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Reminds us of The Slits, The Go-Go’s, Joy Division, Tubeway Army, Neu, Suicide, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, The Cure.
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I first came across Automatic in June this year when their debut single Calling It was released. Calling it is dubby, slightly eerie and quite strikingly different, so it’s unsurprising that it made be sit up and pay attention. The band issued three more quality singles over the following months, and released their debut album Signal in September. It’s also very good.
Automatic come from LA and have been making music together since 2017. The band is comprised of Izzy Glaudini (synths, vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) and Halle Saxon (bass, vocals). Lola is a daughter of Kevin Haskins, the drummer from Bauhaus, who previously appeared in the band Blackblack with her sister Diva and some dude called Alex Greenwald, who was in Phantom Planet.
The name Automatic was chosen after a song by the Go-Go’s, whose influence is evident throughout the album, particularly on tracks like Too Much Money, Signal and Champagne. There however is a wide array of influences on show here, although Automatic manage to forge their own identity with their icy vocals, slightly off kilter bass and chilling synth.
Suicide in Texas is aptly very Suicide like. I Love You, fine evokes Tubeway Army. Tracks like Signal and Damage channel Joy Division. At times you can hear the Cure around the time of Seventeen Seconds and Faith, at others on tracks like Highway, Krautrock comes to the fore.
Overall it’s a very enjoyable listen, poppy in places and yet spooky and intriguing in others. The band cite film as an important influence, especially the likes of David Lynch and his somewhat dissonant approach definitely comes through the music.
The band play just two UK gigs in October as part of their European tour, at the Shacklewell Arms (22nd) and at the Lanes in Bristol (23rd).
Reminds us of: The Fall, Wire, That Petrol Emotion
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The first thing I heard by the Fall was ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’ on a Beggars Banquet compilation alongside other notable acts of the day such as Bauhaus, The Cult, The Icicle Works and Gene Loves Jezebel. I thought it was a great tune, and it set me off on a voyage of Fall discovery, attempting to navigate my way through what was already a massive back catalogue. These days and indeed in them days I’d describe myself as an occasional fan of their music though, as I love some of their stuff but struggle to make it through a whole album.
Occasional fandom is certainly not the case for the band Life though. They openly cite the Fall as a key influence and its pretty damn obvious in their music. If you have a look at the band’s Spotify page you’ll notice that one of their playlists is titled ‘Mark E God’ too, although they also have the good taste to also have a Leonard Cohen playlist.
As a rule I’ll always have a look at the Radio 6 playlists published online to check out any new music that hasn’t flown past my radar, which is where I became aware of Life, through lead single from their new album ‘Moral Fibre’. I was impressed enough by Moral Fibre to keep my eye out for future releases, and next single ‘Hollow Thing’ piqued my interest too, although both tracks are very obviously Fall-like. Latest single ‘Bum Hour’ swung it for me though, a well-crafted little number that shows a lot of progression in their music.
The band are from Hull and in their previous incarnation as The Neat, managed to share a stage with Mark E Smith who promptly insulted them. They describe this moment as a special honour. Three of the band work or have worked in the Warren Youth Project, which offers education programmes for young people, and there is strong sense of political awareness running through their music.
First album Popular Music is a coming together of a number of single recorded over a three year period. The album was critically lauded and band received a lot of attention from the likes of Steve Lamacq, even making it onto the BBC Radio 1 albums of the year list. Lyrically the songs cover a range of topics including Brexit, Austerity, Trump and supermarket 2 for 1 deals. It’s good, although inevitably for an album of attention grabbing singles like Rare Boots, Sugar God and Euromillions it’s not particularly cohesive and all that energy gets a bit hard to get through in one sitting.
New album ‘A Picture of Good Health’ however is a different matter. It kicks off at pace with the title track and Moral Fibre, the latter of which critiques music industry moguls (Pissants!) who ply the next big thing band with coke to get them onto their roster. Bum Hour follows, sensibly slowing things down a bit, describing the experience of moving into a small flat have moved out of a family home ‘all my mates are out of town, this is the bum hour calling’.
The frenetic pace of the albums opening doesn’t come again until Grown Up and Niceties which is a good thing - Hollow Thing, Excites Me, Never Love Again and Half Pint Fatherhood are all good tracks that build the album nicely, and give it an appropriate amount of variation and depth. Don't Give Up Yet and New Rose in Love bring the album to a close.
There’s a wide range of subjects covered in the album, from mental health, break ups (and subsequent child access issues) to consumer culture on ‘It’s a Con’, and it’s clear to see that although the Mark E Smith influence is undeniable, the band are much more than just a Fall tribute band.
A Picture of Good Health is a very impressive album, and one that sees the band maturing at pace.
For more on the band, go to their website.
The band head out a UK tour in October and November, have a look at the Gigs and News page for more details.
The Utopia Strong
Reminds us of: Brian Eno, Laraaji, Terry Riley, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, The Orb
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‘I'm sometimes tempted to make my own music, and Kavus is encouraging. It would never be anything more than a whim, though. I'm 56; I'd have known years ago if it was any kind of calling. And even if I do come up with something, I'd never play it on our show. No way. I have a feeling it would be pathetic’.
Steve Davis, interviewed in the Independent in 2014.
I nearly fell off my seat when I saw a post announcing that 6 times snooker champion, Steve Davis had teamed up with Kavus Torabi and Michael J York to make a ten minute plus track as the Utopia Strong. I should have known it would be good though, given that it was being released by the ever reliable Rocket Recordings, the home of such quality music as the wonderful Gnoomes and the sadly now defunct Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation.
So I put Brainsurgeons 3 on and was pleasantly surprised to hear its rather appealing blend of Komische, Ambient and Psychedelia.
Whilst Steve Davis is a household name, and one of Romford’s best known sons, I had to do some digging on Kavus Torabi and Michael York. Both of them have been making music for many years within bands such as Gong, the Cardiacs, Coil, Current 93, Knifeworld, Teleplasmiste, and Guapo. Davis met with Torabi at a Magma gig in 2009 and they hit it off, Torabi soon discovering that Davis was a music nerd with a liking for head music. The story of their meeting is told in that article in the Independent.
After Brainsurgeons 3 was released in June, the three of them announced that an album would be released in September. One further track appeared prior to the album’s September 13th release date Konta Chorus, which suggested that the album would be something to listen out for. I went a little bit further and got myself a copy of the orange vinyl in its holographic packaging!
and The album begins with Emerald Tablet, an elegant Terry Riley-esque drone that comes and goes in the blink of an eye. As is the case with a number of tracks on the album, Konta Chorus builds beautifully to the point where its myriad elements perfectly collide. Swimmer is an ambient Laraaji like wash of soothing sounds (minus the zither) that as with later tracks like Transition to the Afterlife and Do you believe in Two Gods? could do with being a lot longer.
A couple of short interludes Unquiet Boundary and Pickmans Model and the excellent ‘Brainsurgeons 3’ complete the album, along with closing track Moonchild – the only part of the record that features any form of vocals, albeit looped and submerged within the mix.
All in all, ‘The Utopia Strong’ feels like the coming together of three talented friends who have each brought their love of music to make something quite special. I get the impression that the respect each has for each other has probably led them to temper the length of some of the tracks here, because you really are left wanting the music to go on for longer in places. It may be that they explore more when they play live, which I’ll get to find out when I catch them on their tour in December.
For the meantime however, put the album on, sit back, close your eyes and enjoy.
For more information on how the band came together, have a read of this interview in The Quietus.
The Utopia Strong play live in November and December. For details, please click here.
Click here to buy Rocket Recordings stuff and here to read their blog.
(Thee) Oh Sees
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Its difficult to know where to start with a profile on Oh Sees. Twenty odd albums, countless line ups, numerous name changes, with the only constant seemingly being front man John Dwyer. The notion of trying to go through their entire back catalogue seems ludicrous, so I thought I’d concentrate on their latest album, a recent gig and a maybe a steer to their earlier albums.
The band were originally known as OCS (Orinoka Crash Suite, Orange County Sound, whatever) and have been known as The OhSees, Thee Oh Sees and now Oh Sees. Their output has been prodigious – 20 plus albums, some live sets as well as compilations. The level of output is almost on a par with the Fall, as is their absolute disregard for doing anything apart from what they want to, it would seem. Given the influence that the Fall has had on modern alternative music you wonder if the Thee Oh Sees will leave a similar legacy, and their influence is already obvious with bands like Slift.
Latest album Face Stabber came out in August, encompassing garage/psych rock, Krautrock, Jazz, punk, prog rock and funk. Its quite a commitment to listen to in one sitting, 80 minutes long in total, although two of the fourteen songs account for 35 of those minutes, including album closer Henchlock, which was released as a ‘single’ prior to the album coming out.
The Daily Heavy* kicks off proceedings, a frenetic little psych rock beast that starts like Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice. Next up is The Experimenter, powered along by the shuffling beats of the twin drummer set up, reaching its climax with a free-flowing saxophone expressing itself. Most bands choose the third track of their album to slow down the proceedings if the opening tracks canter along, but not Oh Sees – Face Stabber is an instrumental wig out work out, although there is respite at the end, as the track segues into birdsong. The pace slows a little for Snickersee before picking up again for the prog rock Fu Xi which concludes with a freeform synthesised collapse.
Scutum and Scorpius combines prog rock, 70s funk and psychedelic jazz over its 14 minutes but doesn’t really outstay its welcome. Just when you thought you might be getting comfortable, Gholu comes along to wake you up, or rather pummel you into submission. Poisoned Stones* follows on with its slightly manic headbanging pysch-funk and then there’s Psy-Ops Dispatch – jazz, prog, funk, psych all coming together. S.S. Luker is another instrumental wig out blending pysch and funk which leads into the punk onslaught of Heartworm. Next up is the dizzying Together Tomorrow*, and then of nowhere comes Captain Loosely* Captain Nowhere, like some Bill Laswell/Laraaji experimental/ambient construction. The album closes with Henchlock, a 20-minute jazz/funk/psych-rock work out. ‘Where is that cup of tea?’ indeed.
Overall the album works and it is rewarding to take it all in one go, but it does take a bit of getting used to. Until I saw the band live I hadn’t realised they had two drummers in their set up, but listening to Facestabber again you kind of get the point of that – you get some much percussive energy and it must be great for the rest of the band to feed off, although at times it’s a little exhausting!
Onto the gig – I had the pleasure of witnessing the band play live at London’s Troxy for their sole UK gig, and I have to say it was a great night. Having read a post that said that they would be on at 9.40 until 11 and not fancying the support, we got into the venue about 9.20, only to find that they had already started. I would have preferred to have got myself down the front to see the band but this was practically impossible given the swathes of people who were going mental. They powered through their set, and it has to be said they really are an absolute machine. The amount of work those drummers got through was mind blowing, they create such momentum and add so much body to the music - brilliant. Have a look at some of the clips here and here.
In addition to tracks from the new album the band pounded out a series of old stalwarts including Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster, a turbo charged version of Withered Hand and C from the last album. Then they were done. This was the first time I had seen them before but it was obvious from looking at the satisfied faces of many at the end that most of the crowd had been there before, knew what they were going to get, and had certainly had their fix.
If you are new to the band, you might want to start by listening to Mutilator Defeated At Last, Floating Coffin or A Weird Exits before tackling Facestabber, both are relatively short and pretty immediate. I’m still trying to work my way through myself. And if you get the chance to see them play live, I’d certainly recommend that you do. For a taste of that experience, have a look at this gig in Paris or this KEXP session.
Reminds us of:
The Velvet Underground, Jean-Jaques Perrey, Brigitte Bardot, Loop, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Francoise Hardy, the Liminanas
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2019 has been an interesting year for psychedelic music, with some unlikely forces combing to make some great music. Who would have thought that five times world snooker champion Steve Davis would get together with Kavus Torabi and Michael York to make trippy psychedelic krautrock that actually sounds rather good? Or that French actress Emanuelle Seigner would get together with Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre fame and the Liminanas to make a super cool Pysch Rock record?
It’s the latter combination that we focus on here, as they have formed a band named L’Epee (the Sword) and created a wonderful new album ‘Diabolique’. The band announced themselves to the world via the excellent single Dreams earlier this year, sounding like Jean-Jaques Perry’s EVA mixed with Brigitte Bardot’s Contact and the Eurotrash theme.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the names, Emanuelle Seigner is best known as an actress, having appeared in a number of films since the 80’s including Bitter Moon and Frantic. She’s also been in another band ‘Ultra Orange’ and is married to the film director Roman Polanski. The Brian Jonestown Massacre have been around since the 1990s, consistently making quality psychedelic / shoegaze music, and the Liminanas are a French psych rock duo who’ve been around since the mid 2000’s. This is not the first time they have appeared together – Seigner provided guest vocals on their Shadow People album, as did Anton Newcombe but it’s their first album under the ‘L’Epee moniker.
If you know the BJM and the Liminanas you’ll kind of know what to expect on ‘Diabolique’, although the album has a definite 60’s French pop sensibility about it. This pop influence comes out most on ‘Dreams’ and Springfield 61, both magnifique, and with Springfield 61 sounding like it could have been produced by Phil Spector.
The album opens in spritely fashion with Une Lune Etrange, curiously sung in English despite its French title. Lou follows, which like Ghost Rider later on is the sort of Velvet Underground-esque drone that you’d expect from Newcombe. After ‘Dreams’ Seigner narrates La Brigade Des Malefices, which sounds not dissimilar to Vapour by Loop from their album ‘A Gilded Eternity’.
The drone effect comes into play again with Grande and Un Rituel Habituel before Last Picture Show brings the proceedings to a close. It is all good stuff.
Prior to the album’s release, the band released teaser clips of the tracks with notes (presumably translated from French) which are listed as they appeared below:
Une Lune Etrange: ‘There is a New Order Aspect in the construction of this song. It may come from our collaboration with Peter Hook on Shadow People album
Lou: I Love him and I hate him. How could he has forgiven his parents the electrochoc therapy they used to treat him of rock and roll?
Dreams: Dreams tell the misfortunes of a women harassed by a bad guy she finally eat.
Les Brigade Des Malefices: For the atmosphere the song owes a lot to SHERLOCK HOLMES and JACK THE RIPPER
On Dansait Avec Elle: Emmanuelle and Bertrand are singing in Duo, its one of my favorite songs
Ghost Rider: Of course, it’s a tribute to ALAN VEGA
Grande: The atmosphere has never been to minimalism. Its rather to maximalism
Springfield 61: This song refers to 60s movies as the Great Race, as well as eroticism
Un Rituel Inhabituel: The song took so much breath in studie in Berlin than it might be difficult to play it on scene. We will have to adapt it
The Last Picture Show: It looks like closing titles
There’s a good interview in the Guardian which gives further background to the band and the album which you can read here.
The band are playing a couple of UK tour dates, click here for more detail.