Tag Archives: no-man

May 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – God Is An Astronaut’s British tour with appearances from White Ring, Xenon Field and Tim Bowness (17th, 18th, 20th May)

12 May

God Is An Astronaut, 2018

Within rock, Celtic romanticism has a chequered history. It might energise a white man’s answer to soul music (including Van Morrison and The Waterboys) but it can also peak in wildly sentimental bombast (Big Country’s glossed pipe-guitar burn, the Cranberries’ parade of obvious, U2’s urge to prove themselves the biggest, most emotive band in the world for every minute they play and record).

There’s also the other more abstracted kind which works so well as impressionism, as suggestion of a psychological landscape, as a window onto seeing and interpreting differently – Van’s inarticulate speech of the heart, if you like. This latter type’s found mostly in instrumentation and production shaping: those lonely keens, the vaunting inclusive pridefulness in the sonic qualitiesm the rain-on-high-rocks scenic tone. For me, it’s often found most keenly and propulsively in the synthscapes which Mick MacNeil created for Simple Minds in their prime: a band who, in their time, have staggered between the heart-thrilling and the stadium belch, and for whom MacNeil (whether armed with cheap plastic post-punk era electronics or his later battery of high-end gear) crafted outsize pulsing and ringing soundscapes which used European schooling and Japanese technology to recall and recreate the Barra island scenery of his childhood.

There’s something of this latter abstracted tone in the work of God Is an Astronaut, now nine albums deep into an instrumental rock which initially sets up its stall in post-rock but which very quickly starts hurling itself against the dry, jaded constraints of the form, like an impassioned bloke in a claustrophobic pub booth. Discovering that they hail from the long, gorgeously wooded glacial valley of Ireland’s Glen of the Downs makes perfect sense: there’s the grand sense of scene and wide-open place pulsing through, the homescape bypassing words and blotting itself through experience into sound. That’s not to say that when the music breaks free it clots into clapalong arena riffs or waves a mute, commanding white flag up on a giant screen. What emerges is still, somehow, hushed, but a giant reverberation around hush. In some respects, they seem to conjure up the romantic post-Ballardian wreckage of a Celtic rock stadium gig, their compositional camera slowly panning past the decayed hulks of long-silenced speaker stacks; the ruins of abandoned Amnesty stands.



 

The band’s ongoing European tour touches England and Scotland next week for three dates, supporting on all of which are New York “heavy body music” trio White Ring, who play like the filmy ghosts of a long-dead rave. Also supporting (as they’ve done for most of the European dates) are Dublin duo Xenon Field. Robert Murphy and Conor Drinane produce a bony, grinding, yet elevated post-Goth dance sound with a mixture of programmed, manipulated electronics plus live guitar and bass. Despite having been at it for eleven years, recorded music seems to be thin on the ground: they seem to concentrate more on production work or on spontaneous live dance-culture jams, so here they are pumping out a bleak but energized groove at Dunk! Festival last year.




 

A surprise – or at least surprising – extra guest at the London show is Tim Bowness. As he edges into his mid-fifties, the No-Man singer’s increasingly the custodian of a particularly tailored subsection of art pop in which a very English reticence and literary sparseness grapples with awkward all-consuming heartache and frothing, inconvenient emotions. Still promoting his most recent album (2017’s ‘Lost In The Ghost Light’, which gradually, softly and relentlessly strip-mines the jaded psyche of a ’70s nearly-was rock star), he’s an odd fit for this bill – the lone narrative voice in a succession of wordless or incomprehensible sound-builders, like an Edwardian curate wandering through an all-nighter.

Still, it’s worth remembering the gorgeous, tortured echolalic howls Tim brought to his stint with Darkroom; and that when he first put No-Man together with Steven Wilson in 1986, they may have taken note of sleek pop and prog vehicles like Roxy Music, Genesis and Japan, but among the other influences were Swans and the Velvets. Perhaps this different May milieu will awaken something old in him.


 
Dates:

  • Electric Brixton, Town Hall Parade, Brixton, London, SW2 1RJ, England, Thursday 17th May 2018, 7.00pm (with White Ring + Tim Bowness + Xenon Field) – information here, here and here
  • The Classic Grand, 18 Jamaica St, Glasgow, G1 4QD, Scotland, Friday 18th May 2018, 7.00pm (with White Ring + Xenon Field) – information here, here and here
  • Club Academy @ Manchester Academy, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR, England, Sunday 20th May 2018, 7.30pm (with White Ring + Xenon Field) – information here, here and here

April/May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – across-the-board instrumental progressive – Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain (7th); Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber of Sanguine Hum (April 20th); Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes (May 1st)

30 Mar

Three upcoming London gigs across April and leading into the start of May: all of them batting around ideas in the progressive field, whichever particular road they took into it. In early April – a Chaos Theory post-rock show with three bands offering successive palettes of solitary guitar sketches, sombre filmic post-Godspeed tonescapes, and bright-toned romantic futurism. In mid-April – the debut of a brand new progtronic trio alongside an experimental string duo and a humble keyboard star. On May Day, an international rhythmatic threesome at Rich Mix mixing up post-Squarepusher tech-fusion, bursting guitar instrumentals and twenty-first century dual-keyboard/drumkit jazz-rock barrage.

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Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain, 7th April 2017

Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: Flies Are Spies From Hell + A-Sun Amissa + Only Echoes Remain
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 7th April 7.30pm
information and here

“This month The Facemelter features a glorious night with some truly brilliant veterans of post-rock, drone and ambient sounds, with new and seasoned projects alike.

“Formed thirteen years ago, Flies are Spies from Hell have climbed up from humble beginnings to international fame. The years have seen them move on from small local gigs, to sharing the stage with behemoths such as Russian Circles, And So I Watch You From Afar, *shels, Latitudes and Vessels, to a couple of European tours, and appearances at ArcTanGent and Dunk!festival. Two years after the release of their second album ‘Underdog Underfoot’, they’ll finally grace the stage at The Facemelter.


 
A-Sun Amissa are a powerful (mostly) instrumental collective possessed of “a rusted industrial aesthetic that lurks in the periphery of perception” (‘Rock-A-Rolla’), founded and led by Richard Knox (Shield Patterns, Glissando, The Rustle of the Stars) and Angela Chan (Tomorrow We Sail, Lanterns On The Lake, The Rustle of the Stars) that has featured an array of members and collaborators since its formation in 2011, as well as two albums out on Gizeh Records.

“Producing dense, drone-like atmospheres with evocative, melodic string and woodwind sections, intertwining guitars and field recordings, their live performance is a mixture of recorded output combined with improvisation to explore progressions in the music every time. Their ever-flowing lineup of collaborators have included members of Amenra, Nadja, Gnod, Oiseaux-Tempête and Hundred Year Old Man.


 
Only Echoes Remain serve up incredibly cinematic post-rock, without becoming too cliched thanks to generous smatterings of math, ambient and classic prog influences. They have already played with the likes of Her name Is Calla, TOTORRO, VASA, Poly-Math and Waking Aida, and will be releasing their debut LP early this year.”


 
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Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber, 20th April 2017

Piko Cloud Booker present:
Piko Cloud Booker + Mein Haus + Matt Baber
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Thursday 20 April 2017, 7.00pm
information

Piko Cloud Booker are a modern-day progressive rock trio combining King Crimson-esque cyclical guitar patterns in a mix-up of wacky time signatures with the expansive sequencer-driven explorations of early Tangerine Dream. PCB are guitarist Cameron Piko (mastermind of Australian prog-metal unit Montresor), bassist/violinist Gaz Cloud (one half of dream-technoists Cloud & Owl) and drummer Andrew Booker (no-man, Tim Bowness, Sanguine Hum).”

(This project’s so new that’s there’s no music available to present for it – instead, I’ve had to give you a few ideas via these clips from the member’s other projects, including Andrew’s ten years of undersung work with jamming collective Improvizone:)




 
“Supporting them will be string duo Mein Haus, consisting of Patricia Stepien (violin) and Elliot Murphy (cello, guitar). Their music is by turns creepy and sparse, then intense and dramatic. But whether it’s complex rhythmic interplay, or crunching cello and soaring violin, you feel the humour is never far away. From gigsite ‘Go Out Of Tune‘ – “based in East London but hailing from Poland and Ireland originally, they’ve been making music together since they met on a train in Deptford over a year ago. Their performances are high in energy and musically unpredictable. Their music has been described as: ‘Shostakovich and Arvo Part being kicked down a flight of stairs in an oil barrel’, with influences ranging from the Sex Pistols through Penderecki, Battles and Kraftwerk.”


 
Matt Baber is a co-founding half of the continuing Oxford-based musical journey that is currently Sanguine Hum, having made its way through various earlier incarnations. He has played keyboards throughout, both crafting his unique synth atmospheres plus stamping down complex piano riffs on his Fender Rhodes. Expect more of the latter this time, as he delves into his Jarrett/Emerson-flavoured solo material for his first ever solo keyboard show.”


 
Note that Gaz Cloud – as half of Cloud & Owl – will also be playing this Askarabaskara techno/house gig five days earlier, demonstrating part of the elements-puzzle which makes up his new band.

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Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes, 1st May 2017Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Mouse On The Keys + Mutiny On The Bounty + Strobes
Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E1 6LA, England
Monday 1st May 2017, 7.30pm
-information here, here and here

“An ultrasonic mammoth of a lineup, packed with dreamlike jazz, vast math rock, ambient precision and mesmerising polyrhythmic beats!

“The extraordinary Mouse On The Keys trio are back from Japan, armed with fresh material from their new album ‘Out Of Body’, out last January via Topshelf Records. This is a pristine example of blending minimal-phrased piano and dynamic drumming, while creating a live experience composed of visual and audio elements. Formed in 2006, with elements of jazz, funk, post‐rock and electronic music, Mouse On The Keys fits into a genre of their own.

“The trio consists of two former members of the influential Japanese underground band Nine Days Wonder – Akira Kawasaki and Atsushi Kiyota – who teamed up with Daisuke Niitome (who has played drums as well as composed music for countless jazz‐funk and hip hop bands). Their unique sound, comprising two pianos, two keyboards and drums, continues to stand at the forefront of the Japanese music scene.


 
“Luxembourg quartet Mutiny On The Bounty bring a torrent of groovy rhythms, guitar acrobatics and joyous melodies our way. These guys have been showcasing their unique brand of math-rock and instrumental music throughout Europe and have played close to five hundred shows supporting bands such as Biffy Clyro, And So I Watch You From Afar, TTNG and Maps & Atlases as well as playing some of the biggest festivals like Roskilde, Primavera and Fusion festival.

“Following on from their album ‘Trials’, released in 2012 and recorded by producer Matt Bayles, Mutiny On The Bounty released their latest album ‘Digital Tropics’ via Small Pond, which encompasses facets of their personalities ranging from rock, to electro, 80’s pop and even hip-hop. A reverb-infused, pop groove-laden feast of staccato guitar melodies, loops and math rock beats.


 
Strobes‘ triangle of electrified polyrhythms, spaced-out synth jams and off-kilter beats will open the evening. Featuring guitar and synth-work by Matt Calvert (Three Trapped Tigers), drums by Joshua Backmore (Troyka) and keys by Dan Nicholls (who has collaborated with Squarepusher and Matthew Herbert), the trio flickers effortlessly between the worlds of electro-improv, minimalist polyrhythm and distinctively original hooks.

“Like a twisted love child of Aphex Twin, Brainfeeder and Battles, Strobes have been heard individually with the likes of Squarepusher, Matthew Herbert and Three Trapped Tigers. Built from collective composition, studio production, live sampling and improv jams, the band smashes out exhilarating odd-tempo loops, polyphonic synth soundscapes and big headnodding beats. Their new album ‘Brokespeak’, out via Blood And Biscuits, is a true work of genius.


 
“With DJ sets from Bojan Nikolic (The Brain Center At Whipple’s, Battleship Grey), this will be an intensely satisfying feast of jawdropping talent and headnodding beats.”

 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – iamthemorning’s two shows with Tim Bowness in London and Ulft (12th, 14th) and three more in the Netherlands (16th-18th)

10 Nov

iamthemorning, November 2016 tourOriginally hailing from Saint Petersburg, iamthemorning is the partnership of self-taught, progressive-rock-inspired singer Marjana Semkina and meticulously-taught classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin; it’s also what happens when their conflicting backgrounds and sympathetic musicalities merge. Using pick-up ensembles of classical and rock musicians, they stage their music in multi-media chamber shows; swelling out to small orchestral arrangements, efflorescent electric guitar and tape inserts. Whenever this isn’t possible, they’ll strip themselves back to a string-augmented quartet. When that‘s not possible either, they’ll revert to the original duo, trusting in Gleb’s virtuosic St. Petersburg Conservatory piano skills to cover (or at least intimate) the orchestral role behind the lustrous drama of Marjana’s voice.

Marjana and Gleb’s burnished, budded musicality shows a clear affinity with the British literary mythoscape. Their burgeoning pre-autumnal songs certainly possess, amongst other things, tints of English and Breton-Celtic folk and a certain pre-Raphaelite glow; recalling, on a surface level, that billowing school of female-fronted prog-folk which includes Renaissance or Mostly Autumn (or, on the arresting death-lays which bookend this year’s ‘Lighthouse’ album, the glimmering Celtic feytronica of Caroline Lavelle). All of this probably had a lot to do with ‘Lighthouse’ scooping up ‘Prog’ magazine’s Album of the Year award for 2016.


 
Chamber-prog is the term the band themselves choose, and the one that’s usually applied to them. Tagging them with the prog label, however (complete with all of the blowsy, blustering AOR associations which got gummed to it during the 1980s), seems a little reductive. iamthemorning‘s meticulous immersion in advanced harmony and arrangement puts them square into the tradition of florid electro-acoustic neoromantics – the densely skilled ones who own a strong affinity to the tail-end of Romantic music but arrive several generations too late; the ones who often fall into prog by default, through a love of rock amplification and of what happens when song meets electric surge). Consider the dogged grand orchestralism thundered out by Robert John Godfrey in The Enid. Consider Kerry Minnear, slipping his haunting yet sophisticated quiet-man ballads through the busy humour of Gentle Giant (referencing romanticism and modernism as he did so: deeper rills through the romping). Consider the late Keith Emerson and how (behind ELP’s circus vulgarities and rollicks through baroque, Bach and barrelhouse) he too maintained a fascination for the rich harmonic and melodic upheaval where romanticism meets modernism; capturing it in his brash adaptations of Ginastera and Rodrigo, and listening towards the eastern European strains of Mussorgsky, Janáček and Bartók.


 
This last, in turn, brings us to Gleb and his own deep immersion in the likes of Stravinsky (there are videos of him playing ‘The Rite Of Spring’ and clearly adoring it); one of the reasons why, however much an iamthemorning song may slip along like a scented bath, there’s always more shading and detail in its depths. The other reason is Marjana’s growing determination to back the petal-sheened sonic prettiness and concert-hall glamour with more profound psychological resonance, turning the ‘Lighthouse’ concept into a diary of mental illness and the struggles to survive it. The band might still be in the early stages of establishing a lyrical and conceptual maturity to match the breadth of their musicality, but there’s plenty of space and opportunity to do this. The currents of invention under the lush surface slickness, and the clear willingness of Gleb and Marjana to challenge each other and to grow together, make iamthemorning a band to watch.

iamthemorning & Tim Bowness, 12th-18th November 2016Tim Bowness, on the other hand, has been through much of this already, having persistently edged and developed his visions from the turbulent romantic moodism of his earlier work to his current, exquisitely-honed portraits of human vulnerability. Forced in part by increasingly long gaps in the open musical marriage of his main band no-man, he’s been demonstrating himself, step by step, to not be merely a band singer blessed with a rich, poignant whisper of a voice and a sharp sense of understated lyrical drama, but a formidable solo artist with a mind for matching and fusing together diverse sounds and musical elements.

Erstwhile/ongoing no-man partner Steven Wilson may get more of the plaudits these days, but Tim’s growing list of solo albums are every bit as good. Bridging Mark Hollis with Mark Eitzel, Robert Wyatt with David Sylvian and Peter Gabriel with Morrissey, they work off a confidently-expanding sonic palette of spiky caressing art-rock guitar, luxuriant keyboard and drum work, strings and atmospherics. As ever with Tim, the subject matter is tender and bleak – including thwarted ambitions, the shaping and stripping of love by time and mortality, and (increasingly) shades of the north-western landscapes and dilemmas to which Tim owes his own initial artistic formation.


 

While he’s currently brewing a welter of projects (including a long-overdue second duo album with Peter Chilvers, the resurrection of his angsty 1980s Mersey art-pop quartet Plenty, and assorted work with Banco de Gaia, contemporary classical composer Andrew Keeling and Happy The Man’s Kit Watkins), Tim’s main focus is his still-in-progress fourth solo album, ‘Third Monster On The Left’. This is sounding like his most ambitious project to date: a conceptual musical memoir centring on the backstage thoughts of a fictional, fading classic-rock musician, awash in the garden and graveyard of talent that was the 1970s. For ‘Third Monster On The Left’, Tim promises (as part of the context-appropriate crafting) a more explicit version of the progginess that’s always fed into his art pop since the beginning: specifically, “the harmonic richness and romanticism of 1970s Genesis, and the Mellotron-drenched majesty of early King Crimson.”

All of this makes the declared prospect of a Bowness/iamthemorning set of collaborative “shared bill, shared songs” concerts an interesting one. There’s already a connection via Colin Edwin, who’s played bass for both of them. On this occasion, Tim will be bringing along band regulars Michael Bearpark (guitar), Stephen Bennett (keyboards) and Andrew Booker (electronic drums) plus returning cohorts Steve Bingham (violin, loops) and Pete Morgan (bass). Some or all of these will be pulling double duty backing iamthemorning, alongside whoever Gleb and Marjana brings along. What’s most intriguing, though, is what this hand-in-hand teamup is going to bring out in both parties. Beyond the luxuriant tones, there’s useful artistic tinder in their differences, their similarities, and their internal contradictions alike.

At its best, there ought to be push-and-pull. Tim’s austere taste for unvarnished modernism and stark realism is ever compromised by a sensual greed for the textures of romance: Gleb and Marjana swim in an ocean of effusive orchestral indulgence, but now want to grap stone and dirt. He’ll give them an exquisitely pained art-pop ballad, pared clean of fairytale delusions and as slender as a greyhound; they’ll polish and expand it back into dreamscape. They’ll give him a perfumed Edwardian garden: he’ll slouch in, with his Beckett and Kelman paperbacks, to lay a grit path. He’ll bring out their darker, less-resolved deep chords. They’ll bring out his blushes.

The odds are fair that they’ll make a collective attempt at the title track from ‘Lighthouse’ (though they’ll probably not risk a medley with the no-man epic of the same name). I’m also hoping for a Gram-and-Emmylou-shaded prog harmony on Tim’s heart-breaking Know That You Were Loved; or perhaps a morningification of Dancing For You. We’ll see…




 
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iamthemorning with Tim Bowness:

  • IO Pages Festival @ Poppodium DRU Cultuurfabriek, Hutteweg 24a, 7071 MB Ulft, Netherlands, Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm (with Gazpacho + Anekdoten + Lesoir + Marcel Singor + A Liquid Landscape + Anneke van Giersbergen) – information here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Monday 14th November 2016 – information here and here

Immediately after the Bowness shows, iamthemorning embark on three more shows on their own in the Netherlands – details below. Depending on which one you attend, you could see the band in any one of its three main playing configurations.

  • Hedon, Burg Drijbersingel 7, 8021 DA Zwolle, The Netherlands, Wednesday 16th November 2016, 8.00pm (chamber gig with violin & cello)information
  • De Pul, Kapelstraat 13, 5401 EC Uden, The Netherlands, Thursday 17th November 2016, 9.00pm (duo gig)information
  • Patronaat, Zijlsingel 2, 2013 DN Haarlem, The Netherlands, Friday 18th November 2016, 7.30pm (full band gig)information

 

October 2015 – upcoming gigs – Jonas Hellborg & Steve Lawson in Birmingham, London & Leeds; Tim Bowness, Peter Chilvers, David Rhodes, Theo Travis quartet gig in Cardiff

7 Sep

Although there are still some September gigs to flag up, here’s advance notice of four interesting concerts in early October for those of you who are interested in the amorphous terrain between jazz, balladry, art pop and ambient electronica. (Just straight press release stuff – the analysis will have to wait for another time, although I’ve also stuck a few review links in where I’ve covered these musicians before…)

Hellborg & Lawson, 2015

Two of the world’s leading solo bass guitarists together on one stage.

Crossing musical boundaries and blowing listeners’ minds for over thirty years, Jonas Hellborg is one of the great innovators of the bass guitar. From the pyrotechnic flamboyance of his early solo electric albums, to his unique exploration of the richness and depth of the acoustic bass guitar, Jonas has changed the way people think about – and play – the bass. Whether as a solo artist, or collaborating with many of the most respected names in music, from John McLaughlin to PiL, Ginger Baker to Shawn Lane, Jonas’ signature sound and uncompromising creative philosophy have produced an unparalleled body of work, mostly on his own Bardo label. Lauded by press and public alike, this is a rare opportunity to hear Jonas up close in the UK.

Steve Lawson is one of the most celebrated solo bassists in British music history – early in his career, he opened for Level 42 on their first Greatest Hits comeback tour, placing his unique take on melodic looping-based live performance in front of tens of thousands of bass aficionados. Fifteen years of regular gigging across the UK, Europe and the US have solidified his place as a leading exponent of solo bass. Steve’s sound-world borrows liberally from electronica, jazz, pop, rock, ambient and experimental music, to form a sonic fingerprint as compelling as it is unique. Following on from two years of wide-ranging collaboration, playing alongside musicians as diverse as Reeves Gabrels and Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Divinity, (and with the imminent release of his twelfth and thirteenth all-solo albums – on the same day!) Steve is back with fresh explorations pushing the notion of what the bass can be in the twenty-first century. (Here are a couple of ‘Misfit City’ reviews of earlier Steve Lawson records for those who’ve not read/heard them -‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘ and ‘Conversations‘).

Full dates, details and links:

  • Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Rd South, Cotteridge, Birmingham, B30 3EL, UK, Sunday 4th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.
  • The Vortex Jazz Bar, 11 Gillett Street, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday 5th October 2015 – price t.b.c. – contact venue for tickets.
  • Left Bank Leeds, The former St Margaret of Antioch Church, Cardigan Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, LS6 1LJ, UK, Tuesday 6th October 2015 – £10.00, tickets here.

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Bowness/Chilvers/Rhodes/Travis, October 2015

Tim Bowness/Peter Chilvers/David Rhodes/Theo Travis (Chapter in association with Burning Shed @ Chapter,  Market Road, Canton, Cardiff, Wales, CF5 1QE, UK, Saturday 3rd October 2015, 7.00pm) – £15.00

A unique combination of atmospheric music and songs performed by the following four British art-pop, jazz and textural music mainstays:

Tim Bowness is vocalist/co-writer with the band no-man, a long-running collaboration with Steven Wilson. He has also worked with Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree, Japan), Peter Hammill, Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport Convention), Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and others. He has released three solo albums – ‘My Hotel Year’ (2004), ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (2014) and ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World‘ (2015).

Peter Chilvers is a frequent collaborator with Brian Eno (including co-creating the hugely successful app Bloom), Underworld’s Karl Hyde and Tim Bowness, Chilvers has become known for his innovative work with generative apps and imaginative use of electronic textures. (Here’s a review of ‘Thin Air‘, an album Peter did with Michael Bearpark many years ago).

David Rhodes is one of the world’s most respected and inventive guitarists, having worked extensively with Peter Gabriel as well as with Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Scott Walker, Japan, New Order, Paul McCartney and Blancmange, amongst many others. David has also released two solo albums (2010’s ‘Bittersweet’ and 2014’s ‘The David Rhodes Band’) and was a founding member of the influential post-punk band Random Hold.

Saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis (making his Chapter return after performing with the cinematic/musical crossover project Cipher) has an international reputation as one of the stars of the contemporary UK jazz scene. Travis has more recently emerged as a key figure in the progressive and art rock sphere, working with David Gilmour, Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Bill Nelson, Gong, Soft Machine Legacy, Bill Bruford, Harold Budd and more. He has recently released his ninth solo album ‘Transgression’ (and here’s a review of an earlier one).

The evening is presented by Burning Shed, the online label and store founded by Bowness and Chilvers with Pete Morgan that has become a global specialist in progressive, ambient/electronica and art rock music. As well as releasing works on its own imprint, amongst others, Burning Shed hosts the official online stores for Panegyric (King Crimson, Yes), Ape (Andy Partridge, XTC, The Milk & Honey Band), Jethro Tull, Kscope (Porcupine Tree, Sweet Billy Pilgrim), Thomas Dolby, All Saints (Brian Eno), Medium Productions (Jansen, Barbieri and Karn), Gentle Giant and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera.  The label has recently expanded into book publishing, and at this concert musician and author Anthony Reynolds (perhaps best known as the former frontman of Jack) will be signing copies of his Burning Shed Publishing book, ‘Japan – A Foreign Place (The Biography 1974-1984)’.

More information here, and tickets available here.

June 2015 – some videos – Tim Bowness, William D. Drake, Thumpermonkey

2 Jun

A few videos to pass the time.

Firstly, here’s the newest video from Tim Bowness, promoting the lead single from next month’s ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ album. The Great Electric Teenage Dream features a cut’n’paste scratch effort built up from fragments from the Prelinger archive.

While I’m limbering up for a big William D. Drake catchup (reviews of this month’s ‘Revere Reach’ album and its predecessor ‘The Rising Of The Lights’), here’s the uproarious Chaos Engineers video from the former’s lead single. ‘Distant Buzzing’ features appearances, on- or off-video, from assorted Drake associates – the Larcombe Brothers (from Stars In Battledress), Dug Parker (from North Sea Radio Orchestra), Stuffy Gilchrist and many others…including a certain sordid, waxy tyrant from the 1980s. And a donkey.

Finally, do you ever hear anyone complaining bitterly that all of the artistry has gone out of rock vocals? If so, play them this video of Thumpermonkey‘s Woody recording voicework for the band’s upcoming album, and watch a grin breaking like sunrise across their face. (I don’t cover Thumpermonkey enough in this blog. That’s going to change.)

May 2015 – through the feed – free single/upcoming crowdfunder from The Duke Of Norfolk; Cardiacs and Knifeworld reissues; a new Tim Bowness album; disinterring lost Levitation

21 May

I can tell I’ve not kept my eye on the ball – nothing makes a person feel less alert than suddenly finding that three of his favourite musical projects (plus one new recent favourite and one older interest) are suddenly pouncing out new releases and. I step out for a moment, for another writing project, and someone moves all of the furniture around.

The Duke Of Norfolk: 'A Revolutionary Waltz'

The Duke Of Norfolk: ‘A Revolutionary Waltz’

So… let’s start with news of fresh work from The Duke of Norfolk, a.k.a transplanted Oklahoman folkie Adam Howard, now resident in Edinburgh. He’s currently offering a free single – A Revolutionary Waltz – in part-promotion, commenting “I am launching a Kickstarter project in two weeks to fund the making of a live video EP, and would like to give you this recording in the meantime. It’s just a wee sonic experiment, but I hope you enjoy it!”

If you’re wondering whether there’s a Scottish Nationalist tie-in here, given recent political events in Britain, Adam’s adopted hometown, and that beautifully sympathetic and country-tinged setting of Robbie Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss on which he duets with Neighbour, think otherwise. In fact, this song is a darker cousin to An Evening Waltz (from his 2013 album ‘Le Monde Tourne Toujours’): a foreboding meditation on the inexorable turn of fate’s wheel, tying together three histories of power, betrayal and fall. Despite its timeless trad-folk lyric, Adam’s busking roots (and the lusciously acoustic sound of much of his other material) it’s also a rough-and-ready take on digital folk, either demo-rough or intended to display Adam’s other roots in sound design. A clipped electrophonic waltz picks its way across a murky psychedelic smudge and a droning feedback pibroch: its characters sea-waltz to the grim, dry beat of a hand drum and a scattering of cowrie-shell percussion. It’s well worth a listen. As for progress on the Duke Of Norfolk video Kickstarter campaign, it’s probably best to keep tabs on his Facebook page.

Cardiacs: 'Guns'

Cardiacs: ‘Guns’

Following the success of their double vinyl LP reissue of 1995’s ‘Sing To God‘ album, Cardiacs are doing the same with its 1999 follow-up, ‘Guns’. While it’s not the magnificent sprawler that ‘Sing To God’ is, ‘Guns’ offers a more concise take on the pepper-sharp 1990s Cardiacs quartet that featured Bob Leith and gonzo guitarist Jon Poole alongside the band-brothers core of Tim and Jim Smith. As Cardiacs albums go it’s an even brasher beast than usual, hiding its gnarly depths under brass-balled upfront confidence and strong seasonings of glam-bang, pell-mell punk, whirring Krautrock, and jags of heavy metal looning.

‘Guns’ is also one of the most obscure Cardiacs works. Drummer Bob joined Tim on lyric duties, helping to turn the album’s words into a dense hedge-witch thicket of allusion and play, in which typically naked Cardiacs preoccupations (dirt, wartime, suspicion, indeterminate life and death) are tied up into an almost impenetrable web, driven along by the music’s eight-legged gallop. The fact that Tim and Bob were slipping in random borrowings from ‘English As She Is Spoke‘,  a notoriously bungled Victorian phrasebook with its own wonky and unintentional poetry, only added to the tangle.

You can pre-order the ‘Guns’ reissue here for end-of-June shipping. It’s a single vinyl record, with no extra thrills or treats, but does come with the promise of beautiful packaging and pressing. You can expect to hear news on more Cardiacs reissues over the next few years. The current plan is to reissue the band’s whole back catalogue on vinyl after years of exile (predominantly spent huddled exclusively on iTunes).

Meanwhile, see below for a taste of ‘Guns’ magnificent oddness. Here’s the grinding drive of Spell With A Shell (which encompasses the lives of pets, the terror and wonder of transformation, and the cruelty, loneliness and confused loyalties of childhood). Here’s a collision of outsider folk and reggae in Wind And Rains Is Cold (via a fan video of clips from ‘Night Of The Hunter’, from which Cardiacs frequently filch scraps of lyric). Finally, here’s the scavenged, scratchy prog of Junior Is A Jitterbug with its prolonged and celebrated unravelling coda.

Cardiacs: 'Day Is Gone'

Cardiacs: ‘Day Is Gone’

For those without turntables, there’s been a relatively recent CD reissue of Cardiacs’ 1991 EP ‘Day Is Gone’ – which I somehow managed to miss when it was first announced – and which includes the original three B-sides (No Bright Side, Ideal and concert favourite Joining The Plankton). This is from the pre-‘Sing To God’ lineup: another quartet but with Dominic Luckman on drums and, ostensibly, Bic Hayes on second guitar (prior to his explosive stints in Levitation and Dark Star, and to his current position etching dark psychedelic guitar shadings in ZOFFF).

Actually, since this was a time of shuffle and change in the band it’s unclear as to whether Bic or Jon Poole is providing the extra galactic bangs and shimmerings on the EP. However, for Day Is Gone itself the attention should be on Tim Smith’s grand bottle-rocket of a solo, capping what’s both one of Cardiacs’ most autumnal songs and one of their most headrushing cosmic efforts – a bout of November skygazing gone bright and vivid. See below for the original video in all of its low-budget saucer-eyed glory, and pick up the CD here.

Cardiacs: 'Heaven Born And Ever Bright'

Cardiacs: ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’

Note also that a couple of other early-‘90s Cardiacs recordings have made it back on CD in the past six months. ‘Heaven Born And Ever Bright’ (the parent album for Day Is Gone) shows Cardiacs at their brightest and bashing-est, but hiding a wounded heart. ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ – the recording of a raucous 1990 septet concert at the Salisbury Arts Centre – was both the last hurrah of the 1980s lineup (with carousel keyboards, saxophone and half-a-scrapyard’s-worth of percussion rig) and, for my money, is also one of the greatest live rock recordings ever made. See if you agree.

Cardiacs: 'All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest' (2014 reissue)

Cardiacs: ‘All That Glitters Is A Mares Nest’ (2014 reissue)


‘Mares Nest’ also made a welcome resurfacing on DVD a couple of years ago – see below for a typically quaking example of the band in action. It’s also worth repeating that all of the profits from the recording sales continue to go towards palliative care and physical therapy for Tim Smith, who’s still engaged in the slow painful recovery from his crippling stroke of 2008.

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Knifeworld: ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’

Meanwhile, Knifeworld – who feature an ex-Cardiac and, while being very much their own eclectic and tuneful proposition, carry a certain continuation of the Cardiacs spirit along with them – have collated early, interim and now-unavailable tracks onto a full-length album, ‘Home Of The Newly Departed’. The seven tracks (dating from between 2009 and 2012) bridge the space between their ‘Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat’ debut and last year’s tour-de-force ‘The Unravelling’.

If you want to read my thoughts on the original releases, visit the original ‘Misfit City’ reviews of the ‘Dear Lord, No Deal’ and ‘Clairvoyant Fortnight’ EPs from which six of the tracks are taken. (I’ve just had a look back myself and discovered that I’ve previously described them as a band who could drag up exultation with their very fingernails, as starchildren weighed down by dark matter, as possessing “a knack of dissecting difficult feelings via swirling psychedelic sleight-of-hand” and as “an almighty and skilful art-rock mashup, with horns and bassoons poking out of it every which-way and strangely kinking, spiraling spines of rhythm and harmony locking it all together.” I must have been pretty excitable, on each occasion.)

Alternatively, have a look at the videos below. Also, if you’re in England during the end of May, the band (in full eight-person glory) are out on a short tour featuring the debut of new music.

Tim Bowness: 'Stupid Things That Mean The World'

Tim Bowness: ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’

With his erstwhile/ongoing no-man bandmate Steven Wilson going from strength to strength as a solo act, Tim Bowness also continues to concentrate on work under his own name – sleek, melancholy art-pop with a very English restraint, fired with a desperate passion and shaded with subtleties and regrets. His third album, ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, is due for release on July 17th; barely a year after his last effort ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ (one of my own favourite records of 2014).

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ features the ‘Abandoned…’ core band of Tim plus his usual cohorts Michael Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, and Andrew Booker, and on spec sounds as if it’ll be a smooth progression and development from the previous album. It also features guest showings from three generations of art rock (Phil Manzanera and Peter Hammill; David Rhodes and Pat Mastelotto; Colin Edwin, Bruce Soord, Anna Phoebe and Rhys Marsh) and string arrangements by art-rock-friendly composer Andrew Keeling.

Expect a typically Burning Shed-ish range of format options: the double CD mediabook edition (with companion disc of alternate mixes and demos including an unreleased no-man demo from 1994), and LP versions in either black vinyl or transparent vinyl (CDs included with each). Pre-ordering gets you a downloadable FLAC version of the 5.1 mix, plus the usual cute postcard. Sorry – I have no early tasters for ‘Stupid Things…’, but here’s a taste of one of the slower, lusher tracks from ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ for the benefit of anyone who missed it last year.

Earlier on, while discussing Cardiacs, I briefly mentioned Bic Hayes and his time in Levitation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them – or who weren’t around in early ’90s Britain to witness their brief, Roman candle of a run – they were a band who eagerly fused together an enormous sound, leashing and running with a frenzied and energized take on psychedelic rock, driving post-punk noise and earnest, distressed chanting from their singer, the former House of Love guitar star Terry Bickers. Sadly, they’ve become best known as the springboard by which Terry catapulted himself first into frontmanhood, then into the uncharted and finally (via some tortured decisions and unfortunate outbursts) into the obscure.

In truth, Levitation were an equal conspiracy of five. As well as Terry and Bic, there was Robert White (a baby-faced free-festival veteran and secret-weapon multi-instrumentalist, who’d later lead The Milk & Honey Band), an undersung alt.rock bass hero called Laurence O’Keefe and David Francolini, an astounding and slightly demonic drummer who could run the gamut from pattering rain to pneumatic drill in a single roll round his kit (and who, within Levitation, had the perfect opportunity to do so). Fuelled equally by inspiration, drugs and sheer hard work, they strived for three intense years while living on the outside of their skins, and briefly came close to making some very unfashionable sounds current again.

While they were certainly a “head” band – hippy punks who joined floating threads of British counter-culture, spontaneity and resistance together – it’s vital to remember that Levitation were never your average festival band. They were never complacent, never entitled. More Yippie than trustafarian, they seemed (Bickers, in particular) to be desperately chasing revelations just over the rim of the horizon. Their ethos and experience was best summed up – or, more accurately, caught in a passing flare – in a lyric from their song Against Nature ), with Terry choking out “there is an answer, but I’ve yet to find out where” over a raging foam of guitars. Fingers (and not a few minds) got scorched along the way. In May 1993, it culminated in Terry’s wracked, brutal self-ejection from the band – in a spurt of slogans and despair – during a concert at the Tufnell Park Dome, just a short walk from Misfit City’s current home.

There have been some reconcilations since then (not least Bic, David and Laurence reuniting in the wonderful but equally short-lived Dark Star five years afterwards) but there have been no reunion, and no-one has ever seemed to want to go back. However, on Monday this week – Record Store Day 2015 – the Flashback label released the first Levitation music for twenty years – ‘Never Odd Or Even’, a vinyl-only EP containing three tracks from the band’s lost 1992 album ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ (these being Never Odd Or Even, Greymouth and Life Going Faster). More information is here, although if you want to pick up one of the five hundred copies you’d better find your nearest participating British record store here: they might have some left. (There’s an earlier version of the title track below, in perhaps a rawer form.)

I’ve described ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ as a lost album, which isn’t strictly true. Although the record was recorded prior to Terry’s explosive departure, there was life after Bickers, For just over a year, singer Steve Ludwin took on the frontman role; during this time the band took it upon themselves to partially re-work the album with Ludwin’s vocals rolled out firmly over Terry’s. The resulting version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ was only released briefly in Australia. Following the split of the Ludwin lineup and the final end of the band, it’s always been regarded (rightly or wrongly) as something of a bastard appendix to the Bickers-era albums.

The happier news is that, following up ‘Never Odd Or Even’, Flashback are about to give ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ its own new lease of life with the active collaboration of the original lineup (including Terry Bickers). The album’s original vocals have been restored, the songs polished to satisfaction and a final tracklisting agreed upon. Although former album tracks Graymouth and Life Going Faster have been ceded to the ‘Never Odd…’ EP, the 2015 version of ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ keeps four of the tracks familiar from the Ludwin version (Food For Powder, Gardens Overflowing, Even When Your Eyes Are Open and the vaulting soar of King of Mice) and adds five songs previously only available via bootlegs (Bodiless, Imagine The Sharks, Evergreen, I Believe, Burrows and Sacred Lover). Apparently, it’ll be out sometime in “summer 2015” as a single CD and limited-edition double LP, each coming with gatefold sleeve and new artwork by original Levitation cover artist Cally.

It’s probably best to keep track of progress on the ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ release here; but meanwhile here’s the Bickers version of Even When Your Eyes Are Open (the last single the band released before he quit) and a bootleg-sourced version of the startling post-psychedelic stretchout Burrows – just to whet the appetite.

The Duke Of Norfolk online:
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Cardiacs online:
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Knifeworld online:
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Tim Bowness online:
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Levitation online:
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Through the feed – Tim Bowness/Stars In Battledress pre-orders

9 May

News on two long-awaited second albums, both now available for pre-order.

(Brief rant first. Up until now ‘Misfit City’ has avoided reproducing or paraphrasing current news releases, apart from the odd crowdfunding mention. Too many music blogs are rolling shills, just throwing out links and one or two lines of PR blurb – fine if you only want a quick squirt of info, but I prefer to provide something to read and reflect on. Now I’m relaxing my stance: partly because release schedules are moving too fast for me to keep up with them properly, and also because ‘Misfit City’ readers probably appreciate the opportunity to pursue a few things on their own. Hence this first “through the feed” post, passing on and personalising info on promising upcoming releases or events which I’ve heard about. This will flesh out the City’s posting schedules and also allow me to indulge myself as pure enthusiast, minus the more sober and serious responsibilities that come with in-depth reviewing. Having unbent myself a little, I’ve found I’m enjoying it. Wheedling rant over. Now…)

Tim Bowness: 'Abandoned Dancehall Dreams'

Tim Bowness: ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’

On 23rd June, Tim Bowness releases ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ on Inside Out Music. I know I wasn’t alone in hoping for Tim to release a new no-man album this year, but thanks to bandmate Steven Wilson’s ongoing commitments to his own solo career, we get this as an alternative: a might-have-been no-man album reworked as a Bowness solo effort. The album features contributions from the no-man live band (including Darkroom‘s Mike Bearpark and Henry Fool‘s Stephen Bennett) plus a scatter of interesting guest players (King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, composer/string arranger Andrew Keeling).

Those who’ll still miss the presence of Steven Wilson can console themselves by the fact that he’s done the album mix, but it’s always worth pointing out that no-man is an equal partnership for a very good reason – and that Tim’s work outside no-man during the band’s lengthy absences over the past decade has flowered into much broader areas and accomplishments. For ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’, expect plenty of violins, choirs, an edgy croon and some immediate art-rock songs which should effortlessly combine the wracked, the sleek and a very English blend of wryness and longing. One song, The Warm-Up Man Forever, was premiered as a highlight of the no-man tour back in 2012.

A download version comes later, but as regards the solid options the usual Burning Shed boutique format options apply for the pre-order. For turntable worshippers, there’s not only a vinyl version but also a very limited white vinyl edition, both of which come with a free CD version. For musical completists and sleeve-note fans, the double CD version comes with alternate/outtake versions plus remixes by Richard Barbieri, UXB and Grasscut, as well as a nice fat 16-page essay booklet (of the kind I used to write, once upon a time). Sweet. Some live dates follow in July, featuring members of the erstwhile Bowness band, the no-man live band, and Henry Fool (all of whom appear to have morphed together into an overlapping art-rock amoeba). Loop-guitar thresher Matt Stevens and silky Italian art-rockers Nosound appear as support at some dates.

Stars In Battledress: 'In Droplet Form'

Stars In Battledress: ‘In Droplet Form’

The week before that, on June 16th, sibling duo James and Richard Larcombe – a.k.a Stars In Battledress – release their own second album ‘In Droplet Form’ on Believers Roast. Their debut album was one of 2003’s hidden, intricate gems – a marvellous multi-levelled faux-antique toybox of sepia-ed wit, sophisticated arrangements, sly poetry and clambering harmony. Fans of Neil Hannon, Robert Wyatt, Stephen Merritt and Cyril Tawney should all have had a field day with it, but for a variety of reasons, it remained hidden. (I’m sure that my own wretched inability to complete a review at the time didn’t help…)

Since then Stars In Battledress have only reappeared sporadically, although the brothers have kept busy both separately and together. Both have worked as ensemble members of North Sea Radio Orchestra and of William D. Drake & Friends: James has played keyboards in Arch Garrison and Zag & The Coloured Beads; Richard has kept himself busy with his Sparkysongs project for children, no less of a challenge than keeping cranky art-rock fans happy. Yet absolutely nothing else that the Larcombes do can top the particular magic they cook up when they’re together and completely in control of their own songs.

With an eleven year gap between albums, some of these songs have been around for quite a while. The romping wit of Hollywood Says So, the rambling melodic spikes of Fluent English (an oblique essay on rebellion, Empire, personal misplacement and embarrassment) and the haunting cadences of The Women From The Ministry – all of these were highlights of Battledress sets back in the early Noughties, so it’s lovely to finally have them arriving in recorded form. If you want some idea of what Stars In Battledress are like live, here’s a review of them at Roastfest in 2011. As a taster for the new album, here’s their video for the opening track A Winning Decree (directed by Ashley Jones of Chaos Engineers).

‘In Droplet Form’ is a CD-only release for now, and can be pre-ordered here, with a London album launch (also featuring Arch Garrison and Prescott) downstairs at the Roundhouse on April 13th.

Also in June, the Laura Moody debut album should be appearing. I’m really looking forward to that one too.

Tim Bowness online:
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Stars In Battledress online:
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March 2013 – EP reviews – Henry Fool: ‘The Free Henry Fool Download EP’ (“picking carefully through detailed instrumental weaves”)

19 Mar
Henry Fool: 'The Free Henry Fool Download EP'

Henry Fool: ‘The Free Henry Fool Download EP’

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue; and all in one package. Henry Fool (resurgent with the ‘Men Singing‘ album after over a decade of woodshedding) are offering a free look at what they do and what they’ve done. A four-minute edit of a rolling juggernaut from the new album; an exclusive, keyboard-led instrumental; two tracks lifted from the band’s 2001 debut album.

While the older tracks (touted via their expansive Steven Wilson mix) might pull in some attention, Henry Fool offer plenty on their own account. Like a number of their contemporaries (such as Sanguine Hum, with whom they currently share drummer Andrew Booker) the band pick carefully through the detailed instrumental weaves of progressive rock left behind by the likes of Soft Machine and Genesis during the early ’70s. Admittedly, they’ve also got the odd thing in common with the sometimes inspired, sometimes benighted neo-proggers of the 1980s. Keyboard whiz Stephen Bennett was one; while guitar puzzler and sometime singer Tim Bowness (better known for no-man) had his own mid-’80s brush with the genre via a bellowing one-night stand with Hertfordshire pompsters Gothique. However, the Fool’s music is churned and tinted by connections and cross-talk with jazz, Brian Eno, Cambridge, avant-garde texture loops and post-rock, making it a subtler and more diverse stew.

For the most part Henry Fool are reappraising that old-school prog fabric, re-cutting it via thinking shaped by four more decades of musical developments, step-backs and parallels. At no point does it feel that they’re simply replicating the old vintage – still less watering it down. It’s more as if they’re inhabiting it; as if they’d moved into an old house, given the interiors a fresh coat of paint, and are now at the stage where they’re hanging bright new pictures and squinting at them, trying to see if they fit with the lines of the beams. Plucked from ‘Men Singing’, the four-minute edit of Everyone In Sweden (trimmed down from its original fourteen) keeps much of its vigour and its cunning ancestry: slow-motion Soft Machine keyboard cascades married to the rapid aggressive wobble of a 1976 Genesis groove, layered with scribbling synth lines which scurry over the structure like a gang of weasels. While clipped, wrangling guitars (part-post-punk, part-post-rock) hack against the smoothness, the edit brings out aspects less evident in the long version – the chippy funk in Peter Chilvers’ fretless bass, or the ghost-train lean of the chords.

As you might expect from the punning title, the Bennett-led A Canterbury Scene (exclusive to the EP) reveals more Soft Machine elements. Centred around the brittle tones of electric piano – wah-ed and echoed in the style of late ’60s Miles Davis bands – it gradually shifts to more Egg-like territories collided with grand Yes string parts. Lurking in the shadows of pomp, it edges its way around the outside, never setting a foot in the brasher spotlight. Written in a dicey 25/8, Poppy Q (its counterpart from those 2001 tracks) is a careful pick-through of electric piano, like a tiptoe through a prog minefield. One minimal keyboard figure arches over odd chords and a faux-Mellotron counterpoint, before the whole band step up into a stately twitching rhythm, keyboards interplaying with a bass part which pulls its shape from the original piano line.

Heartattack (also from the 2001 album) is the only track on which Tim Bowness unleashes his whispered, impeccably English spring-water croon. It’s also the song that best shows how Henry Fool differ from the standard prog approaches. While so many bands in the genre expand everything from ballad to suite into a mass of crammed lyrics and grand significance, Tim opts for a quick peep-show look into a life more ordinary, with a jolt of inner panic. “Stone-in-love and lost again, / you’re walking through the fields. / Summer fresh, your life’s a mess, / you’re wearing down your heels. / Don’t look back, / you’ll have a heart attack.” Thirty-five syllables of narrative, and that’s it. The rest is your own guess, to be worked out against a backdrop of clover-burst keyboard chords, discreet-but-urgent guitar peals and clenching rhythms. Prog balladry from the leanest side, in which the musical scenery is as much the story as the words are, but in which the delicacy asserts a refusal to hammer home the meaning.

Henry Fool: ‘The Free Henry Fool Download EP’
Burning Shed (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only EP
Released: 8th March 2013

Get it from:
Free download from Burning Shed

Henry Fool online:
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Album reviews – Darkroom: ‘Fallout 2’ & ‘Fallout 3’ albums, 2002 (“a game of reverse-chicken… impressive and utter liquefaction”)

18 Mar

Darkroom: 'Fallout 2'

Darkroom: ‘Fallout 2’

The second part in Darkroom’s ‘Fallout’ trilogy ( a set of interwoven concert travelogues) sees the unorthodox dark-ambient trio shrink to fit circumstances: recorded over the course of four gigs in Cambridge between spring 2000 and spring 2001, ‘Fallout 2’ records their first period of work as a duo. With singer Tim Bowness temporarily absent from the group, the five lengthy live tracks see Darkroom’s sound now built up entirely from Andrew Ostler’s infinitely malleable, polluted volume of electronic sounds and Michael Bearpark’s massed, heaven-and-hell loop guitars.

Subtracting the singer should have meant removing the human face from Darkroom’s activities. It should have forced their music – which was already suffused with hanging menace, dense atmospherics and chaotic leanings – further down the road to alienation. In fact, the opposite is true. Minus those fragmentary Bowness sighs, whispers and melodic wails, Darkroom do relinquish part of their edge of romance and distress. But they also dispense with the intimations of human disintegration, morbidity and panic which Tim’s beautifully tortured vocal tones brought to the project.

In his absence, Darkroom is able to relax and experiment with a two-way balance instead of the three-way teeter they’d thrived on previously. Os and Michael sit back and play off each other – not in unison, but in a dialogue of occasional crossings and of deceptive, mock-disengaged responses. As with ‘Fallout One‘, the two-man Darkroom continue to embrace instinctive wandering noise-stews rather than art-rock discipline.

For this album, at least, these are gentler brews: one even begins with a serene duet of heaven-scented loop guitar and a windblown squiggle of pink noise, rather than the warning tones of before. Released from some of his duties as textural foil to Tim, it’s Michael who now gives the music its anchors: cyclic calling phrases, humming confections of layered Frippertronic-like loops, space-echoed licks, sometimes a sound like someone wrenching their way out of a giant metal tank. Os – as usual – takes responsible for most of the layers of sonic detail and for the most drastic directional shifts within Darkroom’s ever-restless improvisations.

Os’ increasing plunderphonic tendencies (linking and threading pieces with snippets of international radio conversation, Cambridge choristers or muezzin calls) prove that behind his responsibilities for the main body of Darkroom’s sound, he’s also the joker in the pack, dialling up effects and textures from a vast trick-bag of electronic sounds which he then sloshes across the speakers and leaves to evolve. His rhythms, too, betray a sense of cool, amused mischief. He’ll stitch in trails of techno beats, or hijack a piece five-and-a-half minutes in with jazzy cymbals and toms drenched in flapping dub treatments. He’ll even drop in the occasional comedy drum-wallop to accompany some blooping synth sounds he appears to have stolen off a kiddy-ride in a shopping center. Inscrutable humour aside, Os also assembles a remarkable variety of more solid elements to flesh out Darkroom’s randomness: imposing psychedelic cadences, static veils and suggestive electrophonic shapes.

Though Michael Bearpark’s playing still owes a debt to Robert Fripp (via his “Bearatronics” loops and his occasional digressions into trumpet-guitar), he’s far less formally-minded. While you could also draw parallels to the mangled roots sounds used by David Torn, Michael is a far more reticent, distant and watchful guitarist: less flamboyant, but similarly eclectic. Across the album, he comes up with the kind of junkyard guitar that Marc Ribot would be proud of; or treats us to yanks and scrabbles of twanging guitar in the vein of Henry Kaiser or Fred Frith. He unwinds collapsing, Spanish-guitar-style electric rolls; or feeds in the Bill Frisell-influenced ghost-country minimalism that he’s increasingly stamped onto Darkroom music. Os responds with gusty, gauzy swirls of noise, or busies himself chopping up the sound even as Michael enriches it.

It’s co-operation of a kind, I suppose. Sometimes the Bearpark/Os interplay is gloriously subtle. More often, they’re engaged in a game of reverse-chicken in which they seem to be seeing just how far they can wander from each other’s playing before Darkroom collapses, adding a kind of free-jazz risk to the elements of illbience, Krautrock and musique concrete that already flourish in the group’s sound. Darkroom’s apparent abstract shapelessness (more accurately their indifference to, and boredom with, the monotonous formality of much electronic music) seems to put a lot of people off. However, their loosely-knit and liberated music still has few rivals or peers in electronica.

Darkroom: 'Fallout 3'

Darkroom: ‘Fallout 3’

Tim Bowness returns for ‘Fallout 3’ which at first listen sounds as if it could be pegged as the kinder, gentler Darkroom. This seems an unlikely label. Nonetheless, the album initially seems something of a let-up from Darkroom’s unsettling dark-ambient explorations.

As the group’s main studio-flexer, Os exerts most of the active control over the emerging music. On this occasion, he does this by taking more of those Darkroom live recordings and drastically remixing them. Drawn from two of the mid-2000 Cambridge gigs which initiated ‘Fallout 2’ (plus four other gigs between 1999 and 2000 in Cambridge and London), ‘Fallout 3’ is tagged as “a celebration of the art of post-production” and compresses their rich, chaotic improvised sprawl into a thickening wall of noise. This is Darkroom as jelly, rather than their usual coils of prismatic vapour. In the process, it displays a side of the group which might appeal better to ambient-music aficionados and art/noise acolytes (those who’ve so far proved immune to, or unconscious of, Darkroom’s brooding wide-open power).

The art-rock richness of Tim’s keening, beautiful-agony vocal was previously something of a scene-stealer – especially when it reached heights of drama which recalled Peter Hammill at full tilt. This time it drifts faintly through the mix like a displaced ghost. Half-obscured, half-dreamy, its physical presence fades to a livid imprint. As for the industrial-melodic textures of Michael’s guitars (and his layered MiniDisc manipulations), these have sunk even deeper than before into the fabric of Darkroom sounds, as have most of the drum loops. The most audible Darkroom instrumentation to be heard on ‘Fallout 3’ is the humble studio fader and the reverb unit, teasing their way through the music and rebuilding detail.

Turned right down, ‘Fallout 3’ sounds like the smooth-peanut-butter option compared to the crunchier varieties of ‘Fallout One’ and ‘Fallout 2′. Turned up, though, the music piles upwards inexorably; like a thick fluid shot through with veins of displaced voices. Sometimes these voices belong to Tim, processed almost beyond recognition to become muttering crowds or alien choirboys. Sometimes they’re radio voices stroked out of the ether by Os’ continuing casual interest in plunderphonics. Those little instrumental dialogues and monologues that used to weave through Darkroom pieces have been melted down too. Everything played becomes food to feed this new amorphous monster.

The result is that, more than ever, Darkroom’s music has the amnesiac, dissolving qualities of oceans. Powerful and ever-massing, and strangely indifferent to the repercussions of its nature. The sound itself, for what it’s worth, is closer to dry land if perhaps not stable ground. That continuously-rumbling, near-geological depth of soundfield and the thick “angry-earth” quality to the sound brings this reinvented Darkroom closer to the relentless, tectonic grind of Robert Hampson’s dark-ambient process music in Main. Like Main’s, the pieces on ‘Fallout 3’ are much of a muchness. All are slightly differing curves on a line mostly heading in one direction, arcing beyond post-rock to the land of out-rock. There’s far less of the more identifiable tendencies of the past – nowhere near as much of that Fripp-&-Eno-swimming-in-Lee-Perry’s-galactic-fishtank feel. The always diffuse identities of the Darkroom players are now barely there at all. The music has turned them inside out.

Consequently this is seventy-five minutes of impressive and utter liquefaction that’s still– identifiably – Darkroom, and which also enables them to thumb an invisible nose at past accusations of formlessness. Even when their musical substance is reduced to something as intangible as this, Darkroom’s baleful and beautiful intent remains intact: a long way beyond the easy trance to which most electronic acts are finally reduced. Darkroom’s vision is still inexplicable and alien. It’s also still undeniable.

Neither kinder nor gentler, then. Just even more seductively suffocating and inscrutable.

Darkroom: ‘Fallout 2’ & ‘Fallout 3’
Burning Shed (no catalogue numbers or barcodes)
CD-R/download albums
Released: 01 January 2002 (‘Fallout 2’) & 1st February 2002 (‘Fallout 3’)

Get them from:
Burning Shed (‘Fallout 2‘, ‘Fallout 3‘) or Bandcamp (‘Fallout 2‘, ‘Fallout 3‘)

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March 2013 – album reviews – Henry Fool’s ‘Men Singing’ (“the friendly grapple between wide-eyed fluency and beady, quizzical interference”)

13 Mar
Henry Fool: 'Men Singing'

Henry Fool: ‘Men Singing’

Perhaps it’s his own fault for perpetually playing the faded-lily crooner, the songwriter victim of ever-blasted hopes, the sigher in lonely cafes. At any rate, Tim Bowness doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his mischievous sense of humour. For instance: in his understated and perfectly burnished way, he’s one of the most stylish and distinctive vocalists in British rock, whether he’s refining and wrangling art-pop with Steven Wilson in no-man or lending his silky melancholy tenor to assorted projects from OSI to centrozoon, Rajna to White Willow. Yet for the whole of this second Henry Fool record – for which the involvement of him and his voice might have been the biggest selling points – he shuts up altogether and plays guitar instead. Inevitably, the album’s called ‘Men Singing’.

Tim also contributes the track titles – enigmatic, silly, sometimes both simultaneously – and, I’m guessing, the sleevenotes. In the latter, his Henry Fool partner-in-chief Stephen Bennett is credited with impressions of Miles Davis and Terry Riley, but also with an impression of Mavis Riley from ‘Coronation Street’. It’s an intriguing glance into their working relationship. Presumably, this means Tim gets to be Rita Tanner. Not inconceivable. Following a phase of relatively sober hairstyles, he is looking more bouffant these days.

Of course, Henry Fool have a history of not quite doing what’s expected of them. While they’re nominally a progressive rock band, you might better describe them as highly-accomplished prog fans on a weekend trip to their influences, who get bored with the direct route and carry out chance diversions to their other interests as they go. Their 2001 debut album certainly drew echoes and ripples from Soft Machine, from mid-’70s Genesis or Pink Floyd, or the more ruminative moments of King Crimson. Yet there were post-punk spikes in the road, stopping the music from becoming grand and flowery; and stubborn, counter-intuitive post-rock kinks (reminiscent of Slint, Fridge or Tortoise) that reigned in or derailed the pastoral draperies.

In addition, rather than grand drama or ill-advised theories-of-everything, Tim’s songwriting (sparse and bloodsqueezed, honed for understatement) offered flashes of human fragility, thumbnail sketches of love and loneliness, and brief twilight peeks into inconclusive lives. It made for an uneasy listen, and maybe the prog world as a while wasn’t ready for a band more Raymond Carver than William Gibson or Siddharta. Henry Fool made a couple of slightly disjointed festival appearances and then went to sleep for a decade under a haystack of perfectionism, studio wrangling and sundry distractions.

Cue, much later, this re-emergence – in which the entire band sounds utterly invigorated. There might be no words this time, (and the music’s smooth flow belies its long gestation) but the intent is clear.

As of the moment, Henry Fool’s a seven-piece collective: part-time players and guest players (many from the no-man orbit) fluttering in and out of place to pulse out fluent streams of music, like happy quasars. Most of the original collaborators are back – multi-instrumental Eno collaborator Peter Chilvers returns on fretless bass, Cambridge jazz veteran Myke Clifford provides reeds and woodwind, and Michael Bearpark continues to commit a variety of guitar solos and interferences from skittering textural glissandi to raw, probing melodies. Of the newer recruits, Andrew Booker (from the no-man live band and, more recently, Sanguine Hum) draws, drives and hauls the drum patterns. The latest player to be pulled into the talent pool is I Monster’s Jarrod Gosling, who brings further prog- and post-rock ingredients along with him as well as sounds from the world of organic electronica – mixing, Mellotrons, a touch of Moog bass and a tinkling glockenspiel.

Most of the out-and-out proggery still comes courtesy of Stephen Bennett, whose keyboard skills and theatrical instincts (thanks to some solid neo-prog history via his 1980s band LaHost) adds most of the harmony and decoration to the project. The Tim Bowness stamp on the project is in the ideas and the overall compass. Never an instrumental virtuoso himself, he leaves the spotlight to others and provides the music’s spine rather than its face – sitting in the background, he rolls out a variety of low-key but crucial guitar lines. These generate the music’s understated art-rock elements of challenge and upset; and it’s still the friendly grapple between Stephen’s wide-eyed fluency and Tim’s beady, quizzical interference that brings the music to life.

The four lengthy, semi-improvised tracks on ‘Men Singing’ manage to be steeped in English prog and psychedelic reference points without becoming waterlogged by any of them. Even the guest appearance of a genuine ’70s art-rock guest star – Phil Manzanera, invited in to channel Quiet Sun on two tracks – fails to upset the balance. Instead, he slots smoothly into the work, engaging in an equal-terms quadrille of unorthodox lead and rhythmic noises with Michael Bearpark. It’s due to the band’s thinking patterns. Rather than going for an unfolding narrative or for linear doodling, Henry Fool works as a kind of coasting, vertical jam; with layer upon layer of subtle music thoughts playing out and exploring over their rolling instrumentals. Throughout, Peter Chilvers restrains himself to spare, crunching, authoritative rumbles and wahs on bass, like a giant turning over in bed – pinning and shaping each long measure with the minimum of showmanship.

The fourteen minutes of Everyone In Sweden are those which most strongly suggest mid-’70s British jazz-rock, carried as they are on upfront and ever-fluid Booker drumming, and woven through by high-buzzing analogue synths. At points it could sound like Soft Machine taking a crack at Los Endos, although a variety of knotty guitar approaches from Manzanera, Bearpark and Bowness and the airy punch of Myke Clifford’s soprano sax spin the music through further territories and changes. At half the length, Man Singing sounds like a lost jam between Miles Davis and the journeying Pink Floyd of ‘Ummagumma’ – elusive funk with bursts of Herbie Mann-ish flute from Myke Clifford, irritated-elephant interjections from Manzanera, and juicy elusive funk-slurs and pings from Chilvers. Bowness, meanwhile, hovers on a tremulous Bark Psychosis guitar; glimpsed occasionally through gaps in the rest of the music, and keeping the questions raised.

The lumbering two-note fuzz bass anchoring and stippling My Favourite Zombie Dream suggests something less gracious. On this one the band plays cruder even as it holds and manipulates tension. Toms bob uneasily, synthesizers string out warped buzzes and trumpeting tonal tumbles. A backdrop of Mellotron gauzes, crash-spring guitar and wrenched organ tones add further disruptive edges. Increasing layers of Stephen Bennett parts pay tribute to a variety of keyboard players from prog to Krautrock – all simultaneously.

Thirteen-and-a-half minutes of Chic Hippo round everything off. This one’s a game of two halves. The first is a leisurely, arena-friendly stroll – the boom-bat drums and the pecking bass, the brace of real violins (courtesy of Steve Bingham) flying alongside the pop-up musings of the Mellotron. There are trumpet lines, moving in jabbing boxer shuffles; and melting electric piano dreams. There are flown-in swerves of parachute-collapse guitar distortion, or bulges like the revving of temperamental guitars. For the second half, a steamy mid-tempo pulse decorated with stern doubled saxophone honks and Wurlitzer piano arpeggios picks everything else up and runs with it. Guitars hang off the sides of the tune, peeling in strips: Bowness offers serene minor arpeggios, Bearpark a scything fuzzed slide line.

Yet while the album is drenched in detail and in finely-worked passing salutes to the creative hum of the early ’70s, that’s not what’s important about it. What matters is the lifting and the liberation; those layers of floated space stacked up above the rhythms and the tickalongs, and the way in which they’re filled. Henry Fool’s biggest achievement is the way in which they’ve freed themselves. It could be a decade of clever editing – something given back from those years of doubt and wrangling – but that doesn’t explain the spirit of fluency here.

While the band have kept some of that beady edge and economy which set them apart on their original arrival, every second of this album is packed with the kind of music that seems to have arrived without agenda or awkwardness. In between the shifts in tone, the mood colourings and the instrumental dialogs, Henry Fool have found a way to travel in a state of easy grace. From the opening cymbal twists to the final harmonious thin-out, every single sound on here (collectively hovering in position like an immaculate air display) feels like the sound of a musician playing through their instruments in the right voice for the right moment… and that’s a rare achievement anywhere. For nearly forty sustained minutes, everyone’s attuned; all in chorus.

Men singing. What do you know? – perhaps it wasn’t a joke after all.

Henry Fool: ‘Men Singing’
KScope Music, KSCOPE244 / 802644824420 or KSCOPE836 / 802644583617
CD/vinyl/download album
Released: 11th March 2013

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