songs too that cover subjects as diverse as Pavlovian hounds to ducks in the pond, the sheer scale and absurdity of the Norwegian band’s extraordinary musical world can only be truly appreciated by seeing their seven-piece stage performances live.”



 
All of the upcoming shows appear to be solo flights for the Major, other than London, Berlin and St Gallen. No news yet on the Berlin guest, but in London support comes (bizarrely, but delightfully) from Sterbus, the quirky Anglophile Italian art-popper similarly beloved of Cardiacs fans and who’s sitting on what promises to be one of 2018’s sunniest and most enjoyable rock albums: he’ll be playing with a band including longterm woodwind-and-vocal sidekick Dominique D’Avanzo, Pocket Gods’ keyboard wizard Noel Storey and Cardiacs drummer Bob Leith. In St Gallen, the gig’s being opened by bouzouki-toting Dutch psych-exotica rockers Komodo, whose music also draws on raga, hip hop, desert blues, rumba and ’60s harmony pop and surf rock.



 
Full dates:

  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England, Wednesday 26th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Exchange, 72-73 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EJ, England, Thursday 27th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8BZ, England, Friday 28th September 2018 7.30pm (with Sterbus) – information here and here
  • Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1DF, England, Saturday 29th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Hafenklang, Große Elbstrasse 84, 22767 Hamburg, Germany, Monday 1st October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Cassiopeia, Revaler Str. 99, 10245 Berlin, Germany, Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm (with support t.b.c) – information here, here and here
  • Backstage München, Reitknechtstr. 6, 80639 München, Germany, Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Grabenhalle, Unterer Graben 17, 9000 St.Gallen, Switzerland, Thursday 4th October 2018, 7.30pm (with Komodo) – information here, here and here
  • Orange Peel, Kaiserstraße 39, 60329 Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Friday 5th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • ProgPower Europe 2018 @ Jongerencentrum Sjiwa, Hoogstraat 1a, 5991 XC Baarlo, Netherlands, Saturday 6th October 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here


 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

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