Friday, 23 December 2016

Welcome Bakkie

Christmas is like sport.  I understand why people like it, but not why they like it THAT MUCH.

UTE/ LUCY LEAVE/ SLATE HEARTS, Idiot King, Cellar, 16/12/16

Sometimes, a band and a venue just click together.  We’ve seen Slate Hearts a number of times in 2016, but the two most immersive experiences are here at the Cellar, their dense slabs of grunge just seem to fit the low, oppressive room (and the engineer – we can’t see but imagine that Jimmy Evil, the resident Lord Fader, is nodding approvingly throughout).  With lackadaisical inter-song mumbling, the band gives the impression of being slapdash stoners, and two-thirds of them dress as if they spend their downtime wrastlin’ swine for nickels, but there’s proper pop nous evident in the songwriting.  Slate Hearts are a sonic Richard Serra sculpture: huge, monumental and weighty, but rather less rough-hewn than they at first appear.

Lucy Leave gigs are always exciting.  The band builds songs from snatches of vintage pop styles (psychedelia, garage, even reggae) and melodic micro-mantras, leaving plenty of room for improvisation, but without slipping into the clunky slide carousel of solos that the majority of jazz and psych falls back on.  It’s as if the band is waiting to see what will lift each song to ecstatic heights – a sudden clattering drum fill, a tickly “Eight Miles High” guitar scribble, an ultra-rubato vocal stretch.  This means that some tracks, and occasionally whole gigs, can go by without catching fire, but also means that moments of glory surprise every time.  Tonight it’s “40 Years”, kicking us down a Teardrop Explodes mudslide towards a krautrock skinny dip.

Ignoring a little acoustic session, Ute haven’t played a gig in Oxford for five years, and they still sound like Radiohead’s less bombastic songs dusted with hi-life and calypso guitar, whilst the drums stutter out an inventive dessicated funk and a proper fat rock bass knocks on the back door.  If the vocals perhaps sound over-squeezed, like they’re the last smear of toothpaste in the tube, Ute knock us sideways like never before.  Perhaps it’s the crammed room, the boozy Bakhtinian carnival atmosphere and the hilarious raffle that precedes the set that reduces us to grinning putty, but when the band run offstage during “An Innocent Tailor” and the crowd howls like pissed-up police sirens and a man in a medieval bascinet takes their place with a glitter cannon, we don’t know what’s going on any more, except that it’s good.  It’s very good.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Big Cat Sensuality

I'm getting old, my attitudes to sex are changing.  Last birthday party, someone brought in a curvacious woman in a bikini...a flap on her stomach opened up and out poppped a cake.  Best birthday ever.

This gig took place the day of the US election results, in case you can't guess.


Received opinion states that prog and math rock are introspective, self-justifying genres, with no relevance beyond their complex musical conventions.  Maybe so, but on a day in which the US electorate has made a decision with vast international ramifications, the inward gaze is a tempting option.  Kid Kin provides a warm, amniotic space for reflection, with stately keys and meditative fuzzy guitar.  Sometimes it’s feels a bit too pretty, but then he brings in a bass synth that sounds like the Matterhorn clearing its throat, and we are swept up again.  He’s adept at live looping too: make a mistake with that and you have to live with it for a fair while - a bit like voting in a president.

Received opinion states that contemporary prog is a rollercoaster music, that can only retain interest through continually switching direction.  Whilst The Physics House Band’s set might have so many time signatures that it could be some sort of muso version of bingo calling, they are also fantastic at setting the controls for full steam ahead.  They’ve got the intricate synths and the twiddly guitar phrases, but they aren’t afraid of chugging out a chunky groove that could almost be Rainbow.  Despite their nerdy name, it’s great to see that tricksiness can be wonderfully augmented by sweat, passion and Whistle Test hair.  They sell T-shirts after gig; given the comprehensive demo workout we’d just witnessed, they might have done better selling drumkits.

Received opinion states that prog is a backward facing genre, but Three Trapped Tigers show us what can be done when math rock is influenced by the sounds and structures of electronica.  They are a little like prog jesters Focus signed to Warp, and their music is very silly, although in a world containing the phrase President Trump, “silly” may need recalibrating.  Regardless, their maximalist monkey seizure music is firy, fun and surprisingly funky.  Received opinion says that technical performers like this can’t be joyous and exciting, but then again, received opinion had fifty quid on Clinton to win.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Globe Arty Folks

Not a single trick or treater last night.  Sweets for me!

V/A – THE FOOD OF LOVE PROJECT (Autolycus Records)

“If music be the food of love, play on” is doubtless one of the most misconstrued quotations from English literature.  Duke Orsino is not cueing up some Illyrian bedroom jamz to get in the jiggy mood, but in context of the speech he’s trying to kill his romantic desires with music (whilst also being a bit of an affected pouty flouncer, to be honest).  We wouldn’t like to predict whether the participants in this compilation, co-curated by Sebastian Reynolds’ PinDrop Publicity and featuring a strong Oxford contingent, realise this but it must be said that this neo-folk album has more to do with Shakespeare’s era than his oeuvre; Alasdair Roberts admits the song he sings is “referenced somewhat obliquely” by the bard, which about sums up the approach.  Still, the conceptual underpinning to an album is less important than its quality, and this is a strong collection.

Highlights are Stornoway’s take on Carrol O’Daly’s famous Gaelic love song “Eibhlin a Riun”, a clean dainty little gem of counterpoint that sounds like something Johnny Trunk has dredged up from eerie early 80s kids’ TV, and Thomas Truax’s “Greensleeves” which reinvigorates the familiar tune as a Plaid-a-like clockwork gamelan lullaby.  Scottish singer Kirsty Law’s lovely lilting drone and voice piece is the most traditional here, balanced nicely by The Children Of The Midnight Chimes, who sound like a Russian choir going down a plughole (ie great).  Only Mann Castell’s “Peg-a-Ramsey/ Yellow Horse” is a let-down, some drunks mumbling in a culvert which no amount of ghostly reverb or flagrant Autotune can salvage: clear the taste away with Brickwork Lizard’s good-natured take on “Fortune My Foe”, which ends by tossing the tune into a raucous tavern in which the weird sisters themselves may well be pouring the pints.

This may not be Oxford’s musical response to Shakespeare’s universal drama and glorious poetry – we’d suggest Borderville and Bug Prentice head the bill for that one – but it’s a recommended listen.  A hit, a very palpable hit.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Satellite & Bitter

Go and see Sophie Michael's films at Tate Britain.  They'll remind you of vintage art cinema and Bagpuss, and are better than the 4 Turner Prize nominees' work (especially the stupid Magritte does Goatse one).

MOON HOOCH/ MARCO BENEVENTO/ TRAINROBBERS, Serious & Academy Events, O2 Academy, 15/9/16

Trainrobbers are two rappers who join in for the last SYLLABLES!   It’s a technique that’s admittedly quaintly OLD-FASHIONED!  But which swiftly becomes rather ANNOYING!  Their set is low-slung, slapdash AND SLOPPY!  In the blunted style of icons from the early to MID-NINETIES!  By which we mean both Cypress Hill and Trevor AND SIMON!  They’re not really very good, ACTUALLY!  When we say, “HALF!”, you say, “ARSED!”

As is so often the case, Marco Benevento doesn’t live up to the promise of his opening number, a juggernaut of delay unit baggy groove and barrelhouse joanna which is like a relentless melding of Flowered Up and Lieutenant Pigeon.  Had the trio stretched this track out for 25 minutes, it would have been one of the greatest things we’d seen all year.  Still, the rest of the set is still good honest fun, if a wee bit desperate to make an impact, from the Screaming Lord Such-And-Such wacky suit and top hat to the simple whoopalong vocals to the chunky knit reliability of the 70s boogie piano.   We can’t call him a genius, but we do find a place in our hearts for this Silly Billy Joel.

As an act that started out busking, Brooklyn’s Moon Hooch likewise never miss an opportunity to please the crowd, and their double sax and drums reproductions of dance music tropes with jazz inflections could easily be designed for clickbait videos or tourist anecdotes (“We saw best musicians ever on the subway, must have watched them for 90 seconds; we got this CD that we’ll literally never play!”).  Except, cynicism aside, they are absolutely astonishing, crafting a single non-stop hour of club music from full-throttle honking and expertly placed breakdowns, with occasional forays into vintage Michael Nyman arpeggiation (which might explain the snarling John Harle tone often employed).  

If the quick-switch tempos and the eye-popping circular breathing spotlights have a sideshow feel to them, other sections are incredibly subtle, one track placing an MF Doom style rap over tabla, and another exploring the relationship between an Evan Parker skronk excursion and a euphoric house anthem.  There’s a taste for the military-industrial dubstep rhythms of producers like Distance to leaven the bouncy disco-funk, but it’s the long striated drone of the final track that reveals the band’s truly experimental side.  Get people onside and dancing, and you can have them cnheering hands aloft for the most leftfield noise sixty minutes later; this lesson is perhaps the biggest thing Moon Hooch has taken from great electronica.  Although making a sax sound like a 303 is pretty good, too.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Parka, Penned

This is almost certainly the first gig I've been to where the support acts are someone thanking funding agencies and a woman chopping veg.  Viva MAO!

KAGOULE, Idiot King, MAO, 19/8/16

Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford, is explaining in a pre-gig talk how pieces in the gallery’s 50th anniversary celebrations are occasionally moved to create new contexts.  Fresh dialogues can indeed be created between artworks through adjacency, but sometimes transplanting a whole art form from one milieu to another can reduce it to the status of curio.  It takes a while to get over the impression that Kagoule, a young Nottingham grunge-inflected trio airlifted from a sticky-floored gig dungeon to the austere MAO basement space, are specimens to de studied, sprawling on a pin, especially immediately after a short yam-hacking performance piece by artist Nacheal Catnott warning of the dangers of cultural appropriation.   Then again, as a pop band on the grindcore charnel roster that is Earache Records, perhaps the band is used to looking out of kilter.

Perhaps it’s this cultural displacement, but the first couple of numbers pass us by, seeming to deflate Mudhoney’s dumb scuzzy zeppelins of marsh gas to create the sort of light, harmless balloons bounced around by Superchunk.  All very pleasant, but hardly masterpieces to be recalled at the gallery’s 100th birthday.  Then, the paranoid eddy of a Sebadoh style repeated phrase catches our ear, the anti-mantra honing our attention on a band with a surprisingly subtle melodic sense.  The songs may sound simple, but Cai Burns’ guitar is fascinatingly fluid, seemingly always in transition, eliding notes and greasily sliding between chords – plus, he makes good use of that deserted warehouse chorus sound found in the space between new wave and goth.  His vocals also repay attention, at first sounding like a half-arsed sneer, but eventually revealing a delicate reedy tunefulness that we’re surprised to find recalls Par Wiksten from The Wannadies.  What truly lifts the band, though, are Lucy Hatter’s basslines, which capture a little of The Pixies’ dark enormity and a lot of Jah Wobble’s mecha-dub relentlessness.

Kagoule have their faults, they seem uncomfortable ending songs, and there’s an occasionally sticky lack of rhythmic fluency between passages, but there are lots of ideas and idiosyncratic pleasures to reward anyone prepared to give their grubby pop a close listen.  Looks like Paul Hobson had the right idea all along.