Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Zee! The Zee!

Fascinating aside, I agreed with the editor to change "youth worker" to something more specific about The Oxford Young Woman's Music Project, because we weren't sure whether youth worker was an accredited position, like social worker.  I've left the original text here because it's less clunky.

If you don't already, you should support YWMP, they're ace.


The latest release from local drummer, producer and youth worker Zahra Tehrani has an accompanying book, a rough-snipped 70s sepia collage of photographs of her father after his emigration from Iran to the UK.  The music has a similarly handmade feel, combining fuzzy loops and vocal snippets with the artful looseness of a Kurt Schwitters piece, and also a similar air of parallel pride and melancholy.  The EP feels wonderfully like a low key, dewy-eyed version all your favourite highbrow electro-pop: “We Won’t Stop” is late Bjork without the grandstanding and abstract frocks, “Counting Cars” is The Knife with verdigris tarnishing all the shiny cyborg surfaces, and when the drums kick in on “Sidhe” it’s like a timid, battle-weary Add N To (X). 

“There are holes in our children’s memories”, claims the opening track, and although Atigheh is allusive and mysterious, lyrically and sonically, it may be about what is lost and what is gained as cultures meet and merge.  Whilst the booklet tells of the marriage of an Iranian man and an Irish woman, the low-level police persecution and a hilarious British culinary baptism in a plate of beans on toast, it also tells of the beginning of a new family.  The conflicting statements in “Counting Cars” are that “no matter where we land we always feel alone” and “keep on going, keep on living, keep on striving”.  The booklet states simply “roses grow limes dry up”. Debit/credit.  Regardless of whether this is the message, the EP has a soft, wintry beauty we recommend to anyone who appreciates understated electronica and intelligent pop.  Like a blurred and washed out old family snap, Atigheh is life-affirming and achingly sad at the same time.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

All You Can Art Dubuffet

The second consecutive review where I've referenced Stewart Lee.  Perhaps I secretly want to be a comedy reviewer.


Here Are The Young Men & Uncle Peanut are very upset with an old review in this very periodical, and have written the song “The Day The Hipsters Stole Our Look”, to prove that they look stupid on their own merits.  In fact, they don’t really look like hipsters, they look like lorry drivers suffering PTSD from a particularly harrowing ghost train.  Sour grapes aside, they’re great fun, each track a garish punk-hop rant rarely breaching two minutes.  Fans of Oxford’s Restructure will find plenty to enjoy, especially in their tale of brash kids who think they’re pop stars cluttering up a perfectly good pub.  Far more amusing than a band with such an infuriating name has any right to be.

Fun not being something Cassels are supposed to be.  They’re all math-grunge settings of 5000 word essays on neoliberalism and voting habits in the Cotswolds, aren’t they?  Well, yes, but tonight, they find time for a few jokes and a surreal discussion on relative drum popularity (snare for the square, rack tom for the maverick).  Also, angular as the songs might be, they no longer seem to be played by the sort of hyperactively awkward kids who get holes in their blazer elbows before the first week of term is out, but by a couple of riff-sucking rock heavies with a taste for both Sabbath and Shellac.  This feels like a new version of Cassels.  We really like them both.

“Popular culture no longer applies to me”, intones Eddie Argos toward the end of Art Brut’s fascinating set, a return to touring after 7 years, and nearly twice that since they were famous.  The question is, what does someone clearly in love with the magic of pop do when then they lose track of it entirely, and what does an absurdist do when our media landscape is more absurd than any fantasy.  The answer is, just admit it, play everything twice as loud and for twice as long and see what happens.

With their spoken and barked narratives and chugging, minimal rock, Art Brut are The Nightingales without the Beefheart abstraction, The Blue Aeroplanes without the well-thumbed paperbacks, Ten Benson without the Wire write-ups, and a comedy band without any jokes.  In fact, the best parts of this set are two long wayward monologues that are purest Stewart Lee (“You think I’m improvising this, but you can buy a CD of me saying the whole thing...even that bit, about the CD”).  Let’s be honest, a lot of the songs are pretty crap, but the experience as a whole is irrepressibly gleeful, and, at the end of the last song, as we all raise our hands as one to a bit nicked from “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, suddenly it’s all oddly moving.  How did that happen?  Wasn’t this all a joke?  Does it matter that Argos and Emily Kane are now Facebook friends?  When did the hipsters steal out look?  Where the hell did all those years go so quickly? 

Sunday, 27 January 2019


This was about the most fun a review has been to write since some of the old Truck shakedowns.  I'm amused that it requires specific knowledge of two quite different, but equally obscure, cultural byways - it's a bit like a sketch I wrote the other day which hinged on the listener knowing about both Borges's influential literary techniques and Lennie Bennet's Lucky Ladders.  Never to be performed, I fear.

THE BOHMAN BROTHERS, Oxford Improvisers, Old Fire Station,15/1/19

There’s a doctorate to be written about the crossover between leftfield comedy and improvised music.  There are high profile fans, of course – Stewart Lee got air time for an improv duo through his Comedy Vehicle series, as well as facing the Celebrity Mastermind third degree on avant-guitar trailblazer Derek Bailey, whilst Vic Reeves snuck an Evan Parker solo onto a top 20 album (“Pack it in, Parker!”) – but there is also a partly shared outlook.  Perhaps it’s because both stand-ups and improvisers are often relegated to the sort of pub corners and dysfunctional function rooms that the lowliest of toilet venue rockers would sneer at, perhaps it’s that both art forms always make the most sense in an intimate live environment, or perhaps it’s just that in both cases the unexpected is rarely regretted or ignored, but embraced and incorporated into the show. 

The Bohman Brothers combine the absurdity of the oddest comedy with the most dadafiedimprov.  They have the classic comic double act dynamic, one uptight and starchy in his collar and tie, the other relaxed and wayward in a potting shed sweater.  It’s Morecambe and Wise, Bert and Ernie, ego and id.  An introduction in which welcoming platitudes are haltingly and exhaustingly mumbled over a recording of car crashes has the surreal mundanity of vintage Ted Chippington, a feeling bolstered by the fact that the duo make their close-miked scrapes and percussive skitters, not from catgut and drumskin, but from rubber bands, classroom geometry sets and a couple of fetching old-school toast racks. 

We’ve sat through self-conscious art music trying not to laugh before now, so it’s wonderful tonight to see guffaws invited with such deadpan hilarity, and cut-up texts - think Burroughs meets Mark E Smith meets spam emails - are delivered impeccably: after all, timing is a key concept in both music and comedy, and The Bohman Brothers’ strange, yet strangely ordinary, performance embodies both.  Coincidence, perhaps, but we are overjoyed that the final word enunciated, in a hilarious exchange of contrasting extracts from an old guide to tree frogs and a medical Mills & Boon novel is “mother-in-law”.  Fluxus?  They’ve only just met us!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Drinka Pinta Milk Affray

I'm listening to brass band music.  Why aren't you?

Happy Christmas, etc.


Although, if she ever gets the success she deserves, it will doubtless be with a full band in tow, we always enjoy Gaby-Elise Monaghan most in a stripped back format, such as her Pet Sematary project.  Tonight she is joined by a guitarist who bolsters her bewitching bluesghoul wails with picked notes enshrouded in misty reverb, or sheets of disquieting ambient noise, creating textures that recall Daniel Lanois or Angelo Badalamenti, but it’s the voice that commands your attention, sometimes frail and intimate, like Jeff Buckley without one eye constantly on the mirror, and sometimes sweeping epically on tumescent waves of sweet bleakness. 

Suggested Friends prove that, when it comes to pop music, a tight, sprightly band will always win out over mere good taste.  They bombard us with a string of buzzing punked up versions of songs that would fit neatly into some hideous drive time AM radio show, in which Split Enz rub shoulderpads with late 80s Fleetwood Mac, and Counting Crows lend some safely grizzled guitar licks to the bombast of post-reggae Police.  But, as if to prove that the magic comes from the chef not the recipe, they play with such wonderfully taut abandon – especially the drummer, who just looks ecstatic to be alive and allowed to it stuff - it is impossible not to find the whole experience intoxicating.  New song “Turtle Taxi” was written two days ago, and rehearsed once, but sounds like the band have been playing it all their lives.  It also sounds like Men At Work.  Glorious.  And slightly awful.  But mostly glorious.

We’re not often fond of the term frontperson, as most bands are a collaborative effort, and the one with the mic is no more important than the one with the sticks, but sometimes you see an act where the singer is so mesmerising, you couldn’t pick the rest of the musicians out of a police line-up ten minutes after the gig.  Lily from Fightmilk is just such a performer, a fizzing bomb of guitar-wrangling and yelping, her slightly prissy indie outfit making us think of a grown up version of Hermione Granger, or Rebecca and Enid from Ghost World, or perhaps even Wednesday Addams, mixing fearsome intelligence with astringent superciliousness, dishing out lyrical putdowns to ex-partners like a laconic teacher (and her request for those who want an LP to “see me afterwards” is just too perfect). Musically it’s all decent enough, a melange of the less theatrical end of the Britpop spectrum and Johnny Foreigner’s playground scrap pop, and although we’re hard pressed to recall much about the songs, we know we’ve witnessed the sort of unforced star quality that can only truly be experienced in a small live music venue.    

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?