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.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Eggs, Rated

Not so long ago, I listened to all The Fall's studio albums (and a couple of gray area 10" records), one every 2 days, to identify a league table.  Sadly, this is now definitive.  MES gets a little propr in this review, too.

The Infotainment Scan
Perverted By Language
This Nation’s Saving Grace
Hex Enduction Hour
The Unutterable
Live At The Witch Trials
Your Future Our Clutter
I Am Kurious Oranj
The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click)
The Wonderful & Frightening World Of The Fall
New Facts Emerge
Fall Heads Roll
The Remainderer
Sub-Lingual Tablet
Room To Live
Imperial Wax Solvent
The Light User Syndrome
The Frenz Experiment
Middle Class Revolt
The Marshall Suite
Cerebral Caustic
Bend Sinister
Reformation Post TLC
Ersatz GB
Are You Are Missing Winner

THE LOVELY EGGS/ PORKY THE POET, Future Perfect, Cellar, 15/2/18

Orwell’s 1984 was published 35 years in advance of the year it predicted; it’s only months until we’re the same distance the other side.  Similarly, Porky The Poet’s piece “They’ve All Grown Up In The Beano” is now nearly as old as that venerable schoolyard staple was when he wrote it.  If his script is you and me, Time likes to shove in a little call-back gag every now and then.  Ironically, whilst Time has had no debilitating effect on Phil Jupitus’s comedy skills despite the vintage of some of his material - the initials SPG and DHSS will be as meaningless to your average gig-goer as tape-to-tape dubbing or MS-DOS commands – the poet has become visibly less porky.  That Time, he gets you one way or another.

We’ve seen The Lovely Eggs a fair few times in Oxford since the first, a decade ago opening at The Wheatsheaf, and the turnout has steadily grown until this, a richly deserved Cellar sell-out.  Time, of course, is waiting in the wings to take the edge off, and maybe larger crowds have pushed the band towards beery singalongs and reduced dynamics (or perhaps it’s the other way round).  Whilst we may never again witness a wistful skip through “Oh, The Stars” or a grinning lope through “Watermelons”, that’s a small price to pay for a packed room led in a lusty chorus of “Fuck It” by what looks like a pair of kids’ TV presenters gone feral (they’ve all grown up on Blue Peter, and it went brilliantly wrong).  Despite one or two punky thumpers that aren’t hugely memorable, The Lovely Eggs still have a uniquely British take on shabby psychedelia, “Magic Onion” especially sounding like a Monkees song repurposed as a skipping rhyme by absurdist urchins.  The sneering spirit of Mark E Smith seems to have inhabited Holly Ross on newer songs like “I Shouldn’t Have Said That”, and his death reminds us that one day even the most driven originals will leave the stage, so don’t miss out the next time The Lovely Eggs come to town, and indeed keep ensuring capacity crowds at The Cellar, and other small venues, lest you live to regret it.  Meanwhile, Time takes a cigarette, but now has to slink out to the alleyway to smoke it.  Even he’s not immune to change.  So all togther now, fuck it, oh yeah.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Applejack Swing

Today's task: record a cover of The Fall's "LA", replacing the letters L and A with the letters R, I and P.

Remember, "Death does not exissssssssst"...


Rainbow Reservoir might be an actual place, in Connecticut, but it really sounds like some My Little Pony SodaStream knock off.  That’s fitting, because this album, whilst ostensibly punk, is embellished with the hairclips and dimpled grins of vintage twee pop, and for every buzzsaw guitar rasp and declamatory shout of norm-slapping individuality, there’s toyshop chintziness and cutesy melody.  It could be the soundtrack to the advert for Riot Grrrl’s World.   Despite a dip too far into cloying infantilism on “Blue Crab” and “Big Bunny”, which sound like a six year old making up songs in the night to stave off a fear of the dark, Channel Hanna is an exciting, energising record, and one that refreshingly doesn’t mistake unilateral hatred for pointed criticism.

Whilst The Pistols bluntly stated the Queen “ain’t no human being”, Rainbow Reservoir’s “Brenda” is a little more kind, observing that whilst ER might be very nice, she’s kind of pointless.  No hard feelings, but how about the dissolution of the monarchy, ma’am?  Similarly, “Podium Girls” resembles Voodoo Queens’ “Supermodel Superficial”, but lets the glossy airheads down gently.  As balance, “Gold Star Girl”, in addition to boasting lovely, lilting bass, notes that not every pretty high-achiever is a conservative cis-bitch.  As well as this live favourite, the album’s highpoints are the clattering, Monks-influenced “Drunk Maria”, “Fuzzy” a fountain of pop glory with a great atonal unsolo stuck in the middle, “Rainbows Don’t End”, a budget torch song that sounds like Princess Peach having a go at “The Impossible Dream”, and the title track, replete with a funky Grange Hill synth line which is more Le Tigre than Bikini Kill.  With the release of this album, we raise a glass to Rainbow Reservoir: make ours a double-strength Fluttershy daiquiri, cheers. 

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Whole Lotta Rosé

It's astonishing how little of the new Westgate holds any interest for me.  I'm not moaning, they can build a big shopping centre of they like, I'm not exactly against it, it's just there was essentially nothing in the whole place I wanted to look at.  Except for the noodle place.  But there was a queue for that, so I didn't bother.  It's strange to think I shall never visit the place again - perhaps the cinema, I suppose.  

NB The library doesn't count.

PROTECTION SPELLS/ SLONK/ KATE STAPLEY, Divine Schism, Library, 7/12/17

We’ve seen metallers destroy a lager crate in minutes, and Gnawa musicians take turns onstage to sip strong, sweet tea, but we can’t recall ever seeing a line-up where every performer is getting squiffy on rosé.  And if we have, it was probably not on one of the coldest nights of the year.  First to take time between pink slurps to sing a few songs is Bristol’s Kate Stapley, last seen in Oxford as part of fuzzy pop act Spring Break.  An acoustic performance reveals the lyricism in her songs, where long lines swirl like smoke around jazz-tinged chords.  Stand-out piece “Laburnum” has the cracked bombast of Jeff Buckley, and at other times the calmer wisdom of Joni Mitchell takes over.  With approximately half the lyrics about empty houses, and no fewer than two songs about dementia, this should be an unremittingly bleak set, but it’s quietly life affirming.

Fellow Bristolian Slonk has a louder, more aggressive style – or perhaps it’s just evidence of an extra 30 minutes on the Mateus.  He has a slack, yet melodic voice, as if the young Dylan had been in thrall to J Mascis rather than W Guthrie, and is not scared of wilder dynamics than your average solo strummer.  Moments in the set recall Jeffrey Lewis or anti-folk originator Lach, but in “I’m Pursuing A Career Outside Of Conveyancing” Slonk most resembles the melancholic rage of Hamell On Trial.  It’s an enjoyable set, though by the end the industrial-strength nanny goat vibrato and predictable distortion pedal stomps do start to grate.

This duo’s called Protection Spells, but they’re not really witches, right?  Right?  Because from the outset, their spooky, woozily gaseous half-songs do seem like esoteric rituals (eye of newt, and ton of reverb).  No sooner has the arcane mood of “respecting the darkness of the woods” been set, than one of the members swaps guitar for drums, and despite a strange jerky Thunderbirds style, actually plays crisp and sparsely funky rhythms.  Alright, if they’re not witches, can we at least decide whether this London band are a micro-Devo, a pocket Cocteaus or a Toytown Lynch soundtrack?  Oh, who cares, just enjoy it.  Could we interest you in some rosé?

Sunday, 26 November 2017

"It Was Either That Or Seeoouuyyx, Basically"

Ooh, I've done my back in.  Seriously,. typing this is agony.  I suppose I'd better stop.  Ow.  It even hurt typing, "ow".  Ow.  It even hurt typing, "It even hurt typing, 'ow'".  Ow.  Etc...


Beard of Destiny are an act we associate with mediocrity, tending to slip into well-meaning but second-rate Sunday afternoon line-ups, but you can’t judge someone by the company they keep, and athis duo is one of Oxford’s hidden musical gems.  Tonight’s show consists of thumping drums, blues-pickled guitar and a gold lamé jacket, and although the playing is pretty searing, the lyrics have a pier end cheekiness that makes for a nice change from broke down women and cheatin’ Chevvies, so that the Beard are a strange cross between Dr Feelgood and Chas ‘n’ Dave.  Crowd-pleaser “Hubba Bubba” is basically ZZ Top played with the cool intensity a noughties math-schooled strings and skins duo, plus any band that can leaven serious blues licks with a song called “The Ghost Of Larry Grayson Perry” is alright by us.

Cumberbatch’s Sherlock looks at a room, and clues and associations flip up as text in front of this eyes.  If he’d been watching Black Candy, the phrase “Rage Against The Machine” would have come popping out from every conceivable angle, until he couldn’t see anything at all, knocked over someone’s Green Goblin, and earned himself a sharp kick in the mysterious case.  Because Black Candy’s strain of rap metal really sounds like RATM.  Unless it sounds like The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”…covered by RATM.  And whilst it would be easy to shrug off a band reuniting for giggles who were second hand the first time round, it’s impossible to deny that they absolutely, and incontrovertibly, rock like bastards.  Flagrantly steal from whomever you want, boys, just keep kicking out the jams, and we’ll be there.

Cherokii are also a band for whom the pedal rarely, if ever, leaves the metal.  We’re exactly 2 bars into the gig before bassist and vocalist Jack’s outsize sombrero falls casualty to righteous headbanging, and drummer Felix’s top hat gets tossed away before the song ends.  And that’s what we want from a band like this, riffs, sweat, hair, and riffs, in none of which are Cherokii deficient.  They even have some extra riffs, in case some of them party too hard and have to have a lie down. 

As well as plummeting headlong, Cherokii are quite adept at arrangement, and give their songs nuance with a piccolo snare and a gloriously overloaded octaviser pedal, so the gig never gets homogenous, the amphetamine hurtle of “Shit Brown” balanced by the snakier, 70s groove of “Smoking Gun”, and there’s even room for a camply comic new song about identity politics and dinosaurs. If there’s one thing that niggles, it’s the relentless showboating; we’re all for a bit of theatre in our rock, but dragging a floor tom out onto a table, hitting it a few times then dragging it back won’t be giving Stomp any sleepless nights, and immediately siphons off the gig’s energy.  A silly hat will do for the stage craft, lads, just stick to making that excellent noise.