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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 London pop & rock gigs – Loop Pedal Lunacy with Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot (8th August); plus a rare free Silvery acoustic show (10th August)

3 Aug

An evening of pop-looping at Paper Dress; and the return of some London art-pop rascals…

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First, the loopfest…

Loop Pedal Lunacy, 8th August 2018

Steve Strong is a one man arsenal of beats, tapped guitar and lush textural melodies. His music is as witheld as it is grandiose, as skeletal as it is layered, equal parts shimmering and pulsing. It glimmers, swings and explodes in all the right places, sliding gracefully from one section to another, played as tightly as it is loose and free. Steve’s ability to bridge the gap between technical ability and captivation is completely instinctual, tattoed onto his musical consciousness like the art on his body. His music seems to encompass many different styles without feeling contrived or forced; every strand of inspiration in Steve’s music is carefully placed and melted. This music will not be held down!


 
“As She, Robot, award winning loop artist Suzy Condrad is a seasoned performer and authentic underground artist who has written and self-produced three albums and established herself as a leader in her field, winning the title of Boss Looping UK Champion in 2011. She effortlessly juggles instruments and genres with a dynamic and arresting one-woman show which has amazed and delighted audiences from Shambala to Boomtown Fair, Bearded Theory to Beautiful Days. Dancehall, ska, doo-wop, folk and electro collide with blistering beats and haunting, sublime vocal gymnastics to take you on an ever-looping journey which balances real-time loop juggling against timeless songwriting. Edgy, raw, beatbox and bass driven sensual sounds, layered to perfection, create a mesmerising performance which is powerful yet ethereal. Woman meets machine in a musical maelstrom that will make your head spin, your spirit lift and your feet move.

 
“Already compared by reviewers to the likes of Bill Withers, John Martyn and Jeff Buckley, Bristol-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumental loop pedal artist Alex Taylor is one of the shining lights of the acoustic scene and a troubadour of world-class standing. Drawing on varied influences from a wide musical spectrum, Alex’s style splices elements of soul, nu-folk and electronica to place his shape-shifting voice and dextrous, original acoustic guitar playing firmly in the spotlight. Touring extensively, Alex has notched up hundreds of gigs, sharing stages with such luminaries as Jack Savoretti, Roachford and Michael Kiwanuka: a festival favourite, he recently headlined the BBC stage at Bristol’s Harbour Festival, and has played many other stages including Cambridge Folk Festival and Cheltenham Jazz Festival. His critically acclaimed debut album features performances from members of The Invisible, Newton Faulkner’s band, Portishead and Massive Attack.


 
“Heavily influenced by her ninety-four-year-old artistic grandmother, Aussie-born Fetherstone brings together the quirky sounds of electronic pop and the swooping melodies of folk, and combines them with her emotive reflective story-telling. Based in London since 2015, 2017’s ‘Debut’ EP was produced and engineered by London native Harry Tarlton (Kobalt, Union J, Stooshe, WarnerUK), with the last single Two Hands On Deck hand-picked by Newton Faulker to feature on the Richer Unsigned record store day Vinyl compilation, April 2018. Fetherstone’s live shows captivate audiences using a loop/effects pedal, percussion and electronic drums. Recent performances include The Camden Assembly (supporting for Frida Sundemo), Richer Unsigned Live at Melomania, TV Nights Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, The Servant Jazz Quarters (supporting Ella Janes), Live at The Bedford and The Troubadour (supporting The Modern Strangers).

 
“Since an early age, Sam Martin has written and performed his own music around the UK, both supporting and headlining on nation wide tours. In 2010 he recorded his first independent solo EP and has since recorded three studio EPs which have gained a mass following in the UK and Europe as well as Australia and North America. With a vocal/guitar/loop-pedal musical style incorporating blues, jazz and alternative soul, Sam’s vocal and instrumental ability is testament to both his inspirations and musical evolution.”


 
Loop Pedal Lunacy – A Night of Live Looping (featuring Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot)
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 8th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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Meanwhile, the coming week also sees the first gig in a year for London art/glam/pile-on rockers Silvery. Snatching an early night slot before the late-night jazz funk at Jazz After Dark, they’re going for a repeat performance (of sorts) of last year’s free Soho acoustic gig: this time, in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their debut album ‘Thunderer & Excelsior’.

Simultaneously effete and rowdy, Silvery are a wonky London pop sense made flesh, sounding as if they’ve sprung from the same zigzagging suburban allotments-of-weird which also brought up The Kinks, The Monochrome Set, Cardiacs and The Stranglers. They’re more urchin-esque than Franz Ferdinand, but less leery than Blur. They’re an erudite and wayward Carnaby Roxy; the Dodgers to Bowie’s Fagin; and as rocking goes, they’re only “garage” if said garage had started life as a spooky Victorian stable block.

In their live heyday, Silvery would dress up as Bow Street Runners and fill the capital’s little venues with sweat and joy; these days, their gigs are few and far between, so make the most of this one. If it’s anything like the last time, it’ll be just the two Silveries – Simon Harris and front guy James Orman – thwacking out the old stuff on 12-string acoustic guitar and piano. Below, to get you in the mood, there’s a couple of full-bore electric ‘Thunderer…’ excerpts plus a teaser for a forthcoming film they’ve been making.




 
Silvery: Live Acoustic
Jazz After Dark, 9 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DQ, England
Friday 10th August 2018, 8.00pm
– free event – information here
 

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

14 Jul

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

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

June 2018 – upcoming gigs – üF-Beat spontaneous experimental night in Crouch End, London on 14th June – walk up and join in…

9 Jun

A passing note that this is happening in Crouch End this coming Thursday, and that if you’re a listener or player of a progressive/experimental instrumental tinge in or around London that night who isn’t already headed to the Lost Crowns or Friends Serene events, this might be for you.

üF-Beat, 14th June 2018“An open mic with a difference. We are inviting musicians (and sound sculptors) to play but not the usual blues and classics you get in pubs but to experiment and explore. It’s a journey. Without judgement. All styles – jazz, prog-rock, fusion, folk, classical, avant-garde, electronic, sounds, welcome.

“üF-Beat is inspired by the German underground clubs that gave birth to the Krautrock music scene (Kraftwerk, Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream and inspired many British bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, Henry Cow, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc). As part of the Crouch End Festival Fringe (the more experimental part of the Festival), we are setting up an interesting musical adventure in the Committee Room in the Hornsey Town Hall with grand piano plus PA, mics, amps and psychedelic lighting. And a bar. It’s free too.

“Bring your instrument and an open mind.”

And that’s it. All else will depend on what you yourself bring to it either as audient or player, and on who else turns up…

üF-Beat
Hornsey Town Hall, The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9JJ, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 8.30pm
– information here
 

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

6 Jun

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

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

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From promoters Multi-Storey:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


 

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

* * * * * * * *

The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

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



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

May/June 2018 – upcoming London rock and pop gigs – Great Dad play with Svetlana Smith and Couples (25th May) and with Socket and Italia 90 (1st June); Black Midi play with Preoccupations at Village Underground (5th June), with Omni at the Lexington (11th June) and launch their debut single at the Windmill with Jerskin Fendrix, GG Skips, The Guest and Legpuppy (12th June)

24 May

Right now I’m keeping an eye on a couple of very different south London dark-horse acts, seeing which sparks fly up and around them as they carve their spaces underground. Each is distinct – Great Dad play genderfluid experimental pop full of sampler collaging, flustered hummingbird guitars, voice-processing and a mixture of yawing, caught-in-the-flux perspective and fractured ecstatic/paranoid/semi-carnal song narratives; Black MIDI play a sometimes stony, sometimes yammery mashup of experimental rock positionings, post-hardcore slams, and neo-No Wave adjustments. Each has a peculiar ability to pull in listeners and attendees from their comfort zones. Each is keeping busy.



 

Great Dad play tomorrow night as part of a Bethnal Green college band gig, bringing their Goldsmith’s College inspirations to a show “spawned from the creative minds of UCL’s hottest young talents”. I know more about them than I do about any of the others – I can’t tell you much about Svetlana Smith apart from the fact that they’re a “neurotic synthpop duo” preoccupied with Russia and with pernicious beauty, and short of any clips or online sounds which I can use to illustrate that; Couples are theoretically easier to pin down, being a funky, fully-formed act allegedly aiming for a post-punk/grunge feeling but fronted by a classic blues-rock voice, actually ending up a little like Editors about to mutate into Stealer’s Wheel, if that makes any sense.

 
The following week, Great Dad play a much punkier free gig at the recently reopened Vinyl Deptford. Billmates Italia 90’s songs alternate between dank, irritable, menacing railway-arch noise or angry jet-propelled purpose; underpinned, in each case, by a glowering thrumming drone like an overhead bombing raid. They could have stepped straight out of 1979 and the winter of discontent – theirs is a classic butch-punk snarl of angry, disenfranchised boredom from the land of the have-nots, their lyrics minimal, their sound just a touch of Joy Division live loom. They’re just one constructive spat away from toppling into a broader politics; for now, though, they’re stuck on the edge, threshing out their frustration. Female-fronted firecrackers Socket don’t worry about anything like that, specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust for Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.



 

Dates:

  • Quick Spin: Svetlana Smith + Great Dad + Couples – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England, Friday 25th May 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Double Dare w/ Socket + Great Dad + Italia 90 – Vinyl Deptford, 4 Tanner’s Hill, Deptford, London, SE8 4PJ, England
    Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm
    – free event (suggested donation: £3.00) – information here

* * * * * * * *

Celebrating a year of existence (during which they’ve played with all and sundry and an insouciant swagger, and effectively created their own no-rules scene), Black Midi play three shows in the first fortnight of June. The first is probably the highest profile one – a Village Underground show supporting fiercely-honed Canadian neo-post-punkers Preoccupations, currently touring their tersely-titled new album ‘New Material’. The second is another support slot, this time a Bad Vibrations gig in which they’re supporting Atlanta post-punkers Omni, another post-punk crew who play raised-eyebrow songs with taut riffs continually re-articulating their shape and moving onto new ones: arrangements like card-tricks executed within 4/4 time.





 
The third gig is Black Midi’s own combined formal first birthday party/single release party, down at the Windmill with a clutch of Windmill friends in attendance as they unveil their vinyl debut with the Bm Bm Bm” seven inch. Last time I covered Jerskin Fendrix, I tagged him as “a smart operator with a wise, knowing line in media-savvy one-man synth pop, who uses Autotune like a dance of the seven veils, and who knows how to make use of lo-fi bedsit trappings without being trapped by them”; and since he’s happily using the quote, I guess he’s not felt the need to change his ways. Similarly, I’ve recently described The Guest as a “Casio cave-techno specialist and parody-hipster narrator… like a meetup between adolescent versions of Jarvis Cocker and Julian Cope, Momus and Klark Kent in a school computer room, all up for smartarse bloopy experiments with primitive synth programs and hijacked games consoles” while “haunted electronicist” GG Skips showed up at a DIY Space gig last month.

Entirely new to me are electro/art-punk collective Legpuppy, who create dance-friendly clean-limbed European electropop with a dark, sarcastic cutting edge, sifting through the narcissism of social media quirks and memes and processing them into chilly, sarcastic songs with titles like Selfie Stick Narcissistic Prick, or Running Through A Field Of Wheat. It could be spiteful, but there’s a moral core to it, with the band training their sights on the kind of solipsistic ineptness that unglues the world.

Dates:

  • Preoccupations + Black Midi – Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Tuesday 5th June 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Omni + Black Midi – The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Monday 11th June 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Sonic Bm5: black midi + Jerskin Fendrix + GG Skips + Legpuppy – The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Tuesday 12th June 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

Brixton sounds:


 

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