Tag Archives: Chantal Brown

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

8 Nov

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

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

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

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

Julia Holter:

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

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

Ensemble Perpetuo

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

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

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

Programme:

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

 

CHROMA ensemble

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

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

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

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

Programme:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Programme:

Part One: Toys & Dances

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

Part Two: Images & Visions

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

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

Programme:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumpermonkey, 2015

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

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

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

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

Haiku Salut, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW – Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’ album, 2014 (“hurrying fearfully along the rim of a weakened dam”)

5 Aug
Knifeworld: 'The Unravelling'

Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’

You must have heard this one before. Alan Moore’s told a version, so has Groucho Marx. So have many others as the tale creeps down the years, gathering new clothes to wrap its bones in. Here’s another version.

One afternoon a doctor receives an unexpected patient – a middle-aged man, cheeks slack and jaw unshaven, creeping shyly into the consulting room where he sits, quivering, on the chair. His shoulders are hunched as if expecting a blow to fall. He wrings his battered hat in his hands and stammers that his world is imploding, that he feels that he cannot face a cruel present and uncertain future; that his body and mind are suffering and he doesn’t think that he can go on. The doctor is tempted to say “cheer up, it may never happen,” but restrains himself. It’s not purely out of professionalism – there’s something in his visitor’s muddy eyes that suggests that such flippancy would be more than cruel. Then the doctor has an idea. He puts on his most comforting, most reasonable voice. “What you need, my friend, is laughter. Here, I know the very thing for you. The great clown Grock is playing in town tonight – go and buy a ticket. He will make you forget your worries and your terrors.” The man says nothing for a moment, then, as he rises to leave, his eyes fill with terrible wounded tears. “But Doctor,” he stammers. “I am Grock…”

Chewing over this old chestnut has put me in mind of Knifeworld’s leader Kavus Torabi – a musician who’s spent years stuck fast in the guts of cult appeal but who’s suddenly starting to look a little ubiquitous. Steps upward via bigger cult bands (to Gong via Cardiacs and Mediaeval Babes) have helped him here. So, too, have his vigorous radio-show hostings and his eccentric, affectionate charm, belatedly recognised by a horde of magazines and webzines. So too, the frequency with which his lanky frame, explosive hairdo and glowing enthusiasm rock up at and around London gigs. By now, he’s well on his way to becoming a public personality – a vivacious, goofy, black-dandelion star with an infectious grin and throaty chuckle, whose career (to a new fan) would seem to have burst upwards in a series of random turns and innocent accidents.

The flipside of this is that he’s become something of a beloved clown, and it could have sunk him. Flying in the face of anxious rock pomposity and its accelerated quest for significance, Kavus openly refers to his work as “funny-music”. For two decades, on-and-off, he’s been releasing swarms of supercharged tatterdemalion art-rock songs (in which Canterbury whim grapples with Chicago nerve while spinning cogs of power-pop, psychedelia, prog and folk joust with reed-crammed avant-garde blares and slamming flashes of heavy metal) and ices this wild cake with baroque psychedelic imagery turned into a daffy, tongue-in-cheek juggling act. Upfront and loveable, Kavus will always bring accessibility and charm to the musical tumult behind him; but his oddball image has sometimes resisted and obscured deeper engagement. There’s a risk that his growing audience won’t grow with him; that when they listen to the ornate, shaggy-lantern rock of Knifeworld’s 2009 debut album ‘Buried Alone…‘ they might hear only its knotty playfulness, its busy collisions. While revelling in Knifeworld’s bird-flipping refusals to be either meat-and-potatoes rock or polished narcissistic artfulness, they’ll miss the emotive depths which wind beneath the band’s fairground-dazzle surface. Instead, they’ll be demanding constant cheery Kavus looning while they augur their own vague Phineas Freakears rebellions from the flyaway whorls in his barnet.

All in all, ‘The Unravelling’ – with its crucial shift in tone and weight – has arrived right on time. Kavus’ funny-music mask needs to crack. His entertainer face needs to blanch a little. He can’t remain the cute bastard child of Daevid Allen and Tom Baker forever.

That said, there’s little to suggest that Knifeworld’s second album is a calculated attempt at growing up, or at brushing away frivolity. Neither is it a “poor-me” album of mid-life crises or bleats about B-list fame. (Nor, in case you were worrying, are there any arch, camped-up traces of sad clown.) Instead, ‘The Unravelling’ seems to have formed out of sheer necessity. Its aches, fears and stalking black dogs have been cast out into the open by compulsive honesty and irresistible pressure. While undercurrents of darkness have snaked through the band’s colourful fantasias before, they’ve always been couched in fragmented word-games and arcane disguises – late-night fears sprouted a psychedelic froth of in-jokes, and tales of betrayal and shortfalls would spread and mutate into Ancient Mariner epics. Kavus was constantly hedging his bets; hanging little baubles of angst and honesty in his jagged, branching tunes like Christmas decorations. No more. Finally, he’s stopped the tease, stopped the sleight-of-hand and the fucking fan-dance.

What he’s revealing now is engaging, intimate and entirely human. At times, it’s heartbreaking. “My friends call out to me, / but I’m not home too many times,” he confides, on the very first song, swelling to a sudden pitch of raw hurt. “So some escaped or reproduced and some just fell apart. / Why? / Why did you grow those teeth in your heart?” At its roots, ‘The Unravelling’ is about love and vulnerability. It’s about feeling naked and thin-skinned at the mercy of dreadful forces of fate and irrationality, of memory and error. In its most reflective moments, it’s about the painful process of accepting the wounds. “Every passing year,” laments Kavus. “I feel those icy fingers poking me.”

Perversely, he’s singing about this while fortified by his biggest, most accomplished band yet. The current Knifeworld lineup is a solid brass-and-reeds-bolstered eight-piece – capable of fierce King Crimson snarls, elastic Shudder To Think bounds, sidesteps into complex harmonic spaghetti (a la Henry Cow) and rapid shifts of time signature or dynamic, but also possessing the immediate poise of a finely-honed pop band. Where on spec they ought to sprawl, they’re actually dead on-point. That extra cannonade of saxophones and Emmett Elvin’s wandering, watchful keyboards are as tight as an old-school soul revue. Musically, they’re brimming with confidence and simmering power: just listen to them charge their way through Don’t Land On Me like a progged-up John Barry Orchestra, deliver a pummelling but light-footed jazz-metal barrage on The Orphanage, or spice a vocal or string arrangement with an ingenious Kate Bush twist. Often they stop just short of swagger.

Some Knifeworld tics and tropes remain the same. Still present and correct are the proud eclecticism and visceral drive beneath the ornamentation; the vocal interplay between Kavus’ rusty earnestness and Mel Woods’ cool matter-of-fact tones; the naval tang of shanty and sea-song that soaks deep into the band’s marrow along with the rock-in-opposition and bristling prog. Yet the sound, formerly wayward and freewheeling, has been squeezed and sharpened by Kavus’ new preoccupations. Just as the lyrics have been pared from puzzle to pith, the vaulting chambers of psychedelic echo have been reduced to a tighter space (as if Gong had suddenly fallen under Joy Division’s shadow) and the tuneful sprawl has narrowed down to sinews and bones. Despite all of Knifeworld’s brassy collective strength, a miasma of unease hazes their horizon. It’s as if the whole octet – amps, guitars, horns, bassoon and all – are hurrying fearfully along the rim of a weakened dam. As if they’ve never felt so fragile, so ungainly and as likely to stumble… and it’s a long, long way down.

This is hardly surprising. In song terms, everything that Kavus has previously lived with but toyed with or danced around has finally reared up and shaken off the frills and protection. By his own account, ‘The Unravelling’ was inspired by ripples of pain in and around his own life and his tight-knit friendships in the last few years – solid bonds dissolving, unexpected savage blows from out of the darkness, free spirits tumbling into madness while the chickens come home to roost as vultures. Unsettling noises lope alongside several tunes – scrapes, friction-screeches or skeletal rattles; watch-ticks, muted footfalls and knocks – like eerie fellow travellers or frightened ghosts haunting dingy rooms, huddled in corners or stumbling, stricken; trying to stay unnoticed; afraid to live. Ominous bad-trip lyrics and phrases creep from song to song as eyes are shuttered, blocked off or sprout hideously from bare skulls; as hands hold secrets to be fumbled, dropped or cherished.

All of the trauma may or may not have settled to echoes now, but the music is still caught in the teeth of the drama. The Orphanage’s quick-flail riffing (packed with panicky staircases of crowded saxophone) frames a brief and bitter lyric of introverted desperation and disgusted intimacy, primed to implode, while the grand album opener I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight bellies with muscular, operatic disquiet. Esther Dee’s guesting soprano dips and soars – a Valkyrie figurehead – while Knifeworld arc through star-peppered space and oncoming storms like the Flying Dutchman, and Mel delivers a portrait-in-flashes of a relationship wrenched off course by suspicions, resentments and absences. (“You’ll sleep alone, / bet I don’t get the chance / to watch it every night I’m home. / That halo won’t have far to drop, / ‘til it becomes a noose, /and I’m not gonna break you loose, no. / So steep inside my room, / when I’m not there, / too many times. / A witch-hunt for a bed, / uncover all my plan.”) In choral passion, and over explosive minefield rhythms, the band beat their hearts against the swelling poison – “every fight you lose, that breaks over us. / All the fights that you lost from the start, / unravelled something inside of you. / Every tooth you grew, that bites into us.” Even in Don’t Land On Me’s prog-Bolan/James Bond swagger (which bursts from thunder into light via great cruising stretches of acoustic guitar, dreamy verses and flashes of gospel ecstacy), Kavus unpacks bald moments of emotion. Confession, guilt and disconnection intertwine with his lysergic reveries of dream cities, withering stars, and the jolt of awakening. “Inside your dying sun, and you never caught me out. / Inside you’re dying, son. / Broken, unfound, there is only one thing I find – / we ran aground when I wouldn’t make up my mind.”

Back when he was a fresh-eyed twentysomething – wrangling guitars in The Monsoon Bassoon, and hatching ideas that would blossom again in Knifeworld – Kavus wrote a song called The Best Of Badluck 97. Wrapped in cryptic legends of iron swords and bitten hands, It covered a particular annus horribilis that sprawled and stank across the lives of him and his friends: band splits, broken romances, fallings-outs and other youthful horrors. Sixteen years on, history repeats with a fearful weight. In ‘The Unravelling’s eerie centrepiece (a haunted jig of snake-slide bass and revolving Rhodes piano) Kavus cites it directly – and with bitter rueful nostalgia – while nightmares of ruination and frightened statues take hold and things claw their way out of the garden. “That cursed year that caused the great divide. / …when we all regrouped it felt so different then, / like something had been lost, something had died. / Chemicals, craziness and confusion, / betrayals in between another’s thighs. / But I’d trade all I have to be right back there now, / ‘cos the skulls we buried have regrown their eyes.”

As a counterpart, Knifeworld deliver a bittersweet tribute to survival and thwarted hopes on Destroy The World We Love. “Oh well, it always ends up underground, then. / The best minds and all of that were going down,” sings Kavus. “The years that passed between, / unravelled all our dreams.” As the band thread and weave an intricate psychedelic cobweb (majestic crabbed guitar lines, Steve Reich wind cycles and delicate glock’n’Rhodes chimes) he muses over what’s been lost and what’s been salvaged: “I kind of miss all the madness, / I kind of miss the way we were, but, / for all the loss and the sadness, / me and you we made it through, / me and you we made it. / So we can never replace it, / and it’ll never come again, but / we got so close I could taste it.”

One particular story looms high above this knot of sorry tales – that of fallen Cardiacs leader Tim Smith, Kavus’ friend, onetime boss and profound inspiration. Although the man was shattered and silenced by a set of devastating strokes six years ago, his musical presence haunts ‘The Unravelling’, from its singalongs and switchbacks to the complex contrary rigging of its songcraft. His painful absence inspires the album’s two most involving songs, in which Kavus’ mingled love and grief burst into plain view. (“In my dreams still, you’re just like you were, you’re just fine. / In my waking, you are never out of my mind.”)

Travelling from exultation to dismay, and showcasing Knifeworld in all of their delicious tunefulness and irritation, Send Him Seaworthy is a coded parable of Tim Smith’s fall. Chloe Herington’s bassoon (increasingly, Knifeworld’s hotline to avant-garde classical rigour) lofts in stern spiny hogbacks above welters of nautical metaphor, as a jaunty sea-song is stretched and corrugated into proud crenellations, surging somewhere between the Sloop John B and Henry Cow. As the band defiantly fly their Cardiacs flag (“most set sail in the usual way, / and always stand to reason, / never set themselves ablaze. / Our proud galleon that sails today, /just dwarves the other vessels, / cuts through the waves,”) Kavus pursues his melody into every cranny and corner, as if hoping that he’ll find Tim tucked away in one of them, grinning and healed. “Enlisted men hit the waves again, / I can’t adjust the rudder – man overboard! / I never knew you’d capsize, my friend, /I said you were my brother, / I thought you’d be restored.” At the height of the drama, emotion capsizes the metaphor. Kavus drops all of the nautical play for an agonised real-life account of his own. “On the telephone at four AM, you said you wanted to stay. / It came as no surprise, ‘cos you were always that way. / I made up your bed and went back to mine. Yeah, I drifted but then, / when you never showed, how could I have known you’d never show up again?”

These same cold awakenings gnaw at This Empty Room Once Was Alive. A haunted, minimal hole-in-the-hull, this is a close cousin to Japan’s Ghosts: a stripped and eerie confessional in which a bass-less, drum-less, de-horned Kavus shivers outside the protection of his band. Only Emmett’s rippling dream-clock of Rhodes and Mel’s spectral harmony are there to keep him company against the night sounds and the early hours as he stares at the wall, “too terrified to sleep in case / the dreams in which you’re walking come, / that find me woken, staring at my pillow, / broken, spent, undone.” A background of ominous grinds and creaking scrapes suggest crumbling houses or rotting ship-hulks, or a slow, stranded disintegration of worth and significance. “When the curtain draws, / and buried all are we, / would this have made a difference? / And in the afterlife, / a gaudy purgatory,/ would we still remember?”

Then, with a strummed and beautiful sigh of cuatro strings, Kavus lets it all loose: a direct address to his broken friend, the words scraping against his teeth, full of profound sadness, sorrow and an acceptance of fear finally laid bare. “All I am is frightened / I’ll forget just what we had, / and all I am is scared / to cast what’s left of my mind back. / My dear friend, my sweet captain, / I can’t find the words to tell you, / just how deep the hole you left behind you when you fell became. /Around in circles limps this crippled horse that I’m still riding, / while old friends ring me up to ask me where have I been hiding?” At last he hits rock bottom… or, perhaps, ‘Rock Bottom’, as some of Robert Wyatt’s fluid account of transformative feeling is echoed here too, laving the sadness – that feeling of stun and shift; the sense of wonder, and of the human connection which redeems the disaster.

It’s that last which is going to save us, if anything will. Happy endings aren’t simply gifted to people: Kavus is sad enough and wise enough not to cheat and deny these bleak experiences he’s sung about (nor the marks they’ve scored onto people) by painting a smiley face over them. Instead, he leaves warmer points to glow inside the darker corners of these songs; bright crumbs of hope for us to gather up, those scraps that weren’t torn or whirled away. Destroy The World We Love patches some resolution and consolation into both its pealing Kavus guitar solo (which blends humility and dented heroism) and its warm, ghostly bind of a-capella – “Back in my room again, / I can’t remember when / you put to sleep my wars, /and turned my life to yours.”

To wrap up ‘The Unravelling’, I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes provides a bittersweet post-apocalyptic reverie. With cycling acoustic guitar and brittle piano flourishes, and a suppurating cosmic bleed as a backdrop, the song trudges away from the self-made wreckage as in brief, knotty breaks of guitar and horns, the band levers itself off the ground and puts itself back together. In soft and ashy tones, Kavus and Mel weigh up the losses, loyalties and shortfalls; accept them; then make a ragged plea for forgiveness, acceptance and something better. “Heavens fall, across the room, across the world, / After all we’ve lost… / If I fell into your arms, into your world, / could I dwell in your universe, / universe? / Even now I can’t begin to form the words, / to tell you how you’re my everything, / everything. / Worlds collapse, heavens fall, / and after all there’s really only us now.”

There’s no need to be a Grock (trapped in yourself, baling out hollow laughs to an audience that can’t really see you) nor a lost space cadet, out on your own and burned by your own dreams. In the end, ‘The Unravelling’ puts the remains of its battered faith behind compassion, and suggests that we can cede our own pain and finally surrender to our better natures simply by surrendering to each other, being ready to feel each other’s pain and being transformed by it. “Passing through this world of shadows, / I’m in love with you. / I’ll erase this world alive behind my eyes, / to spend my days in your universe.” That last word repeats and repeats to the fade, a hopeful mantra to the last.

Knifeworld: ‘The Unravelling’
Inside Out Music, 0506 858 (5052205068588)
CD/vinyl album
Released: 22nd July 2014

Get it from:

CD – from Knifeworld homepage store, Inside Out Shop, or Burning Shed.

Vinyl – Knifeworld homepage store, Inside Out Shop, or Burning Shed.

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

REVIEW – Knifeworld: ‘Don’t Land On Me’ single & Kramies: ‘The Wooden Heart’ single, both 2013 (“dancing at the end-of-the-world party”)

2 Oct

Knifeworld: 'Don't Land On Me'

Knifeworld: ‘Don’t Land On Me’

So what’s it to be, then? Stubborn elbows or secret soft centre? For Knifeworld, as ever, it’s both and neither. Kavus Torabi runs on this kind of contradiction. It’s what enables (or maybe forces) him to roll out singles like this – the kind which always seem to promise him the attention he deserves but never quite get him enough. Generally his songs teeter like dazed cats trying to scramble over the fence dividing open fields of sunny pop from that intricately entangled tesseract-space of what Kavus calls “funny music” (and which the rest of us drain our adjective-and-hyphen stores over, vainly trying to pin down a workable term).

‘Don’t Land On Me’ finally kicks down the fence. In its swirl and pounces, in its tiny bluffs and blind corners, in each acoustic guitar rope-trick and each Halloween feint of Emmett Elvin’s keyboards, it brings in the usual juicy psychedelic Knifeworld kinks. I suspect that Kavus can’t look at a nice fresh acid blotter without seeing a potential origami crocodile in there, waiting to be made. Yet this time, for every formidable bit of bassoon-pretzeling that Kavus offers up to the memory of his beloved Henry Cow there are two shots of pop. For every bit of elastic Shudder To Think limbo-dancing, there’s a flash of Marc Bolan coltishly tossing his curls and foot-stomping with Led Zeppelin.

Having unexpectedly ballooned into an octet (with a three-line battery of reeds and saxophones), Knifeworld are starting to sound bizarrely like a 1970s soul revue, albeit one that’s lurching out of line. ‘Don’t Land On Me’ has gilded harmony stabs and sugar-wraps of acoustic guitar; it has gratuitous campy explosions; it has stirring gospel-mama “yeahhh!”s from Chantal Brown (bringing a Loa or two from Vōdūn). Most surprisingly, it seems to have gobbled up that swashbuckling vamp from Live And Let Die, hiccupped it out again and gotten away with it – regularly, the band throw their hip intricacies to the wind and just romp up and down a ladder of soft-rock pizazz. Threaded through all of this sturdy bravado, though, is sadness and fear – a hollowing of the heart.

Half of the lyrics are Kavus’ usual ribbons of third-eye babble: tales of dying suns and mysterious cities of the mind, as much bragging as illumination. Yet all of a sudden he’ll turn out a belter: “In that treacherous slippery no-man’s land / between bolt-upright and dead-to-the-world in sleep, / I was dreaming that you were in my arms. / Dreams will only give promises they cannot keep.” Later on he’s hiding behind his own tune, chanting “falling down, unravelling”, and it’s up to his vocal foil Mel Woods to step up and deliver the drop – “Broken, unfound, there is only one thing I find – / we ran aground, and I wouldn’t make up my mind. / Hide it behind your hands, my eyes no longer see / Heavens above, stars explode, but don’t land on me.”

Kramies: 'The Wooden Heart'

Kramies: ‘The Wooden Heart’

As the band charge off into the vamp again, they sound as if they’re dancing at the end-of-the-world party in mirror-strewn top hats: I’m guessing that Kavus will be trying not to meet the gaze of any of his own reflections. Kramies Windt, meanwhile, will be standing several good paces away, waving goodbye to everything with full acceptance.

While Knifeworld fret about doom and ward it off with their showbiz, Kramies gets by on faith. Not for him Knifeworld’s tussle of John Barry and John Adams, nor their trick-cycling. With Todd Tobias keeping a gentle producer’s eye on things, ‘The Wooden Heart’ rolls along on that familiar drowsy acoustic-guitar trudge that’s served forty years of green-tinted psychedelia from Camel to Mercury Rev to Porcupine Tree. A spectral moonlit fungus of vaporous keyboards grow on and around everything: a high-altitude electric wash of sparks, smoothness and textural drag spreads out at telescope height, snowploughing the Milky Way. As for the song, it’s less involved and intricate than much of the material which Kramies has sung up for us since his 2008 emergence. A dream-pop caroller with a lucid organic twist to his songs, he once came across as a mellower Paddy McAloon with a hint of pixie. Now he’s closer to visionary Neil Young territory, the point where American folk-song blurs without a jolt into slumbering subconscious. He’s singing softly and with understanding beyond his sleepy burr, like a wise newborn already dusted from the road.

This is a love song, of a different kind. Kramies is pulling up memories: treasuring them, but also acknowledging how memory and memorabilia gently cheat and distort the truths which they’re set up to hold onto – “Forged from the photograph when the tides they rode you down; / smudged from the perfect lens, so I brought you back to ground.” Despite the dreamy, distant atmospheres Kramies isn’t dwelling on someone gone. He’s celebrating someone never lost, someone coming into clearer focus as present merges with memory: “We fell in love with wind, sun and movies, / no need to stay. / Countdowns and journeys, conversations, fell through our day.”

In the middle, the song holds its breath for half a moment, then rises into a blissful dream-pop threshing; a massed quilt of hammering Slowdive-ian guitars joyfully plunging down onto each beat. “Spill out the haven, throw my maths chart away, ‘cos you’re the one,” Kramies sings, in an exultant sigh. “Throw my maps, a castaway.” It’s rare to find dream-pop that resolves with such assured optimism, in which you can sense experience shifting into its proper place. While Kavus and Knifeworld constantly quest for resolution – and spin some dazzling pirouettes along the way – Kramies seems to have mastered the talent of simply breathing it into shape.

Knifeworld: ‘Don’t Land On Me’
Believer’s Roast (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 9th September 2013

Kramies: ‘The Wooden Heart’ single
Hidden Shoals Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 5th September 2013

Get them from:
Knifeworld: ‘Don’t Land On Me’ – Bandcamp
Kramies: ‘The Wooden Heart’ – Hidden Shoals online store

Knifeworld online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Bandcamp

Kramies online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace

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