Posted in SHOFT on Friday 11th February 2011 at 11:02pm
The promise of sunshine yesterday had given way to a damp evening, so I elected to take the bus instead of walking. Lazy perhaps, but I'm on holiday after all! I couldn't see out of the fogged up and grime-covered windows of the bus, and given that I'm no native here that meant I spent most of it trying to puzzle out when to hit the bell via my iPhone's sat nav. I recall a drunken previous visit to The Captain's Rest - a tiny hole in the ground beneath an almost painfully cool pub, where I naturally feel entirely out of place, deeply ancient and worryingly conspicuous. However, it was worth the pain and self-sacrifice tonight to see a couple of acts who I've raved about here and elsewhere. So, after a much delayed start and a clumsy stumble through the snug and down the stairs, Edinburgh based Debutant swiftly took to the stage. It would be easy to pin one man and a guitar in the singer-songwriter category and have done with it, but that would be missing the point where this one-man avalanche of sounds is concerned. With a guitar and a loop pedal, Debutant builds washes of atmospheric noise and melody, the tiniest touch of the instrument appearing to conjure impossible complexities of sound. Throughout his short set he was self-conscious, indeed self-deprecating at times - the sheet weight of anticipation of Conquering Animal Sound's set bearing heavily on his connection with the audience. However, he needn't have worried. Over the course of three compositions, culminating in the sublime and epic "King of Doublespeak" he convinced more than a few of those present of his talent for constructing a moving, emotional atmosphere and then turning it on it's head in the space of a few flicks of his guitar. This is remarkable music which is beautifully unaware of it's power. An album is promised, and hereabouts certainly much anticipated.
Hot on the heels of Debutant's short set, the live line up of Field Mouse arrived. As I understand it, Field Mouse is essentially the recorded output of Jai Kural. I first, stumbled across this on the 45 A-side Glad Cafe fundraising album and was curious to discover how what seemed like a studio-bound project would translate to the stage. It's testament to the skill of Jai and his band of multi-instrumentalists that this works so amazingly well. Throughout the technically complex set, the warm fuzz of analogue clicks, buzzes and bleeps grounds the music and provides an essential human element to the machine-generated noises. Live bass adds a depth to the mix, and somehow it all spirals together to form far more than the sum of it's parts. I always struggle to connect wholly with instrumental electronic music somehow, but the sheer delight in making interesting sounds which Field Mouse displayed tonight was enough to keep me listening.
I've offered my thought's on Conquering Animal Sound's recent album "Kammerspiel" elsewhere - and after repeated listening it's grown more and more essential to me. So, like much of the audience I was anticipating something special from this evening. The annoyingly noisy crowded hushed completely as James and Anneke began to play, the sudden strange silence creating the same tense backdrop which is evident in many of their recordings. The mechanics of reproducing their work live were remarkably complicated - James' flitting around the stage manipulating an array of instruments and machines, a one-man sound generation industry. Meanwhile Anneke stood before three microphones, connected to a bewildering array of loop pedals and clever tools which enabled her to generate live the multi layered vocal performances which the record showcases. Her voice is as much an instrument as James' various contraptions - manipulated and echoed around the tiny venue, an unassuming chanteuse. It was especially good to hear the remarkable "Bear" reproduced, with it's dynamic and soaring vocal even more powerful at first hand. The short set drew heavily on the new record, and its clear that this short tour is going to create interest around what has evidently been a well-received debut. Again, the warm human elements of their songs shone through the wash of electronica - the lyrics particularly leaping forward in the live environment and surprisingly revealed more as poems than songs as such. A rapturous response from the hometown crowd called James and Anneke back for an encore, and they chose to end with their own take on Robyn's hit "Dancing On My Own". Like lots of things this incredible duo attempt - it probably shouldn't work, but it does - and in doing so it redefines things entirely.
Posted in SHOFT on Thursday 10th February 2011 at 11:02pm
It had been a bit of a bewildering day or two. I'd practically fled England as things collapsed behind me with the dust licking at my heels like all the best disaster movies. My uncertain employment situation forgotten, somewhere on a train heading through the sun-flecked lowlands today I managed to switch off all the noise - and just to make sure, I decided to replace it with a whole different kind of noise this evening. I'd not even thought much about this rescheduled St.Andrew's Day show, but with a spare hour between arriving at Central Station and checking into my digs for the weekend I decided to drop into the Union to see if tickets were left. The place was in chaos, with the bands gear arriving and clogging the foyer - but the kindly receptionist took me into her tiny office and sold me a ticket. She was most concerned I'd still got my bags with me and wanted to make sure I knew where I was going before I left, and had all the directions. This is one of the reasons I love coming back to Glasgow.
So, wandering back to the Union tonight through a barrage of text messages from people back home having a tough old time, I'm wondering if I'm too old to be trawling around Student's Unions? Eight flights of stairs convinces me I definitely am, but before I can get too maudlin about it Kasule take the stage. I knew nothing of this band - and they weren't about to impart too much information either. Indeed, I had to resort to Twitter later to discover exactly who they were. By all accounts they've been away for a while, springing up in the difficult few years when I'd all but abandoned music, disappearing and then being coaxed out of retirement in the past few months. I was struck first by the projections - strange rural images which centred on a wind turbine, then a stream of Factory Records related images - classic Peter Saville sleeves, scenes from the Hacienda, close-ups of the wild-eyed face of Ian Curtis. I wondered if this made any sense to the majority of the somewhat fresh-faced crowd at all? The parallels didn't end there - Kasule's music harks back to those early New Order recordings - when they hadn't quite found their slick, eighties identity and the harsh edge of the late seventies still permeated the sound. There was stark electronic percussion, a rumbling undertone of bass and guitar work which varied between a sparkling, light cascade of sound and a crashing wave of post-rock noise. The projections faded into a montage of shots of the late, much missed John Peel - and it all made sense. I could imagine him loving this and playing it gleefully, knowing that it wouldn't be easy listening, but that some of his listeners would understand. I still know very little of this band - least of all where one song ended and the next began - but I'm almost tempted to leave it that way, and preserve the odd, unsettling but dizzyingly varied mystery of Kasule.
After an incredibly short interval due to squeezing three bands into an early curfew, Endor took to the stage. Their debut album made my 2010 list by being possibly the most engaging and varied straightforward pop or rock record I had the pleasure to hear last year. That's in no way playing down it's clever twists or moments of intensity - but the songs are instant and accessible, revealing their deeper structure after repeated listens. There is something so effortless about the way David McGinty captures genuine moments of emotion in small, carefully-crafted songs that burn up in the atmosphere almost as quickly as they spring into being. From the outset the band tears into "All Your More Buoyant Thoughts", with trombone and accordion augmenting the four-piece as it reaches a triumphant climax. Straight away, "Without The Help of Sparks" and "Two Lovers" follow - and it dawns on me that the album is an endless stream of highlights. Endor come across as a hard-working, genuine band who want to please an audience - and the slower, more considered "Chapel Doors" does just that. As it's final aching notes fade, you can see the couples fold closer into each others shoulders, and the loners shifting uneasily from foot to foot. Endor seem to speak to everyone tonight. "Seek Cover" closes a brief but near-perfect set, and I feel vindicated in backing this fine record.
I have a poor record with The Twilight Sad. I've managed to miss them on numerous occasions, and will be missing them again next week nearer home. It's become something of a joke because, since dashing back from Glasgow in 2007 feverishly declaiming I'd found the holy grail in "Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters", I've failed ever to see this band perform. Live, the band offer a different perspective on their sound - with the slow burn of their studio work giving way to a scorching wall of sound, with a nod to a less whimsical My Bloody Valentine. The Twilight Sad are possibly the loudest band I've heard in years too, and the oddly-shaped venue sends the walls of feedback bouncing around us in disconcerting and dizzying ways! It's unusual to see a band these days who have among their number a vocalist who isn't responsible for anything else - and in James Graham they have a consummate performer who reminds me oddly of Robert Pollard in the way he is focused totally on responding to the music around him. He isn't, however, a front man in the traditional sense - this isn't a band fixated on personality, and Graham's voice is ultimately one of the instruments. One that dips and soars, chants and wavers with emotion over the keening guitars and thundering rhythm section. A new song is introduced as "Charles and Camilla" and the crowd respond with incredible enthusiasm. This band is loved here, it's plain to see. And I can see why - tonight my foolish hyperbole over that first record makes utter sense - and seeing finally this band lay waste to a room through force of emotional will and thunderous noise is something clearly I'd put off for far too long.
Posted in SHOFT on Friday 4th February 2011 at 8:02am
This is probably destined to be an all-too-frequent series of posts where I very publicly catch up on something I should have heard a long time back. Often, things will crop up on the various blogs and podcasts I peruse, and I'll end up thinking I should have followed that link much earlier - especially when there is such a fantastic array of free stuff out there which requires almost no effort or investment to check out. This is just such an item, with Male Pattern Band making this three track EP available for nothing. The great risk of such a strategy is I suppose that people won't value the product in a society where despite times being tight, the idea that you get what you pay for still prevails. That patently isn't always the case as this short but direct and insistent set of songs amply illustrates.
Listening to Male Pattern Band I'm not moved to draw comparisons with their contemporaries at all - there really isn't much which sounds like this right now. In fact, with the solid but melodic rhythm section and sparse guitar work I was moved more towards the clipped US post-punk anthems of Mission of Burma. There is an inevitable nod to Pavement too - in a sense bridging the gap between the 1980s and this frighteningly young band. However, a band hailing from Renfrewshire can't possibly avoid Glasgow's strong magnetic pull, and there is equally a distinct influence from the slew of sorrow-tinged lyricists which the city has produced. This is evident not least in the frequent reference to 'rain' in the three songs here!
Opening with the short but well-crafted Kinks-like pop of 'Raining' the record peaks with 'Wilt' - opening with Chris McCrory's melodic vocals and driven forward by a solid but spiky instrumental backing. The track takes a menacing turn before exploding back into melodic life with a lyric full of regret and bitterness - and lets be honest - that's what we need from music like this with it's sparse, direct and emotional connections. 'Cable and Cloth' is a gentler, more wistful and reflective affair - where a loping synthesised melody and the ubiquitous glockenspiel join the trademark guitar strums and play over a near country-and-western rhythm. Apologies readers, it's much much better than I make it sound! The true test of a record is perhaps how much it reflects the band's live performance, and I hope to get the chance to test this out soon. In the meantime, this EP is finding it's niche on those home-bound commutes after frustrating days - when things don't quite go to plan, but you know you were right all along...
You can read an interview with Male Pattern Band at Glasgow PodcArt's site.
Male Pattern Band - Wilt
Posted in SHOFT on Tuesday 1st February 2011 at 8:02am
I've written about music intermittently for the past ten years or so, and during that time I've read a fair bit about it too. I've been constantly amazed how often people reviewing things, and I include myself in this, use the phrase 'indescribable'. Is it the ultimate get-out clause perhaps? To suggest that something is beyond the writers comprehension (either as a positive or negative statement) seems a bit of a weak response to challenging art. But some things are difficult to pin down and to glibly describe in a short review - and 'In Rooms' is very much one of those odd things. Born of a challenge laid down by comedienne Josie Long to The Pictish Trail, this record contains fifty songs of exactly thirty seconds duration. This could be a gimmick - it could be a disaster in fact - but what has emerged from this project is a set of fully formed miniature songs. Beautiful works in themselves, and full of the heartbreak and hilarity which Johnny Lynch specialises in - but tiny and detailed. A bit like the toy soldiers your granddad used to paint perhaps.
The album is available as a vinyl only release - a recent Fence policy which is causing me to hunt down a decent USB turntable very much as I type, but there is a concession with this release to a CD-R of the tracks. This isn't to facilitate or appease the digitally-obsessed among us at all - it is in fact to offer the listener the opportunity to hear the tracks in an order of their choice. While Pictish Trail has assembled what he feels is the best running sequence on the vinyl, each CD-R has a different run. In the spirit of this, my first instinct was to hit 'random' and listen. A strange, bewildering and sometimes frustrating experience followed. Songs appeared, the constraints of the timescale meaning that introductions were short. Then a verse and a chorus and they were gone. For some tiny nuggets like 'Sweating Battery Acid' this was just enough - the idea of the song condensed into a thudding electronic pulse made sense. In other cases like the sublime 'Not To Be' its much too quick - and the song could happily have carried on. Indeed, I understand it does when Johnny sings it live - and I wonder how many of these little gems are in fact experiments which will develop further?
However it would be a mistake to think this album is a joke or gimmick - or indeed anything less than a collection of carefully constructed songs like any other. There is wonderful music here to be savoured - ranging from the bizarre and entertaining disco romp of 'My Fizzy Bitz', through the plaintive acoustics of 'Tell Me What Is On Your Mind' to the throbbingly danceable falsetto of 'Arm In' - which has more in common with Johnny's Silver Columns project. Personal favourites include 'Wavelengths' and 'Prequels' which in their short spans manage to summarise the clever, intricate and detailed songwriting which are hallmarks of The Pictish Trail. There are of course, far too many tracks to mention - and the breadth of material means you definitely shouldn't listen to my opinion. Go and buy this soon instead!
In considering this record though, the curious world of Fence Records is also a key factor. There is something warm and encouraging about the ethic at work up in Cellardyke which makes every listener feel like part of a special family - but like all families, there are frustrations and disagreements at times. However, they're soon healed with a talk and a drink, and an invitation to visit. After all, this is nothing that won't be fixed by shelling out on a turntable! However, out of respect for the stance Fence are taking, I'm not going to include an MP3 with this review, as we all know there are clever ways to misappropriate them from media players! No, folks - this is one to discover yourself via the shop at Fence Records. The oddity and novelty of the presentation aside, this record manages to showcase the many and almost impossibly varied talents of Johnny Lynch. Don't let the strangeness put you off - it's time to embrace the Fence and learn to love The Pictish Trail all over again.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.