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.

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.