Tag Archives: Seattle

More British concerts, first week of November (2nd-8th) – Illuminations London present Holly Herndon/Jam City/Claire Tolan in Bethnal Green and Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma in Hackney; Laura Moody plays solo in Cardiff and Sheffield; Jenny Hval/Briana Marela tour the UK

2 Nov

Some more concert dates for the current week. If you’re thinking that these have a definite female slant to them, you’re right. I’m indulging my latent X as well as stretching my perspective.

Holly Herndon expanded A/V show (featuring Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self) + Jam City + Claire Tolan (Barbican & Rockfeedback present Illuminations  @ Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, UK, Wednesday 4th November 2015, 7:30pm) – £15.00

Having already made a showing at Liverpool and Bristol during October, peripatetic techno-pop/IDM composer Holly Herndon brings her expanded show to London. This is a full multi-media experience including the usual music, visuals and dance elements but with an interactive component that goes far beyond Holly’s onstage collaborations with programmer/life partner Mat Dryhurst and with interpretative dancer/additional singer Colin Self. In particular, Mat’s adaptive and conceptual SAGA software reaches out beyond the stage to work – consensually – with the audience members’ own browser histories and Facebook content; mixing it all into the visuals (and, potentially, the sounds) as a communal mashup, both representational and communicatory.

Intriguing as this factor is, it’s an adjunct to Holly’s music; which remains the core material of the show. Continually glitched, tweaked and deconstructed, her compositions are a cool, complex, thoughtful and exhilarating mixture. They’re informed by post-classical forms, dance techno, and anthemic synth pop; they utilize experimental textures and broad vocal stylings (from standard singing to semi-voluntary sounds) and they bury philosophical queries deep within their tunes. Holly’s soundwork is as immersive as her stagings, full of implied questions and reflections regarding our access to and immersion in technology and how this affects the way in which we think and express ourselves, leaving comet-trails of information, interaction and yearnings.

All of these additional subtexts and pointers are there if you want them, but Holly is first and foremost a communicating musician, and her pieces are as melodious and accessible as they are multi-layered. Drawing on her ongoing music studies (doctorate level at Stanford) , her time as a precocious and enquiring teenager steeped in the heat and fun of the Berlin club scene, and her work with everything from choirs to customised laptop software, they sometimes sound like particularly complicated pop songs, stuttering their way through myriad changes of attention and focus. Sometimes they sound like accelerated dream-state dances; sometimes like madrigals sung during earthquakes (see Unequal, below). At other times, they’re like the chatter of path-switching in a circuit; or like carefully-directed cultural channel-surfings which quick-step deftly back and forth across a breadth of urban art and experience (from grand opera house to downloads in cramped bedsits). Brain food which encourages you to wander.

Also on the bill are Jam City and Claire Tolan, both of whom share Holly’s interest in interactions and in the results of our being embedded within a dense informational culture, although each has their own way of approaching the situation.

Jam City is the alias of dance-electronica producer and deconstructionist Jack Latham. Though Jack’s background in fashion and “corporate espionage” sounds almost too good to be true, as if it’s been dream-tailored for counter-cultural media discussions and for high-end elitist posing, he doesn’t use it that way. As a musician, he’s evolved from collaging various dubstep tropes towards using his work to develop and express questioning, outright political critiques of neoliberal capitalism (such as the Unhappy single, which explores the dulled angst of online porn consumers while juxtaposing it with riot footage). In the process, Jack’s also developed as a performer – backgrounding the laptops and the passive role of the standard electronica performer in order to retake the stage as guitarist and singer, and delivering a new phase of material described as sounding like a Prince record constructed from cold, chunky industrial sounds”.

Claire Tolan is an artist, programmer, sampler, writer and soundscaper specializing in autonomous sensory meridian r – a psychological process in which carefully-arranged sound and speech – usually a blend of themed, targeted whispers and quiet diegetic noises (scratches, scuffs, intimate room sounds) – triggers euphoric physical and mental reactions in the listener. With sharp wit, Claire links all of this to new developments in programming and acoustic surveillance technologies, exploring the question of how it might be applied: from simple mood enhancements and healing systems through to neurolinguistics and perception and to the potential manipulation and control of people. Her recent Holly Herndon collaboration Lonely At The Top (see below) might give some clues as to her concert performance. A cosseting monologue, coffee-pot dribbles and the close-up noises of small rooms are interspersed with the rubs and slaps of massage, fingernails ticking on keyboards and screens, and increasingly intimate sounds of hand and mouth: the language, desires and end results of relaxation tapes, executive relief, socially-reinforced senses of entitlement and prostitution blend and overlap to sardonic, disturbing effect.

Information and tickets for the concert are here  while the Facebook event page is here. At the end of the month, Holly will also be appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Prestatyn.

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There are some similarities between Holly Herndon and Laura Moody  – not least an overlap with classical music and a sense of being on the outcrops of songcraft, delving up malleable truths and questions. Yet whereas Holly’s a post-classical theoretician (reconciling her education with her human instincts, and with life outside the college bubble) and works primarily on computer, Laura comes from older and more familiar traditions, and is almost exclusively an acoustic performer. Possessing outstanding talent both as a singer and as a cellist – and able to cover both fields simultaneously, as well as beatboxing and cello-drumming – she pounces into her own music with the terrifying, exhilarating technical skills of a top-drawer classical soloist.

Laura’s songwriting instinct, meanwhile, seem to come from multiple directions at once. Tense twentieth-century string figures (from her earlier years playing avant-garde pieces with the Meredith Monk Ensemble, and her current work with the Elysian Quartet); ancient, eerie folk airs; expressionist opera; P.J. Harvey’s cleaver intensity; the clever, idiosyncratic and individual art pop of a Kate Bush, a Tom Waits or a Bjork. Everything that she delivers sounds immediate, whether it’s the savagely equivocal hormonal take-down of an older man on Creeping Alopecia, the raindrop attenuations of Call This Time Love, or the stormy dissections of love-gone-wrong and betrayal on Turn Away and We Are Waiting.

The live gigs are enthralling wonders: supple switchings between Laura’s own welcoming personality and the performance persona which handles the songs, blurring the line of physicality which separates woman and cello. She’s out on a brief tour now, playing outside London for a few events. Go see for yourselves.

Laura Moody:

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For many female pop musicians, an increasingly outright or explicit public sexuality is both a marketing point and the prime hook. To an extent, this is also true of Jenny Hval. Many people will have initially heard about her thanks to what seemed to be a head-turningly saucy lyric:“I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Curious (and possibly a little numbed by Rihanna, plus memories of lubricious Prince party-funk), many of us will have followed this expecting a licentious slow jam, only to find something very different – the opening line of a mirror-calm songscape of hovering bells, limpid murmurs and breathed-on acoustic guitars which dealt with the secret worlds of strangers within cities and, in particular, their self-reliance.

A polymath whose methods blur as artfully as her perspectives, Jenny doesn’t write songs so much as drop carefully-charged texts and pointers, and then explore and adorn these recitatives with chantlike melodies and poised minimal instrumental textures, pulling them apart and working in and out of the word-rhythms. Her guitars, keyboards and samplers (as well as her heavy-lashed, light-tongued vocals) work like soft-edged sculpting tools. Her lyrics are the lines of resistance.

For both new listeners and previous converts, sexuality remains a prime Hval hook. It’s what we expect to hear from her, although we’ve quickly learnt to appreciate that she turns the expected approaches on their heads and back-to-front. She revels in the unfixed: in the course of a single song, lovers will pass fluidly from mysterious passion to friendship to absence, and between gender, ages, species or state. Even when singing of cupping her own cunt (while cupping the blunt, unadorned and troublesome word itself, delivered throughout her songbook without a hint of shame, taboo or aggression and with a succinct matter-of-fact poise) she’ll let the action lead her somewhere that doesn’t fit the usual expectations and commodities – appreciating its centrality at her body’s core; being inspired to cup in turn a lover’s “soft dick… accepting restlessness, accepting no direction, accepting this fearful wanting that isn’t desire… can we just lie here being?”; or imagining a world of peaceful masturbators (“a million bedrooms with hands softly lulling… without telling anyone, a million ships come alone out on the calmest seas”) while asking, with a sense of disquiet “are we loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?”

Also running through Jenny’s work (whether entwined with or separate from the sexual themes), are ambiguous accounts of bodily disintegration. Opening her second album ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ with an account of watching online porn, she moves from commodified enervation into an eerie and exultant dream of escape, relinquishing her own body and its passive needs, and finally symbolically destroying the eyes with which she consumes the images. Yet this song and its sisters aren’t quite nightmares. Sometimes they’re triumphs – disassociative fantasies of freedom in which the wrack and ruin seem to be the natural rites of passage of a cool mind walking free, unconcerned, its passions become processes.

Jenny’s writing casts a wide net – violent upsets echoing classic French surrealism; deep-running strands of myth both classical and original (from the “Oslo Oedipus” of Innocence Is Kinky to the dark, quasi-pagan tree-figure in Amphibious, Androgynous that stands as lover, doppelganger and the next phase of self); and musings on the ambiguous trap of language (“the tongue is upon for the restless /An indecipherable alphabet / Each word an island less… And we speak in tongues from part to parts, broke all to parts / From invisible state, to invisible state…”). Most recently, on her latest album ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ the political subtexts have broken cover to become direct challenges (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, / and feminism is over and socialism’s over. / Yeah, I say, I can consume what I want now..”). So too have preoccupations with ageing and survival (in the breathless narrative of Heaven, surrounded by loops and fractures of cemeteries and childhood choirs, Jenny wrestles with the pull of memory and the drag of mortality) and a increasingly solid approach to identity. “What is it to take care of yourself? Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market? Realizing your potential? Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”

All of the above – the obliqueness and the rapier hits – makes listening to Jenny’s records akin to haunting her apartment at 2am (or some similar time  when manners and manneredness come unstuck and the shapes of other truths come walking). I’ve not been fortunate enough to see what her music is like live – though I know that past concert showings have seen her play bolstered with  guests or simply alone, surrounded by laptops, devices and ideas. On the five quick dates of her current UK tour, you’ll be able to see for yourselves.

Jenny Hval:

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On the Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol dates, Jenny will be joined by her on-off tourmate Briana Marela, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific North-West who’s currently working a string of European tour dates in support of her second album ‘All Around Us’. As you might expect from something recorded in Iceland and co-produced with Sigur Rós associate Alex Somers, ‘All Around Us’ is ghosted and garnished with touches of Hopelandic enchantment (with beautiful smeared, paper-thin sounds intruding on the edge of the mix, like lost amnesiac ghosts or distant pipes), but it’s very much Briana’s inspiration – a luminous, thoughtful work blending layered melodic sample-patches and banking her petal-delicate vocals into choirs and a capella counterpoint.

Though Briana cites Björk, Laura Veirs, Vashti Bunyan and Meredith Monk as influences (she has something in common with Laura Moody, then), I can also hear the same kind of all-round sound-mastery that’s on display and working away in the songs of Imogen Heap; deep-level sonic exploration and sound curation tied to the urge to tell you a story and sing you a straight earworm. In the album’s lead single Surrender I can even hear something of the pure pop of ABBA, while the midnight lushness of the follow-up, Dani, recalls a Julee Cruise ‘Twin Peaks’ ballad.

Though Briana’s voice is soft, it’s never wispy – never insubstantial. If there’s a hint of girl-next-door to what she does, she’s the quiet, observant girl full of thoughts, going her own way but ready to let you walk alongside.  Like Jenny, though less explicitly, she explores possibilities of intimacy. Her songs hover carefully on the borderline between selfhood and loneliness, a delicate staking out of possible togetherness, subtly resisting the pressures to put out or submit, to be deformed by needs and expectations (“What does love mean in this day and age? /  To me it’s a moment where we resonate at two frequencies close in phase… /  It’s not a competition /  Everyone has music within them.” ). Meanwhile, the perfectly-pitched American-visionary tone of the album (its hallucinatory fairy-tale sonics, leaflike piano falls and misty country swells) suggests that there’s common ground between Briana’s dream pop and the ostensibly cleaner work of breakthrough CCM-pop singers like Lexi Elisha, which in turn suggests that there’ll be a lot of people who’ll end up liking this.

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In between dates with Jenny Hval, Briana Marela will also be joining the bill at another Illuminations concert in London, this one a stew of assorted flavours which also includes the battered Americana of Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson  and the skewed Tyneside noise-troubadour work of Richard Dawson.

Probably because of the female orientation of this particular post, I’ve got to admit that I’m more intrigued by the youngest act on the bill, and the only other female one. It’s difficult to work out just how tongue-in-cheek the psychedelic rag-doll sludge-pop” duo Let’s Eat Grandma are, assuming that they’re joking at all. Eyes down, singing from beneath and behind tumbling pre-Raphaelite locks, and tucked into stolen Stevie Nicks dresses, Rosa and Jenny rummage with various instruments like toybox-divers and play songs as if it’s only occurred to them to do so. Two Norwich teenagers who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve sustained, into near adulthood, that mysterious blankness of two little girls who are ignoring your interruptions to their game. The songs themselves are tangled musical fairy stories, or (as with ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms Into Chocolate Sludge Cake’) extended wooden-legged instrumental mantras owing more to Faust or Beefheart: spontaneous-seeming, utterly absorbed in themselves. The band feels like a musical chrysalis twitching what might become an astounding breadth of wing. It’s all to discover.

Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma (Rockfeedback present Illuminations @ St. John Church at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0PD, UK, Saturday 7th November 2015, 6.00pm) – £20.00 –  informationtickets

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More concert previews coming shortly for November…

Upcoming London gigs for 3rd July (Shiver/The Fierce & The Dead/Alex’s Hand in Camden, and The Spiders of Destiny in Deptford); Tim Bowness tours in August; a release date for Levitation’s ‘Meanwhile Gardens’

30 Jun

More art-rock roars coming up…

Facemelter, 3rd July 2015

Shiver, The Fierce And The Dead, Alex’s Hand @ The Facemelter (The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden, London, NW1 0AP, UK, Friday 3rd July, 7.30pm – £8.00/£6.00)

A night of insane math rock, prog, jazzcore and experimental riffs from some of Europe’s finest.

Shiver are the latest group from Acoustic Ladyland and TrioVD guitarist and producer Chris Sharkey. The trio have been challenging audiences perceptions of music for just over a year, sitting as comfortably at EFG London Jazz Festival as they have when headlining the PX3 stage at ArcTanGent Festival. Stretching the span of instrumentation and the imagination, this trio flits between solid, head-nodding riffs, ambient spaces and frantic electronic cacophony. Tonight they will be playing new material from their recently released third album.

The Fierce & The Dead are a hugely respected and critically acclaimed noisy pronk four-piece from London. Their precise musicianship and schizophrenic, immensely complex, yet catchy music has earned them headline slots all over the UK. Featuring internationally renowned guitarist, loop artist, blogger and all-round independent music guru Matt Stevens, TFATD have shared the stage with bands including PHILM, Knifeworld, Thumpermonkey, Anathema, Cleft and Lost in the Riots. Tonight they will premiere unheard material from their upcoming EP.

Formed in Seattle a few short years ago, experimental four-piece  Alex’s Hand subsequently relocated to Berlin and have been wreaking havoc on Europe’s DIY noise, post-punk and garage ever since. They’ve shared the stage with MoRkObOt, which must have been a bizarre evening. As at home on stage as they are playing avant garde installations (such as 24 hour festival Avant Garden) in a punk squat in Berlin, this will be their first venture to the UK.

More details here, and tickets available here.

I should put in a particular word for Alex’s Hand here, having watched them grow and sprawl over the past few years along a meandering but inspiring path from arch art-pop parodists to noisy song-brawlers and most recently to a kind of spontaneous noise-prog ensemble. There are a few ‘Misfit City’ reviews of their earlier material – one for ‘Madame Psychosis‘ and one for ‘This Cat Is A Genius‘. Although I’ve not covered Shiver yet, I do also have reviews of early Fierce & The Dead material (here and here), as well as a look at the band’s Matt Stevens playing a solo slot.

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If you’d rather spend a free evening with Uncle Frank, The Spiders of Destiny are playing another London gig of Zappa music on the same day. As ever, expect some of London’s most accomplished art-rockers to work their way back and forth through the Zappa catalogue. The Deptford venue they’re playing this time has plenty of history, whether under its current name, its old monicker of The Oxford Arms or any other title it’s enjoyed over several hundred years. If you don’t spot Frank’s ghost leaning on the sound desk and having an appreciative smoke, you could try looking out for the ghosts of Dire Straits or Christopher Marlowe instead… Up-to-date details here or here, with two-as-yet unnamed bands to be added to the bill.

The Spiders of Destiny (The Birds Nest, 32 Deptford Church Street, London, SE8 4RZ, Friday 3rd July 2015 – 7.30pm, free)

The Spiders of Destiny play Zappa, The Birds Nest, July 5th 2015

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Tim Bowness live flyer, August 2015Looking further ahead, Tim Bowness is out on a very brief tour in August, playing a handful of dates in England and Poland to promote his imminent album ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’ as mentioned last month. His band features his usual cohorts of Andrew Booker (drums – also of Sanguine Hum), Michael Bearpark (guitar – Darkroom, Henry Fool), Stephen Bennett (keyboards – Henry Fool) and the more recent recruit Colin Edwin (bass guitar – Porcupine Tree).

The Lousiana, Wapping Road, Bathurst Terrace, Bristol, BS1 6UA, UK, Tuesday 25th August, 7.00pm – tickets here and here.

The Boston Music Room, 178 Junction Road, London, N19 5QQ, UK, Wednesday 26th August, 7.00pm – £17.00 – tickets here and here.

Ino Rock Festival, Theatre Letni, Inoclaw, Poland, Saturday 29th August – 35.94 euros – tickets here (other acts at the festival are Fish, Motorpsycho, State Urge and Millenium).

Playing support at the Bristol and London gigs will be Improvizone, the flexible live-ambient improvising collective led by Bowness band drummer Andrew Booker. The rest of the Improvizone lineup looks as if it will be drawn from the current Bowness band (Michael Bearpark is a frequent Improvizoner) so perhaps you should expect the same band playing in two very different configurations. Up-to-date news will be here.

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Levitation: 'Meanwhile Gardens' (2015 issue)

Levitation: ‘Meanwhile Gardens’ (2015 issue)

Another follow-up from last month – there’s now a release date from Flashback Records for the lost Levitation album ‘Meanwhile Gardens’. Mark Burgess of Flashback posted the following on the Facebook fan page for the band’s lost recordings yesterday:

There is at last a provisional release date for ‘Meanwhile Gardens’. 23rd October 2015! Pre-orders will be available in due course from the Bandcamp site and elsewhere. The album is now with the pressing plant, but the lead time on the vinyl is long (pressing plants are straining under the pressure of so much vinyl at the moment, hence the provisional nature of the release date). You should all give yourselves a pat on the back and raise a toast to this group because without this page it might never have happened. Thank you all for your enthusiastic support!

Levitation, circa 1992

REVIEW – Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius (A B-Sides Compilation)’ mini-album, 2013 (“mostly tarry, and it sticks to things”)

17 Apr
Alex's Hand: 'This Cat Is A Genius'

Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius’

Sometimes barrel scrapings are as much part of the meal as anything else from the barrel. In the brewing industry, that’s how you get sludgy yeast spreads like Marmite. Yum. Or not.

Meanwhile… we’ve met Alex’s Hand before. They’re yomping Seattle-ites from the scruffiest, carney-est end of American Gothic; something like a junior Primus, Zappa and Residents rolled into one, abruptly zombified, and crammed into the fustiest old suit in Abraham Lincoln’s trunk of hand-me-downs. This EP of B-sides (so they call them – they’ve only ever put out one EP) certainly seems like barrel scrapings. It’s mostly tarry, and it sticks to things. It’s shapeless, it’s distinctly umami, and you might not like it.

That, of course, is the point. Alex’s Hand tend to revel in everything they do, both their moments of genuine artistry and their dumbest chunks of musical blubber. ‘This Cat Is A Genius’ is a pre-release teaser of off-cuts from their debut album (‘Albatross Around The Neck’). It shows off (if that’s the right word) their sludgier leanings; their most precipitous rants; their Melvins side. It sounds as if while the goofy fuckers were messing around in rehearsal, some vicious bastard poisoned their coffee – but they enjoyed it so much that they sent out for more and left the tape running.

What the band’s actually doing is dealing with the departure of Slurrp, their ontime lead guitarist and horn-razzler. Drummer Nic Barnes and bass-bothering microphone pest Kellen Mills drop their stage-names, pick up the pieces and tumble onwards; various buddies help Kellen out with the guitar parts; but it’s clearly been a blow. You can all but hear Alex’s Hand bouncing off the ropes. However, they’re not ones to miss out on a dark chortle, even at their own expense. Nor are they scared of turning a setback into a challenge. If they have to have a period of floundering, they’re damn well going to get something out of it, even if they have to milk it ’til it bleeds. Rolling away from a relatively tight rock stance towards something doomier (or at least more rubbery), they’re taking the opportunity to map the underside of their development as they go.

One of the last two tracks from Slurrp’s last stand – ConserveNow! – is six-and-a-half near-atonal minutes of Melvins-style strain: a lurch-along instrumental of fuzzed grunge bass and wobbly guitar, like a sick freight train careening along a lost stretch of railway. The other, Ants, is a collapsing shack-load of wreckage-guitar and free-form word association. While Slurrp sifts through sluggish, raging clumps of feedback in the background, Kellen’s schizophrenic basslines jump and ebb between laid-back mooch and irritated attack. He also mutters beady-eyed, half-cut stuff into your ear – mostly about giants and UFOs, although at one point he does complain “words are stale, empty – they lack a certain sensuality.” Much of the ‘This Cat Is A Genius’ shares this playful pissed-off stance – a complaining laughter; clever-dumb; slumming in drunken despondency and enjoying a grump. Kellen plays the role of educated-and-unravelling to the hilt, offering flashes of self-mockery through the filter of booze vapours and the pinch of bad shoes.

Dear Me’s clench of lumbering punk disgruntlement mingles King Crimson feedback skitters with a collapsing, anti-play perversity. Inside itself, the song’s at war – halfway through, Kellen grabs a guitar and launches doggedly down a different tunnel and into a different tune. On the headache blunder of Train, he’s scouting for empty bars in order to avoid conversation, moping about insincerity like a touchy teenager: “wish I was happy listening to people with nothing to say. / Lying assholes with so much money / really are dead inside – / they pick my brains as they lie.” Longtime ally Ben Reece (of Step Daddy) drops in again to add wracked, protesting electric guitar and some needling ‘Marquee Moon’ edge as Kellen’s drunken soliloquy heads ever further downhill and then kinks back up shit creek, screaming about “blackest diamonds” and falling into the sea.

While the odd glancing zinger falls out of this kind of lyrical mess, Kellen’s verbal squalls and cracked mumbling are generally just another bit of colour. What he says is less important than how he says it; or just how the words hit the wall. Impression (featuring another temporary guitarist, Shadough Williams) sounds like a lobotomized David Byrne tripping over Black Sabbath. Nic drums on bottles while the music flinches between runaway bursts of samba and foot-dragging sludge-metal. Kellen dismisses another waster in smudges of sardonic detail: “he smokes his cigarettes, douses them with side-effects… / Stand to deliver, his parents used to say – / started out rich and pissed it all away.”

On Penticide, the band paddle around in a splatter of sprained, detuned instruments – piano, melodicas, glockenspiels – while Kellen’s rambling narration casts a cockeyed look downtown. Scribbling a vicious political cartoon of a “crack-whore free-market” full of hapless fools pushing “shit-stained zombie shopping carts”, he also rips himself and his peers ragged. “Welcome to the half-baked bistro… / conspiracy countdown coffee-shop collective,” he husks, before tagging himself as “a dying maverick with a bad attitude… / like Merce Cunningham took a shit in a wine glass.” Mocking his trashed, anti-heroic slide from high culture to garbage, the band break into sarcastic applause.

Confounding all this sarcasm, the final moments come close to delicacy. Sad Little Skeletons is slender, thoughtful and melancholy; initially, it’s not much more than distant birdsong and overheard chat, accompanied by lonely bass melody and shavings of rhythm guitar. For once, Kellen sings gently, setting aside the drunken howls and the scatter-shot smartarsery. Clarity renders his conclusions even bleaker. “Thoughts will come / then fly away. / These emotions are so thick, / like this life just makes me sick. / These piddly little humans, driving their cars / on the freeway… / Sad little skeletons; broken, but don’t realize they’re lost.” The rise towards a tangled noisy fanfare and the drowning of the words in yell and distortion initially comes as a relief. Then you go back and listen to it again, hearing the weary breathing and the tiredness that smacks of reality.

Part-broken, smeared, and devilled by little gouts of waspishness, this isn’t the easiest collection of songs and slurs to get along with. But there’s plenty to scoop out anyway, especially if you like hearing the wilful awkwardness of a band who enjoy stretching themselves out of shape and balance, and who can fit that in with the big boots and barfly lunges. If you enjoy feeling as if you’ve been dipped in an uncomfortable goo, that’s a bonus.

Alex’s Hand: ‘This Cat Is A Genius’
Alex’s Hand (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only mini-album
Released: 15th April 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp.

Alex’s Hand online:
Facebook Twitter Bandcamp LastFM

REVIEW – Alex’s Hand: ‘Madame Psychosis’ EP, 2012 (“art-rockers deliberately braining themselves with a tin tray”)

9 Jan
Alex's Hand: 'Madame Psychosis' EP

Alex’s Hand: ‘Madame Psychosis’ EP

As they totter and lurch through the four songs on their debut EP, Alex’s Hand are almost pure Halloween. It’s not just their affinity for macabre subjects, but their larger-than-life, cartoonish demeanour. They don’t just bring weird to the table – they slap it down on top, like an oversized pair of dirty boots, and then stare you out until you say something about it.

Underneath their gurning and silly pseudonyms there’s some fine musicianship – you’d expect no less from Seattle art-rockers who revere Zappa, The Melvins and The Residents. Yet the band’s prime fuel is atavistic spasms of prehistoric zombie jazz; trainwreck rock-and-roll; jarring faux-boondocks punk. They sound like a wrecked stovepipe hat, or an outgrown tuxedo with the elbows worn shiny: or like a quick rimshot played off the jutting, grimy wrist of a backwoods murderer. The tensions between their darkness, their outright goonery and their twists of clever, carny campery give them their particular flavour. Often, Alex’s Hand come across like a leering, anarchic ‘Muppet Show’ parody of Nick Cave: telling tales of blood and chaos, crawling on all fours, but winking hard as they do so.

As the band roll their parodic, chaotic, travelling-show style along, geek bones sometimes gleam through. On Laura (a spooky, corny ‘Twin Peaks’ tribute) they jog and jerk through a whistle-stop tour of the show’s soap-noir tropes (“stop-light flashing on and off – / ‘there’s a darkness in the woods!’ / A town with so many secrets – / what lies beyond?”). A double-jointed ‘South Park’ scratchalong full of silly voices and 1950s slapback, it chucks the lush narcotic memories of Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtracking unceremoniously out of the side door in favour of a more pointed strangeness. Feedback scrunches around the drum-clatter. Horn-playing guitarist Slurrp blurts out wrecked soul riffs with mottled old bloodstains dried onto the edges. Meanwhile, frontman Doctor Shark stumbles through the song like a disturbed conscience. When he isn’t looning along with the melodrama he’s pulling curtains off the rail, moaning with a barely-tranquillized despair as the tune plays tug-of-war between rock’n’roll perkiness and a wandering moping tonality (all lynchpinned by Slurrp’s startling, randomised guitar solo).

Similarly, the two-and-a-half crash-punk minutes of Robot ply a drunken line between cartwheel, pratfall and purposeful brain damage. Trapped in a tiny shack, the band charge their foreshortened Jesus Lizard riffs back and forth like sore-headed bears. Smacking into walls and roaring out resentful scatterbrained lyrics, they never get further than a ball of confusion. Eventually they crouch and sulk in the middle, smouldering like a burning trashcan and emitting a bastardized King Crimson growl of muttering bass and smeared, squealing guitar.

On the surface this is awkward lunkheadery, but the frustration and dismay is deliberate, self-inflicted – and clearly staged. Imagine an art-rock trio deliberately braining themselves with a tin tray to keep their audience happy. Whether this is all about avoiding straightforward expressiveness or whether Alex’s Hand are on some kind of echt-Brecht trip… that’s less clear. The theatricality certainly allows them to skim some pretty sordid areas, while hiding their sharper songwriting brains in their shoes.

With Stalker, Shark and co. rewrite a ugly tale of abduction and sex-murder as a lachrymose tragedy… but from the murderer’s corner. Drummer Tub skitters away on skeleton percussion; a campfire guitar limps through the chords. While his bass yawps away like cardboard thunder on a travelling-show wagon, Shark blurts out his words like a strangulated Nick Cave. The melody is sweet, lovelorn and memorable, but the jet-black humour is borderline repulsive – “stabbed alone in a room / Crying out, no-one hears you. / You look so lost and afeared – / to him, it’s been a really good year.” Yet a sombre, Lynchian aura of romance hangs over the song. During that moment before the horrible twist, everything seems so much more vivid and alive. “Exit the car, but you look back / and see those trees in the cul-de-sac, / and feel safe on those tracks – / but love has come for you…” The song doesn’t survive its own story either. Disturbing scraping noises and a brief twisted guest guitar solo (from Step Daddy’s Ben Reece) build to a sudden crushing derailment as the dream of love and death violently collapses.

Jaunty and gloomy, Reception picks over homelier horrors – a mire of despondency and addictions – but with Steve Barnes’s beautiful ripples of piano and organ soothing the murk, it’s also the band’s finest hour. With its spectrally pulsing bass and its nighthawk atmosphere, the song comes across like a wrecked and blasted take on Morphine. “Hauling yourself from the reception, / blame it all on depression,” moans Shark, still mooching around mournfully in a shabby coat with his hair in a Robert Smith tousle, clutching a suspicious bottle. “Carted off and then forgotten. / The others refuse that we have a problem. / Drink up – / drugs, self medicate…/ small twist of fate.” A superbly mock-melodramatic, fall-down-drunk guitar solo follows, as if someone had slurred out its name. This is one of those songs that realise that defeat doesn’t usually just drop to rock-bottom and fizzle out, but bumps along on a plateau halfway there, fuelled mostly by bathos. “Like a snail trying to build a home, / the roots don’t last and they end up all alone…” There’s more to Alex’s Hand than big boots, geek jokes and horse-laughs.

Alex’s Hand: ‘Madame Psychosis’ EP
Alex’s Hand (self-released), (no catalogue number)
CD/download EP
Released: 1st October 2012

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