Tag Archives: Charlie Cawood

More London gigs, last week of October into November (26th to 1st) – gamelan/dance fusion with My Tricksy Spirit/Wax Wings/Segara Madu; Nordic pop at Ja Ja Ja (Kill J/Loveless/Maasai); anarchistwood’s Samhain/NYE party (with Rude Mechanicals, Jane Ruby and more); intercontinental psych & noise with Baba Yaga (Bitchin’ Bajas/Tomaga/Demian Castellanos, Acid Mothers Temple/Zeni Geva); and more LUME jazz

24 Oct

Pausing only to remind you that the last week of October includes two of the Pierre Bensusan acoustic gigs at the Half Moon in Putney (which I mentioned in the previous post), here are the last of my selected London gigs for the month, plus one for the start of November. As ever, it’s just a small sampling of what’s on in town, but it’s what’s caught my attention.

Bitchin’ Bajas + Tomaga + Demian Castellanos (Baba Yaga’s Hut & Hands In The Dark @ Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK, Monday 26th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00

Baba Yaga's Hut, 26th October 2015I’ve heard Chicago trio Bitchin’ Bajas described as “psychedelic easy listening” – presumably by someone who insists on being shouted at in conversation. Despite that swaggering faux-dumb name (the one that makes them sound as if they play manic Tejano to be drowned out by fist-fighting oil workers) they’re more ‘Bitches Brew’ than cathouse. They spin out protracted rhapsodic instrumentals drawing on a variety of introspective, mindful influences and parallels, looking back to the hallowed bucolic trance of Harmonia and Cluster, the ecstatic modular pulses of Terry Riley, the breezy but depthless Pacific cool of West Coast jazz, and perhaps the dissolving pastoralism of Talk Talk. Though they’re multi-instrumentalists, they wear their skills lightly, working wind instruments and mallet percussion into their mists of keyboard and workhorse organ and their landscape of lively rolling, rilling glissandi and drone chords. Sometimes overlapping into ambient electronica, they’re never quite dilute enough to fit into it: even at their most vaporous and transparent, they’re the smoke that never quite fades, the tang that holds your attention. As the clip below shows, they’re perhaps a little too diffuse to work at an open air festival: embraced by the Oto space, they should do just fine.

Synth/sounds looper Tom Relleen and drummer Valentina Magaletti keep in step – just about – as Tomaga, an impressionistic improvising duo drawing on drone music, free jazz and modular synth work hanging off the edge of rock. Simple oscillating melodies percolate loosely over a syncopated jazz lope with hanging coffee-can taps and rattles and shortwave radio whines; sometimes a synth organ hangs by itself, burbling, while the percussion sways and alarms like an approaching freight train. It’s music of preoccupation, with brief flashes of bright sunlight through the pressing focus.

Best known as the figure behind London psychedelic/kosmische projects The Orichalc Phase and The Oscillation, Cornish-born loop guitarist Demian Castellanos steps out under his own name for his most personal work so far. Like Fred Frith or G.P. Hall, Demian’s had a history of playing guitar with implements – paper, cutlery or whatever else came to hand – and feeding the sounds through volume swells and sundry pedals: like Hall, he’s also possessed of a nature-inspired, painterly view of music. For this current work, he’s going back to his formative years of woodshedding as a cottage-bound teenager at the isolated southernmost tip of the British coast; creating rich, portentous and melodious sound layers drawing on early-‘90s shoegaze, on raga and drone, and on echoing, guttering British, Indian, American and German psychedelic influences.


More gig info is here, and tickets are available here.

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As the opening concert of the South East Asian Festival 2015, there’s a performance at the Forge by My Tricksy Spirit, a new musical project which fuses the shimmering sounds of gendér wayang – Balinese gamelan instruments – with dub, electronic, ambient, trip-hop, and psychedelic rock. The Forge’s writeup is below (tweaked a little by me).

My Tricksy Spirit @ The Forge, 28th October 2015

My Tricksy Spirit (The Forge , 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, UK, Monday 26th October 2015, ) – £10.00 

Performed on the bronze-and-bamboo “gendér” metallophones which gives the music its name – and featuring intricate, interlocking melodies played with mallets and damped with the wrists – gendér wayang is a subset of Balinese gamelan music. Involving between two and four players (a small number for a gamelan ensemble) it is used in the island’s Hindu rituals including life-cycle ceremonies, temple festivals, purification rituals and cremations (as well as in the sacred wayang kulit shadow-puppet dramas, based on ancient Indian epics).

The My Tricksy Spirit project was started by Nick Gray, who teaches south-east Asian music at the School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London, and who runs the gendér group that forms the basis of the band. Using Ableton Live, several synths and effects, guitar, bass and drums, the music is played through a mixing desk – much like dub – to create an intense psychedelic journey through sound.

Tonight’s band features Nick Gray (violin and vocal), Paula Friar and Rachel Wilcox (gendérs) and four other musicians: Tomoya Forster of Pumarosa (bass guitar, effects, mixing desk), Julian Vickary of General Skank (synthesizer and effects), Charlie Cawood of Knifeworld (bass guitar, sitar, guitar) and Rob Shipster of Buttress Root Drumming (electronics, drums), who also produced My Tricksy Spirit’s upcoming album.

Support comes from electronica/world-house act Wax Wings and from another of Nick Gray’s SOAS gendér wayang ensembles, Segara Madu (who mostly play repertoire pieces from the Balinese village of Sukawati, as taught by the late I Wayan Loceng). More information and gig tickets are here, with the Facebook event page here.

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Arguably, there’s not been enough pop or R&B in here recently. Let’s set that straight.

Ja Ja Ja, 29th October 2015

Kill J + Loveless + Maasai (Ja Ja Ja @ The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, UK, Thursday 29th October 2015,) – £5.00/£7.00

Straight from the publicity:

Founded in 2009, Ja Ja Ja is the definitive Nordic website and club night celebrating the very best new music emerging from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Denmark. Each month at London’s The Lexington, Ja Ja Ja hand-picks the finest emerging talent from the Nordic countries, making sure that only the best music is filtered through to your ears.

KIll J (a.k.a. Julie Aagaard) has been turning heads the past two years with her signature blend of dark experimental pop. A devastating one-two-punch with debut singles Phoenix and Bullet set the blogosphere buzzing, also catching the keen eye of ‘The Guardian’, ‘Indie ‘, ‘Stereogum’, ‘Pigeons and Planes’ and landing airplay on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6music. Deliciously diverse, the sugary sweet Cold Stone revealed a more innocent and naive side of KIll J, whilst Propaganda burst forth as “a bombastic, fangs-bared snarl at sexism” (‘Stereogum’). There’s more to come too, with an EP promised this fall.

Prominent identities in their own right, Eirik Tillerli and Filip Kollsete teamed up late 2013 to form Norwegian beat crooners Loveless. Following back-to-back remixes, debut single How To Love You was instantly added to national radio. Clocking in excess of 500K streams last year, their music has picked up attention from blogs, magazines and DJs all over the world; also landing them on some of the biggest festivals in Norway, not to mention their own club night in Oslo, Klubb Loveless (where guests include Artful/Artful Dodger and NVOY). New single They Don’t Know was recently hailed Record of the Week on BBC Radio 1xtra, serving the first taste of upcoming project ‘Relationships’.

Maasai is a Stockholm-based duo consisting of Dominique Teymouri and Zackarias Ekelund. Together they create soulful sound landscapes with a cinematic touch and lyrical depths. The pair broke on to the scene with debut single Memories, pulling inspiration from varied and abstract constructs – places, people, surroundings and everywhere in between. Follow-up tracks The Healer and Forgive Me have since held a captive audience; also hinting to the fearless, fragile and all-the-while dreamy atmosphere inhabited by MAASAI’s upcoming debut album – set for release later this year.

Resident DJs Project Fresh Socks are along for the ride in October; having also spun up a storm at Ja Ja Ja’s first club night of the season last week at The Lexington with CHINAH (Denmark), The Fjords (Norway) and Axel Flovent (Iceland).

Up to date information for this particular Ja Ja Ja night is here and tickets are here.

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Flapping-in-the-wind time… here’s what looks like a very interesting gig, but the colourful cloud of information around it keeps changing shape. Here we go..

Subterfuge presents Samhain Special/Labiatory New Year’s Eve Party with Rude Mechanicals + NiMBUL + Bad Suburban Nightmare + We Are A Communist + Jane Ruby + Milky Sugar (Subterfuge @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, UK, Friday 30th October 2015, 7.00pm) – £3.00 to £6.00 and upwards

Samhain Subterfuge, 30th October 2015

Run by arch, arty but heartful prank-rockers anarchistwood (whose own ingredients span post-punk cantatas, skeletal lo-fi garage pop, silly voices and quickfire sampler collages), this is the last Subterfuge club night of the year (hence the split between a Halloween/Samhain night and a New Year’s Eve shindig) and promises a fabulous musical sprawl – a right old grab-bag of this and that, in the best way. anarchistwood themselves are playing, though at the moment it’s unclear whether or not they’re teaming up with dysfunctional Chatham polymath and Stuckist art brute Sexton Ming (as the anti-supergroup called Nimbul), or playing as themselves. I guess that whichever way it goes you could expect a roughly equal mix of distracted behaviour, political protest, self-absorbed memory jigsaws and détournements with echoes of Beefheart, Crass, The Raincoats and the high point of a Pride parade. But that’s all it is – a guess.

Compared to Earth and Neil Young at their most dogged and noisy, Dan Hrekow – a.k.a Bad Suburban Nightmare – plays “impossibly slow and melancholic” grunge-drone instrumentals on a minimal setup of distorted guitar and pedals. In violent contrast, Rude Mechanicals play party music for paranoid schizophrenics, fronted by the peroxide-beehive rantings of Miss Roberts (who looks like a doubled-back-drag-queen version of Patsy Stone, and speak-sings like a collision between Dagmar Krause and Holly Penfield), Their songs are rattling hallucinatory-jam sandwiches about sinister neighbours, stand-up arguments and alien mice on the Tube, mixing jazz, punk and cabaret together in equal measures and played with both needle-sharp precision and full glamour oomph.

Of the rest, We Are A Communist provide “trashy guitar-laden sci-fi surf music, with stylophones to boot – a must for Man or Astroman? fans”; onetime Naked Ruby frontwoman (and current Deptford Beach Babes member) Jane Ruby turns up to sing her solo mixture of torch, garage rock’n’roll, flamenco and blues songs with twists of Spanish & Arabic flavours; and Milky Sugar performs “punk go go”… but that’s where I run out of information.

I’ve no actual idea about the order in which everyone’s going on, as the various info and flyers seem to contradict each other: either that or the whole event is morphing too fast for me to keep up with it. Presumably they’re working to some functional anarchist or I Ching method to establish it, or you just turn up and see what happens. Perhaps that’s what they’re doing. Either/and/or DJ Sugarlump SS, DJ KG Lumphead and MC Sadogasm provide some extra noises, punkvertery & Kodek provide visuals, and they’ve got a proactive but generous door price policy – three quid if you’re unwaged, four quid if you’re a student with an NUS card, and six quid if you’re neither but have shown enough commitment to arrive before 9pm. After that, they charge more. More information is here; keep track of developments as best you can on Facebook here; and there’s the usual array of tasters below.

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On the Sunday, it’s time for the monthly LUME gig: more jazz in Dalston…

LUME logo

Tom Taylor/Rob Luft and Cath Roberts/Seth Bennett/Andrew Lisle (LUME @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8JH, UK, Sunday 1st November 2015, 7.30pm) – £10.00

For our November Vortex gig, we welcome a duo and a trio to the stage, for a night of improvised music.

Tonight sees the first meeting of a new improvising trio featuring LUME’s co-director Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone), Seth Bennett (double bass) and Andrew Lisle (drums). Andrew is known for being one of the drummers in heavyweight Leeds anarcho-sextet Shatner’s Bassoon, and as a prolific improviser working with a multitude of musicians on the free scene (Colin Webster, Alex Ward, Daniel Thompson, Tom Wheatley and more). Seth leads his own ensembles Nut Club and En Bas Quartet, as well as being involved in many other projects across musical styles including Fragments Trio, Metamorphic and The Horse Loom. He and Cath play together as a duo, as well as in Word of Moth and Cath’s quintet Sloth Racket. In addition to this and her LUME work, Cath also leads Quadraceratops (a septet) and has a duo with guitarist Anton Hunter, Ripsaw Catfish.

Seth Bennett, Cath Roberts, Andrew Lisle

The new duo featuring Tom Taylor and Rob Luft is a recent collaboration borne out of a mutual love of improvised music. The music draws attention to the many common features of the two instruments, and mixes high-intensity improvisation with more tender and reflective textures.

A former award-winning classical piano graduate at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Tom is now a rising British jazz star, having transferred to London in 2009 to pursue a Masters in jazz piano at Trinity College of Music (studying with Simon Purcell, Liam Noble and Nick Weldon). Since then he’s played the main jazz festivals in Manchester and London and Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway. He’s a member of the Jack Davies Big Band and of Southbound (both of whom have recorded for V&V Records) and also plays in the collaborative electro-acoustic trio duck-rabbit with saxophonist Joe Wright and double bass player James Opstad. Rob began his career as a jazz guitarist in Sevenoaks, where he took lessons from Mike Outram and turned professional at 15. He has been a mainstay of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra for many years, having been its guitarist since 2010 and having played in the associated NYJO Nonet. He currently co-leads the band Organism and plays with various groups on the London jazz circuit; including positions with Nigel Hitchcock, Gareth Lockrane and the Callum Au Big Band.

Rob Luft, Tom Taylor

More information here, and tickets here.

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Finally (and also on the Sunday) there’s a double bill of Japanese heaviness at Corsica Studios.

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO + Zeni Geva (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Sunday 1st November 2015, 7.30pm) – £14.00

Zeni Geva (or Zeni Gaiva, depending on how you translate the phonetics – conceptually, it translates as “money violence”) have been around since 1987. Led by guitarist/singer/noise-chopper KK Null, and currently backed up solely by drummer Tatsuya Yoshida to make a quake-strength power duo, they have initial links to legendary noise-Dadaists The Boredoms (and even the venue-destroying pre-Boredoms chaos act Hanatarash, which featured Mitsuru Tabata, until relatively recently Zeni Geva’s second guitarist). You’d expect them to have an abrasive side, and you’d be right. Their default musical setting is one of boiling, barking aggression, with tight and furious knots of threshing machine guitar; their records have savage, sadistic titles like ‘Total Castration’ and ‘Desire For Agony’; their progressive hardcore approach takes assorted forms hostage (aside from the obvious, there’s math and noise rock, psychedelia and death metal in the tangle) and makes them jump like puppets.

And yet, in spite of this, there’s a world of difference between Zeni Geva and your average long-lived heavy-thunderfuck band. It’s mostly in the way they use calm – little, perfectly-formed lacunae of space in between the blurs and blows, bringing their bursts of frenzy into focus (Steve Albini is both fan and sometime collaborator, and you can see why). It’s a terrible cliché to compare Japanese musicians to martial artists, but in this case there’s some substance to it. The brutality is sheer craft rather than an end in itself, every movement seems considered and purely executed; and live, in between each flurry of songblows and each ugly song name, they seem enormously humble, friendly and pleased to be there.

Acid Mothers Temple have taken twenty years to set themselves up as a revered psychedelic institution, but it seems as if they’ve been doing it for much longer, such is leader Makoto Kawabata’s talent for back-engineering himself into the culture. Part of this is down to the way he and his cohorts have mastered the ingredients, including the tearing metallic squalls, mellow blues tracery and starry smears of Hendrixian guitar, the whispering lapping Gong synths, the Pink Floyd mantra riffs and Zappa-esque air sculpture solos, and the zoned-out post-James Brown grooves (with the addition of Japanese chanting and noise-squalls). Much of the rest of it is to do with AMT’s open, overlapping community approach. Their musical impetus has utilised multiple faces and names, from their own simpler reconfigurations (the heavier trippier playing of Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno, the Sabbath-y sludge of Acid Mothers Temple & Space Paranoid) to the friendly absorption or co-opting of contemporaries (Acid Mothers Temple SWR, with Ruins, and Acid Mothers Afrirampo) and of heroes from the original psychedelic generation (the team-up with Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth as Acid Mothers Gong, and with Mani Neumeier as Acid Mothers Guru Guru). If old heroes are unavailable or disinclined to pool resources, AMT have simply shrugged and continued anyway (such as when they took up hurdy-gurdys and acid folk and briefly became Acid Mothers Temple & the Incredible Strange Band).

If this makes Kawabata and co sound like slick chancers (and even if AMT album titles like ‘Starless and Bible Black Sabbath’ do suggest both avid, nerdy fandom and piss-taking on a Julian Cope level), I’m selling them short. Acid Mothers Temple might be a brand as much as an ethos, but that hasn‘t stopped their project and record-releasing ethics being continually dedicated to possibilities and continuance,rather than simply banking a following (or colonizing someone else’s). Their communal origins may have been two decades behind those of their inspiration but were hardly any less sincere; and their exploration of less obvious musical areas en route (including opera, Terry Riley minimalism, Nepalese folk and southern European Occitan culture) have led them into interesting places and opened further doors to anyone following them.

First and foremost, anyone who’s seen AMT play will vouch to their talent of both mastering their sources and creating music which lives, thrills and involves in the moment. This week’s London concert features the more space-rock inclined Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. lineup – probably the easiest entry point to an increasingly rewarding musical world. See below for a full-length concert clip of the band in action.

More gig info is here, and tickets are available here.

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More November gig previews shortly…

Upcoming London gigs in early June – A Formal Horse & Ham Legion; Olga Stezhko; The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa; a Bowie Night in Soho

29 May

Here’s some quick info on upcoming gigs in early June which I’ve heard about – all of them in London.

Over the last couple of years, Westminster Kingsway College has established itself as one of the capital’s finest homes for quirky art-rock – by which I don’t mean student hobby bands thrown together for campness or for ironic prankery, but a rich, complex, committed electric music spanning the range between gutter-punk and flouncing prog via metal, jazz, folk, avant-gardening and anything else which gets melted down into the stew. Here’s one of those gigs that proves the point.

A Formal Horse, 2015

A Formal Horse + Ham Legion (Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8RA, Tuesday 2nd June, 6.30pm)

A Formal Horse is a new progressive rock quartet based in Southampton. Although the band’s sound is difficult to pinpoint, their dense instrumental passages are reminiscent of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra, whilst Francesca Lewis’ lead vocals evoke the whimsical surrealism of the 1970s’ Canterbury scene. Wonky melodies and serene vocals over a brutal sound – their music keeps you on your toes. However, A Formal Horse go beyond simply regurgitating the music of their predecessors. With influences as diverse as Bartók and Bon Iver, the band prove that there is still much territory to be explored in the field of British progressive rock.

In June 2014, the band released their debut EP, which was recorded by Rob Aubrey (IQ, Transatlantic). They went on to perform at London’s Resonance Weekend alongside Bigelf and Änglagård, and were described by Prog Magazine as a “festival highpoint”. Since, they have shared stages with Knifeworld and Lifesigns, cementing their position at the forefront of the British progressive scene.

Ham Legion spent 2014 honing their sound and developing a storming live show. You can expect a collision of beaming up beat power pop, grinding metal outbursts, dramatic changes of mood, sudden passages of twistingly epic prog then moments of restrained delivery and somber reflection. They are striking out in 2015 with the release of their debut album towards the end of the year.

Tickets available here – £6.00/£5.00

Olga Stezkho: 'Eta Carinae'

Olga Stezkho: ‘Eta Carinae’

Olga Stezhko (the far-thinking Belarusian classical pianist whose ‘Eta Carina’ album impressed me so much last year) has two London concerts coming up in the first fortnight of the month. The second’s likely to be an all-access crowd-pleaser. Given its charity fundraiser status, I’m not sure whether the first is likely to feature or indulge any of Olga’s intriguing conceptual preoccupations with Scriabin, Busoni, cosmology and early twentieth century consciousness, but even if it isn’t it’s a great opportunity to see a fine musician at work in a grand location.

Olga Stezhko charity piano recital in aid of Friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice (St Pancras Parish Church, Euston, London NW1 2BA, Thursday 4th June, 1:15pm – 2:00pm)

Programme not revealed – free admission, donations requested.

EC4 Music in aid of The Prince’s Trust (Barbican Hall, Tuesday 9th June, 7:30pm – 9:30pm)

The choir and orchestra of London-based EC4 Music return for their seventh fundraising concert in aid of The Prince’s Trust with a stirring selection of music from both sides of the Atlantic.

Programme:

Leonard Bernstein – Overture from ‘Candide’
Aaron Copland – Appalachian Spring
George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
Vaughan Williams – Serenade to Music
Leonard Bernstein – Chichester Psalms
Eric Whitacre – Water Night
Hubert Parry – Blest Pair of Sirens

Performers:

EC4 Music Choir and Orchestra
Tim Crosley – conductor
Olga Stezhko – piano
Claire Seaton – soprano
Roderick Morris – countertenor
Thomas Herford – tenor
Adam Green – baritone

Tickets available here – prices from £10.00 – £35.00 plus booking fee.

Some of London’s most active art-rockers are brewing up a free Zappa homage in Croydon at around the same time. Details below:

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The Spiders of Destiny play Frank Zappa (The Oval Tavern, 131 Oval Road, Croydon, CR0 6BR, Saturday 6th June, 8:30pm)

Great googly moogly! On June 6th, nine-piece tribute band Spiders Of Destiny come to The Oval Tavern to play a marathon set of music by the late, great Frank Zappa. Featuring world class performers with a sense of humour from notable prog/alternative bands such as: Knifeworld, Perhaps Contraption, Pigshackle, Medieval Baebes, The Display Team, Hot Head Show, Poino, Spiritwo, First, A Sweet Niche and more. So polish up your zircon-encrusted tweezers, trim your poodle, learn the mudshark dance and join us as we propagate the conceptual continuity instigated by one of the masters of modern music.

More info here – this gig is FREE ENTRY but there will be a donations jug doing the rounds during the intermission.

book-bowiespianomanAnyone with an interest in David Bowie, rock history, cabaret, electropop and all of the other things that get swept up into Bowie’s art should head to Soho on Thursday 11th June for A Bowie Night at Gerry’s Club, at which pianist and writer Clifford Slapper launches his book ‘Bowie’s Piano Man: The Life of Mike Garson‘ (which also has its own Facebook page).

As well as readings and signings there will be performances of Bowie songs from avowed fans Danie Cox (from “flock-rockers” The Featherz), Ray Burmiston (of ’80s heroes Passion Puppets), club siren Katherine Ellis (Freemasons, Ruff Driverz, Bimbo Jones etc.) and acoustic singer Jorge Vadio. There’ll also be a performance from a longtime ‘Misfit City’ favourite – London balladeer, Brel translator and onetime ‘Pirate Jenny’s’ host Des de Moor, who’ll presumably be singing his Bowie-gone-chanson interpretations from his ‘Darkness and Disgrace’ show. (I’m particularly pleased to see that Des is back onstage. It’s been a long time.)

More on the book below, and more on Gerry’s Club here.

“It is pointless to talk about his ability as a pianist. He is exceptional. However, there are very, very few musicians, let alone pianists, who naturally understand the movement and free thinking necessary to hurl themselves into experimental or traditional areas of music, sometimes, ironically, at the same time. Mike does this with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart glad just to be in the same room with him.” – David Bowie

Mike Garson has played piano on sixteen David Bowie albums, including Aladdin Sane, with his celebrated piano solo on its title track, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, 1. Outside and Reality. He has also played live with Bowie on countless tours and shows, and remains his most long-standing and frequent band member.

For some time Clifford Slapper has been working very closely with Garson to write a book which explores the life of this extraordinary and eccentric modern musician. It documents in detail how as a pianist he was catapulted overnight from the obscure world of New York’s avant-garde jazz scene to a close and long connection with Bowie. In addition, Garson is recognised as a classical virtuoso, a jazz master and one of the world’s greatest exponents of improvisation. He has also recorded and performed live with other rock legends such as the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. All of this is covered by this first ever biography of Mike Garson.

Its starting point was several days of in-depth and frank conversation with Garson himself, and covers a wide range of themes which will be of interest to all Bowie fans, but also to anyone with a passion for music, social history or the process of creative inspiration. Input has also come from many interviews with those who have worked with him over the years, including Earl Slick, Trent Reznor, Sterling Campbell, Reeves Gabrels, Dave Liebman and many others.

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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

REVIEW – Tonochrome: ‘Tonochrome’ EP, 2012 (“a swan dive into a mass of silks”)

1 Dec
Tonochrome: 'Tonochrome' EP

Tonochrome: ‘Tonochrome’ EP

Although they’re young enough to be touching down for a 2012 debut, what Tonochrome ultimately resemble are a gaggle of 1970s rockers: ones who’ve been lucky enough to see the future only to then forget three-quarters of it, but who are doing their best to catch up regardless.

A scattered glut of pop knowledge and ambition is their fuel. From the central framework of Andres Razzini’s guitar and buttery soft-soul-inspired vocals, they hang a succession of overlapping musical approaches. Each of these is played with vigour while it’s in place, but is tossed aside as soon as a song’s over, or even before. The wardrobe in Tonochrome’s memory palace must be bursting – every visit there would be a swan dive into the mental equivalent of a mass of silks, jeans, capes and feather boas. This layering of ideas and styles (and the band’s restlessness as regards taking a final form) ensures that Tonochrome fit right in with the swarm of post-progressive rock bands that are currently rising to attention: but while they do share a member with Knifeworld, they have little in common with that band’s tumultuous and knotty psychedelia. Similarly, they’re not a band who wear their diversity like a fuck-you T-shirt. In spite of their restlessness, they never play with grate-and-chop disruptiveness.

Instead, they’re a much smoother proposition, like a slightly proggier Tears For Fears. Not in terms of Orzabal and co’s melodramatically distressed New Wave beginnings; Tonochrome are more in tune with the confident, eclectomaniac soul-pop version which came later. It’s the flair, or the flare; the way that Tonochrome (all of whom play beautifully and bring plenty of ideas to the party) can flickeringly recall both Bolan and the Buckleys, blur into a Beatles singalong by way of both Genesis and Alexander O’Neal, or take flight over a pulse of Spanish-flavoured funk. Whatever’s going on with that wardrobe, there’s also a feeling of curtains sweeping up and away and down; theatrically introducing new ideas, new burnishings.

Theatre – that’s appropriate. At root, Tonochrome’s songs are about performance and the battle with fear, that way that “time moves on, / slaps in the face.” Andres sings about launching, about halting, about taking or surrendering control: Let It Begin is a personal call to arms and activity, shuffling a lyric full of shows and races, walls and spectators, push-buttons and puppet-strings. Musically, it’s the ’70s as seen though the ’80s. Andres and Charlie Cawood chop out a hairy chug of hard-rock guitars, Steve Holmes’ kinked synth lines find common ground between P-Funk and Marillion, and Andres enjoys a luxuriant soul-man sprawl across the choruses. A soul song realised with prog methods, it settles into a lively stew of pop. Mike Elliott plunks his bass like a funky cello and sings along: someone else plays water percussion. From the clapalong riff that adds wiggle to the rhythms, to the squishy breakdown in the middle and the carnival-drumming finish, there’s enough on here to front a parade.

It’s a fine and confident opening; but that nagging sense of unease remains, however many musical layers the band run through their busy fingers. Eerie swerving Ebow lines cry whalesong trails through Waiting To Be Unveiled (a leaner, gliding cousin to the long-lost bewitchment of Levitation’s Even When Your Eyes Are Open). This time, Andres sings quietly and with trepidation: “The unknown may be terrifying, but it’s got such a pretty face. / No one can predict the future, / but I’ve got an ace…” The payoff, however, is pure heart-on-sleeve ’80s pop, vocals melting and caroling around a resolution: “I will abdicate my kingdom / for a chance to see the world.”

Starts And Ends sees Andres stripped of his band’s protection. Alone and shivering, he creates a haunting drape of melody with a lonely echoing electric guitar, a slow-falling ladder of jazzy chords and a rattlesnake breath of percussion. He sings of self-reliance (“on this road I’ve known / those who wait for signs and cues. / Trudging on, stones in their shoes… / By the side of the road / let go of heavy loads – / all you need is here,”) but the wound in his voice belies it. Throughout the EP, he works around the paradoxes of hope and fear. Necessary spurs, or killers of initiative? Blinding deceivers, or inspirations?

Andres is still puzzling it out over the Buckleyesque minor-key figures on Gods and Demons, wrestling with conflicting directions even as crunchy Jefferson Airplane choruses and slithering Spanish rhythms kick in alongside a fax-machine witter of noise guitar. On Punctuation Marks, he protests “I’m half-way and see no starting line” over a zip-and-dodge acoustic guitar as the rest of the band pass a swirl of r’n’b, prog-synth and shimmer-pop ideas through a storm of psychedelic noise. These doubts fit into Tonochrome’s world like their own teeth; like all of the varied influences the band’s spread of members weave into their tight and poppy rope of songcraft; just as this EP could be the harbinger of a solid career of eclectic rock if Tonochrome hold it together, or an early omen for a set of promising solo careers if they don’t. We may doubt, we’ll certainly hope. We’ll see.

Tonochrome: ‘Tonochrome’
Andres Razzini/Daniel Imaña, AR001 (610370590232)
CD/download EP
Released: 31st July 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp or Rough Trade.

Tonochrome online:
Homepage FacebookBandcampSoundcloud

REVIEW – Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EP, 2012 (“spinning something solid out of flim-flam”)

25 Jul

Knifeworld: 'Clairvoyant Fortnight'

Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’

Another summer with Knifeworld: another EP with everything on it. If Kavus Torabi was a builder, rather than being head Knifeworlder, he wouldn’t simply build houses. He’d build deliciously awkward crenellated wonders, with Escher staircases and extra rooms poking out into the street two floors up.

As it is, Knifeworld songs never sound as if they started with an earnest bloke strumming away on a stool. Instead, they tend to sound like a gang of scruffy tattooed pixies, busily hauling down a fairy castle and squabbling over the work-shanties. The final outcome tends to be an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together. You could never accuse Knifeworld of being parsimonious with their music. That said, the amount of musicality which the band can squeeze into their songs is only one of the factors at work.

It’s almost a shame to digress from the sheer fun at play here, from the helter-skelter confection of Knifeworld’s riffs and melodies and the visual humour they’re now bringing to their video work. But it’s important to realize that across its three songs the ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EP actually deals with some pretty serious matters – faith, grounding, mistakes and the business of building a life. All of this might be filtered through eccentric and kaleidoscopic wordplay; but whether expressed via the galactic prog visions of The Prime Of Our Decline, the magic’n’showbiz gabble of the title track or the dancing grumbles of In A Foreign Way, these songs are about spinning something solid out of flim-flam, and gaining the right perspectives.

Under its festoons of decoration and past the hither-and-yon dash of its scurrying melody, Clairvoyant Fortnight itself shows that Knifeworld can compress their strategic wildness into something approaching a catchy single – albeit on their own unusual terms. Half of the time the song sounds like an amalgam of various tasty and tuneful things that shouldn’t fit together but do – XTC, Motown, The Flaming Lips, a dash of 1950s finger-clicking and a brief twist of rapping. The rest of the time, it sounds like an Edwardian fairground carousel trying to slam-dance. Meanwhile, the lyrics are peppered with all manner of mystical, supernatural and hippy tropes. “Well, I’m in a relapse – everyone looks like I did when I was sixteen, yeah?” snipes Kavus, name-checking third eyes, second sight and Ouija boards alongside prophets and scripture.

Grousing and arguing as he sings, Kavus is torn between scepticism and credulity throughout. While he’s clearly implying that there’s little difference between cheap, narrow parlour magic and other forms of belief, he also recognizes the gravitational pull of the supernatural and the way that so many people use it to blot out or cure boredom, uncertainty and terror. In fact, he’s wrangled all of this into an oblique love song, embracing challenge, partnership and natural change as a better way out. “I never felt like giving up before,” he admits, towards the end. “You wrecked my life, but you gave me more… I dig your voodoo and I dig your vibe – I really think that we could make it.” He seems to be suggesting that as much as you choose your own poison, perhaps you choose your own magic too.

There’s plenty to be said about The Prime Of Our Decline. Most simply, it’s unabashed nu-prog done right, from its flamenco beginnings and sea-shanty lilt to the Zappa-meets-Yes riffage, the jumping glockenspiels and the dancing Gong-honkery when it gets up to speed. I could wax lyrical about the slippery percussion allsorts and the stellar rattle of Khyam Allami’s Brufordian snare drum; or about the cheeky burst near the end when the band briefly channels multiple ’70s prog bands in rapid slice-and-dice succession. Throughout its seven-and-a-half minutes, the song also keeps its streamlined shape – as slick as any pop hit you’d care to mention, its tricks with meter and texture cunningly sheathed within a hurtling, bell-swiping, sing-along whole.

Yet this too is a song about footholds; about grasping (and grasping at) your place in the universe. Knifeworld have a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand – this time, astronomical. Even as Mel and Kavus yammer about black holes and passing stars, their sunny-sounding chants are shot through with evocations of hubris (“we could foresee the day / when nature would bend to our will”), lonely voids, being cast adrift and self-disgust (“orbits and revolutions of the heart / have changed me into something I hate.”) They might be playing at being starchildren, but they’re still weighed down by dark matter.

Somewhere between these two songs there’s In A Foreign Way, a stately chamber-pop jig wobbling under sideswipes at its metre and batterings at the foundations. As the band hack and bounce, the melody doggedly maintains its rhythm, like an Irish matron under attack from a gang of larky Newton’s cradles. Appropriate: underneath the avant-rock fun (including the brief injection of a slice of Henry Cow) this is a song about the frayings and fixes of middle-age.

Kavus frets and kvetches as things unravel around him, old bungles come back to plague him and the familiar becomes blurred. As he does his best to perform running repairs, a chant circles his head – “Where you up to, where you up to, where you up to?” to which the resigned reply is “halfway…” It’d be grim if it weren’t for the zing of the music – stippled with tuned marching-band percussion and the clatter of brains happily at work. That’s Knifeworld for you, though – few bands make it so evident that the sheer joy of music can always salvage something from the darkness.

Knifeworld: ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’
Believer’s Roast, BR008
CD/download EP
Released: 11th June 2012

Buy it from:
(updated, May 2015) Original EP now deleted: all tracks are now available on the compilation album ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’.

Knifeworld online:
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