Tag Archives: music from Chicago (Illinois – USA)

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – electronics and harps and balloons – Morton Subotnick + Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet + Áine O’Dwyer in London (1st); Judy Dunaway’s inflatable European tour (1st to 30th)

28 Oct

Here’s some close-to-the-event news about an imminent avant-garde, fringing-on-noise event in Hackney; plus news on one of the oddest upcoming tours that I’ve ever had the pleasure of previewing in here.

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Morton Subotnick + Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet + Áine O'Dwyer at St Johns Hackney, 1st November 2016

St John Sessions present:
Morton Subotnick + Kevin Drumm & Jason Lescalleet + Áine O’Dwyer
St John at Hackney Church, Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, London, E5 0PD, England
Tuesday 1st November 2016, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Full description scrounged from various press releases:

“Innovators and sonic architects come together for a St John Sessions performance.

Morton Subotnick is a true electronic pioneer who has worked extensively with interactive electronics and multi-media performance (often in collaboration with his wife, vocal virtuoso Joan La Barbara). With Pauline Oliveros and Ramon Sender, Subotnick co-founded the San Francisco Tape Center, an influential cultural organisation and electronic music studio. The Centre was instrumental in the invention and development of the Buchla synthesizer and was, in turn, a fundamental influence on all electronic music that followed.

“Subotnick is an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems. Most of his music calls for a computer part, or live electronic processing; his oeuvre utilizes many of the important technological breakthroughs in the history of the genre. Tonight, Subotnick performs a solo set on the Buchla synthesizer – undulating, moving and almost psychedelic.


 
“Preceding this performance, we are pleased to present the debut UK performance from Kevin Drumm and Jason Lescalleet. Emerging from Chicago’s improvised music scene during the 1990s, Kevin became one of the world’s pre-eminent prepared guitar players, later expanding his work to include electroacoustic compositions and live electronic music made with laptop computers and analog modular synthesizers. His early recordings contain mostly sparse, quiet sounds; recent works have been more loud and dense. For twenty years, Jason has been making electro-acoustic sound work, using all manner of source material to engage listeners in both site and narrative by providing a rich and physical sense of place. Two formidable musicians and performers in their own right, their collaborative releases on Erstwhile Records create a soundworld that is at turns beautiful and terrifying, comprising ambient recordings and brooding drone.


 
“Irish musician Áine O’Dwyer creates chance- and improvisation-based compositions, and has performed widely as a solo artist on harp, organ and various objects, and also regularly performs with United Bible Studies, Charlemagne Palestine and Mark Fry. Her album of improvised church organ music, ‘Music for Church Cleaners’ (released on MIE last year), received critical acclaim. Here, she brings her idiosyncratic approach to composition to sacred space once more.”


 
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You might not have thought that a person could still bring what’s essentially a party trick into culture houses and make a career of it; but if so, Judy Dunaway is proving you wrong…

Judy Dunaway, 2016

“Judy Dunaway performs avant-garde compositions and free improvisations on amplified latex balloons played as musical instruments. She is known internationally as a ‘virtuoso of the balloon.’ She plays a variety of shapes and sizes of balloon instruments, each with its own special qualities, pushing the extremes of both pitch range and artistic limits. Her large rubbed ‘tenor’ balloon gives Jimi Hendrix’s guitar a run for the money and her giant balloon pulsates into the depths of the subaudio. Her abstract music and sounds are difficult to equate with other forms, depending upon the perception of the individual like the images seen in fire or clouds.”

Below are a couple of videos – one of which is an overview of Judy’s techniques and approaches as regards her ballooning skills (including audience interaction), and one in which she performs uninterrupted.



 
I’ll admit that (as with most friction-based instrumentation which leans over the borderline into readymade art) listening to this kind of material can end up as a test of endurance in which your mileage and tolerance, plus the outcome, may vary. As far as I know, no-one’s yet tried to tune and tour a scraped blackboard. Yet ultimately, Judy’s commitment to this kind of music making is fascinating. No one-trick pony, she also worked as a guitar-toting singer-songwriter on other occasions up until 1995; but she’s entirely serious about ballooning – publishing papers on her approach, making points about microtonality, and collaborating with string quartets on serious avant-garde compositions. Having mastered a variety of dextrous noise-making techniques which drive the amplifed latex into flexible, cunningly-controlled roars and squeals, she invites us to reconsider a balloon (quite legitimately) as an “orb-shaped string”.

On the other hand, she’s also integrated vibrating dildos into her balloonwork (in one case via a piece called Flying Fuck), so there’s clearly a downtown New York sense of humour at work as well.

Full dates for the European Solo Balloons Tour below:

 

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 gigs at the end of July and onwards – Thumpermonkey/The Earls Of Mars/Ham Legion in London; Holly Penfield’s Judy Garland show hits the Hippodrome; The Luck Of Eden Hall tour the UK

25 Jul

Next week sees the first gig (for some time) for one of the most interesting of current British rock bands; some high-gloss cabaret; and the start of a psychedelic pop roadshow travelling around the UK. Read on…

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + The Earls Of Mars + Ham Legion (Guided Missile Special People Club, The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, N1 0XT, London, UK, Thursday 30th July, 8.00pm) – £7.00/£6.00

Thumpermonkey don’t get as much attention as they deserve. It’s possible that this is because they don’t seem to take things seriously, addressing almost everything with a skewed and multi-levelled sense of cryptic grand-baroque geek humour. Just to illustrate this – a current work-in-progress Thumpermonkey song is “something which we’re calling Giraffes, which includes some vague narrative about doing a conga during an asteroid-based extinction-level event.” One of their older albums is called ‘Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid’ – a wry kill-the-monsters line filched from ‘Doctor Who”s laconic and unflappable Brigadier. In the same spirit as that reference, I’d suggest that while they are serious about what they do, they’re not necessarily serious about the way they do it – like many of my favourite things.

If what I’ve written so far leads you to expect strained, fey, sub-Zappa wackiness, then think again. Both in the flesh and on record, Thumpermonkey are a brooding and atmospheric proposition – seriously musical, travelling from blitzingly heavy quasi-metal riffs to spidery post-rock, from threshing post-hardcore to theatrical mane-tossing prog at a moment’s notice while Michael Woodman’s grand edgy vocals and complex multi-levelled lyrics ride on top like an arcane mahout with an arched eyebrow. They’ve been called “a sustained victory for intuitive cross-pollination” by ‘Prog’ magazine and every gig they play confirms this particular accolade. Here they are playing 419 (a song which at first appears to be one of their more delicate offerings, revealing its intensities later).

The other two bands on the bill are less well known to me, but aren’t short of blurb:

The Earls Of Mars are probably the most original thing you’ll hear all year. At their heart, the band are a ’70s-influenced rock band bringing together jazz, prog, space rock, doom and blues and forming it into a barking mad noise that you’ll either get or you won’t. If you don’t get it then close the door on your way out of the spaceship, as those of us who want to stay are off on a fantastical journey to who-knows-where, with The Earls Of Mars steering the ship. Enjoy the trip, ladies and gentlemen, as it’s going to be a fun ride.

Ham Legion‘s noisy lo-fi pop is punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy. Tangy and tart guitar, egg noddle bass lines and light crispy drums are smothered in gooey boy/girl harmonies. Eat in or take away. For fans of Cardiacs, Deerhoof, They Might Be Giants, Split Enz, Heavy Vegetable.

Judge for yourselves – here are the videos for the Earls’ ‘Astronomer Pig’ single from last year, followed by some footage of a Ham Legion gig in Brighton a couple of years ago. As for tickets, they’re available here.

 

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The day after the Thumpermonkey gig, Holly Penfield plays one of her biggest gigs of the year…

Holly Penfield as Judy Garland

Holly Penfield sings Judy Garland, The Hippodrome Casino, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7JH, UK, Friday 31st July 2015, 8.00pm) – £15.00 and upwards

Following a triumphant debut last year, Holly returns to the London Hippodrome, singing the songs of the legendary Judy Garland in her own inimitable style. Holly will be joined by her musical director Sam Watts and his magnificent seven-piece band. An unmissable evening for Holly and Judy fans alike, set in the glorious Matcham Room, located inside the Hippodrome Casino – formerly known as The Talk Of The Town, this is the venue of legends and home to Judy’s final London concerts.

Longer-term readers will know that I got to know Holly years ago via her own original ‘Fragile Human Monster Show‘ and the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album (which I wrote about ages ago – that review’s due a revamp and remount, I think). Both of those, though original songwriter pop, had their own theatrical and psychodynamic aspects which pointed towards Holly’s current work in vivid cabaret (and, latterly, as half of swing revivalists The Cricklewood Cats). As for Holly’s interpretations, she can and does cover cute showbiz camp and heart-tugging pathos within the same performance – you can see a couple of examples below.

Up-to-date information on the Judy concert is here and here, while tickets are available here. A mischievous part of me fancies swapping the audience from Holly’s show with the one from the Thumpermonkey/Earls/Ham Legion gig, and vice versa. I suspect that they all might enjoy it more than they’d expect to…

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The Luck Of Eden Hall, 2015

On the same night that Thumpermonkey and co. play, The Luck Of Eden Hall are over from Chicago to play the first of two London gigs, launching a Kickstarter-funded UK tour which will take them to a wide array of venues and mini-festivals around England, Scotland and Wales, accompanied by a shifting cast of local psych heroes, left-field blues artists and quirky alt.pop shoegazers.

As for the headliners, you can expect clear-voiced, well-made classic pop beset by sudden gusts of psychedelic blizzarding. The Luck Of Eden Hall remind me of the drawn-out trucker-and-motorist tussle in ‘Duel’ – they come across like a more sombre Neil Finn or Andy Sturmer being stalked, dogged and sideswiped by Hawkwind, Ride or ‘Saucerful’-era Pink Floyd. Here’s a little evidence:


 

Full tour dates below:

The Luck Of Eden Hall UK tour

 

REVIEW – Qwestions: ‘Humble Pie’ single, 2013 (“cowering and defiant; brave and fucked-up and lucid”)

14 Feb

Qwestions: 'Humble Pie'

Qwestions: ‘Humble Pie’

“I’m dry-heaving, saying these words with meaning,” gasps Qwestions. Gut feeling. It’s supposed to be at the heart of hip-hop: but in a music of masks, demands and fly-posted signifiers it often gets pasted over.

Too much. There’s too much to represent – too much history and geography to be spat up like fireworks, too many links and hand-holds to be acknowledged, too many objects to count. No wonder that so many rappers rapidly run down and put up the same touchy, predictable façade. No wonder that they turn into mobile billboards flattened of meaning, riding in identical limousines – overwhelmed; turned into nothing but front; still scared of the moment when everything will be kicked out from under them.

As for Chicago MC Qwestions, his desperate, dazzling raps suggest that he couldn’t fall into this two-dimensional lie even if he wanted to. At 23, standing tall and shaking, he’s a man who flinches from masks and who lives on the outside of his skin: tears, confusion, grand-and-ground-standing and all. He’s everything that hip-hop ought to be in its honesty. Here, perched on a clenching, reluctant beat and hunched underneath Mario Anthony’s chilly stratospheric washes of synth (as cold as a 4am January on the South Side) Qwestions is both cowering and defiant; brave and fucked-up and lucid. It’s said that rappers have to grow up fast. Qwestions reminds us that growing up is actually a constant, painful process.

Humble Pie sounds like a man hitting concrete, but knowing that he has no choice but to get up and run on. While Qwestions kicks off with what sounds like a typical brag (“I am the greatest rapper alive – / am I wasting my time / eating this humble pie with a plastic fork and no knife?”), the rap quickly and deftly folds in on itself. It becomes both critique and confession of Qwestions’ life and work, of the compromises which he has to make both as artist and man. Even the mocking drawl of the chorus spins between multiple and revealing mirrors: a boast of being a cut above, a wry acceptance of holding back, of pretense and the wrestle with ego. “You know, you know, you know, / they won’t love you when you know, / you too dope, too dope, too dope, / so I play my role… / I know it’s moving slow.” Even the pay-off line could be aimed as much at himself as at a foe onstage – “Make sure you eat some humble pie before the show.”

Many of the images in Humble Pie revolve around guts, and around the value and terrors of food: the nutrition of work, the unpalatability of being conscious enough to let the world intrude. In his dedication to honesty, Qwestions dares to sometimes be repulsive; dares to be outright with matters of weakness, helplessness and terror . “Vomit all in my kitchen sink – / the nausea gets critical when I start to think,” he moans at one point. “I let my mind drift then my stomach flips. / I guess it is a curse when you born with gifts.” Later, he shoulders his offstage burdens with a mixture of courage and gripe – “The scene changes, but it’s the same script, / I’m trying to be a good father… / I sacrifice all my happiness for a couple of dollars and some pocket lint.”

Elsewhere he’s stepping up aggressively, unsure whether to ball his fists or spread his hands, but stripping his self-assertion to the bones of desperation in a bid to be understood. “Remember life in the hood – why the fuck you think I’m so cocky? / Why you think I try so hard? / Why you think you can stop me?” Even here – and after all of the moans, acidic spits and fear-belches – it’s hard not to like Qwestions. But then, a rapper who shares so much about the human condition is to be treasured.

You just hope that he’s going to make it through. Sometimes he sighs, half-broken even as he delivers: “Am I wasting my time / investing in all my dreams with no moments to recline?… / I just want to lay up, / sleep and never get up.” Meanwhile a nagging, sneering voice slips through the verses; a spiteful ghost flitting in and out of the gaps in the tower blocks. A voice from the back of his head, overturning his brags and hollowing out his talent as fast as he assert it.. “Your little crude knife… / You’ll never eat.” The guts of belief are laid bare: there’s everything to defend, everything to play for.

Qwestions: ‘Humble Pie’
Ingenious Dreams Media Group (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 2nd January 2013

Buy it from:
Soundcloud

Qwestions online:
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T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’ single (“a withering bouquet of sympathy”)

5 Feb
T & The Wonder: 'Corsage'

T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’

“There are no constants, / even if we want them.” Perhaps it’s the shift of moving around, splitting apart. Chicago chamber pop duo T & The Wonder are Chicago-based no longer. Now based on separate sides of the States (singer Tavis Balkin is on the West Coast, multi-instrumentalist Patrick McCormack in Vermont) they remain a duo by an effort of will, affinity and determination. Sometimes long-distance relationships do work out…

I digress. Perhaps it’s the shift of moving around, splitting apart, but this post-move single (recorded in snatched December sessions around other practical commitments) sees T & The Wonder swapping between hope and despondency as if soberly walking a coin over their knuckles. The live drums and strings which they used to use might have been surrendered to budgeting and lack of opportunity (swapped for synthetic equivalents); but their bookish, light-touch ascerbity remains. Corsage is, in more ways than one, a withering bouquet of sympathy. Over ticking guitar, and a trapped tinkle of piano Tavis addresses a woman’s disappointment as she ages – lonely, stifled and perpetually stranded. “Is the corsage dried out? / the one that was packed away / with the empathetic gestures / and the tired old clichés?”

As to where Tavis himself stands, that’s not so clear. Sometimes he’s attuned to the pain of the woman he’s addressing – “Does the future disturb you / now that all you have left is the sound / of a lot of empty talking / and the legs that keep walking?” At other times, a growing frustration renders him cruel. “Can you depend on people, or are you just a misanthrope? / When all your lost love makes it impossible to cope,” he sings, softly, like wet leaves massing up heartlessly in the driveway. “You are a shell of a person, / a portrait of depression.” Patrick’s surge of guitar solo – a fuzzy taillight – pulls up a little swirl of blackening anger; but it hangs in the air, as if unsure of whom to fall on.

It sometimes feels as if Tavis’ own involvement in the story can be called into question. Is that a hint of guilt in his ashy, passive whisper, as if he himself might take some blame for this disaffection? “You write me, I call you, / what more can I say?” he murmurs, a little lamely. “These goddamn words only fill space.” He waxes and wanes, cold and kind, over the course of the song, without ever settling anywhere. Maybe it’s difficult to leave the scene of the accident. Maybe he doesn’t want to. Old debts, never paid? Old wishes that never resolved, but still ache on a chilly day?

The b-side, Vespa, flips the situation here – youth yearnings rather than fading middle-age, and this time it’s Tavis sitting in the role of the person about to slide down the lip of disappointment. The song itself sounds gently rapturous, both motorik and rain-dappled: a blurry cushioned wobble of electric piano, a plastic drum splat and a subliminal driving pulse. Just for the moment the daydream is blooming and Tavis can bask in it. “If I had a Vespa I would drive up to your house, / and I could kiss you on the cheek, / and we’d then hang out for the weekend – / but I don’t.” The road throws up its first little jolt, but Tavis is already smothering himself in the romance. “I can feel your hands, your hands around my waist / Your hair, your hair – it’s all across your face.”

You could get caught up in the fervent dreaminess, until you realise how evasive it is. “We could talk about how I had / changed my life direction / and just moved out of the city to a / place where things are pretty. / I don’t know…” Then you notice that as American road-movie songs go, it’s a pretty soft-edged one. Patrick’s fey touches of fluting synth and Kraftwerk buzzes: mimsy soft drinks; staying well under the speed limit. It’s not that Vespa lacks grand passion. It’s just that it’s been filtered down and compacted, firing up that diffident teetering hope with quiet fire and aching to make it real. “Living in the moment we would forge a life together – / and we’d send our loved ones letters, / every day a little better than before.” But the letdown is coming a little closer all the time, and that haunts the song. Weaving through the chorus is a second, nagging vocal line. “When I think it’s not a possibility / I want to leave, I want to leave.” Then you start wondering whether it’s less of a grand passion, and more of a grand, shy, unspoken crush. An entire world bubble-blown from a single fancy.

Two songs of apartness. Two men divided by most of a continent; linked by an ongoing sympathy, writing subtle bruised-petal songs about how the world often lacks such mutual feeling. There’s probably something more to draw out of that, but I’m not going to try. I have the feeling that if I try to describe it any more it will burst, softly, under my fingers.

T & The Wonder: ‘Corsage’
T & The Wonder (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 28th January 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

T & The Wonder online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM iTunes

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