Sunday, 30 September 2018

Average Outcomes

Nobody reads these bits.


Means of Production’s first two EPs are all steady forward propulsion and glaring intensity, like taking Model 500’s night drive down an endless underpass on a hospital gurney, staring up at the strip lights.  On.  Off.  On .  Off.  “The Depths” is different, having a greater feeling of space, with the individual notes as discrete events, tiny self-contained dots of digital sound, which hover around you like a pointillist mist.  The vocals are also a development, Tim Day having put aside the wounded elk OMD yelp of Space Heroes Of The People for a flat and understated intonation (think luke-warm leatherette), which perfectly suits the lyrics’ impersonal Ballardian cataclysm of landslides and “inescapable fluorescence”.  The track builds to a wonderful TARDIS materialisation swirl, leaving you uncertain quite what this cyber-oracle is warning about, but eager to hear more.  The depths?  We’ve barely scratched the surface.

Tiger Mendoza’s remix brings out the track’s melodic core, adding a tiny cuddle of harmonisation to the vocals, making them inviting and perhaps even comforting (heart-warming leatherette), and placing them over a sassy strut of a rhythm.  Even here, though, the friendly aura is dispersed when the phrase “she has gone into the sea” is repeated with the travel-sick wobble of worn out tape (and how we’re looking forward to Walkman-wielding hipsters discovering that little sonic treat in a few years).  Fred Ugly’s remix is simpler, a chunk of colourful, handmade, slapdash fun, like spending a drunken hour running on airport travelators, which lightens the mood, and yet, in its own way, also has an inherent queasiness.  Any tips for getting vomit stains out of this leatherette?

Friday, 31 August 2018

All Over

"It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven"
"Who, then, shall be saved?"
"With God, anything is possible"

"So, you're saying, that God could get camel through the eye of a needle?"
"Err...yes.  I suppose"
"So, the analogy is effectively meaningless, then?"
"Well, you see...oh!  Look over there!  A prodigal son" [Saviour scarpers]

OMNI, Future Perfect, The Cellar, 16/8/18

In the vacation after my first year at university, I was spinning some drill ‘n’ bass breakbeat abstraction, as my mum walked past my bedroom door.  As the track ended she said, “That’s really great”.  Then, after a perfectly timed pause during which I was wondering which Squarepusher 12” she’d most like me to tape for her car, added, “it’s stopped”.  Now, as well as this economically ruthless dismissal of an entire musical corpus proving that my mum could be a pretty good Nightshift writer, it puts my next comment into perspective: Omni are really good at endings; they’re incredibly talented at choosing exactly the right unexpected beat to halt on, or the most precisely pleasing unexpected chord to slice across a chorus you thought was being cued up for one more repeat.  They have thought carefully about the optimum clinical summary to each concise finicky composition, which is fitting as Atlanta’s Omni are a trio - ageing avant-ravers like me should note this does not make them Omni Trio – who are dedicated to marrying garage brevity to artful new wave choppiness, twining angular riffs together to create something spacious yet cohesively taut, like Gang Of Four or Wire (coincidentally or otherwise they have a single called “Wire”).

The set is not all cold, scalpelled precision, and amongst the laundry-folded rhythms and school swot vocals there are lighter touches that resemble early Young Knives without the panto playfulness, or Devo without the choreographed absurdity, as well as not one but two tunes threatening to break into “My Sharona”.  If it’s great when they stop, that’s not because silence is a blessed relief, but because each stark katana slice of a conclusion makes you realise what a tight and balanced sounds you’ve experienced for the last two and a half minutes.  Omni might not be the most revolutionary band you’ll see, but they add to a post-punk non-funk canon of nervy, nerdy brain rock immaculately.  It’s not too dismissive to observe they made me go home and listen to Gang Of Four and Wire.  Oh yes, and “My Sharona”.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Verdant Servants

Day 1
I've accepted a challenge from Georgia Tazda to post over ten days ten reviews I have written: no explanation, no comment, no explanation, just the review.  I nominate The Beatles.

GREEN HANDS/ SEEDS OF DOUBT/ RODENTS/ JEFF, Divine Schism, The Library, 9/7/18

Jeff are a new duo making an unhoned punk clatter, a clarion for anyone who’s ever wanted to stick on a Buffy T-shirt and sing a noisy song about “not wanting to grow up”.  Are they any good?  Not really.  Does it matter?  Not a jot.

Rodents pull off the trick of sounding taut and honed, whilst being as loose as twenty year old Y-fronts.  They sometimes sound as though someone’s melting Tom Tom Club under a magnifying glass, and sometimes like a bunch of woozy, late September wasps doing the Blue Orchids on Stars In Their Eyes.  There are moments of fizzing, Gedge-a-tronic guitar, but the high point in a set of pleasures comes with a slow, rubbery groove, as if Fat White Family had swapped all the sleaze for jobs at an owl sanctuary.

Their vocalist exchanges his laconic, Country Teasers sneer to take the drum stool for Seeds Of Doubt.  Their name sounds like the most disappointing Dr Who story of the 1970s, and lyrically they tend to paddle in the shallows of the underachiever, telling drab stories of someone living on Hula Hoops, for whom the cafes at Harrods and Sainsbury’s are equally out of his social reach.  The music is all mid-paced chiming guitar and mumbled vocals, a desiccated R.E.M. swapping southern gothic flourishes for a prosaic drift of gold-buyers’ leaflets at a bus stop.  It’s good, but better appreciated on record, rather than in a sweat-drenched cellar.

It’s nearly eleven when Green Hands go onstage, and we’ve lost about a quart of sweat.  What we need now is something uplifting and energy-spiked; what we don’t need is something that moves from a slow, late 70s Dylan groove to the clunky horn-rimmed pop of a slipshod Lloyd Cole.  There’s lots to like in their set, from a Neil Young spaciousness to melodically mournful vocal, but we’re not convinced.  Then again, when people with such varied T-shirts as The Doors, Sleater-Kinney and Belgian techno pioneers R&S Records – not to mention our Buffy-clad friend – are clearly loving it, does it matter?  Not a jot, we expect.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Touch The Leisure

Hot, isn't it?


Is Michael Fox his real name?  If so, it couldn’t be more perfect, adding one more late 80s reference to a fog of hazy retro delights.  Although Fox’s voice has a soft, sweet sentimental folk tone, not a thousand miles from Kris Drever, the music is all submarine guitar shimmer and vintage drum machine and synth pad cushioning.  Imagine crossing Black’s “Wonderful Life” with Raze’s “Break 4 Love” under the watchful gaze of The Beloved, and you’re pretty close, although “London Burning” has a gruffer sincerity that’s more “Streets of Philadelphia”.  If occasionally slightly hesitant, this set proves that even today’s teen wolves appreciate a vintage Balaeric comedown hug.

The excellent Quartermelon keep us in the same era, but their Brat Pack party pop, like their palm tree print shirts, is brasher, throwing dumbass jokes and gloriously unnecessary whoops into songs that swoon with a sultry lilt.  Their totally tropical tastelessness is perfect for people who secretly think “Kokomo” is better than Pet Sounds, who know they’d rather sink some tins at a gig than stroke their chins, who want to go home with head full of euphoric tunes instead of wry couplets.  There are doubtless people who’d find songs that sound like Santana played by Wham! crass.  They may be right, but we’re not inviting them round our house Saturday night.  We won’t be in anyway, not if Quartermelon are playing within a ten mile radius.

As if this gig was put together on temporal lines, Premium Leisure move us on a few years, not only adding a soft focus slacker vibe to their eclectic rock that is pure early 90s, but also swapping the adolescent saturnalia of Quartermelon for a more sophisticated muso groove that might entice young professionals looking to kick back from a week of strategy huddles and working lunches.  They’re impeccably tight, yet retain a playfulness that keeps the music light and lithe, as you might expect from a band featuring Willie J Healey (hey, perhaps he could loan that middle initial to Michael Fox to complete the effect), but on occasion the music feels hollow, nothing more than an assemblage of rock references without a joyfully beating heart; for every track with a clattering bleached funk rhythm a la G Love & Special Sauce, there’s an airbrushed blues sting that sounds like a cut scene from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s shelved Seinfeld clone.  The best track is a long multi-riff confection that makes us think of a Hollywood reimagining of Focus in their non-yodelling moments, and overall the set is strong, but they have neither the intimacy or the insouciance of the other acts on the bill.   

Saturday, 2 June 2018

What Comes After The Velvet Musical?

Another month, another review, another failure to recall the password for this site.  Hello to both of you who read this.  I was a tiny bit generous to Underground Youth in this, they really weren't very interesting until the last 7 minutes or so.

UNDERGROUND YOUTH/ SHOTGUN SIX/ CIPHERS, Future Perfect, Cellar, 17/5/18

We say it again and again, turn up for the first acts on the bill.  Not to “support the scene”, just to ensure you don’t miss a great band you’ve not heard of.  Those who arrive early tonight get a real treat, an opportunity to tour Ciphers’ charred cathedral of dark-hearted pop.  The first number moves from the brooding menace of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack to the melodic ire of Skunk Anansie, and the set blossoms like les fleurs du mal from thereon.  The sound is vast, but there’s still space for intricately interlocking guitars and chunky unfunk bass a la 23 Skidoo.  A new but deeply intriguing band.

“Just because a record has a groove, don’t make it in the groove”, sang Stevie Wonder, and how right he was (as well as presciently predicting a time when Truck Store would stock more vinyl than CDs).  It’s not just funk and soul that ride on the mighty groove, though, many genres benefit from a deep rhythmic furrow, such as the stoner grunge of Shotgun Six.  They make a huge, satisfying noise for a trio – though the giant gong should possibly count as a bandmember – seismic at the bottom end and psychedelically shimmering at the top.  Our single criticism is that the set is back to front, starting with the two heaviest, most hypnotic tracks.  Scrub that, they should have only played the first two tracks, for 15 minutes each.  The groove abides.

At Nightshift, we don’t believe in style over substance we believe in honesty, quality, talent and – wait, Underground Youth look really cool.  Black leather, floppy hair, stand-up drummer bashing out elemental Mo Tucker/Phil Spector beats, insouciant stares, the lot.  The music is good, too, impassioned yet unruffled scuzz pop with an Andrew Eldritch baritone, that’s not far from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club doing Joy Division.  Their songs start brilliantly, but do tend to stumble to an end when you want them to explode (or go on forever).  The last two numbers, perfectly balanced and building to an inverse stage invasion crescendo, are so good you almost begin to suspect they were fumbling on purpose earlier to ensure a big finish.  That’s a dangerous game, but, on this evidence, one they’re winning.   

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Don't Believe The Hypotheses!

Hypothesis: I actually think this review is a bit shit.  I stand by the opinion - two good bands, one which I should probably hate but actually have a lot of time for - but I don't think it's well written.  Never mind, an off-day is allowed.

31 HOURS/ ZURICH/ DAISY, Daisy Rodgers, Jericho, 23/3/18

Hypothesis: many performers portray characters, but some performers come to believe in them.  David Bowie donned theatrical masks, and Randy Newman’s vignettes are all voiced by different characters, but they were obvious artistic techniques, whereas Sun Ra really actually seemed to believe his interstellar back-story, and Anton Newcombe apparently doesn’t realise he’s talentless arse rather than rock saviour.  Although Daisy’s early recordings were strong, we were worried that their violent, obsessive imagery was proof of incipient stalkerism rather than a taste for macabre trappings.  Thankfully newer material veers away from this theme – and is, if anything, musically superior.  The new quartet is tight but light on its feet, decorating emo-pop tunes with mathy curlicues and post-rock textures.  There’s still a little darkness in the lyrics though: the new songs have more obvious hooks, but they hide plenty of barbs.

Hypothesis: you can love music, without being particularly knowledgeable about it.  We may have spent more of our life than we like to remember studying sleevenotes and sitting through support bands, but our experience is not necessarily deeper than someone whose record collection consists of Rubber Soul, the best of ELO and a Motown compilation strewn in a passenger seat footwell.  Similarly, although we can get everything Coldplay has to offer from elsewhere, they don’t deserve the abuse they get.  Zurich is another band that provides a handy, one-stop rock digest for the busy listener, squishing together a world of epically sad pop stretching from Joy Division to Maximo Park, via Doves’s dusky disco bombast.  Zurich might deal in broad strokes, big themes and barn door targets, but their arranging skill and melodic ear make them well worth the effort.

Hypothesis: prog has its plus points, but decent tunes isn’t one of them.  When 31 Hours starts up, with a web of impressive polyrhythms masking an anonymous composition, we’re inclined to agree.  However, it doesn’t take long for the set to reveal subtly catchy tunes hidden amongst ELP wigouts and late Floyd billows – we had David Sylvian jotted in our notebook before being treated to a one- Japan cover – and we realise 31 Hours has more in common with the carbonite-frozen pop of Glass Animals than anything Gong once wafted out of The Manor’s back door, with single “Castile” a window on a world where Gomez made Kid A.  Top tunes married to muso structure, in other words.  Hypothesis: even we aren’t right all the time.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Courses for Hoarses

I pretty much gave up on these blog intros about 3 years ago, didn't I?

HUSKY LOOPS/ LIFE INC./ TARPIT, Future Perfect, The Cellar, 15/3/18

Tarpit have found the right sounds, we’ll give them that: thick, building site bass tones somewhere between Bauhaus’s David J and The Fall’s Steve Hanley, stark authoritative snare cracks, and ruthless windchill guitar chops with an anaemic vocal wraith hovering occasionally in the background.  Trouble is, beyond a nod to Joy Division’s bar chart drum pattern dynamics, nothing happens.  Tiny semi-motifs occur, hang around a bit, then stop (or, more frequently, stumble to a shame-faced halt).  A Tarpit track is like the background to a Hanna-Barbera animation, the same sloppy details repeated in desperate need of something interesting on top of them.  Could someone not hook Tarpit up with some meddling kids?

Life Inc, in contrast, fill every corner of the sound field, intricate twin guitar licks coalescing around restlessly funky basslines over which the vocals enact the jazzy yearning of a West End Thom Yorke, much like a trendy DFA band from 6 years ago coolly riffing on 80s yacht rock and studio grooves - although at times they’re more like Corduroy doing Simple Minds.  It’s easy to be cynical about the way Life Inc.’s prissy arrangements waft up every crescendo of sensitive grandiosity, but each lunge and flourish buoys our spirits, and the drumming is, frankly, superlative.  This is perhaps not a band to set the world aflame (even as they dance into the fire), but they are a recommended listen.

When rock bands cite a hip-hop influence, it usually indicates either a rhythm section prone to lumpen stadium simplicity, or a priapic singer who writes slightly more syllables per bar than Steven Tyler.  London Italians Husky Loops have instead apparently studied the chunky beat collages of Wu-Tang’s RZA: there are literal homages in the chopped soul loops between tracks, and evbidence in the tessellating insistence of their elemental, yet fascinating compositions.  The best moments – and there are many in tonight’s set – feature rumbling sparse constructions of riff and fill spiked by masterfully timed pedal-stamps and skin-tight tempo changes, though they’re less good when they drop into Fragged Ferdinand angular indie disco; put it another way, the less they sing, the better they are.  Great hip-hop production is about oppressive space, making the gap between boom and bap weigh a hundred tons.  Husky Loops have uncovered this secret, and impressively reproduced it live.  For a band that literally sounds like a dog’s breakfast, they put on a spotless show.