Thursday, 29 November 2018

Lego Team

See how many of the hidden Fall references you can spot, kids.

BRIX & THE EXTRICATED, Future Perfect, Bully, 16/11/18

Given The Fall’s influence, and vast alumni roll, the surprising thing is not that Brix & The Extricated formed, but that it hadn’t happened before. Scanlon & The Shift-workers, perhaps? Elena & The Remainderers?  Granny & The Bongos?  What marks The Extricated out from the slew of spurious heritage acts built around Alvin Stardust’s bassist or what have you, is that a checking their track records shows that 80% of the band were in The Fall and contributed to some of their best-known work (although not all at the same time), and that the majority of their two albums, and of tonight’s set, is original material written over the last couple of years.  Plus, since the band’s 2017 visit to The Cellar they have developed a more cogent, bolder presence, sonically and visually, evident from the outset, with a musique concrete intro tape during which Brix is led to the stage to deliver the first number blindfolded.

From the moment this is torn off, however, Brix is a tiny tornado on stage, covered in glitter and beads, and wielding a feather-bedecked radio mike like a voodoo fetish, prodding, joshing – and even, at one point, licking – her bandmates onwards in a flurry of cracking tunes that meld the melodic simplicity of Jonathan Richman with the fake leather fun of Suzi Quatro, around pulsating dirt-kraut rhythms (don’t forget this band features the greatest non-ranting Fall member ever, bassist Steve Hanley, along with his brother Paul behind the kit) and, surprisingly, some atonal Sonic Youth workouts.   This hen night shaman, telling wild-eyed tales of sex, spirituality and self-help makes us realise just how few middle-aged women there are expressing themselves in rock music, and how sad it is that tonight’s audience is mostly made up of The League of Bald-Headed Men.  An act like this deserves to be inspiring youngsters on how to make the best bad decisions, as loudly as possible, because they sure don’t play like greying veterans (although Brix is definitely too old to get away with breathless guff about finding the soul’s boundaries whilst wandering round India).  There are old fans who won’t forgive The Extricated for taking The Fall’s mysterious, inscrutable music and turning it into a glossy glam racket, and there are blinkered fools who refuse to punch the card of a 56 year old woman dressing up, rocking out and begging her lover to “hammer me to the ground” whilst swearing like a docker; fine, they can stay in moping, we’ll be getting down with the Big Prinzess. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Crumbs! Another Review!

Here's my latest.  I don wonder whether The Library will win the coveted Most Visited Venue Award at the end of 2018; the 'Sheaf being shut for a month might topple it from its perch.

Oh, and speaking of such things, go pledge some money in the Save The Cellar campaign, I sure as hell have:

TABLE SCRAPS/ GHOST OF THE AVALANCHE/ GRUB, Paladin Promotions, Library, 11/10/18

Jazz, according to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, is “delicious hot, disgusting cold”. There’s some truth in this gastronomusical equivalency, but some foods – a cheese-laden pizza, say – are delicious hot and disgusting, yet impossibly, guiltily alluring, cold.  And, a set by Grub is like gorging on a congealed quattro formaggio, licking the greasy cardboard box, and scratching your backside with the tiny white tripod out of the middle: dirty and satisfying, all at once.  Their music is basic, stodgy, Stoogey rocking, with just enough grunge-punk sneer in the vocals to stop it getting too serious (though,  band who cover the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme will never be Leonard Cohen, we guess).  At its best their music is galvanised molasses, thick and electrifying, and at its worst it’s just dumb, loud riffs.  Which is a pretty good, as worsts go, you have to admit.

Brevity is the arse’ole of punk wit, but sometimes the nasty, brutish and short approach to songwriting can wear over the course of a gig.  Bath’s bass and drums duo Ghost of the Avalanche are a dab hand at constructing heavy punk munitions that fly hell for leather (with extra leather) in a way that resembles a cross between Motorhead and our own lamented thrashferrets Winnebago Deal, but, after a clutch of micro-songs we just want one of those pummelling basslines and yelps to go somewhere unexpected, fun though they are. About two-thirds into the set a slower stop-start piece, like the work of a wonky sozzled Stranglers, is a boon, and sets off the following return to headlong rock scampers all the more pleasing.

Scuzz-psych warriors Table Scraps don’t have any issues with songs being too short, and tonight the longer those grooves get unspooled, the better.  Their blueprint is a straightforward amalgam of garage grease and psychedelic repetition, something like Wooden Shjips with bonus vocal delay and distortion. One track sums it up by sounding rather like “I Wanna Be You Dog”...but only if the dog was on a badass mescaline trip, thought it was its own stick and tried to fetch itself.  Another tune reveals a Cobain-like mix of wholesomeness and depravity, with the refrain “Now you clean your teeth” (possibly – we mentioned the distortion and delay, right?).   It’s all great, until the last track, which is great squared, an unstoppable juggernaut that drops the cool contemporary clothes and dives straight into being Hawkwind.  For about ten minutes.   “For sale: silver machine.  One careful owner.  Runs like a dream.  Only drawback, may never stop”.

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.