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.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Truck 2016: Sunday

At Sunday lunch we see some Truckers walking back from McDonalds.  That’s quite a stroll, they must really be into that stuff.  Perhaps trace elements of bovine faeces are addictive.  If that’s the case, they should have saved time and simply gone to the Barn.  Blades Club might be nothing multiplied by zero, but young duo Mother Me are actually pretty great, floating gaunt harmony vocals over cro-magnon drum machine, twin chiming guitars and a Korg that barely gets touched.  They sound a lot like Bauhaus and Oxford’s own D Gwalia, and it’s brilliant to see young people make such bleak music...especially when one of them has glitter on her face.  Storme sweeps commandingly in later with some downtempo synth pop and an ultra-emotive vocal.  At times the set clutches clumsily at big gestures like Glee doing Bjork, but we’re more often reminded of trip hop torch singer Dot Allison, and even at times of early Sinead O’Connor.

Ysgol Sul are The Senseless Things without the fun, but otherwise Gorwelion Horizons keeps the quality up for the third day.  Junior Bill take cues from The Specials and The Police, and like all the good Jamaican music they nod towards, have an impeccable sense of musical space, giving songs space to unfurl.  HMS Morris, Nightshift favourites from last year don’t disappoint, despite once again playing to a mere smattering.   Theirs are budget seduction jamz, heavy on the slinky guitar and sleazily buzzing synth; they also have the best beard to falsetto ratio we’ve ever seen at Truck.

Abattoir Blues are named after a Nick Cave LP, but they could well connect with earlier Veterans stage booking Too Many Poets and their self-defined “graveyard grunge” genre.  There’s certainly a similar grunge feel, although the Brighton band edge more towards the dirt encrusted whilst keeping some melodic noise hidden in the guitar avalanche: think The Jesus Lizard & Mary Chain.  The vocalist, however, knuckles about the songs as if he’s in some Fugazi-shaped hardcore band, and we’re not sure it really fits together: still, we’ll never turn down some proper savagery.

Formations are an odd lot.  They start their set with a muscular dubby rock stomp that has a slight Tackhead flavour, before building to an elastic rap rock verse that’s Vaguely Against The Machine, and then flipping sideways into a chorus that consists solely of the word “drugs” yelped over and over in a mad-eyed falsetto.  Their next tune features some Jan Hammer synth disco, and we have them pegged as a weapons grade version of old Oxford funk merchants Rubber Duck, with a slight hint of Holly Johnson.  Not unequivocably any good, then, but a lot more intriguing than most of the guff that has wafted from this stage for three days.  Guff like Blossoms, who are to Climie Fisher what Wolfmother are to Led Zepellin.  They have a song that sounds like Pet Shop Boys’ classic “Domino Dancing” has been squeezed through a character killing mangle, and the whole thing’s so like a benighted mid-80s Radio 1 roadshow we just want a crack at the snooker quiz to try to win the chance to cut our own ears off.   So we go home instead.

Plodding wearily along Steventon’s long cobbled causeway, we reflect that Truck has effectively become Cornbury Junior.  There are lots of incredibly anonymous bands, and a fair amount of safely retrograde sonic targets but, even as we lament that the only truly unpredictable acts were brought in by BBC Oxford or BBC Cymru or were slipped in on the Veterans stage, it’s hard to take a stance against large, friendly, appreciative crowds, who are clearly loving so much of what they see, and not shy of losing the odd braincell/shoe/fragile fragment of dignity expressing it.  We have to admit we had fun, and saw a fair amount of strong music, and feel certain that we’ll be back for truck 2017.  In two years.  But also twelve months early.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Truck 2016: Saturday (conclusion)

Thoughts go from interesting “Happy Mondays vibe” to “sounds like Nation” in seconds, and after not being able to get a description of Circa Waves from one of their fans beyond when and where they’re playing, proving that they’re only for people who have no interest in music whatsoever we decide to end the day with instrument inventor and cracked poet Thomas Truax, a sort of end of level baddy for the sound engineers.  Just as Richard Osman should by rights never have been allowed past the gatekeepers of contemporary British mainstream culture for being too odd and clever, Truax should not get a rousing response from a festival that thinks Catfish & The Bottlemen fit for human consumption with his oddly shaped, endearing songs, yet here we are.  Top marks.  

Truck 2016: Saturday

If Black Peaks recall The Club That Cannot Be Named, the Saloon stage is pure Bennett brothers Truck history.  Alt-country might boast the most inaccurate prefix in music history, but we won’t hold that against the late noughties style acts who fill this corrugated shed with sweet tones, not least the smooth-voiced Stevie Ray Latham who starts our Saturday.  Later we catch Samo Hurt & The Beatnik Messiahs, in which a man who amusingly resembles an occasional Nightshift scribe and Oxford promoter bashes out dirty Diddley country garage in the middle of the floor, like Carl Perkins pan-handling for pennies outside C&A

From The Alarm to Stereophonics, Wales seems to turn out a lot of big-boned melodic rock.  Fleur De Lys keep this tradition alive and whilst their clumpy tunes might not win any races, they could melt hearts with an impromptu break dance at the school prom – or perhaps we’ve been influenced by the sort of feelgood films on show in the cinema tent.  Do people pay nearly a hundred quid to come to a festival to watch The Goonies in a tiny hot enclosure?  Apparently so.  Probably more fun than checking out New Luna, in fairness, whose generic driving rock has a few tie dye guitar sounds, but is let down by growly vocals that seem to be trying desperately to puff the music up to stadium size.  They could have learnt a lot from Prohibition Smokers Club over the on the Veterans stage, where ex-Oxford boy Lee Christian is leading a rinsing P-funk Prince-flecked soul revue.  Each song is a sticky blast of glam rock and filth...rather like the dressing rooms from 70s Top Of The Pops must have been, we now suspect.

Anelog exist on the tuneful cusp between indie and MOR, and their set seems equidistant between Belle & Sebastian and Huey Lewis, which might not be the highlight of the day, but is a fuckmile better than Dagny, the experience of whom can be triangulated from Miley Cyrus, Icona Pop and the stale air in a balled up prawn cocktail crispbag.

Many of the best bands pull you in two directions at once, and Flights Of Helios make a big happy hippy haze into which Joy Division darkness and Chris Beard’s tarnished monk vocals swirl.  The placement of Horns Of Plenty amongst the crowd for “Dynah And Donalogue” is truly inspired. 

Brighton’s Thyla sound rather a lot like Belly, which is a very pleasant thing to do.  Nothing revolutionary here, but they’re a hell of lot more memorable than the next 3 acts we sit through, whose names we shall not dignify in print.  It’s up to Luke Smith & The Feelings to make us smile again with their existential Chas ‘N’ Dave schtick.  Luke is old Truck through and through, out of step with the prevailing ethos, nice, slightly bumbling, and well-loved by a vocal minority: perhaps he’s the Steventon Jeremy Corbyn.  Most surprisingly moving moment of the weekend comes from a rewrite of oldie “Luke’s National Anthem”, turning it into a lancet sharp anti-Ukip lament.

Luke may not be the epitome of cool, so we are inspired to check the fashion trends: it looks as though 2015’s dungarees and backwards caps are being taken over by crushed velvet crop tops and bumbags.  Yep, every tenth person on site has a bumbag, generally worn to the front, which means they should probably be rechristened cash mirkins.  The other popular look is “multicoloured wastrel”, as many people indulge in a giant paint fight on Saturday afternoon.  It looks as though the paint won.  Probably outwitted them.  Oh, and some girls seem to have come dressed as Magenta Devine, we won’t try to work out why on earth that should be.  Minecraft t-shirts still reign untroubled amongst the under 10s.

We naturally have to visit Afrocluster, in case they sound like Fela Kuti doing krautrock.  They don’t, inevitably, but they are a phenomenal rap/funk band, with a cracking frontman, a sashimi slicing horn section, and a rhythm section so far in the pocket they don’t know where to put their keys.  It’s an astonishing bubbling groove beast of a band, that is right up there as one of the best of the weekend: score another to Gorwelion Horizons.