Tag Archives: music from Liverpool (England)

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers’ dream pop evening (13th), Jausmė with Nicole Collarbone and Sian Magill in Battersea (13th); Cecil Sharp Choir’s Appalachian evening (14th)

11 Jul

…And in the middle of the week it’s about dream pop, folk music and the margin in between…

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Our Friends Eclectic presents:
A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers
The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, Kilburn, London, NW6 7JR, England
Wednesday 13th June 2016, 8.00pm
information

This Wednesday, resurrected dream pop pioneers A.R. Kane play one of only two small, indoors British gigs while they ride the wave of worldwide summer festivals. This little London show is the guaranteed best opportunity to see them for the foreseeable future, especially if you missed their Manchester gig at the Soup Kitchen back in May (an event which, I’ll admit, I myself was too disorganised to even flag up) and especially since ’Kane leader Rudy Tambala has been enthusiastic about his preference for “a small crowd loving it, getting it” (as opposed to a fieldful of musical floating voters).

The original A.R.Kane were many things before those things became more commonplace – Afropean art-culture swaggerers, dissolvers of rock and pop’s hierarchical structures, sound-melters in whom dancefloor politics met punk threshing, electronic upsetters who played equally with roots and the bewilderingly synthetic. Rudy formed the band in 1986 with his childhood friend Alex Ayuli – two east London black kids with family roots in west or south-east Africa; a pair of eclectic clubgoers and self-confessed cocky chancers with broad listening habits, enough gab to make their brainwaves sound seductive (notably, Alex’s day job was in advertising), and a post-post-punk whim for running with ideas rather than technique. The idea of A.R. Kane was conceived as a backfiring party boast that Rudy and Alex felt obliged to follow up. Citing Cocteau Twins, the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell as a range of influences might have been a handful of arty clichés then – it would certainly become so later. For two men who approached music as something envisaged rather than something played, however, it was a recipe for building a project from the ground up.

A.R. Kane’s work is often cited as pop reinvention. In fact, it’s more of a sprawl of jouissance – anti-formalism, a dab of abstract expressionism, and a joy in capturing moments on the fly. All of this should have been in the air when (early on in the journey) they joined forces with experimental dance duo Colourbox for the M|A|R|R|S sessions, leading to a number one hit via the British house classic ‘Pump Up The Volume’. As it happened, an experience that should have felt like a triumph of creative opportunity ended up as a bruising, short-lived encounter with hit factory frenzy, mutual intransigence and a blizzard of copyright litigation. These days Rudy dismisses ‘Pump Up The Volume’ as straight cultural theft from black and gay American club culture, but keeps a soft spot for the flipside – ‘Anitina’ (a confection of careening, planing guitar feedback and joyous narcotic pop vocal over hammering Colourbox industrial drums).

It’s this track that exemplifies ‘Kanework, rather than the pulsing plunderphonics of ‘Pump Up The Volume’. When Rudy and Alex played pop, it sounded like toy music or a process of on-the-spot discoveries. Nurtured along the way by the production suss of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman (with the latter’s post-prog bass often adding a subtle touch of spine and structure to the core cavortings), A.R. Kane seemed to achieve their aims by recreating music from around its edges rather than heading up through the centre. Paradoxically, they deracinated while remembering exactly where the roots were grounded, as if rock music was a complicated hairstyle which they were ripping the pins out of, sending them rattling onto the floor.

Sometimes they’d sound like what would happen if someone had had the gall to strip all of the blues out of Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, leaving just the cosmic frizz, fragmentary whippling stringwork and mind-opening vocal fragments; like a disembodied, chromatically-dappled sci-fi Afro. Ecstatic hollers might chase sleepy narratives over chamber strings. Gnarly Guthrie-esque guitar noise, hell-gate heartbooms and refracting-knife feedback would bob around dashes of funk and house (which Alex and Rudy were onto long before the Madchester boom). From Jamaica, they gleaned dub-echo bursts of clipped piano or high snare. From American psychedelia, they drew jelly-baby lyrics that bobbed around dancing synth basslines (as if ‘60s acid casualties were making healing pilgrimages to New York electro clubs). From the underground currents of their hometown, they took their conceptual irreverence, their underlying cheek and their mix-and-match mercantilism. (It’s also where they gained their hard-knocks guile and ingenuity, that second-or third generation immigrant pluck that Western city racism forces back onto even the smartest of its homeboys).

Despite all of this sonic ensorcelment, on the early albums you could (if you wanted to) cock your head, peek underneath the noise and find a couple of guys who could barely play or sing; who were keeping it all afloat via acts of will, wit and weather. Most of the time, you’d wink back at them, then return to the bliss and forget the slender mechanisms holding it together. However, by the time of their sun-kissed swansong album, ‘New Clear Child’, A.R. Kane had skilled up and drifted towards a more coherent pop music. Apparently inspired by Alex’s move to California, the later songs meandered up to both Love and Talk Talk via West Coast funk, with daisy petals matted into their nappy hair. As was only appropriate for a band driven by an elusive and amorphous ingenuity, the more A.R. Kane solidified, the more they dissolved. Alex went solo; Rudy teamed up with his sister Maggie (an occasional ‘Kane backing singer) in Sufi and for twenty-odd years, that was that.

As is often the case, the band were finally tempted back into action via the nostalgia engine which fuels pop festivals. Last year Rudy was coaxed into weaving A.R. Kane back into existence, although he had to do it without his erstwhile partner (apparently busy with his own perspective on dream pop, Alex Ayuli opted to sit this one out). 2015’s ambitious Alex-free septet has now been trimmed to the core trio of Rudy and Maggie Tambala plus new cohort Andy Taylor; a mess of three guitars, three voices, computers and synths. While they originally billed themselves as “#A.R.Kane”, with Rudy optimistically explaining that “should Alex come out-to-play, we can easily drop the ‘#’..”, they’ve subsequently dropped the hashtag anyway, along with the distinctions and (it seems) the hope that Ayuli’s said no, gave no reasons refusal wouldn’t be permanent.

The flipside of this disappointment is that the band’s new lease of life has inspired and toughened them into a more committed playing unit fired up by contact with both fans and heirs. Back in the ‘80s, few bands used A.R. Kane’s methodology and thinking. Nowadays you could pull together a huge, snaking, intercontinental conga line of the fuckers. One of them’s playing at the Good Ship alongside Rudy and co. – Plastic Flowers, the London-based dream pop project of Thessaloniki-born George Samaras, whose grand skeletal lushness (bare-bones drumbox echo, threaded vocal and towering ripcurls of melodic guitar noise) is an almost pure mainlining of the ‘Kane lineage.


 
Now a revitalized Rudy is talking, with giddy enthusiasm, about future recordings and about the new material he apparently brought to the Soup Kitchen gig the other month. (I’ve checked for reviews of that, but found nothing unless it’s been reduced to telegrammatic burbles on Facebook – being off-‘book at the moment, I wouldn’t know). We’ll have to see how his intentions pan out. With planned American coastal tours cancelled (due to date and commitment clashes rather than lack of interest), there are still a couple of showings at the Siren and Half Die festivals in Italy later in the month; and then back home for On Blackheath in September. After that, the future’s both blank and open – which, in a way, is where A.R. Kane came in in the first place.

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If vindicated dream pop discombobulation doesn’t float your boat for Wednesday, then perhaps you’d prefer a free event at Battersea’s delightful acoustic playground on the same night…

Jausmė (with Nicole Collarbone) + Sian Magill
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Wednesday 13th July 2016, 9:00 pm
– free event – information

Transplanted Lithuanian singer-songwriter Jausmė – Vilnius-born, but Milton-Keynes-based – will be performing a set of her own material accompanying herself on the kanklės (a twenty-nine string Lithuanian zither with a sparkling sound) and aided by Liverpudlian cross-disciplinary cellist Nicole Collarbone (whose myriad projects and collaborations include the Neil Campbell Collective and folk ensemble Sonnenberg).

Jausmė describes her work as “urban etherealism”. Translated, this seems to mean a half-invented, half-archaeological folk music (like a less grandiose, less Gothic, closer-to-the-source Dead Can Dance), and one in which the focus is shifted thirteen hundred miles northwest to the Baltic states; it also means that Jausmė listens to, and can slip into, the work of sub-bass, garage and techno producers. On this occasion, though, it’s all wood and no electronics, and the roots are northern. For evidence of what Jausmė and Nicole can do together (and of Jausmė’s skills on her own), see below.



 
In support is another no-less-impressive Milton Keynesian, Sian Magill, who honed her subtly immersive, highly literary folk songs at venues both there and at Oxford, where she studied English Literature at degree level. If the latter suggests someone whose work’s likely to wear its intelligence as clever English hauteur, think again. Sian’s songs draw on more distant traditions, coming across as a more Irish-toned echo of the dense, individual American song-tales of someone like Dayna Kurtz, although she sounds less likely to venture to bars on the wrong side of the tracks, or to lean quite so much into the urban blues. Instead, Sian makes her own way into a story through a quiet and continuous flow of detailed observation and consideration, atop a busy, depth-inducing weave of fingerpicked guitar (see below).


 

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Appalachian 100: Cecil Sharp House Choir (with Alice Cade + Pete Cooper + Ed Hicks)
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, NW1 7AY, England
Thursday 14th July 2016, 7.30pm
information

If you missed the Cecil Sharp Choir at the Union Chapel last Saturday (singing songs for a Daylight Music marine afternoon), they’re back on home turf at Cecil Sharp House for another show on Thursday. This time, they’re celebrating the centenary of musicologist Sharp’s first folk-song-collecting visit to the Appalachian Mountains of America, a region replete with influences from sixteenth-century England and from the tough feuding culture of the Scottish Borders, as well as (at least in the Ozark region) a great line in dirty stories.

I don’t know whether any cheerful smut is going to be reeled out at the concert (in song or in asides), but the choir are promising “a selection of glorious a capella harmony arrangements of traditional songs, including some collected in the Mountains”, in new arrangements by leader Sally Davies. Three special guests will be adding to the show- flatfoot dancer Alice Cade, fiddle master Pete Cooper and multi-instrumentalist Ed Hicks (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, Anglo concertina and voice).



 

More September gigs – Gong’s Dave Sturt and friends travel the world from Derbyshire on the 23rd; London gets more Daylight Music eclectica plus a Blacklisters/Joeyfat/Himself jabber-rock summit on the 26th

17 Sep

Here are details on some more interesting concerts coming up later this month. These run the gamut from soft psychedelic world-folk atmospherics to jabbering electric art-punk noise and sprechtstimme via dream-folk, caustic love songs and extended-technique art-rock instrumentals. (It was a shame to hear about the cancellation of the Charles Hayward gig in London on the 23rd – taking its ANTA, Gnob and Kavus Torabi support slots with it – but I’m sure that something similar will be rescheduled for anyone in need of their art-mash/stoner/prog/psych/metal salad…)

event20150923davesturtwirkw

Dave Sturt presents An Evening of Dreams & Absurdities (Upstairs @ The Red Lion, Market Place, Wirksworth, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 4ET, UK, 23rd September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

As part of the Wirksworth Festival Fringe, Dave Sturt (bass guitarist with Gong, Bill Nelson, Steve Hillage and Jade Warrior, as well as being half of Cipher) showcases tracks from his forthcoming solo album ‘Dreams & Absurdities’ in an evening of world-class all-instrumental musicianship featuring beautiful eclectic music, soundscapes and various field recordings from Gong tours and elsewhere. The music is “mostly mellow and ambient – somewhere between melancholy and elation.”

For the performance, Dave will be accompanied by three guests. Chris Ellis (guitar and piano) is a multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter/actor, an ex-member of Anglesey band Ghostriders, and an award-winning soundtrack composer – he’s also a collaborator with Dave on the Past Lives Project (which recreates the recent ancestral histories of British communities by resurrecting their old cinefilm recordings and setting them to new music). Brian Boothby (low whistle, djembe) is an acclaimed folk musician, dramatist and writer and a member of the Derbyshire mixed-arts collective Genius Loci. Jeff Davenport (drums, percussion, HandSonic pad) has worked with jazz musicians Andy Sheppard and Phil Robson, pop artists James Morrison and Laura Mayne, and currently collaborates regularly with “Silent Pianist” Neil Brand providing soundracks to silent films, as well as working in Europe and the Far East on various projects with all manner of musicians.

Up-to-date details here  and here, with tickets available online from here or available from Traid Links via email enquiry.

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On the last post, I plugged a London double event on the 19th – a day with a Daylight Music concert at midday and a noisier rock gig in the evening (both events which are still about to happen as I post this). In another week’s time, history’s repeating (fortunately not as farce, though anyone familiar with the bands in the evening show can expect some twists and jabs of humour) so here’s what’s coming up on September 26th…

Daylight Music 200

Daylight Music 200: Ex-Easter Island Head + French For Rabbits + Louis Barabbas, plus a photo exhibition (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 26th September 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

An extra special event to celebrate the 200th Daylight Music, featuring some of the most popular acts from the last six years (643 performances by 530 different acts; 15,254 cups of tea or coffee drunk; 9,863 slices of cake scoffed; 5,003 pieces of quiche devoured) and during which we’ll be raising funds for Daylight Music in 2016.

Ex-Easter Island Head are a Liverpool based musical collective composing and performing music for solid-body electric guitar, percussion and other instruments. They have performed their original compositions solo, as a duo, trio, quartet and as a large ensemble across a wide variety of events from site-specific installation works to live film scores. They create a sensation whenever they play. If you’ve never seen musicians hitting electric guitars with mallets before, then cancel all other plans for the day and head down.

French For Rabbits hail from the remote natural setting of Waikuku Beach, in New Zealand’s South Island. Vocalist Brooke Singer expresses intimate narratives against the cast of the damp colonial cold; her voice delicately steeled against winsome guitar lines and the eerie instrumentation of her bandmates. It’s a weather-beaten dreamscape, nostalgic for warmth and hopefully lilting towards sunnier climes.

Louis Barabbas is a writer, performer and label director, best known for caustic love songs and energetic stage shows that leave you pumped up and breathless.

The icing on the cake this week is an instrumental soundscape provided by Irish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Adrian Crowley, who (over his six-album career) has been described by the Independent as “a master of understatement” and cited by Ryan Adams as the answer to the question “who’s the best songwriter that no one’s heard of?”

To celebrate the fantastic photography taken throughout the lifespan of Daylight Music by a very talented bunch of volunteer photographers, there will be a lo-fi photo exhibition consisting of 200 postcards on the pews of the chapel for people to take away; plus there will be a limited numbers of brochures to buy featuring all of the photographs.

More information on the concert is here.

In the evening, there’s a change of pace and milieu over in Hackney as post-hardcore rubs up against a bit of playful English Dada. I’ve got a liking for those occasions when rock music drives itself up against persistent, wayward speech and stubs its toes on it; and this gig will offer plenty of opportunities for that…

Blacklisters, Joeyfat, Himself, September 26th

Blacklisters + Joeyfat + Himself (Pink Mist @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, London, E8 2EB, UK, Saturday 26th September 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00

Blacklisters’ aggressive, confrontational and darkly humorous performances have earned them a reputation as one of the best acts on the UK underground, drawing comparisons to the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Pissed Jeans. Their debut album ‘BLKLSTRS’ was released in 2012 to critical acclaim, landing them supports with Scratch Acid, Pig Destroyer, Future of the Left and Big Business, as well as a live session at Maida Vale studios for the Radio 1 Rock Show. Tonight’s special show is in support of their fearsome new record ‘Adult’ on Smalltown America. Produced by Matt Johnson (aka MJ of Hookworms) the album is a clear progression for the band and sees them fuse abstract art-noise with the brutally minimalist riffs that first put them on the radar.

Also playing are amorphous cult stalwarts Joeyfat, a band who’ve been defying conventions of “band logic” longer than most of us have been able to get into shows at all. Their sinewy math-inspired spoken-word has seen them share stages with the likes of Bilge Pump, S*M*A*S*H, Clearlake, Lords, Dartz, Art Brut, Trencher and Green Day, obviously. Catch them at this rare London show.

Direct from Leeds (unless they stopped off some place on the way), Himself’s shouty/talky interactive noise rock has been winning them plaudits up and down the company, including from Radio’s Daniel P. Carter who invited them to record a live session for the Radio 1 Rock Show earlier this year.

Tickets for the Shacklewell Arms gig are available here and here. Note that this is an 18+ event.

 

The Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

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.

 

* * * * *

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…

* * * * *

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 – Rudy Simone: ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ album, 2000 (“shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat”)

2 Feb

record-rudysimone-putthesun

Shot through with aftershocks of abandonment, dispossession, self-doubt and the battle to stay afloat, Rudy Simone’s debut album doesn’t resolve the questions she’s raised before. It doesn’t round off those battleworn displays of uneasy heart from the previous year’s ‘Personal Cloud‘ EP, nor does it offer clear clues about where she’ll be travelling in the future.

Fresh as she sounds, Rudy already has plenty of past. Originally from Buffalo, New York State (where, as Rita Seitz, she sang in various obscure bands during the early 1980s) she turned emotional refugee later in life and crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool, where her own songs emerged amid a landscape of acoustic sessions and nightclub rushes. Most debut albums are a statement, however crude. This one’s a scrambling steeplechase across Rudy’s emotions and her spiritual restlessness. It stays true to the disruptive collisions between the life singing in the head and the life that lurks outside. What ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ resembles most is an attempt to wrap up Rudy’s fraught baggage in a big, unwieldy brown paper package; to tie it together with guitar strings and beats, to spray it with disco glitter and then set it free somewhere down the Mersey. Drifting seawards, it comes unstuck and reveals itself.

Attempting to cram in all her gushes of inspiration, Rudy ends up with a confusing whole. Seemingly at random, songs appear in alternate acoustic and instrumental alternate versions; there are two takes on the eerie Kill The Cult Of Cool single, and a trancier reworking of Personal Cloud. ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ ends up as an anxious, fractured goodie-bag, unsure about whether floaty beats are better than strumming, and telling repeated stories in different tones. Don’t expect track-by-track coherence – but do expect plenty of understated feeling, a maverick DIY pop sense in full effect, and some determined songcraft. This album is a necklace-worth of interesting, often touching episodes.

In some respects, Rudy fits in with that rough wave of confessional women emerging in the 1990s via trip-hop and indie rock, including the two Beths (Gibbons and Orton) and Juliana Hatfield. There are some similarities to Jane Siberry; though Rudy is more loosely strung, she shares elliptical, Siberryesque feminine perspectives, blown about by impressions and finding solid little truths in the midst of abstraction. But for my money the artist whom she’s closest to is Lida Husik. Both Rudy and Lida resist committing themselves to any one musical approach or way of looking; both seem suspicious of tradition or sturdy craftsmanship. As with Husik, Rudy’s wispily sweet vocal belies her determination to discover and envision things her own way, learning from time and from chance. Both, too, are peripatetic and intuitive to a fault: they’re both quite prepared to walk into mires of embarrassing self-conscious fluff if that’s where an idea takes them (in Rudy’s case, a misplaced James Brown tribute called Bony Little, giddy and apologetic, in which she bangs on forever about her skinny white ass).

For this album, the club dance elements have triumphed in Rudy’s big bag of sounds – as they did on Husik’s ‘Green Blue Fire’ album four years previously. Techno producer Sheldon Southworth, a.k.a Diffusion, is a vital collaborator for half the album. He’s the Beaumont Hannant to Rudy’s Husik, adding his own club-friendly trance sparkle to hers and replacing guitars with the zing of electronics. For The Secret Sayings Of Jesus, Rudy whispers god-inside Gnostic philosophy, floating it like evangelical thistledown over Diffusion’s bright trance beats and aquatic keyboard textures. Despite her trippy tones, hypnotically soft, the chant is a desperate prayer rather than navel-gazing. It’s a counterpoint to the other songs, which make up a travelogue of delusions to be overcome in oneself or endured from others.

Vanity’s Car perks its way through cheerful Euro-trance and Soft Cell gurgles, but Rudy’s lyrics dwell on how the wrong kind of excitement can lessen a person’s grasp on reality – “amazing how far you’ll go when you lose control – / I’ve got to get out on my feet / and be the things I always wanted to be.” The fallout is clear: “I might be sitting in your living room / but I might as well be in another country,” Rudy protests on Can’t Go There. “You can drive if you wanna, but I prefer to stay on my feet… / ‘cos you’re so blind, you can’t see that it’s right across the street.” Warm swelling synths, glinting funk-wah guitar, and house piano echo that communal gospel glory which Primal Scream tapped on Come Together. Rudy’s own hopes of connection, though, are dissolving.

While Diffusion’s contributions are valuable, there’s no question that Rudy remains convincing on her own. The brief pure-dance diversion of Mentallium hurls rapid drum’n’bass kitfire headlong into chilly trance electronica: to wild things up a little, Rudy mixes twitchy diva calls, jazzy double bass and kettle drums into the instrumental. Out on the other edge of her music, she abandons beats and boxes. A blues-y acoustic guitar version of Vanity’s Car brings its warnings closer to the surface, no longer masked by shiny bodywork. Part pop-plaint, but mostly blues rant, the all-acoustic Water’s Edge sees the banalities of love (“Sometimes I’d like to kill him, / but I always gotta thrill him”) splinter in a glare of rage. Wailing like a cross between PJ Harvey and Etta James, Rudy walks the shoreline, grappling with a moment of agonising choice. Violence is poised within her, ready to strike inwards or outwards, and only the lone conscious voice of the song cries out against it. “Don’t go, you’ll only make your mama cry / Don’t go, you’ll only fuck your baby’s mind.”

As a single, Kill The Cult Of Cool got lost in the no-budget wilds which sank so many others; yet its emotional hop-skip-and-jump was a remarkable coming-together of ideas and instinct. It still is. Broody horror synths, laceworks of folk guitar and a patchwork of voice snippets quilt together into something haunted, defiant and transformative. In keeping with the rest of the album’s repetitions and revisitings, the song gets a double outing (the Derision Mix transforms it into radiophonic electro-funk replete with glitchy scratching and whooshing, frothing Vangelis synth splurge) but it’s the original that really matters. Something of a signature song for Rudy ever since it first showed up on ‘Personal Cloud‘, its cohesive spirit remains clear as its splintered voices ask for compassion, pray for guidance, plant down stubborn feet. “I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble,” stammers a sampled man; “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy,” Rudy adds quietly. It’s full of struggle, though never precisely clear what that struggle is – the claw back to sanity out of the creeping horrors? a defense of alternative thinkers and scapegoats? – yet it’s also affecting in a way in which few things that I hear are.

The spine of the album, though, is the title track and Personal Cloud. The former’s a grieving white-girl rap about a marriage snapped violently in half: here, Rudy sounds as soft-spoken but as wide-awake’n’dreaming as Margaret Fiedler does while puzzling out dreams in Laika. Almost cushioned by the pain, she lets moments of heartbreaking reproach crest over it and into the words: when she murmurs “you say you’re following your heart / I say fear has played a much bigger part”, real agony glints. In a new take on Personal Cloud (remixed by M@2K into radar blips, ambient funk and blue-light electronics) more displaced degrees of mourning are added to Rudy’s grapple with addictions, love and loneliness (“I wrap my lips around a cigarette instead of you…”). Her voice flutters, weightless and bereft: a hydrogen balloon un-anchored by faithless hands.

Maybe ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’ is not the album Rudy Simone’s capable of. It’s more like several different shots at an album: all crowded into the kitchen together, taking anxious and uncomfortable refuge. No clear clues; a spinning signpost; but indications of an effective, if scattered, talent – one worth investing some love in.

Rudy Simone: ‘To Put The Sun Back In The Sky’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only album
Released: 2000

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

Rudy Simone online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

REVIEW – Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’ mini-album, 1999 (“contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling”)

14 Jul

Rudy Simone: 'Personal Cloud'

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’

“I wrap my lips around a cigarette / instead of you,” mourns Rudy Simone on the title track of ‘Personal Cloud’. Her voice pipes and teeters on a precipice of reproach. It’s gently, perpetually, pulled back by beautiful harp-like guitars and throaty bass synth. Here’s a lullaby for the betrayed, somewhere between the sweet hyper-conscious dissolve of a Jane Siberry ballad and a Rose Royce disco symphony. Clasping heartbreak to itself, like an addict in recovery, and gently rocking to soothe; while allowing all of the contradictory shards and half-formed knots of feeling to swim free for a moment, a float of voices and words knocking against each other.

“I thought I was drowning, it was only rain./ Thought I felt fire, it was only smoke. / Never leave me… / Oh, will this world take you from me? / I tried, I tried to leave it alone…”

‘Personal Cloud’ is all about this kind of mixed, eddying feeling. Intensities and unravellings. Throwing vitriol and clinging to loyalty. The need to stab the same person you might be begging to pick you up off the floor two hours later. And if it wavers dramatically – both in its musicality and in its consistency – that’s only in keeping with what it’s about, as Rudy explores her emotional devastation using various forms of music. Club elements invade baggily-hanging acoustic confessionals. Wobbly jazz singing gatecrashes trance-dance. Free association yanks a tune bloodily from its roots. Throughout, moods swing like road-signs in a gale, confusing direction.

 “I swear sometimes I wish an alien will take you from this planet / then I turn around, y’know, / I never meant it,” frets Rudy on Velvet, an all-over-the place straggle of guitar, cello and drums where jealousy, need and pride disrupt each other. At one moment, she’s showing the lover her boot and the door  (“Go on out / take your place and find the one who does it all for you,”). At the next, she’s turned the full blowtorch of greedy sexuality onto him to melt him back down again (“It don’t fit into your plans to be so selfish / when all that velvet is waiting for your kiss…”).

Puppet strings yank themselves; kissing lips bruise on gritted teeth. A foot slides, caressing, up a lover’s calf. The same foot turns and hammers a heel, hard, into his instep.

This kind of tense no-man’s land is a stressful place to be. Sometimes there’s a wordless protest, as expressed in Galactica – cosmic trance-techno, where the lonely cry of a star-burned keening synth is cheered up by a flamboyant crash of bells and bucked up by a roguish, tarry bubble of club bassline. Alternatively, Stronger Than You Know meanders along on its skinny guitar and string synths, changing its shape, like a girl dancing drunkenly across treacherous ground, knowing where to put her feet but lurching dangerously close to disaster. It seems fey, but only because it’s discovered a different kind of resistance, dissolving again to escape damage – “Oh, you’re kicking light, / you’re punching air.”

The militaristic Bjork-ish beat of Glimmer Of Hope, the tension of guitar and listing punchdrunk voice, belies its positivity – “I see a glimmer of hope in the clouds / and it’s all I need to see my way out of this.”  On Feel Like I Belong, the club electronics bang and bubble under one of Rudy’s sweetest bluesiest sighs, and bloody experience is weighed up – “memories can drown if you let them – / just because you can it doesn’t mean that you should.” Only the drunken brooding of surly fuzz-guitar suggests there’s something wrong behind this particular attempt at finding peace.

record-rudysimone-ktcocFar more satisfying (in terms of comfort, anyway) is the spooky guitar and spiralling trip-hop of the haunted single Kill The Cult Of Cool – remarkable in any context, particularly moving here, it sounds like a night’s spiritual battle committed to tape. On the single cover Rudy, visibly haunted, stared down fear out of a circle of tall, slender flames, and the song’s occult, speaking-in-tongues feel is still immediate. Over Gothic movie keyboards, Rudy delivers a Buffy-esque putdown in a cool, girl-with-a-mission voice – “I’ve got nothing but derision for your apocalyptic vision. / Anti-amorous, not glamorous. / Time to kill the cult of cool,” – before rolling off into a weird, syncopated mixture of American indie, sampledelia and trip-hop in which everything seems to slide gracefully in and out of time. Ruminative, sandpapery hip-hop beats do the slippery shuffle-and-collapse in the basement. Frail raga-trance vocal melodies drape themselves in irregular folds over the roof. White noise, static radio fizz and heart-monitor bleeps struggle in and out of the mix: a dreamy staircase of guitars (including a spaghetti-Western dobro) twangs at the heart of the chorus.

The rest is a weave of lost-girl chant and coos, a multiplicity of voices flipping backwards and forwards, a narcotic nuzzle towards solace. “Help up, I shall bless,” keens one line. “Ooh yes, honour – there’s no-one there…” murmurs another. Rudy duels weightlessly with other wounded voices (“I was the quiet one in school, never made any trouble…”) and absentee gods before declaring with quiet assurance, “I don’t care what you say, I’m not crazy.” The fact that this happens at the beginning of ‘Personal Cloud’ – and not as a tidy resolution at the end – suggests that this isn’t the first time she’s had to take up arms against her own crowded inner sea of troubles.

Uneven, unsettling, and mixing awkward un-coordination with gliding grace, ‘Personal Cloud’ reveals the wayward talent of a potential cult heroine – unafraid to grasp at the chaos and trash of the battered heart.

Rudy Simone: ‘Personal Cloud’
Phat Lady Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
CD-R-only mini-album
Released: 1999

Buy it from:
Extremely rare – best found second-hand.

Rudy Simone online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube

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