Thursday, May 31, 2007

Napoleon Dynamite!

I’m not a musician, so I can be easily impressed when it comes to musical expertise. However, technical proficiency isn’t really the thing that I go for in music. Like visual arts, it’s not just about how well you execute it – it’s about having ideas and making things interesting and exciting. Now, with Napoleon IIIrd (aka James Mabbett from Leeds), he might be a virtuoso for all I know. But that’s not what’s important. The main thing about this dude is that he’s got good ideas, and knows (mostly) how to translate them into interesting and exciting music.

The first proper track on his new album In Debt To starts off sounding like it could be another generic post-punk record. But then come the Beach Boys style surfin’ harmonies and we’re off to another place entirely. But we sort of expected that already, given the presence of these very woozy harmonies on the meandering introductory track. Then on, throughout the album we’re treated to some of the same, but a hell of a lot of other things beside. There are plenty of ideas, genres and instruments sloshing around here. We’ve got swirly keyboards and farting synths, parps of brass, crazy drumming, programmed beats, electronica and even the odd bit of guitar. It’s all pleasingly lo-fi too, complete with false endings and general messing about. I don’t know if that’s all deliberate or not, but it makes me happy.

But it’s not just the Napoleon IIIrd sound. His wry lyrics add even more interest. It’s not often that I’ll recommend an artist for that reason, but somehow the words on this record seem to grab you. Whether it’s songs about being afraid in the city, boys in bands getting girls or a just a sweet love song to his girlfriend. When he sings “don’t live your life through the TV”, you know he’s not really preaching. He’s not a cheap sloganeering kinda guy.

And surely Hit Schmooze For Me should become an anthem for anyone stuck in a dead-end job. Actually, not even that. I quite like my job, but I can still echo Nappy’s sentiments when he sings “This is not my life, this is my day job, where I pay the rent”. So can so many others, whether they’re in bands or not. With this, surely success for Napoleon is guaranteed. Or at least making a decent living from his madcap music. It’s the very least he deserves. We need more like him.

Download: Napoleon IIIrd – Hit Schmooze For Me
Download: Napoleon IIIrd – Anti-Patria

Buy In Debt To from emusic, or pre-order an actual CD from Brainlove Records.

Catch him live too. The Napoleon IIIrd gig experience meant to be good. He even drags out an old-skool reel-to-reel tape player, apparently. All dates on the myspace.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Elvis Perkins in Dearland @ The Luminaire, 28 May 2007

I'm writing a review of this Elvis Perkins gig for another website, so hopefully a link should appear soon. Suffice to say that it was a great gig, with all that I loved from his Willy Mason support slot the other week, and even more. Support act Jaymay was alright too.

Instead of words, here are some pictures. You can see more at my Flickr.

And of course the obligatory mp3s. The fine b-side to All The Night Without Love, and a live track from an Elvis and Dearland gig in LA in March. I was pleased to find this whole set on the Cherbonsy blog, particularly as there are a few new songs on here, that just aren't available anywhere else at the moment. Sounds like Elvis might have another album's worths of songs ready to go even before his debut is released here!

Download: Elvis Perkins - The Dumps
Download: Elvis Perkins in Dearland - Doomsday

Order Ash Wednesday. Can't wait till July? Go here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Basia Bulat

Last week was a particularly good one for new music. And by ‘new’ I mean artists I knew nothing about before last Monday. By the end of Tuesday, I had two new favourites, who I had not only discovered for the first time – I had already splashed out on their latest albums. The first one was Phosphorescent, who I posted on last week. The other was Basia Bulat.

I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about her before. I happened across her myspace via a link from the Homefires myspace (the ace folky-acoustic festival that’s happening in London this weekend). But it turns out that her debut album Oh My Darling is just out on Rough Trade. Not a release on a minor label then. So why have I not seen any press articles or reviews? Maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places, but it would be a shame if she’s going to go unnoticed.

This album was an instant hit with me, full of lovely melodies, gorgeous harmonies and just plain beautiful songs. There’s folky strummings, touches of Americana and lush chamber-pop all to be found within this cracking album. It's got real mainstream appeal, I reckon, and it could be only a matter of time (an advert maybe) before more people catch on. But then again, my only little complaint about the album is that very occasionally it nudges uncomfortably towards MOR female singer-songwriter fayre. But it would be churlish for me to hold this against Basia, as there’s so much else to savour, and while I’m enjoying the record so much. In some ways, it’s what I had hoped the Feist album might be. I’m happy. This could be one of my soundtracks to the summer.

The other good news is that not only is she playing at Homefires, she’s in the middle of her first UK tour (she’s currently resident in Toronto). Too bad if you’ve missed her already in Glasgow, Dublin and Galway. There’s still some time for tonight in Belfast. Or Thursday in Birmingham. Me, I’m hoping to see her at The Fly on Friday night, unless The Baby Growl has other ideas.

Download: Basia Bulat – The Pilgriming Vine
Download: Basia Bulat – A Secret

Sunday, May 27, 2007

James Yorkston & The Athletes/ Martin Carthy @ The Union Chapel, 24 May 2007

James Yorkston doesn’t play gospel music. At least not the last time I heard. But his new album is called Roaring the Gospel, and this gig by James and his sometime backing band The Athletes at The Union Chapel in Islington was advertised under the same title. Cue a misunderstanding about the word 'gospel'. It turned out that the older couple behind my friend and I had thought that it was a gospel concert! Maybe it’s a fair assumption to make. The gig was in a church after all. But put two and two together and there’s a potential recipe for disappointment.

Before we found this out, we had been treated to a set by English folk legend Martin Carthy. If any of the many indie kids in the audience thought that James Yorkston was folk music, Carthy is the real deal. I mean, his songs are hundreds of years old. He doesn’t even write his own songs (actually, he ‘fesses up to have written two – one of which is a 25-year old song about The Falklands War which he played as his last number). Rather he’s a collector, performer, and perhaps most importantly a preserver of centuries of English folk tradition. Although modern folk has a definite pop sensibility (a few verses, chorus, about four minutes long) these songs don’t. They have about 42 verses and you have to actually listen to the lyrics as Martin sings them. It’s storytelling really. I had to teach myself to listen a bit differently to him, and it was worth it. A musical education, if anything.

Last time I saw James Yorkston he was alone on stage with his acoustic guitar and harmonica and it was magical. Tonight he’s accompanied by regular Athletes Reuben Taylor on accordion and keyboards and Doogie Paul on double bass. He also has unusual extras in the shape of a violin and a clarinet player. James’ songs actually don’t need filling out – they sound wonderful enough stripped down on their own. But fleshed out with other instruments, they still sound wonderful. Just different.

It’s a bit of a greatest hits set. There’s no new stuff. Everything he plays has been released before. Yorkston has selected in almost equal measure, highlights from across his three excellent albums, plus a few rarities. Which is fitting because Roaring the Gospel is a collection of said rarities. The best of these is his pre-encore closer The Lang Toun – his first limited release on Domino, and a full 10 minutes of folk-blues workout which I haven’t heard him play in years. It’s great and it comes at the end of an amazing gig in which James and the band have clearly enjoyed themselves playing to a capacity crowd. And even although he apologises to his mum that his banter’s not up to the usual standard, he’s still on form, with his dry wit shining through. He even fits a few lines of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab into the closing bars of The Lang Toun.

With such a strong back catalogue, brilliant musicians and such a beautiful venue (surely much better than the “black hole with chewing gum on the walls” they had played the previous night in Newcastle), the evening’s greatness was inevitable. I loved it and my friend (who wasn't so familiar with James Yorkston) loved it. And the gospel-confused couple behind us? It might not what they were expecting, but they totally loved it too.

Download: James Yorkston – Woozy With Cider (Jon Hopkins remix)

This is one of many versions and remixes of this track. I heard it played live for the first time on Thursday, and it was a lot of fun, mainly because James kept forgetting the words and ad libbing, with wry references to both the recent out-of-date-food-in-supermarkets scandal and his own refusal to have his songs in a butter ad (he’s a vegan).

Download: James Yorkston & The Athletes – The Lang Toun

This original and best.

Download: J Wright Presents – Moving Up Country, Roaring the Gospel
Download: J Wright Presents – Are You Coming Home Tonight?

This was Yorkston’s alter ego before he signed to Domino and started using his own name. It’s the original version of the track which gave its name to both his first and forthcoming albums. Plus the b-side from the Bad Jazz 7 inch.

See more of my photos at my Flickr.

Friday, May 25, 2007

There’s going to be Fireworks!

Today, I’m returning to Fireworks Night. No, not the 5th of November, but the band I first posted on back in February. Then I had a few tracks to impress me. Now I have the whole of their second album As Fools We Are, which is released this week. On first listen a few weeks ago, I liked it, but this is another album to give some time to. It’s a slow burner that will probably seep slowly under your skin if you give it a chance.

Like I said before, Fireworks Night share band members with The Mules, as well as a certain aesthetic. And on What You Don’t Know, even a similar type of song. But to be honest, though the fizzy gypsy waltz of that track is fun, it’s the least interesting thing about them.

That’s because elsewhere on the record, the great thing about the songs is often what’s not there. There’s a certain light touch been given to them. Sure, there are strings, but there’s no over-egging to be found. There’s a sense of space. The lovely melodies are often unencumbered and stripped bare for their inherent beauty to be fully appreciated. The blend of James Lesslie’s (that's him in the pic) vocals and the harmonies provided by Briony Greenhill and Matt Edmonds are quite gorgeous. There are softly brushed snares and the quiet tinkle of a piano. And on occasions they even crank up the guitars. But you get the impression that everything’s quite measured, deliberate and nothing is done hurriedly or wasted.

There are echoes of some other favourite artists of mine. Like Tindersticks, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and even Richard Hawley. Maybe it’s the sort of late-night vibe I get from the album. Imagine a cracking fire, with a glass of whisky in hand and some good company – or maybe a balmy summer evening in field outdoors – and you’re getting there. There are even elements of a great lost favourite of mine – Lincoln – but without that group's obvious country influences. But in the end, Fireworks Night are very much their own band, with a unique melancholic sound that’s very much to my taste.

Download: Fireworks Night – Favours for Favours
Download: Fireworks Night – Black Eye

Like I said, the album is out this week on Organ Grinder/Kartel. You can buy it here. Their single When We Fell Through The Ice is out in a couple of weeks. You should get that too, as the b-sides are particularly good too – they include this track, which is possibly the best thing Fireworks Night have done.

Download: Fireworks Night – Echo’s Swing

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The National @ Fopp

I wouldn’t normally write about gigs in record shops. After all, they’re not proper gigs, innit? But this one on Monday was a bit different. For a start, The National played for about an hour, and even did an encore! None of the usual few-songs-throwaway promo set then. Also, for the band at least, it seemed to be significant. Singer Matt Berninger told us that this was their first headline show since last October (all their recent US performances have been in support of Arcade Fire). There was a muted response from the crowd. “It’s a big deal for us though” he defended. Sure, it’s an odd place to start a tour in support of new album Boxer, but then again, said album was freshly-released that day, and on sale upstairs.

Just because it was an instore show, didn’t mean that The National held back. I’ve already spoken in praise of Boxer and it is (increasingly for me) a great record. But it’s still live that they really come into their element. The warmth on record is still there, but there is added emotional energy and intensity, and Berninger manages to be a compelling frontman without actually doing that much. Even more impressive for me though, was multi-instrumentalist Padma Newsome on stage right, playing keyboards, violin and even more instruments than I could properly see with a pillar in the way.

The band played most of Boxer, which sounds excellent live, and a couple of oldies for good measure – Abel in particular sounded fantastic. Then they rounded off with what they claimed was the very first live performance of Gospel.

So all of that, plus my failure to make it to the Astoria show last night, means that this particular instore is well worth writing about. The National are always well worth seeing live, and Boxer is certainly well worth buying. You know what to do.

Download: The National – Fake Empire
Download: The National – Abel

Buy Boxer.

Picture from the Flickr photostreams of (the appropriately titled) Mr November and Rahaha. I figured my crappy cameraphone wasn’t up to it.

They’re back in London at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 7 November. Hopefully I can get to that one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Emmy the Even Greater

Last year, it was hard to move far on this blog without some mention of Emmy the Great, but this year it’s been a bit quiet so far. That’s because she’s been pretty quiet. I don’t think there’s been a London gig since her headline show at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen back in January. But now things seem to be moving at camp Emmy again.

First, she’s back on stage – first on tour supporting Emma Pollock this month, then at a few festivals over the summer. And hopefully some more dates as well. Then just last week came news which explains the relative quietness. She’s been recording, and there’s an EP going to be coming out sometime soon on a label set up by her friends at ace London dress-up-and-dance club Viva Cake. No more details on which songs are yet, but whatever they are, it’ll be something to look forward to.

However, all this begs a question. Why does Emmy have to get her friends to put her records out? There may be good reasons for this, but about a year after I wondered if anyone was going to sign her it still hasn’t really happened. I mean your Kate Nashes and Laura Marlings and the like are all very well, but they don’t hold a candle to Emmy in the voice, lyrics or just plain good songs departments. But yet, they’re signed and she’s not. It’s an odd world for sure.

Anyway, this gives me an excuse to post a few tracks I’ve had for a while. Thanks are due for these (and more new Emmy demos) to the people who congregate around the Emmy the Great page. There are a lot of fine songs there – enough for a decent album’s worth and more. At the Hoxton gig in January she played a few songs I’d never heard before, all of which sounded fantastic – more of Emmy’s already established line of sweet folk-pop. Some of these are posted below. I just love the way that she can be light and frivolous with lyrics about S Club 7 splitting up one minute (Canopies and Grapes) and the next minute delivering, at the end of City Song, some of the most devastating lines I’ve heard in recent pop music.

Download: Emmy the Great – Canopies and Grapes
Download: Emmy the Great – City Song
Download: Emmy the Great – Atoms (new demo)

She’s still only got one official release – you can buy it from Rough Trade Digital .

There are new versions of Two Steps Forward and Aiko on Emmy's myspace for your listening pleasure...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Phosphorescent: brightening up my day

Today, the dull grey spring morning in London was brightened up for me by an email waiting in my inbox when I got into work. It was from occasional Daily Growl contributor Reverend War Character, with news about Phosphorescent who he’s been "mildly obsessed" with ever since seeing him plug in a fairy light-bedecked jacket at a gig at Barden's Boudoir at the end of last year and proceed to play a set of what he described as “a twilight zone illuminated by Matthew Houck’s plug-in jacket and iridescent songs”

You see, Phosphorescent is really just one guy – the same Matthew Houck - formerly of Athens, Georgia, now of Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn, where he hangs out with other people in bands like Castanets and Dirty Projectors. Sometimes he has some people who play as his band. Sometimes he’s solo. He’s actually released three albums, as far as I can work out, but he’s only recently crossed my radar.

Anyway, the news was of a new Phosphorescent session recorded by the ever-excellent Daytrotter. There are four songs, and since Daytrotter don't like other people posting their tracks, I'm not going to. Here's the link to the songs. Follow it and you won't be disappointed. What you'll hear is lovely, warm Americana, enough bring a ray of light to the gloomiest day. Sean from Daytrotter describes the feel of the music in an evocative way, better than I ever could. Or maybe as the Reverend described him: "the spirit of Mississippi John Hurt channelled through the soul of a hairy NYC hipster". He's probably right as well.

You can also listen to three more (different) songs at Phosphorescent's myspace.

All of this inspired me to download his latest album Aw Come Aw Wry as soon as I got home. I’ve listened to it already. It's very good. I may become mildly obsessed too. Here are a couple of tracks.

Download: Phosphorescent - I am a Full Grown Man (I Will Lay in the Grass All Day)

You can buy this album and his previous two at Amazon.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

I’ve been writing a fair bit in the past few months about young singer-songwriters. Now many of these are good. Very good even. But lately, I’ve been listening quite a bit to Elvis Perkins, and there’s something about him which just feels a bit more, well, substantial I guess. The youngsters are fine, but sometimes songs about having a good time with your mates, and jumping the barriers at tube stations say less about the bigger stuff of life and feel a bit flimsy when heard alongside someone who’s experienced a bit more and has something a bit weightier to say.

Elvis Perkins is no spring chicken. He’s also experienced the downs of life as well as the ups. For anyone who doesn’t know, he’s the son of the late actor Anthony Perkins (most famous for his role as Norman Bates in Psycho) who died of AIDS-related illness in 1992. His mother Berry Berenson was on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Elvis (that’s his real name) isn’t one to go into detail about the meaning of his lyrics, but you can’t help think that some of the heartache he has experienced has informed songs like It’s a Sad World After All (“Follow the sound to the table underground / there will be plenty tears going round”) and Ash Wednesday (“No one will survive Ash Wednesday alive / no soldier, no lover, no father, no mother / not an only child”)

There’s also something quite subtle about his music too. It doesn’t have much in the way of singalongs (except maybe May Day!) or even catchy tunes. But that’s not what makes it great. The greatness is to be found in the less obvious parts. A chord change here. A slight vocal inflection there. Then some well-employed strings. And maybe a little touch of harmonica. It’s not even something that it’s easy to put your finger on, but once you’ve listened to his debut album Ash Wednesday a few times, you’ll know what I mean. It just feels, erm, substantial. And soulful. Heartfelt. Brimming with thought-provoking lyrics. And often, like on Moon Woman II and Emile’s Vietnam in the Sky, pure gorgeousness.

I wrote all the above before I saw Perkins supporting Willy Mason at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last Thursday, which I think just helped to underline the point. His set was both poignant and joyous, as he and his fine backing band (called Dearland) played songs from the album as well as the odd cover version. It was stirring stuff, with all the heart and soul that I’d hoped for. So much so that when the (younger) Willy Mason came onstage, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I actually like Mason, but too much of his slightly lacklustre new album didn’t make for a great show. For me it was all about Elvis Perkins, Dearland, and these wonderful songs.

Download: Elvis Perkins – While You Were Sleeping
Download: Elvis Perkins – Moon Woman II

The UK release for Ash Wednesday isn’t until July, but it’s out in the US, so if you're over here and you really can’t wait, you can get it from

More photos from the gig at my Flickr.

Update: Elvis is playing his biggest headline show in the UK so far at The Luminaire on 28 May. That's Monday! Surely the perfect way to end the bank holiday weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Singles going steady 4: It all starts with a !!!

Next up in the series is !!! If I’d been more astute, this one would’ve been first. As all users of iTunes know, symbols trump letters in the alphabetical ordering stakes. So !!! are right there at the top of the ‘artists’ list on my iPod. Which also means that I hear the opening beats of Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard, every time I accidentally hit play. Today on the way to work I hit play deliberately and played the whole song through, something I rarely do. It’s great.

It actually sounds really 'now', even though !!! released it four years ago. There’s so much of this kind of stuff around at the moment as kids around the world take up spiky guitars and synths. But it still sounds fresh and better than so much else currently out there. Kids, take note!

To be honest, although I snapped this up when the hype was building around the New York group, and loved it, I haven’t really bothered to listen to much more of !!!’s output since. But somehow I’m thinking that it’s not been easy for them to top the glorious 18 minutes 11 seconds of the two tracks on this CD. If you can prove me wrong, I’ll be very pleased indeed.

Download: !!! - Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard (A True Story)

It's pretty hard to find this one now. Best check eBay if you want to buy it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangar Ensemble @ Bush Hall, 11 May 2007

I went to see A Hawk and a Hacksaw play with their Hungarian buddies, the Hun Hangar Ensemble on Friday night at Bush Hall. It was an amazing gig. That plus Electrelane on Wednesday made last week one hell of a week for live music.

Rather than my usual review here, you can read it instead at Drowned in Sound. That just leaves me to say that I should have specified the score when I sent the review (I’d have easily given it 9/10) and post some pictures of the gig, with a couple of mp3s – one from the excellent new A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangar Ensemble EP and one from the 2005 album Darkness at Noon.

I have more pics at my Flickr.

Download: A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangar Ensemble – Kiraly Siratas
Download: A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Portland Town

Buy the EP, and the previous albums.

We don't need to fight or cry

I’ve been enjoying the new Feist album The Reminder after finally receiving it last week. There’s a lot to enjoy – from her sweet ballads to her even better pop numbers. How good is Sea Lion Woman?

But I’m not posting any album tracks here. Rather, I have two live session songs that Leslie recorded with her band at the famous BBC Maida Vale studios for Rob da Bank’s ever-excellent show on Radio 1. There were four tracks in total, but I only managed to record the first two in the early hours of Monday morning. You can download them here, but if you want to hear the rest, you can listen to the programme again on the BBC website until Sunday night.

Download: Feist – So Sorry (live at the BBC)
Download: Feist – Limit to Your Love (live at the BBC)

Buy The Reminder.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Twilight Sad

Call me biased, but I’m always a little bit more favourably pre-disposed towards bands from Glasgow than others. I mean, given two very similar bands, I’m probably going to give the one from Glasgow a fairer hearing than the one that’s not. Maybe it’s because that when I got into music for the first time in the early 90s, I was both in Glasgow and enjoying the many great bands around there at the time. It was a good time for music.

Now it’s not a rule that can be generally applied (I didn’t give the Fratellis much time and I was right not to) but it has made me more receptive to The Twilight Sad, a new band from ‘just outside of Glasgow’. On first listen, their debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters is fairly unremarkable stuff. Decent, noisy, melodic indie guitar rock, which though listenable, doesn’t have many unique or particularly interesting features to make it stand above the rest of the indie murk. If they hadn’t been from Glasgow, I might just have left it there. But a few weeks later I listened again. And again. And now I’m beginning to quite like it.

Maybe it’s the unembarrassed, clearly Scottish accent of singer James Graham – in the fine tradition of The Proclaimers and Arab Strap (a band they’re very likely to be compared to), Graham’s rolled Rs are there for all to hear. Maybe it’s the intensity – there’s clearly some emotion gone into this – and it’s not only evident in the vocals and lyrics. Maybe it’s the way that they freely borrow from their city’s rich musical heritage – as well as Arab Strap, the pleasing noisy dynamic of Mogwai is there, as is the rough melodic edges of their early 90s forebears.

Whatever it is, I’m liking it, even if listening to the whole album all the way through is still making me run out of patience a bit. My conversion could be complete though when I get to see them live (at least at the End of the Road Festival, if not before), as there have been some glowing reports of their gigs. We’ll see. In the meantime, try a couple of tracks. They might whet your appetite for more.

Download: The Twilight Sad – Talking With Fireworks / Here, it Never Snowed
Download: The Twilight Sad – Walking for Two Hours

Buy Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Electrelane / The Early Years @ The Scala, 9 May 2007

First up, a public announcement. To anyone in Chicago, Portland, LA or Berkley who are going to see Arcade Fire this month. You have to get down to the gig early and see Electrelane! Honestly, you’ll thank me that you did. If Wednesday night’s Scala gig is anything to go by, you’ll be in for one hell of a warm-up.

Last time I saw them, also supporting Arcade Fire in March, they were a bit tentative. It was a good, short set, but I felt that there was something lacking. Two evenings ago they had anything that was missing before and a lot, lot more. OK, it was their gig and their crowd last night, but if this rich vein of form continues, even if they’re half as good in America as they were at the Scala, it’ll still be brilliant.

Anyone familiar with this blog will know of my love for the Brighton band’s new album No Shouts, No Calls. I mean, it’s still a great album, but imagine it to the power of 10 and that’s the live show. They certainly played a good few of the tracks off the new record last night and they sounded fantastic. They also played a good few from their previous LP Axes. Now, in my No Shouts... review, I was quite dismissive of Axes, and now I’m beginning to realise how wrong I was. Some of the slightly unfamiliar but excellent tunes at the gig, I happily discovered later were on that neglected album. After giving a couple of listens again today I can confirm that despite what I might have previously thought, it's a very good record.

But you can listen to the albums at home all you like. You may even love their music as it comes out of the stereo (and you should). But live, I’ve got to say it again, it really comes into its element. The songs breathe new life. It’s louder, noiser, and just much more impressive. With Ros Murray’s bass pounding grooves to rock bodies to the core. Emma Gaze beating out ultra-tight rhythms on the drums. Verity Susman going mad on the keyboards and synths. And most impressively of all, Mia Clarke smiling sweetly as she laid waste to the Scala with monstrous riffs, ear-slitting noise and highly-controlled guitar abuse. I’m sure that she made as much noise with one guitar as the Early Years did with three. But it’s not all just good quality noise. The gorgeous vocals and the sheer beauty of some of the songs were utterly mesmeric.

With the band hitting this kind of form, so clearly enjoying themselves onstage, and with a hugely appreciative, up-for-it crowd, packed closely together round the various levels of the Scala, it all made for a pretty memorable evening.

So much so that I’ve almost forgotten about The Early Years in support. Now these are another band I’ve shown a lot of love for on this blog in the past. And they were good. Their tendencies seem to be getting more prog every time I see them. Last night we got only four songs, but that lasted over half an hour. Still, I’m telling myself that if this dense, noisy krautrock shoegazey stuff is what passes for prog these days, maybe prog isn’t so scary as I thought. They were a band on form too, but the night totally belonged to Electrelane, who were rapturously received for an encore which they finished with their cover of I’m on Fire. Too bloody right they were.

Download: The Early Years – On Fire
Download: Electrelane – This Deed
Download: Electrelane – Bells
Download: Electrelane – Between the Wolf and the Dog

Buy No Shouts, No Calls and Axes and Power Out. All of ‘em, dammit.

Three Pink Monkeys and The Wirewool were also there. And speaking of other blogs, you can read Electrelane's tour blog to find out how the American tour's going. It seems they enjoyed the Scala show too.

I have some more slightly ropey pics on my Flickr (The Early Years ones are better), but TPM has much better shots.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Credit to the re-edit

A quick one today. Just some remixes and re-edits that I’ve been enjoying lately. First up a fantastic re-edit by Pilooski of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' Beggin’, which I received via the ever-excellent Bloggers Delight. I must admit that I’d never heard of either Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons or Pilooski before, but now I have. That’s Frankie and the boys above, probably sometime in their 60s heyday, when they were responsible for selling heaps of white-boy soul. Pilooski, as I’ve found out from headphonesex (who was, as expected, one of the first off the blocks with this tune) is part of the D*I*R*T*Y gang. Erm, that’s about it. Anyway you don’t really need all this info – the tune is all you need, in all its Northern Soul glory. In true re-edit style, it’’s not altered greatly, just extended and touched up to make to original even better.

Download: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – Beggin’ (Pilooski Re-edit)

Next, a couple of remixes. Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve is the name under which Erol Alkan and Richard Norris release re-edits of weird obscure old psychadelia and folky stuff, most notably on a series of limited and highly collectable 12 inch EPs. But it’s also the name which they use to remix folk and Americana type songs by other artists. The two finest recent examples of these are their re-workings of Findlay Brown’s Losing the Will to Survive and Midlake’s Roscoe. I think these are remixes rather than re-edits, but the re-edit spirit is there. The tunes are not messed around with too much, just extended and a light touch given on the extras. But it’s enough to make them into something quite lovely. And even if they’re not quite going to burn up the dancefloor, they certainly make the originals twist in a different way.

Download: Findlay Brown – Losing the Will to Survive (Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve Re-Animation)
Download: Midlake – Roscoe (Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve Remix)

Order a copy of the Wizards’ latest George EP before it’s too late!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

New National

I’ve been enjoying the new National album Boxer lately, and I’ve been slow to judge it. Rather I want to give it some time, play it a lot and let it sink in properly. I think this is the right approach.

After all, their last album Alligator was a bit of a slow burner for me and I don’t think I was the only one who found that. In fact I didn’t really appreciate it properly till I saw them live – one memorable evening at The Barfly with singer Matt Berninger almost pulling the air con unit off the ceiling. After that I really grew to love the album.

With Boxer, it might be even better because I’m already beginning to like it before I see them live (they’re at The Astoria on 22 May!). There’s a real warmth to the songs, which after a few spins have already made their way to my heart. It gets off to a good start with Fake Empire and Mistaken for Strangers (the new single), but there are plenty of other pleasures to be found there – in particular the lovely accordion on Slow Show. I’ll post on the album again when I give it even more time. Or see them live.

In the meantime, here a couple of tracks played live on John Kennedy’s Xfm show a few weeks ago, when Matt and Aaron Dessner were over here for some promo duties. Nice acoustic versions of Mistaken for Strangers and You’ve Done it Again Virginia (the b-side of Lit Up).

Download: The National – Mistaken for Strangers (live acoustic)
Download: The National – You’ve Done it Again Virginia (live acoustic)

Pre-order Boxer.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Singles going steady 3: Dot Allison & One Dove

It’s about time I got onto the next in my singles series. I’m doing a bit of an alphabetical skip too, but it makes sense. You see, the next artist I’m coming to is Dot Allison, the London-based singer-songwriter, who first made her name as part of early 90s post-rave Scottish trio One Dove – made up of Dot, Ian Carmichael and Jim McKinven.

One Dove first appeared in 1991 with the 12 inch single Fallen on the legendary Soma record label from Glasgow. That 12 inch in itself became a bit of a legend, probably boosted at the time by the involvement of Andrew Weatherall, fresh from his career-defining success with Screamadelica.

Two years later One Dove’s first and only album Morning Dove White was released. I think at the time people were expecting a bit of a Screamadelica-like impact, which although that never really happened, it was still a pretty decent record. At least I remember it was. I don’t have it any more. But I do have the single White Love which preceded the album. It’s a lovely, lush, rolling groove of a tune. The sort of thing that used to be called chill-out when that wasn’t a pejorative term.

One Dove split in 1996 after abandoning work on their second album, and Dot Allison went solo. Her first album Afterglow was released in 1999, and was a bit of a cracker. Still is. Just listening to it again, I’m still loving its blend of beats, pop and heartfelt ballads. But that’s not my concern here.

Dot’s second album We Are Science came out in 2002. It was preceded by the single Substance which is the second CD featured here. It’s an good enough song, and the album itself was OK. But I think it was a combination of it not being what I was hoping for (she veered off on a bit of an electro/rock route) and the songs just not being as strong, which meant that I just didn’t really love it very much.

About the same time as buying the single I went to one of my disappointing gigs ever. I hadn’t seen Dot before, and buoyed by my love for Afterglow I was expecting a great gig. Instead we got six tracks, all off the new album, and that was it. To say Mrs Growl and I left the 100 Club feeling short-changed is an understatement!

Anyway, there’s a particularly fine Slam remix of We’re Only Science on the Substance single. Here it is, along with an edit of White Love.

Download: One Dove – White Love (Radio Edit)
Download: Dot Allison - We're Only Science (Slam Remix)

The good news after We Are Science is that Dot has been doing some new material, which I must say is sounding particularly fine. More of a return to Afterglow, but with more depth and complexity. The bad news is that she hasn’t got a record deal for her new album Exaltation of the Larks yet. Let’s hope she manages to get it out in the not too-distant future. In the meantime, you can buy her most recent EP – Beneath the Ivy – from iTunes.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Black Lips / Shy Child / The Sticks @ Cargo, 1 May 2007

Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics. Now I’m as keen as big sounds, complex instrumentation and arrangements and multi-membered bands as the next person, sometimes it’s good to strip things back a bit and enjoy music a bit less encumbered by added extras.

So down to Cargo on Tuesday night for the latest one in the ever-excellent list of events by ace London promoters Upset the Rhythm, and three bands happily working with limited resources.

First up, The Sticks. Probably the most basic of the evening. There’s only so much you can do with two snare drums, a cymbal, an electric guitar and three chords. But this Brighton duo do remarkably well with these resources. They meandered through their set of lo-fi scuzzy blues rock, and although there wasn't much variation, I never really got bored. There was enough energy, instrument swapping and fun to keep them interesting. One of the blokes drummed so hard his glasses fall off.

Download: The Sticks – 'No Vocal on Tour'

This is a low bitrate download from their myspace site. Not sure it's even the right title. Their first ever release – a split 10 inch on Upset The Rhythm Records – is out on Monday.

Next, NYC’s Shy Child have similar but different limitations – one drummer and another guy on one of these slung-over-the-shoulder keyboards (I think this is what’s called a keytar). You may think that with an electronic instrument, there would be more scope for variation, but not with Shy Child. About four songs in I realised that their repertoire wasn’t going to extend much past one song, and went to lounge on Cargo’s big comfy leather seats with my friends who were similarly unimpressed. Their stabbing synth sound is pure ‘new rave’, which although unusual for a UTR night, is quite the thing the kids are going to go for. Two years ago they’d probably be laughed out of town, but not now. My friend told me they’re going on tour with Klaxons. Says it all really.

Download: Shy Child – Technicrats

mp3 courtesy of Let's Sexy Fighting.

The main attraction though is Black Lips and their rough ‘n’ raw garage punk. Last time they were in town, their tiny gigs were all a bit of a sell-out, so this time they’re in a much bigger venue than before. And they’re great. Though maybe not quite the rock ‘n’ roll mayhem I was expecting. I’d heard all sorts of tales involving nudity and blood and the likes, but only witnessed the guitarist bizarrely spitting in the air and catching his own phlegm in his mouth. But, antics aside, it’s all very good. On the negative side, the sound was crap, there was poor bass sound, and the band sometimes lost momentum by taking too long between the short ‘n’ sweet power of each song. But let’s not quibble too much. They’re a great live band – all full of mad energy, blustering through their retro rock songs with charm as well as sweat. Somehow the rubbish sound didn’t matter too much. The gig had a suitability chaotic ending with a stage invasion and a piece of very clumsy stage diving (more like falling). Like I said before, it’s all pretty basic, but here basic = fun.

Download: Black Lips – Boomerang
Download: Black Lips – Workin’

The Black Lips most recent live album Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo isn’t actually available in the UK. You can buy it from Insound. Or, probably better, you can buy their 2005 album Let it Bloom album from Rough Trade. It has almost the same songs – except more of them.

I've got some more photos (of all three bands) on my Flickr.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Best of April

Album of the month

This month, it’s a toss-up between Electrelane’s No Shouts, No Calls, and Low’s Drums and Guns. I’ve spent more time with the former, so it gets the nod for now. But the spectral beauty of the latter may well win me over by the time the year’s out. But for now it’s all about the four girls from Brighton who have just released a very fine record indeed, albeit with slightly odd artwork. I’ve said plenty about it already, so I’ll just post another track from it. This one is probably my favourite, and also easily one of my songs of the month.

Download: Electrelane – At Sea

Buy No Shouts, No Calls.

Songs of the month

Low – Violent Past

This is my stand-out at the moment from Drums and Guns. I love the way that Low seem to re-invent themselves with each release, yet still manage to sound resolutely and uniquely Low. There’s no other band quite like them. Wonderful.

Battles – Atlas

I had pretty mixed feelings about last year’s Battles release, and there’s no guarantee that their new album (out on 12 May on Warp) is going to be as good as this track. But no matter – I can still be thrilled by the brilliant rhythmic clatter and helium vocals in this immense tune.

Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits

The stand-out track from the oddball but rather lovely album from the affable Swede with the misplaced ‘l’. The soaring melody, the gorgeous harmonies – all enough to make you come over all tingly.

The Young Republic – Excuses to See You

Not a new song, or even a recent one, but one that I’ve become increasingly obsessed with this month as I’ve rejoiced in my finding of this fine group of Bostonians. This is my favourite tune of theirs so far – coming on like an indie-pop Return of the Grievous Angel. If you ever thought that Belle and Sebastian would sound like if they went a bit country, here’s your answer. Perfect.

Joanna Newsom – Crab, Clam, Cockle Cowrie

Another not-quite-new song. Though this one has been re-recorded by Ms Newsom and her touring band and re-released on the cheesily titled Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band. But it still sounds amazing, this time with added male backing harmonies, and at a push is probably my favourite Joanna song ever. So I guess that’s why it’s here.