Wednesday, 16 September 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: The Dodos - Time to Die

Second album syndrome shouldn’t affect The Dodos’ latest LP - Time to Die is actually the San Francisco outfit’s third studio recording. Yet, the follow up to last year’s alt. folk masterstroke Vister retains the feel of a ‘difficult’ sophomore. The high-brow production that varnishes creeping opener Small Deaths sets the stall for what’s to follow, shunting the focus from earth-bound melodies to studio-savvy trickery. This change in direction will disappoint those anticipating Visiter Mk. II, but the intricate layers of rhythm buried under The Strums and record highlight Two Medicines suggest the two-cum-three piece have a weightier armoury than first thought. Much of this new-found backbone belongs to the percussive strides of Logan Koeder; his measured skinsmanship wilfully transforming the meandering Troll Nacht into a purposeful cut fit for any ear canal. Sure, there’s enough rope to commit commercial suicide, but given the title perhaps that was the intention.

INTERVIEW: The Foundling Wheel

Quietly supping beer on a sun-drenched Edinburgh afternoon, Ted Koterwas is curiously relaxed company. Elegantly spoken, his courteous demeanour makes it almost impossible to believe he’s the creative force behind The Foundling Wheel’s decibel-notching racket. In fact, so stark is the contrast between this daytime persona and his writhing stage-bound contractions, The Skinny’s beginning to question whether he suffers from an unchecked strain of rock star bi-polarity.

“Having an outlet for rage is something I need,” explains Koterwas with a flash of gnashers that belies the sentiment. “It’s a Jekyll and Hyde thing. I need an outlet, but I put it into something that’s productive rather than destructive. Being aggressive is satisfying and I want that chaos around me in music, so it’s going to happen regardless.”

Born in Arizona, Koterwas spent his youth shadowing his military engineer father; hopscotching around New York, Kansas, Panama, Virginia, and Colorado before eventually settling in San Francisco. As a privately trained percussionist, his schoolboy heart was sold on the concrete career path of a life in the studio but, boys being boys, those good intentions were quickly swayed by punk’s lurid advances and Koterwas’s incurable appetite for noise.

“There were a lot of experimental bands in San Francisco and that stirred my interest,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in the idea of bands who were, at one time, very much on the edge and are now considered mainstream. There’s a real desire on my part to be noisier than what is acceptable. I want to be pushing harder than what’s out there.”

After relocating to Edinburgh three years ago, Koterwas immediately sought out the periphery he craved, scouring Auld Reekie’s dank hovels for like-minded souls. But, as a one man blister of bit-crushed bass, candy-wrapped melody and merciless drumbeat, The Foundling Wheel eased into the city’s feather quilted alt-folk scene with the subtlety of a torpedo to the anus. Unsurprisingly, the settling-in period was far from smooth:

“Looking back on it I could have done more research into the scene, but instead I just went out a lot to try and find music I could relate to,” he concedes. “I found that there was a fairly hardcore experimental/improvisational noise scene and there was an indie scene but there wasn’t much that crossed over. I think that’s changed quite a bit now; there’s more margin-walking between the two.”

Being caught between the noise sect’s rock and the (not so) hard place of the folky hoards weighed heavy on Koterwas’s shoulders, almost inciting a premature disbandment during what he describes as a “winter of discontent” last year. But the two factions’ strengthening coalition has developed an attentive audience looking to expand its risk-based approach to sound consumption. Today, The Foundling Wheel’s fare has never been higher.

“I think the surroundings have become more accommodating,” explains Koterwas. “I’m probably on the very harsh edge of an experimentalism that’s becoming more mainstream in Edinburgh. There are people who really like what I do, then there are people who clearly don’t, or just don’t know what to make of it, and where they stand is apparent on their faces when I play. In some ways that’s deliberate, that’s the way I approach music - trying to mix extremes.”

By actualising the sound of urban decay and smashing it deadweight into unprepared lugs, The Foundling Wheel’s 2008 debut LP was an agitated, abrasive clang that screamed ‘acquired taste’. Now hip with the in-crowd — he's part of Edinburgh music collective Bear Scotland, has recorded local wailers Dead Boy Robotics and organises collaborative shows under the VERSUS tagline — Koterwas is determined to ensure his future endeavours won’t succumb to the mainstream bear-trap:

“I would love to be adored by millions of people but I’m not willing to pander to make that happen,” he declares. “I don’t want it to pull me in a direction that I don’t consider authentic. I’m interested in music as an art form and I want to make music that pushes the edge. The best definition of success I can think of is gaining the respect of my peers.”

First published @ The Skinny

LIVE REVIEW: Broken Records/My Latest Novel @ Queen's Hall, Edinburgh. 17 August

You only need one peek at tonight’s undercard to gauge the heights Broken Records have scaled. Twelve months ago a verbatim line-up would have seen My Latest Novel skyscraping the Queen’s Hall billing. But here, in the heart of the annual Auld Reekie festivities, the Glaswegian outfit have to make do with warming up the cockles of a sardine-squashed crowd eagerly awaiting the 4AD-signed septet’s arrival.

Not that they care, mind; their dewy-eyed laments rise into the venue’s echoic rafters with an intensity that suggests they’re playing to an audience lofted far above these climes. Much of this shortened set gravitates around the magnificent Deaths & Entrances LP, with the luscious I Predict A Ceasefire underlining a dedication to pristine pop melodics. But their reticent scuffling is overshadowed by the assault that bookends Dear Green Place, disintegrating the track’s softened undertones with a ferocious collision of post-rock glory.

After the unexpected insurgency of My Latest Novel, Broken Records' Balkan-infused trinkets contain the reassuring presence of familiarity. Many moons have passed since Good Reason and If The News Makes You Sad... reverberated around Edinburgh’s underground begging for grander stages, and now they’ve got them they sound, well, quite magnificent, the band writhing in instrumental unison to each cut’s full-throttle throes.

That said, for those who witnessed the group ramshackle their way through dingy sweatboxes the reality was always going to be hard to take – Broken Records are now a professional band, with professional songs. The hair-slick execution of takes from Until The Earth Begins To Part bears all the hallmarks of a group on a mission, ironing out past mistakes whilst also dispersing the graciousness of old.

Yet, all is not lost. In Jamie Sutherland’s room-filling bellow, Broken Records possess a voice that can knock grown men floorwards, while the accompanying clash of instrument – now finely honed and purposeful – sweeps them into a crashing melodic sea. By no means the rampaging force they once were, the band's aches from receding indie-credibility have been appeased by a nevertheless swelling fan-base. And as the thundering applause greets Slow Parade’s finale, Sutherland’s gnasher-filled smile says it all: this is exactly where Broken Records want to be.

First published @ The Skinny

INTERVIEW: The Dodos

Riding through London in the back of a black cab, The Dodos’ Logan Kroeber has to get to yet another meeting. With album number three Time to Die just about to drop and a full scale European tour to be organised, it’s hardly surprising the skins-man from one of last year’s buzz bands is hurtling around like a decapitated fowl. After all, it was only twelve months ago the San Francisco outfit released their Visiter LP to rapturous acclaim.

“Our approach was a little bit different because we’d toured Visiter for so long,” says Kroeber as he explains Time to Die’s swift turnaround. “We were obviously aware that we had to write the next record and we knew there was a certain amount of pressure but I think we succeeded in being able to create a record that doesn’t sound rushed. We had an awesome opportunity to just be home and write music for two months and not let it affect the sound.”

Despite Kroeber’s assurances, the shift in The Dodos' sonic persuasion has been high on the minds of fans. Composed entirely by Kroeber and long-time confrere Meric Long, Visiter was a gauzy trickle of barefaced folk-pop that struck a chord with the more psychedelically attuned. Compared to Visiter’s strained out ingredients, Time to Die is as thick as pea soup; a thrusting burst of peeling harmonies and forceful melodies finished off with glossy production.

“It’s interesting hearing peoples’ perceptions of Time to Die,” says Kroeber. “Some people think of it as a step away and some people see it as similar. I guess I was in too much of an insular position to really consider it. We’d recorded a lot of Time to Die before Visiter had actually been released so it all made sense to me, but now that the record’s being shown to people I’m starting to realise that people can view it very differently.”

One of the most distinguised changes since Visiter has been the full-time addition of vibraphonist Keaton Snyder. But before fans blame the band’s directional shunt solely on their newest recruit, Kroeber’s eager to explain that Snyder’s role in the creation and recording of Time to Die was only fleeting.

“I think we’re only just beginning to tap into what the actual new band dynamic will be,” says Kroeber with a hint of excitement. “Meric and I had the batch of songs when we met Keaton and we were looking to finalise the vibraphone parts. It was a learning experience working with him and seeing what the instrument is capable of. Now we’re finished Time to Die, we’re working on new songs to see where we can go with these and maybe change the structures a little and push forward.”

Technically cute and rhythmically slow-burning, Time to Die undoubtedly lacks its predecessor’s earth-toned immediacy. Yet, given a little nurturing, the record’s gnarly guitars and pounding drum entwine to reveal a band intent on hitting its creative zenith. Rather than a step-back, Time to Die could be the record that finally puts hairs on The Dodos’ furless chest.

“I think we’ve reached a weird little plateau of maturity,” says Kroeber. “With the new material we’re going to explore a territory that’s more rhythmically weird. Musically, I think there’s a lot more that can be done and I’m really excited by what we think we can achieve. Any motherfucker can get lucky out there – I guess the question is can you keep it up?”

First published in The Skinny

LIVE REVIEW: Andrew Bird @ Edinburgh Picture House, 23 August 2009

An expert in both violin and verbosity, Andrew Bird is cut from a peculiar musical cloth. His idiosyncratic stylings make him the perfect accompaniment to Edinburgh’s artistic melee and the densely populated Picture House suggests a five-star showing is about to unravel. Atop a stage quilted with a double-ended gramophone and an immaculately attired stuffed toy, the Chicago-born crooner saunters through his back catalogue with the application of an eagle-eyed beaver; meticulously looping whistle, strum and pluck into a blushing conflate that’s accentuated by Bird’s broadened tones. Despite such attentiveness, cuts like Oh No and A Nervous Tick Motion... sound queerly foreign as the ever-progressive Illinoisan carves out fresh pathways for their familiar chords. And god does it work: Anonanimal and Fitz and Dizzyspells shiver with new-found vigour, while an impromptu 'Dr Stringz' proves the evening’s unconventional apex. An oddity for sure, tonight Andrew Bird is freakishly good.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Interview: Dollskabeat

With its financial institutions crumbling like an Aunt Bessie’s delicacy, Edinburgh’s stock in trade has tilted towards more melodic produce. The last 12 months have seen a sprawl of alt-Folk ensembles grasping Auld Reekie by its dishevelled white-collar, dragging it kicking and screaming into the core of the Scottish music scene. In theory, it’s an all-encompassing community; a creative smorgasbord that embraces every musical creed. The reality, however, is not so text book.

“Edinburgh’s quite a safe city and most people that live here work nine to five then come home to watch Eastenders – there’s not a lot of grit to it, “ explains born and bred Leither Lucy Ross, also known as electro-chanteuse Dollskabeat. “When there’s a bit of poverty and it’s not so clean and tidy you get more interesting sounds from a city... I’m not sure how long I can put up with the boredom.”

This restlessness is indicative of Ross’s foray into the music world. Having migrated to London in 2006 to work a desk-bound role in the industry, she soon fatigued of the daily grind and embarked on a yearlong sojourn to Japan. It was there, in the land of Eastern promise, where Ross decided music was her calling: “Just being away and hearing all these weird things, as you do in Japan, filters into your subconscious.”

Since returning to these shores, Ross has sculpted a sonic iceberg of permafrost synth and glaciated vocals under the Dollskabeat tagline. Steadfast in her vision, she’s devoted months to learning the production process; writing, recording and executing every note herself. “Trying to do it your first time is absolutely hilarious because you don’t know what you’re doing,” she says. “But being able to create something that is all yours and you know that it’s yours is the best thing. “

Dollskabeat’s debut single, Zodiac Rising, is testament to this ambition. A grandiose slab of atmospheric electronica, the track’s submissive groove is unapologetically retrograde while Ross’s crisp mew maintains a twinge of contemporary cleft. “A lot of people say it sounds like early 80s and that’s it but I’d like them to go a little bit deeper than that,” she says. “I suppose that because I grew up in the 80s it might have an influence on the melodies but it’s not intentional – it’s just happened.”

Coincidence it may be, but Dollskabeat has arrived at a time when Lady GaGa, La Roux and Little Boots sit high on the hipster radar. Unsurprisingly, Ross is eager to distance herself from this decrepit clique: “The only similarity is that we’re all female,” she reasons. “I hope people don’t see my music as some kind of flash in the pan. I’ve done it myself and Optimo [much vaunted Glasgow underground label] are behind me so people will hopefully realise there’s no major label telling me what to do.”

A classically trained pianist and now studio whizz-kid, Ross’s pinkie-finger possesses more ability than her limelight hogging contemporaries. Yet, despite her flair for translucent melodies, she’s tentative about her prospects: “I’ll always make music for the rest of my life,” Ross says. “Whether or not I can sustain a career out of it, I don’t know.”

Strange thing is, in these uncertain times, a rosy future for Dollskabeat is the one thing we should all be banking on.

First published in The Stool Pigeon

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Review: There Will Be Fireworks - S/T

It was Factory Records Svengali Tony Wilson who initially cottoned on to the cyclicality of modern music. Often scorned for his gun-slinging (or blood-signing) approach to contracts - a failing that eventually brought the pioneering stable to its knees in the late 90s - the former Granada TV presenter’s belief that pop scenes formulate in 13 year waves seemed eerily bang on the money, particularly in his beloved Mancunian heartland. Of course, the reality is rather more subjective than the late Wilson had us believe. After all, who can truly pin down a cultural phenomenon’s crystallisation: A soundbite-chasing foreman of a wilting label, perhaps?

Cynicism aside, the Scottish music scene is two years into this Wilson-coined lifecycle. Front-running centurions have been recruited in Atlantic-hopping Fatcat pairing Twilight Sad and Frightened Rabbit, while artist’s like Broken Records, Meursault and We Were Promised Jetpacks supply the necessary armament to turn an uprising into a full scale insurgency. In fact, so kinetic is the country’s musical grid at present, the vibrant hub Postcard’s Alan Horne stoically lobbied for seems to have finally found a light switch after years of darkness.

It would be easy to ascribe Glaswegian quartet There Will Be Fireworks [TWBF] as just another node in this industrious circuit-board. To uninformed ears, their cliff-face of guitar and percussion resembles The Twilights’ immeasurable boom; their introverted missives chipped off Scott Hutchinson’s self-effacing block. But TWBF have their aural tentacles pitted further afield, lending themselves to the escalating post-rock bulge of Thee Silver Mt Zion, Aereogramme’s elegant guitar-plaiting and the opaque story-telling of Jeff Magnum.

By fashioning and then accessorising these borrowings throughout their self-titled debut, TWBF have crafted a record that cradles an innately Scottish tone but, in terms of arrangement and execution, pushes the bar higher than anything their contemporaries have thus far achieved. Introductory cut “Colombian Fireworks’ carves out this ambitious scaling. Arriving with a music-box led séance composed around novelist Kevin MacNeil’s peculiarly enunciated readings, the track descends into a thrilling maelstrom of reverb and drums that blueprints much of the proceeding endeavours.

Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The feral guitar caterwauling that bookends both “So the Story Goes” and “We Were A Roman Candle” is eased in via an accumulation of brass, percussion and key that purrs with deft touches before blowing into a frenzied cacophony. Bold and dramatic, these numbers are orchestrated, not played; their tempo aligned to the emotive vocal strains of conductor Nicholas McManus. Tracks like “Headlights“ or “A Kind of Furnace” feel more like ambuscades that cast off pretty harmonic hooks before combusting as bombastic throbs that subside only to a victorious parp of brass.

A three-song sweep represents the mid-album summit and encapsulates TWBF’s more philharmonic predilections. The triumvirate’s opening salvo, “Guising”, is a naked acoustic lament that finds McManus crowing dreamily about matters of the heart before segueing into “Off With Their Heads”’s barbed-wire agitation. Here, McManus vehemently demands decapitation of his adversaries while a jinking piano and whipcracking riff tussle in the background to create a invigorating rancour that’s as thrilling as it is wretched. More downtrodden in manner, “I Like The Lights” is blushed with wilting strings that steadily climb through tinkling ivory keys to gracefully wrap up this remarkable run.

Once album closer “Joined Up Writing” rears its head - steeped in the retrospect that’s become a Scottish band staple lately - time appears to have completely dissolved. It’s as if the seamless soundscapses have transcended beyond the seconds and minutes that make up this 13 track offering. Oddly, such a lack of distraction could be perceived as one of the record’s few flaws. Whereas The Twilight Sad’s Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters demanded repeat plays to actualise its brilliance, TWBF acclimatises without rankle, indicating that, despite its enthralling tapestries, a lack of stylistic gear-shifting may stunt any long-lasting appeal.

Yet, this grievance seems almost moot when a debut LP is this compelling. In a period where myriad Scottish albums have captured the music loving public’s imagination, few have done it with such consistency or poise. And as the tartan-clad music scene continues its drive through Tony Wilson’s self-styled lifecycle, There Will Be Fireworks have proved themselves to be much more than just passengers.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Interview: Spencer Krug

Spencer Krug is not a happy man. Constantly referred to as the music industry’s hardest working artist, the Sunset Rubdown vanguard‘s a little vexed by references to his bee-like productivity: “I’ve seen a couple of things written that say I’m hell-bent on taking over indie rock and that’s just bullshit,” he bemoans. “I’m just putting my efforts into music, who cares what moniker it’s under?”

Despite his protests, Krug has overlooked the salient point: it’s not the conveyor belt of song that so intrigues, it’s the quality of the execution. Over the past two years, the Montreal-born Krug has been the cardinal cog in long-players by Wolf Parade, indie rock supergroup Swan Lake (twice), Frog Eyes and his own pet-project, Sunset Rubdown; each record is a testament to his unwavering capacity to coax melody from almost any environment.

But a tuneful ear is only part of the allure. Central to Krug’s success thus far - and for success read unrelenting Pitchfork adulation - is a flair for percolating verbose allegories through wonky, off-kilter melodies. Overzealous Wolf Parade devotees champion the floridity of his purple prose like Smiths fans do Morrissey’s, anointing him an ivory-tinkling Faulkner for the 21st century. Krug, however, is less rhapsodic about his song-writing proficiency.

“By no means am I a poet or a great lyricist, I just like to include some sort of beauty in the lyrics,” he says. “Sometimes I’m trying to make them more straight-forward, but it’s still in me to return to the metaphor and I’m not very good at it. My friend Dan [Bejar – aka Canadian solo artist Destroyer] is one of the few people who can pull off poetry and music at the same time. The imagery isn't anything complex. I’d like to get to the point where I could create something like that, without hiding behind metaphors. I’m my own worst critic, right?” He is.

Krug’s sentences are blushed with self-deprecation and reticence, the words punctuated by carefully considered, painful pauses. It’s as if he’d rather be anywhere else than here, talking about himself and his music. Which, it turns out, he would: “Interviews are a weird undertaking. I just think, why not put on the record? It should speak for itself,” he rues. “That’s my purest form of communication... anything I have worth sharing I put into the record. I still don’t get self-promotion, I mean I get it - people are just trying to make money, right?”

He’s right, of course: the music industry is an insatiable cash-hungry beast that pillages pockets with no concern for the fall out. But with release of Sunset Rubdown’s third long-player, Dragonslayer, Krug appears to have opened up the doors to commercial appeal. The histrionic canticles that rendered Random Spirit Lover an acquired taste have been supplanted by rampant flurries of riff and bass, while the creaking, medieval production has expanded to encompass a glooping honey pot of instrumentation.

Dragonslayer could be the record that finally pushes Krug from indie spotlight to mainstream limelight. Not that he’s giving much credence to the prospect: “If any of the three records were commercially viable it would be this one - but I don’t think it is,” he says. “That’s not a good or a bad thing to me. It’s not in the process at all – we just made what we made. We’ve essentially tried to make pop songs, knowing that we couldn’t do it. I don’t see it being a great commercial success, it’ll probably divide people and make a lot of old fans angry and maybe it'll attract a few new ones.”

This new direction coincides with a collective emphasis on song creation. For once, Sunset Rubdown has more than one man calling the shots: “It’s turned very much into a collaborative band – they’re not just hired guns,” explains Krug with a hint of relief. “I’m still the principal songwriter. I bring my ideas to them and then they add their own colours and flavours to them and it becomes Sunset Rubdown. If I was to sit down and record with just a piano and a guitar it sounds all right but it makes me miss the band.”

With Wolf Parade on an extended sojourn and Swan Lake all but defunct, Krug’s eggs are, for now at least, nestled in one basket. “Sunset Rubdown will be touring in the fall and I’ve got one other project I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do with, but that’s it,” he says before wryly concluding: “I’m no more busy than I’ve ever been. It’s not like I work that hard.”

First published at The Skinny here

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Trampoline Live: Meursault, Wounded Knee, The Foundling wheel

The Wee Red’s crimson-lit hovel makes for a disturbingly lewd gig setting. Yet, rather disappointingly, there’s nae ladies of the night flaunting their goods in here, nor is there any sign of the slavering kerb-crawlers who hanker after their stock in trade. Nope, tonight, in this boozy rouge Edinburgh venue, any experimentation comes from the stage and the pleasure on offer is aural, not oral.

First to the floor is one man noise-monger The Foundling Wheel - aka Ted Koterwas - and his effects board-induced rancour. Spewing out pulsing digi-rhythms with the frequency of a bulimic teen, Koterwas’s tumultuous arrangements slingshot from the PA into unprepared eardrums. Brutal is barely the word, as these sounds are absolutely pummelling.

For the non-initiated, such relentless waves of bass-fed electro can seem directionless and rabid, but underneath the thrashing ‘Noises Like Ashes’ and ‘Out To See’ lies a melodic honeycomb that appeases any serrated aches. Tauter and leaner than previous outings, The Foundling Wheel’s enthralling throb climaxes with the apoplectic ‘Mixed Minds and Missteps’; an H-bomb of machine-driven chime that coins searing racket against sun-kissed refrain.

Emerging from this violent shrill is a cappella virtuoso Wounded Knee. Bereft of instrument but abundant with anti-BNP sentiment, Drew Wright’s looping feral chant has ears pinned and eyelids peeled. Cross-fading between Deep South creoles and shamanic scats, Wright’s ability to elicit boom from the merest slither of tongue is incomprehensible to those of us who use our predominant mouth muscle to chatter and smooch.

Simply put, there’s nothing like Wounded Knee on the Scottish scene right now and, as if to rubberstamp the curious spectacle of 70-plus indie kids mesmerised by a jigging be-robed figure, Wright wraps up his act with a shuddering rendition of traditional Scots psalm ‘Benlogie’. So thunderous is the ensuing applause it begs the question: Who the hell needs instruments anyway?

Almost immediately, an answer comes in the shape of main draw Meursault (pictured). Already established local dignitaries, the folk-stained quartet are beginning to waggle pens further afield. Tonight they show why. The pastoral swoop of ukulele and banjo that bleeds from tracks like ‘The Furnace’ and ‘Nothing Broke’ is underpinned by Neil Pennycook’s bellowing strains. No longer the reticent shadow of yore, the beanie-adorning frontman’s wilting frame now commands the stage; his strident intone streaming into vacant pores with a gusto that borders on bullish.

Seemingly eager to vacate last year’s debut LP ‘Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues’, the group’s newer numbers lean more towards MacBook trickery than organic simplicity. Off-kilter wonks like ‘Crank Resolutions’ conjure up obligatory Animal Collective parallels and such exploratory dalliances are certainly a destination that will be broached further in future. But for now these cuts are works in progress; promising concepts that need airing outside Auld Reekie’s back-patting coves.

Tellingly, it’s the stripped down crow of ‘William Henry Miller’ that steals the show. Banjo-clad and without mic, Pennycook’s unfiltered wail drills through a wall of handclaps and harmonies. It’s a hair-quivering moment that underlines just how far this Edinburgh ensemble has come. The red lamps may have burned bright this evening, but based on this showing its Meursault’s lights that will soon be turning green.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Nick Cave: A reappraisal of sorts...

To mark Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds silver anniversary, Mute reissued the group’s first four LPs. Looking beyond the spruced-up packaging, I reappraised the original recordings and pondered their place in the modern day vernacular...

***

Pinning down Nick Cave’s primary occupation over the past 25 years is an unforgiving task. From musician to novelist to actor to director, the uncompromising Australian boasts a CV so multifaceted it could rival the Karma Sutra for positional variation. Cave followers may argue the payoff is equally as satisfying.

Such diversity has bestowed universal acclaim upon the former Birthday Party hellraiser; his stock escalating in both the Hollywood Hills and the British high street (that wretched baritone bellowing through Topshop incites the most curious thrill). Last year’s Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (NC&TBS) LP, Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, peaked at a career high number four in the UK album charts, while his 2005 screenplay, The Proposition, was not only the toast of Tinseltown, it somehow managed to engulf Ray Winstone in an air of respectability.

Never has Nick Cave been more acceptable or, indeed, profitable. And, despite the pretence of quarter century celebrations, it doesn’t take much to work out why Mute Records have reissued the first four instalments of NC&TBS’s 14 album-spanning career (the rest are due over the course of the next 12 months). Not that the 51 year-old will mind; he’s always been cute to commercial appeal. Remember his moribund crow impeding the reels of kid-friendly blockbuster Shrek 2?

Cynicism aside, these early recordings demand to be heard. They are, after all, audible artefacts of a proto-Gothic wild child reinventing himself as devout Blues statesman; LPs that have fashioned the contours of a monolithic career. If anything, this particular quartet – From Her to Eternity, The First Born Is Dead, Kicking Against the Pricks and Your Funeral... My Trial – deserves reappraisal in a more appreciative public sphere, given their initial impoverished chart remuneration.

Following Birthday Party’s smack-entangled demise in 1983, Cave and longstanding (until this year) confrere Mick Harvey were attuned to everything but unit shifting. It shows. Their debut effort as NC&TBS (the line-up completed by ex-Magazine bassist Barry Adamson, Einsturzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld and axe-man Hugo Race), 1984’s From Her To Eternity, is fraught with rabid staccato arrangements that still rub the ears raw with acrid vigour. But, while Saint Huck’s blood red cut continues to ooze feral intensity, the years have depreciated many of the ghoulish stampedes as over-dramatic Halloween pastiche.

For once, blame cannot be apportioned to rank-rotten 80s production (if anything, these recordings outpunch today’s retrograde gloss). No, Cave has simply upped his game ever since. Today, he’s a larynx-busting powerhouse capable of executing bellow and croon with gymnastic aplomb, but back in the days of Berlin opium dens, tonality played little part in his violent reveries; a gut-wrenching sneer being the preferred method of delivery. In 2009, From Her To Eternity booms out like Rocky Horror cabaret.

By The First Born Is Dead’s release in 1985, the band had replaced horror-shtick with Wild West iconography. Tales of jailers, sheriffs, droughts and outlaws bullet-hole Wanted Man and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s blind-drunk narratives, while the cinematic arrangements of Harvey et al are heaving with jailhouse clang and the brawling furore of Arizona barrooms. A creaky slow burner, the album marked a first foray into the neo-Blues balladry that underpins the group’s most revered output; Tupelo’s dank oscillations paving the way for shuddering totems The Hammer Song and The Mercy Seat.

Cave himself was unravelling as a songwriter of granite brevity, drawing inspiration from the Old Testament’s tombstone parables and the folklore of the American West. So it seemed a peculiar call when Kicking Against the Pricks (1986) fire-cracked in as a ream of cover versions. It should have been the album that shot NC&TBS stone dead. Instead it did the opposite. Cave used ...Pricks as a vantage from which to leap into the pantheon of vocal giants, appropriating numbers by Cash, Hooker, Reed and Orbison and sodomising them with a debauched, salacious tongue. His range was vast, his intentions overt: Nick Cave was ready to unleash his very own beast. And how.

Twenty-three years may have passed since its release but Your Funeral, My Trial (1986) still snarls with accomplishment. Reeking pious soap-box preaching and the antithetical char of heroin-sick desolation, the record’s serrated incantations reveal a group gearing up for its creative overture. Vocally, Cave is in imperious form; part Bukowski-aping degenerate (Hard On For Love, Scum), part doomsaying harbinger (Jack’s Shadow, Sad Waters). The Bad Seeds are equally enforcing, tautly reeling in wild-eyed beasts The Carny and She Fell Away with murder in mind.


In retrospect, Your Funeral... was a green light for the schooled brilliance of The Good Son and Henry’s Dream and a record that underlines every aspect of Cave’s bulging resume: the screenplays, the film scores, the side-projects, Christ, even the acting. It was, in every sense, a battering ram that marked the exaltation of Nick Cave.

First published here

EP Review: Cast Spells - Bright Works and Baton

Better known as Maps & Atlases’ chief guitar-noodler, David Davison’s Cast Spells project is the sonic antithesis to his math-based day job. More focused on song than polyrhythmic oscillations, debut EP Bright Works and Baton embraces country twanging and a traditionalist take on American storytelling.

Opener Glamorous Glowing recalls Sufjan Stevens at his finest; its pretty pink melody steeped in chime while Davison’s brittle crow swoops from above. Potted Plant and American Quilts fashion out a similar pattern, each buxom with instrumentation and weeping stanzas. Yet, despite these creeping pleasures, the record fails to maintain such altitude and wispy closer A Badge sloops forgetfully into the ether. Not a terrible stab at diversification then, just not a great one.

First published here

Profile: Holiday Shores

Well, it's been a little while hasn't it? I guess I've been so caught up with the editing melee of Under the Radar that I've overlooked my own little blog . But let's see if we can rectify this discrepancy somewhat..

Of late, I've been listening to the rather delicious ditties of Holiday Shores and thought it was about time I brought them to Spins'n'Needles' rapidly diminishing showcourt.

Drizzled with distorted chords and trashcan percussion, the Floridian quintet's virile sloops initially smack of Strokes-lite nonchalance, sans the incorrigible New York shtick. But underneath such uber-cool posturing lies the sort of wonky-tonk synth-screwing synonymous with Spencer Krug's myriad outfits while a Wilson-like penchant for cloud-bursting pop nuzzles its way into the foreground.

Aye, tracks like Crime Isn't Our Problem and The Days Drag don't hit the heights of Dirty Projectors' tricks-a-plenty gushing, yet so sunblushed are the melodies it's impossible not to fall for their gauzy, evergreen sways. I have to admit I'm loath to laud the band on all cylinders - there's a foreboding air of perishability that draws parallels with doomed blog-idols Black Kids - but the below video, Phones Don't Feud, is a straight up contender for song of the summer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

INTERVIEW: Over the Wall

For those in need of a little entertainment, today’s music industry is often the wrong place to be. Saturated with po-faced, generic Indie rockers tripping over their mile-long frowns, it’s a climate obsessed with the bottom line. There’s no room for quirky showmanship, audience interaction or, god forbid, rock ‘n’ roll tomfoolery; it’s a wham, bam, thank you for buying our merchandise man era. And, boy, it sure ain’t fun.

What this dawning of banality needs is an antidote, an act to bowl us over with pervasiveness and honesty. A band like Glasgow duo Over the Wall, perhaps? “We just want people to enjoy what they are watching as much as possible and a lot of what we do would be classed as gimmicks,” says co-conspirator Ben Hillman as he discusses the group’s core principles. “We also manage to talk a lot as well. This instantly makes us very un-cool because as soon as you open your mouth on stage you are no longer mysterious.”

But the strong silent type does not constitute esoteric cool (just look at Glasvegas), what Over the Wall have is something that can’t be taught in rock school strategy meetings: Character. After years of scouring alone for the perfect sound, Hillman and cohort Gav Prentice hooked up while putting on shows at Glasgow venue Stereo. As Prentice tells it, the chemistry was immediate: “It was the response to the two of us onstage that made us think we’d obviously stumbled into something really good, plus the freedom afforded by just having the two of us made it really fun.”

The lure is in their ear for arrangement. Bold in both structure and content, the pairing skewer starlit symphonies with cerebral themes to create a thrilling mixture of textured, clued-up pop. “We discuss politics a lot and I was brought up in a house where politics was important,” explains Prentice. “A lot of our lyrics are about finding your place and coming to terms with getting older...so it makes sense to reference the political legacy of the years that immediately followed our births, especially seeing as that legacy is something we’re still paying the price for to a large extent now.”

Yet as refreshing as these intellectual leanings are, Over the Wall seem distinctly out of step with their more docile contemporaries. “I’ve always felt like we’re kind of outsiders and have had to work harder than some” says Prentice. Hillman continues: “It is true that many bands around have a much bigger sound than we do, but then there are ones with a much smaller sound doing very well too. We wouldn't try and change anything simply to sound like a successful band, or an unsuccessful one for that matter.”

Success, however, is there to be grabbed. Recently signed to Motive Sounds, Over the Wall have garnered steady acclaim since their ebullient EP The Rise and Fall of late last year (which sees a re-release this month). “I guess everyone in the media and entertainment industry probably feels like they are beating their head against a wall a lot of the time,” says Hillman, wearily accepting his band’s new status. “More frequently than not, the tables won't turn your way and everything is not hunky dory but sometimes they do. It's great when people take an interest, but nothing lasts forever.”

As for the future, well, it seems to be mapping out perfectly for Over the Wall: “An album before the end of the year will obviously make us worldwide superstars,” half-jests Prentice. “The affairs, coke habits and complete Star Trek: The Next Generation box sets can follow that.”

First published here at The Skinny and the photo was by some chap called Colin MacDonald.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Intervew archives: Dan Deacon

I like Dan Deacon – a lot. His debut full-length, Spiderman of the Rings, tickled my synapses like an electroshocked feather duster and its predecessor Bromst is currently perched atop my provisional 2009 hitlist (I know, it's only May). So, when the opportunity arose to cross conversational swords with the Baltimore-based electroneer I snapped at it, gator-style. What ensued was, for sure, the most intriguing interview I've ever had the pleasure to conduct. The 500 word feature can be found in the latest issue of Tank, but I thought the transcript was so arresting it needed to be aired.

So here you go, my favourite interview ever with one hell of an artist. It's a bit of a long one, mind you, so you might need a brew for company...


Hi Dan how are you?
DD: I’m at home in Baltimore. Things are good.

How are things coming along with the new record?
DD: It’s good and being reproduced and manufactured. It should be out on March 24th.

Have you found there’s been much pressure at all?
DD: Yeah [laughs heartily]. Not in a bad way but on the last record it seemed like no one really knew who I was, so it seemed like there was very little hype round the record before it came out. After the Pitchfork review that was when all the press started happening and I’m finding it a little different having people know who I am now with this record. It’s exciting.

Are you comfortable with that?
DD: The main thing that’s been weighing me down has been interviews to be honest. I feel like every day I have like three or four hours of interviews scheduled. It’s not really what I enjoy doing the most. I’m not a narcissist and trying to explain the record in a unique and innovative way every day can be a bit of tiresome process.

Hmmm...It’s not looking good for my next few questions then!
DD: [Laughs] I mean I understand the importance of it, and I’ve been reading a lot of interviews to see how other artists have handled it. I don’t want to take a hostile approach to the press. I realise that would be selfish, foolish, naive and ignorant. I’m really just looking to being on tour and getting into it.

I’m a big fan of discovery and I guess the press helps people to discover, well most of them. Do you know what I’m trying to say.

Erm...I guess so
DD: I don’t really know what I’m talking about, forget that. [laughs].

Okay, well I’ll just carry on reeling out the questions then.... So how have you approached the release of this record?
DD: The main thing is that I wanted it to be more contrasted than the last record. Spiderman of the rings was one level of intensity and I wanted this record to have more sections that would highlight the intensity. I feel like if something plateaus it loses its initial impact and I wanted this one to have more of a dynamic, with regards to the density and the intensity level in the general feel of the sound.



Is it a dramatic shift?
DD: I don’t think it’s shifted away, it’s more an evolution. I can’t imagine that people will turn this one on and go “I can’t believe this is Dan Deacon. What the fuck?!”. It’s definitely a more mature, more composed album than the last.

So are you more comfortable in a recording environment or a live environment?
DD: I dunno. I mean I used to feel a lot more comfortable in the live environment but since the shows have grown I’ve become more comfortable in the recording environment. For a long period I was just touring and put all my energy into the presentation of work, rather than the creation of work. And, of course, the shows have changed since I first started. Before it was a show with about 100 people but now multiple thousands of people are there.

How does that feel?
DD: It feels weird. It puts it into an entirely different context and it becomes an entirely different show. I have to take a lot of thought and consideration into how to present it that context. I mean, its fun to play to that many people but at the same time I don’t want it to [tails off]. Like, I just did this show in New York that was really aggressive; it just didn’t translate very well.

With such big crowds now are you still able to retain the interaction you previously had with crowds like the last time I saw you in Edinburgh?
DD: Yeah but it’s difficult to interact with a huge crowd. I remember that show in Edinburgh being a really small crowd for that tour. It was really refreshing and fun; you could see the back of the room. It was easy to make eye contact with everyone there and when I play on the floor to 2000 people there’s only like seven people you can see.

You know there are so many contexts in which a show can exist in and I try and take it on a show by show basis, where you have less absolutes. It’s more like one system will work in one setting and another will work better with a different system. So some shows I’ll play on the floor and some shows I’ll play on the stage.

Is that something you’ll assess when you arrive at the venue then?
DD: Yeah, it’s difficult to predict ahead of time unless it’s some big festival then you’ll know what’s right or wrong.

Are you at all bothered that people may find your live shows more alluring than your records?
DD: This is the first record that I’ve made thinking that more people will hear it. With Spiderman of The Rings I wasn’t sure how many people would hear it so I was pretty sure that more people would go to shows than buy records. It was the first record I’d made that was in stores, all the rest I sold at shows. So, clearly by that nature, more people saw the songs live than actually heard them recorded and Spiderman of the Rings was written for a live show format, whereas Bromst was written for both. It’s much more of a balanced record, I think.

I hear you’ll be taking a band on the road to promote Bromst. Is this true?
DD: Yeah, I’ll be going out with the ensemble in the US and Europe.

Do you prefer that to working on your own?
DD: I’d say at this point I definitely prefer it. It’s a lot of fun to jam with people and there’s nothing that can really compete with live instruments. You can have the greatest kick drum sample in the world but you’re emulating a live kickdrum – why not use a live kickdrum? I understand the importance of synthetic bass drums and synthetic snares, those definitely have their application and purpose, but I want to use as many true sound sources as possible. Having a combination of organic and synthetic sounds is something that really excites me.

So are you going to be playing an instrument yourself?
DD: I would consider the effects board an instrument. I will be playing a digital instrument.

So, how musical accomplished are you? I read that you were inspired by Black Flag and Minutemen - did you start of as a “typical” musician?
DD:I was never really into Black Flag or Minutemen really. I’m not sure where you got that from.

Really? Ah fuck.... Wikipedia strikes again.
DD: [laughs] No, they never shaped my musical output... I started writing music at junior High School with a program called Mini-soft which was a mini programmer and I started experimenting with sound in speed. I was in a Ska-band at that time and I was excited by the shows. The shows were energetic and rambunctious and that’s where I fell in love with that theme. I drifted from the music pretty quickly as it was all too similar for my liking but the atmosphere and energy was unparalleled.



I can definitely see similarities in the way you gee a crowd up.
DD: People in the ska scene didn’t give a shit about what other people thought about them. They just wanted to have fun dancing. That was the first time I had ever seen people dance to music that wasn’t techno or club music. That kind of music didn’t appeal to me. Being a dorky trombone player in Junior High and going to a ska show and seeing a band that played loud, energetic music that had an instrument I could relate to made a big impact on me.

Then I guess around that same time I experimented more with sounds and textures. I didn’t know anything about serialism, tonalism, atonalism, dissonance or harmonies, so I taught myself a lot of stuff and then later figured out at college what it actually was. It was fun a fun period and I was into bands like They Might Be Giants and Devo because they were considered serious bands but they had a lighthearted nature to them. And then getting out of ska and getting into more quirky music I definitely felt that was where I wanted to put my focus into; something that was definitely serious but didn’t want to put a crown upon its head.

Is difficult to retain that exuberance to this day, particularly given what you’ve said about the press. Has this become a job to you?
DD: I consider it a job but it’s a job I really enjoy working. I don’t want to play out the record and be just like [puts on a voice that suggests he weighs 400lbs] “ Now go make me some money record, I’m going to lay on the couch and jerk off all day.” I like talking about the record – it’s something I’m immensely proud of - and I hope that people can find something different in it that they can relate to. I think the importance of the press is definitely there, I just wish I could spread it out more. I feel like a jerk speaking to someone and then a half hour later talking to someone else and saying the exact same thing. I guess that’s my own fault for not giving the record label a proper schedule of my time.

On the other foot, it must be quite nice to hear your fans’ take on your material?
DD: I think that’s part of the beauty of music. It certainly conveys an idea and emotion that can’t exist any other way. It only exists as music. Music takes the aspect of language that’s missing and fills that void. Unless it has a lyrical content, you can’t open the door with music to express feelings of love and loss or exuberance that surpasses the written or spoken word can. And it’s interesting to see how people interpret music because everyone understands it differently; they have their own individual mind and thought. So it’s interesting to see how they take something I perceive one way and they see it another. And that’s why art is so important to people. It’s based entirely on how they perceive it.

Are you concerned at all by people’s reactions?
DD: Yeah, I’m looking forward to people hearing it - I just hope people don’t think it’s going to be Spiderman of the rings 2. Ultimately I’m not worried about it, I’m very proud of it and even if people don’t like it , I’m happy with it so that’s alright with me.

Ultimately, it comes down to you being satisfied with your own work?
DD: It could get the worst reviews in the world but that couldn’t take away the enjoyment I had making

I spoke to Ben Curtis [School Of Seven Bells] recently who said he felt sorry for people who are at home making music on a laptop. Should we feel sorry for you?
DD: No. Not at all. I think that that person likes something different. I just think that a laptop has become as equal a composer as sheet music. For me, making music on my own is an important aspect of my every day life: it’s a very meditative and spiritual process. It’s fun to share that process with people but in the end there’s ideas that I know could only be achieved individually and there’s ideas I know that could only be achieved being in a group. I don’t think that being a solo composer is any better than being a composer that being in a band with other individuals. It’s kind of like saying it’s better to live in Europe than to live in the United States – they’re both good and bad.

I read the message on your MySpace after the review by Ryjam Kidwell and you said you felt like you're on your way to accomplishing something. What is that something? Have you achieved it yet?
DD: You know, I feel like I’m getting there – we’re starting to create a unified community and I feel like we’re getting there. It’s to have people feel more connected to their environment, their environment being the earth and the people around them and not just their friends. Its feeling more connected to everything and to have some sense of responsibility in regards to their choices they make. I feel like Western society has made it easy to put those choices aside and not be concerned with “where did the mug I drink my coffee out of every day come from?”. Not like which store it came from but how it got shipped there, was it made in a factory where people are miserable? Like, what was the necessity of buying a hat: How was it manufactured? Where was it made? It’s looking at it as a line, like a fader that can go back and forth.

At the time when I said that, with any material object the greater comfort level it gives someone it seems to take that comfort away from someone else who was attached to it. For your shoes to be cheap it makes someone else’s life miserable, like the person who made it in the sweatshop. But it’s beyond that, it’s like every tangible object: the cell phone I’m talking on, the bed I’m sleeping in, the supermarket that I shop in. All of that stuff bears a reflection and it seems like society could go in any direction and we’re walking on a precipice that gets thinner and thinner every day. One side could be a dark age and the other could be an age of enlightenment. The only way I think it’s not going to be a dark age is if people become more conscious of their role in the world and not just turn the lights off because of global warming or not having the water on when using your toothbrush. It has to go beyond that. We’re way too comfortable at this point to passively save the world.

It should be way more about trying to save the world than saving ourselves. It’s about making the world a better place for everyone and not just the comfortable few. I obviously say that here in my home in Baltimore where I have a nice house and have things that I cherish and there’s people out there that don’t. Living in a place like Baltimore it’s really easy to see that. It’s easy to walk outside a warehouse where friends are living and see the immense poverty that’s about.

I know that as a musician it’s difficult to be taken seriously but I think that by making people feel more connected, if a connection is made, people will start to feel less separated from the earth. The way that people talk about humans and nature we’re like observers looking in and that’s not the case. We’re just as much a part of it of everything as everything else. And I think that’s important, even on a base level. In a community every member of a community is just as important as another. Does that make sense?

Yes, completely. So is your music a part of that connectivity?
DD: Well, I want the album to create a sense of excitement and motivation. I want the listener to feel positive about it when they’re done. I don’t want it to be weighted down upon it. There’s parts of the record that are like that. I think Snookered (verify) is the most self reflective song about making mistakes and how you correct them and how you can’t take it back as much as you’d want to. By the end, I’d want it to be something that’s like ‘I accept that’ and the only way to repair what’s happened is to move forward.

But the show, I want it to be something that takes those ideas but puts it into the context of being a large group of people, trying to get them to do something they wouldn’t necessarily do as a group; getting friends and strangers into a mindset that they might not otherwise have. I think that’s the goal and I’ve been slowly achieving that. Hopefully it will go to another level once the idea becomes more refined and less theoretical.



I know that you’ve complained about speaking to journalists a lot but you speak passionately and assuredly when you’ve spoken to me.
DD: That’s because no-one has asked me about that and I’m really glad you did. I’m pretty excited to talk about that. Usually I get a lot of the same questions but that one was really refreshing. And thanks for letting me go on for a while. Sometimes journalists just cut me off mid-flow when I start talking. IT was fun to get the idea out in its entirety.

To be honest, you don’t seem like normal musician. You seem passionate and full of ideas and zeal.
DD: I feel like a lot of the people I work with share that same passion; I don’t really know that many contemporary musicians, I usually just read about them. I know what you mean though; a lot of people just seem to be going through the motions. Like when you go to a large festival and you see bands hanging out in large trailers back stage rather than walking around the site.

That seems to be the antithesis to your musical ideology?
DD: Yeah, especially in the larger shows. You’re told “here’s the VIP area and here’s the back stage”. I mean, fuck that, I want to be where the audience is. I remember one time at a festival me and Bradford [Deerhunter/Atlas Sound] were walking about on the festival grounds and so many people were telling us how great it was that we were out there. We we’re both thinking “Yeah, what the fuck else are we gonna do?” I remember was some guy from a band I don’t want to name who was so shocked that we were out. I mean why not go out there and see what it’s like. The main thing I wanted to see was the bathrooms – they were disgusting. But that’s why me and my friends started running a festival called Whartscape. We were booking bands that seemed to have a similar outlook and with Whrthscape here’s no backstage, there’s no green room and bands were out in the crowd. It has a completely different atmosphere, there s no star or no celebrity aspect to it. That’s what it should always be. It shouldn’t be a hierarchy that divides people through musical talent. I feel like there’s so many talented people out there, it’s not just like the one or two people who get to lick the gold coin of major record labels any more. There’s no need to put on a facade or division look towards music or community. IT should be very much one for all and all for one and not just the ‘look at me, I’m a star’ infrastructure that I hope is eradicated quickly.

I think the boundaries are breaking now with the rise of the internet . People are able to connect with bands on a whole new level.
DD: I think coming up in the DIY scene in Long Island through the Ska scene helped me a lot. I remember when we were playing with big ska bands in the area and we were like ‘oh my god, I can’t believe we’re playing with you guys’. But we were just dorky kids and they were just older dorks. It was sort of like the glass had gone. It felt more comfortable. It’s nice to have someone to look up to and someone to aspire but it’s silly sitting back stage. It’s nice to have a greater connectivity with the audience.

Right that’s time up for me Dan. It was great to speak to you. I hope it wasn’t too tedious for you.
DD: Nah, this one was a lot of fun. I started walking around and I wasn’t lying in bed pounding my head so it was good.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: King Creosote - Flick the Vs

Shooting from the hip’s never been Kenny Anderson’s game. Over the breadth of his decade-spanning career, the Fife-born troubadour - better known as King Creosote and the founder of Scotland’s most celebrated label, Fence Records - has always exuded an air of emotive reticence in his music; smothering ardency in romantic soliloquy and creaky melody. Sure, he’s occasionally offered moments of volcanic aplomb, yet they were often lost in a daze of awkward indecision and crippling embarrassment.

But that was then. Today’s Kenny Anderson is a very different proposition.

New LP Flick the Vs may prove he’s still shitting out records like a lactose-intolerant mouse in a creamery but here, instead of ruing life’s tribulations through a slew apologetic mumbles, Anderson’s confronting hurdles with undeterred assertiveness. The proof lies in the record’s title: a provocative statement of intent that’s both jovial and menacing, conjuring images of a youthful dissidence that belies his years. Somewhere along the line, Kenny Anderson’s grown a set of balls - and he likes it.

His persuasive mantra is apparent from the off. Opener ‘No One Had It Better’ (originally presented on last year’s, tour only, They Flock Like Vultures…) begins with a muffled vocoder din that eventually erupts as a spewing of snare and synth, while Anderson bellows “If you want it, you can have it” with scathing, indefatigable purpose. It’s an outstanding battle cry for an album that shifts away from King Creosote of yore. Rather than the staple diet of accordion-swaying balladry, Flick The Vs devours effects boards and washes it down with gulps of ambitious, anathema pop.

‘Camels Swapped for Wives’ epitomises this dogmatic pathway. Here, Anderson spits and cusses across a funeral march of drum that eventually evolves as a purified, deep-cleansing tear-jerker in which Anderson finally achieves emancipation. And it’s this sort of unexpected twist that makes Flick The Vs such a beguiling listen. Frenetic cuts like distorted key-guzzler ‘Coast On By’ or the pulsing heartbeat of ‘Fell An Ox’ rest ornamentally beside ‘Nothing Rings True’’s acoustic strums without ever stepping out of sync; their contradictory nature subtly attuned to the composer’s spiky disposition.

For those coveting the familiar, Anderson’s falsetto crow takes flight over the string-strewn notes of album closer ‘Saw Circular Prowess’ and ‘Curtain Craft’’s creaky waltz. But in the context of an album swilling with insistence, their diffident flutters pale meekly, particularly when compared to the rollicking ‘Rims’. A master class in arrangement, the track begins with Anderson declaring”I am the worst” over gun-slinging skiffle and puffing squeezebox, before transcending as euphoric brass-wielding calypso that culminates in an exhillerating finale of scattergun electronica.

But as ingenious as ‘Rims’ is, ‘No Way She Exists” ska-infused tremor will be what lights Flick the Vs’ blue touch paper with Creosote-ites old and new. More in keeping with KC Rules OK’s bulbous rollicks, Anderson sets sails with a geographical assessment of agreeable females (”Maybe a girl from the West, could be they really are the best”) before a whirlpool of trumpet and guitar writhes in tandem with tumid mandolins. It’s a veracious blast, both in song and lyric, and a track that crowns the most consistent and ambitious King Creosote recording to date.

He may not be shooting from the hip just yet, but Kenny Anderson’s certainly acquired the gift of the gab.

First published here at The Line of Best Fit

Friday, 24 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: Now, Now Every Children - Cars

Ah, grammar. Where would the English-writing media be without its pedantic boundaries? Well, if today’s young ‘uns continue to scoff in the face of semantics and profit-sponging moguls decide to ‘relate’, we’ll be riding the crest of a tabloid-talking, SMS-jiving wave very soon. But right now, while the Queen’s English reigns supreme, there’s no rag redder in the eyes of a journalist (or, surely, a reader?) than illogical, ill-conceived sentence construction.

With this in mind, the question has to be asked: just what were Cacie Dalager and Brad Hale thinking? By completely disregarding basic grammatical rules with THAT moniker, the Minneapolis duo have earmarked themselves as fodder for every Lynne Truss-following stickler who puts pen to paper. Then again, perhaps it’s a defiant act of intent; an attention-grabbing fuck you aimed at people like me? Christ knows, we deserve it.

Of course, the irony is Now, Now Every Children [NNEC] does conform to structure - just not in a written sense. Debut long-player Cars is as formulaic as a school-boy’s chemistry set, never once deviating from a blueprint of pensive introduction slowly escalating into a dramatic, skyscraping conclusion. Yet this lack of adventure is not as languid as it seems: NNEC’s cuts are Postal Service-like in hue, heavy on transient atmosphere and buried in layers of digitised effects.

Dalager’s lethargic intone is the centre piece of every tidy number; representing an axis around which percussion and strum chime together during blithe trinket ‘Everyone You Know’ and the cutesy ‘In the City’. Wisping and enchanting, her translucent purr is redolent of Victoria Bergsman as she pines “my head is an empty house when you’re not around” over ‘Sleep Through Summer’’s multi-layered crescendo.

But there’s more than just a smattering of divine vocal to be found in the album’s forecourt. ‘Headlights’ is a deep, introspective chasm built upon Dalager’s sighing couplets and a thick instrumental flurry, while ‘In My Chest’ crackles with guitars that fuzz like a wash of snow on analogue TV. The gorgeous ‘Friends With My Sister’ is the album zenith: a tearstained clang of reflection that finds Dalager’s prescriptive laments seduced into a maniacal haze of guitar and blinking synths.

Sadly, these delectable moments call shotgun on Cars’ front seat, leaving only a mire of whiny Stateside Emo tripe to linger at the rear-end. The woeful ‘Little Brother’ epitomises this vapid descent, with Dalager meekly crowing “so la la la la letting you in and making us sing a song for you” as an ambivalent congregation of key strikes stoop meagrely alongside her, as if aware of the track’s pulseless deficiencies.

It’s a meek finale that contradicts NNEC’s penchant for triumphant climaxes and suggests this is a band destined to linger in the quagmire of America’s college circuit. Considering their grammar, that may not be such a bad thing.

First published here at the Line of Best Fit

Monday, 20 April 2009

INTERVIEW: Passion Pit

Sometimes the folly of youth lies in its blind ambition. As the industry hype-machine buzzed around Passion Pit last year, founding member Michael Angelakos fell prey to the wrath of the dictaphone by decreeing an intention to blend Randy Newman and Stevie Wonder-like song writing with experimental dance pop. The wishful thinking of a starry-eyed young pup, certainly, but in these feral days of bitch-slapping blogs such bravado can fester a sneering resentment that focuses on everything except the music.

Not quite the introduction a fresh faced electro-pop outfit needs, yet the truism of no publicity being bad publicity seems to resonate with the Boston-born ensemble: “We were 21 years-old, you know,” explains drummer Nate Donmoyer before a show at Glasgow’s Captains Rest. “Men don’t physiologically mature until they’re 30 so hopefully the press will go a little bit easy on us. I think Mike would take any criticism as a compliment though because Randy Newman is a major influence on us and has a special influence on Mike’s life.”

So far, it’s been Angelakos alone who has taken Passion Pit to the periphery of success. Recorded in his bedroom over two years ago, debut EP Chunk of Change was a Valentine's Day collage of sun kissed laments intended for a then-girlfriend. But the EP’s mix of personalised lyrics and hook-infused electronica quickly made its way on to the US college radio circuit before exploding wider thanks to a series of commercial tie-ins and, of course, the obligatory Pitchfork commendation.

Now signed to effortlessly cool indie label Frenchkiss Records, Passion Pit has evolved as a full-formed band of five, adding flesh to the bones of Angelakos’s intimately conceived numbers. “It’s almost like method acting,” says Donmoyer of playing someone else’s personal songs. “Even though the person is singing about his experiences you’re still trying to put it into your own context. I don’t really know what the story he’s trying to tell is but I have one for when I’m playing it live that I believe in, so it inspires me to play harder.”

Having drawn comparisons with acts like Hot Chip and The Go! Team while infiltrating a ream of January tip lists (including our very own), the anticipation surrounding the release of debut long-player Manners is almost rapturous. Not that the band notice: “We try and not pay attention to what people say,” claims Donmoyer. “It’s always good to hear the positive things but not so good to hear the expectations are so high. Though, it’s nice to have the opportunity to live up to it some day.”

But with a spectrum of ideas running through the creative veins of Passion Pit, can Manners really mesmerise the lugholes like Chunk of Change did? “It’s still a summertime record but our range of influences can definitely be heard on this one,” Donmoyer states. “There’s live drums running through the whole thing and there’s more guitars and pianos that’s given it a more organic feel. There’s still a shit tonne of synths on it but there’s more of a medium with live instruments now.”

Through the maze of hyperbole, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Passion Pit are newcomers in an unforgiving industry. Their brazen soundbites disguise an openness that suggests this is a band coming to terms with its new status. Or as Donmoyer says: “It’s been really eye-opening to how the industry works. I’ve done DIY indie rock and dance and DJ kind of things and I’d never seen it on a major label. It’s kind of crazy how it all works but we’ll take it, I guess.”

First published here at The Skinny

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

ALBUM REVIEW: Butcher Boy - React or Die

There’s a common misconception that Glasgow’s streets are strewn with industrious bands just waiting to be heard. The city’s granite pathways are mooted as a ceaseless indie-pop conveyor belt spawned from the frustrations of foreboding housing schemes and a skyline so low it can fractured the skull. But this myopic romanticism is mere fallacy, contrived by a haggard congregation of luddites (aka the Scottish mainstream media) determined to ride one more wave of self-fabricated glory.

In reality, Glasgow is no different to Manchester, Sheffield, London, L.A, New York or any other city accorded a rose-tinted musical epoch. Sure, its history is speckled with triumphs, but for every Orange Juice there’s a Del Amitri; for every Belle & Sebastian there’s an El Presidente; and for every Jesus & Mary Chain there’s despicable sub-Phil Spector defecation (say hello Glasvegas). To get to the truth about the west coast’s musical subculture you need to wade through the bullshit. And, Christ knows, there’s a lot of that.

But scouring for diamonds often leads to unpolished gems like Butcher Boy being criminally overlooked. Their 2007 debut, Profit In Your Poetry, was a charming cul-de-sac of fey balladry that tingled with the spritely fragrance of New Pop and bore a genial kinship with Stuart Murdoch’s melody-plucking yeomen. Of course, it bombed - those piquant melodies barely registering in a climate diseased by Topshop-ruffled guitar bands - but the recording was infused with a creative grace that earmarked potential greatness, if only the band didn’t jack it all in.

Thankfully (and almost anonymously) then, the septet has returned with the release of follow up long-player React or Die. A brazen title for an act submerged in an ocean of shite with only a straw for air, this beautifully sculpted record gushes with an emotional tenderness more in keeping with the plush green pastures of Fence luminaries Kenny Anderson and James Yorkston than any Byres Road hipsters.

The immaculate wheeze of accordion that tip-toes around John Blain Hunt’s skeletal annunciation on opener ‘When I’m Asleep’ decrees the group’s elegant craft. You see, Butcher Boy are far from purveyors of the ear-clothing noise that escorts suited carcasses through the daily grind; instead, theirs is the sound of delicate, melody-charred vignettes that requires time, space and an attention span stretching beyond Channel Four list-umentaries to truly appreciate.

Here, beatific soirees flow like wine in a monastery and the effects are equally quenching: ‘The Kiss Will Marry Us’ and the brilliant ‘Why I Like Babies’ are astonishing cheek-dampeners that both enliven and oscillate with swooning melody; ‘A Better Ghost’ jangles with a exuberant Americana rhythm that incites the tandem tapping of all twenty digits; while ‘You’re Only Crying For Yourself’ is a bluster of instrumentation that swoops into Hunt’s tender intones.

The only stain on this cushioning twee-pop patchwork is the laboured ‘Sunday Bells’, a clanging, thrashing cut that never quite accelerates with the grace it should, but the title track’s ensuing chimes press so wilfully in the eardrums such banal throbbing is quickly forgotten. And it’s this perseverance that best sums up React Or Die and, perhaps, Butcher Boy themselves: you’ll have to toil through the dregs to find it but, once you have, you’ll never regret it.

First published here at The Line Of Best Fit

INTERVIEW: Storsveit Nix Noltes

It seems the only noise emitting from Iceland right now is that of financial institutions crashing to the ground. But while the white-collared howls of kamikaze bankers may incite wry chortles from those poor enough to have slipped the credit crunch’s grasp, the sound’s not a patch on the ear-pleasing ditties of old-school luminaries like Bjork, Sigur Rós and The Sugarcubes. Fortunately, this baffling sonic deficit is about to change: Stórsveit Nix Noltes [SNN] are set to thrust the country's music scene back into the black.

An 11-piece ensemble conceived five years ago by various factions of the Reykjavik indie establishment, SNN’s collective girth is exceeded only by the sheer scale and depth of their plundering compositions. "[SNN is] really like a cluster of little military groups competing with each other," explains guitarist Vardi. "We just put the guitar section in one corner, the wind instruments in the other, the strings in another and so forth... in the middle sits Óli Björn [Olafsson], the drummer. He is the earth and heaven; the one that keeps these elements from dissolving into complete chaos."

But if SNN is redolent of anything, it’s chaos. The group’s sophomore long-player Royal Family - Divorce is an unvoiced mortar of instrumentation that adjoins brass-punctuated gypsy toils with post-rock malignancy. “The music we play is folk music. Folk music is about storytelling. Storytelling is about insane intensity and aching brittleness…” pronounces trumpet-player Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson. “All that stuff, the gamut of emotions, has a lot to do with the original tunes,” agrees drummer Oli. “It is embedded in the melodies, so we really don’t need to strive in our performance to get them out. It’s all there in the first place.”

Over the years, the sound of the Balkans has been appropriated by a sprawl of American acts keen on fanfaring their Eastern European education. SNN’s motives were less self-congratulatory: “We probably didn't so much infuse [the Balkan sound] with a modern edge rather than play it as honestly as we could,” reveals Eirijur. “We are a group of composers from Iceland. We have not been to Bulgarian weddings, but we absolutely love the music. So playing the songs in a traditional style would be dishonest and probably sound a lot worse than an actual Bulgarian band would sound.” Or, as guitarist Hallvarður Ásgeirsson sees it: “It's not that we have infused [Balkan music], it has infused us. It's a living being that takes over.”

And take over is what SNN is beginning to do. Since releasing their debut album Orkideur Havai on FatCat’s US label Bubble Core in 2006, the band’s blaze of traversing folk has abducted audiences around the globe, particularly after a stint supporting the mighty Animal Collective. Yet accessibility is an afterthought to this organic ‘Big Band’ [the English translation of Storsveit]: “We are the most impractical band in the universe,” decrees Hallvarður bluntly. “When we play shows in Iceland it’s for everybody, the indie kids and their grannies,” continues Oli. “It’s all about the fun of coming together for playing and dancing — although people have had some difficulties finding the steps to some of the tunes.”

Already pondering further line-up additions (“It could be twice as many. Imagine the sound: Boom!” enthuses Oli), SNN’s hopes for the future are as impenetrable as their brilliant squalls of sound. “We'd love to tour in the summertime. It's hard though,” bemoans Eiríkur. “Iceland's economy is having a really, really, big, ghoulish, why-the-fuck-did-I-say-that, drunk-dialling, throwing-up-the-painkillers-on-the-bedroom-floor-while-remembering-you-lost-your-wallet-and-oh-shit-the-wedding-ring-is-gone hangover. Besides that, we'd love a picnic.”

First published here at The Skinny

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Blogs/music/writing/grammar:

Eye promise their will bee more wurdz soon. in-ter-him: http://www.scotsman.com/undertheradarblog

kizzez.

Bill-eeeeeeeeeee.

xx

Friday, 13 March 2009

Casting Eyes at....Michachu & The Shapes

Ah shit. Well, any kind of uber-cool, hipster hating disposition this blog may previously have exuded is about to dissolve. Yep...Michachu and The Shapes are brilliant. Very brilliant, in fact. But not in the way Animal Collective are brilliant or Liars are brilliant. Nope, this is a band that’s brilliant in that sort of chart-hopping, Topshopping, student-totting way that mesmerises everyone. Ev-ery-one.

Is that a bad thing? Who knows. A small part of me vomits and stabs itself when I see the pictures of the effortlessly (but so effortfully) styled Mica Levi frolicking like a vagina-ised Pete Doherty. But then the itching, effervescent robo-disco brilliance of her debut LP Jewellery hits in and I can’t hate, I just cant. Thing is, this is an album that embraces all sonic dispositions. It kicks cans with lo-fi shufflers; wallops beats with the hippest dub cat; and shits effervescent pop like a laxative sniffing Lilly Allen.

In short, I’m bombastically confident the Matthew Herbert (yep, Matthew fucking Herbert !) produced LP will crack into your cranium with all the velocity of an engine frozen Boeing 777 (WHAT THE FUCK?!?!). Aye, I may be wrong – after all I’m someone who made a bet that Glasvegas would shift less units than Broken Records last year (i.e. I’m a Div Kid) – but this time I doubt it. So, drop your pretensions at the door and give in. You won’t be the only one.

LIVE REVIEW: Noah &The Whale, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 10 Mar

In five years time it's safe to assume Noah & The Whale won't be singing THAT song. You see, the Twickenham quartet fancy themselves as more than chart-breaching pixie-poppers and tonight they make their intentions clear with a pre-show appetiser of short films embracing both monochromatic drama and Pingu-inspired animation. An interesting concept, for sure, but sub-par art-school productions do not a serious band make.

What actually tips it N&TW’s way is the shoals of sombre, infectious melodies exuding from stage. Denser in sound than their brittle-boned debut LP suggests, Charlie Fink's tremulous blow swathes through the orchestral blizzard of Jocasta and Mary with the expertise of someone much longer in tooth. New numbers slot in like quarters to a Vegas fruit machine and although THAT closing totem is wearily treadmilled, N&TW manage to chisel into an enthralling creative avenue. Lord knows where they’ll be in half a decade.

First published here
Photae by David Anderson

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Whatever happened to... Morgan?

I loved Morgan. Well, more specifically, I loved Morgan’s Y2K-released debut record Organized. Back then, at the turn of the millennium, I was an undergraduate student perplexed by the beats of Freddy Fresh, the brutality of Wu Tang and the linguistic cuteness of the Kinks. Music felt like a jamboree; a pick ‘n’ mix of sonics that fitted into my not so fitting Mini-disc player when I made those infrequent ventures to campus between the sweat-beaded throb of clubland. It wasn’t that I didn’t know music, it’s that I wanted to know too much; I had to consume every chord, every melody, every sound that ever existed. Ah... to be young, foolish and ambitious.

All in all, I was a bit of a confused monkey in my fledgling years but Morgan Nicholls – he of Senseless Things fame – changed that. Organized was a rainbow-bright swash of all that intrigued me. It took the summer-time pop sloping of the Beach Boys and beaded it together with slithers of Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk, Electro, Synth-tronica and – Christ – even kiddy pop. I can still hear the heavenly chords of opener Flying High that swooshed deliciously through my lugs and into that piece of grey matter that incited the fluttering of a thousand butterfly wings in my malnourished belly. The irrepressible Miss Parker and Fistful of Love were equally magnificent, each blessed with swathes of schoolyard samples and ice-pop melodics. Sure they were flawed, but that was the appeal: who wants prolonged perfection when you can have a few scorching moments of brilliance that’ll remain forever in the mind?

So aye, Organized was my album of a long, arduous summer spent in the belly of the Fringe but, sadly, Morgan Nicholls never followed it up. So where’d he go? Oddly, he’s moved on to bigger and better things: he hooked up with Gorillaz, spent time kicking rhymes with Mike Skinner and The Streets and, perhaps most bizarrely, now play keys for gargantuan, shit-shifting decibel merchants Muse. All well and good, I guess, but it’s disappointing to discover that someone who played such a big part in a rather important window of my life now scurries in the shadows of those I despise. It’s funny how things turn out.