Guest Post by Peter Smith
If anyone tries to tell you there is no good music coming through, or that rap, grime and trap is the only stuff out there, tell them to go through the list of over 200 artists playing the Reading and Leeds festival at the end of this month.
There is such a variety of acts, through many different genres, and plenty to engage those of us with somewhat more traditional rock-based tastes. So here are just ten that caught my attention as I started working out my Clashfinder schedule and how I can get round about 70 bands over the three days, which is what I usually manage.
But let’s start with perhaps the weirdest act on the bill …
Poppy (sounds like everything from Shirley Temple to Slipknot)
Poppy is the “Andy Warhol of the internet generation”. Or maybe not. She is a young US singer, who hides her true self behind a “character” she plays, Poppy, a Barbie-type creation with an annoying little girl voice. But her album Am I a Girl is a surprisingly effective Lorde/ Taylor Swift electro-pop mix, and the 25 minutes of ICU on Spotify could almost be Brian Eno. Then Scary Mask starts out like the Carpenters, before turning into Slipknot… your guess is as good as mine in terms of what on earth she is going to do at Reading and Leeds! She’s on the metal / rock stage, so that might be a clue.
Anteros (Blondie, No Doubt)
If Anteros don’t make it with their own very enjoyable 1980s style pop/punk, then they can certainly do well as a Blondie tribute act. Lead singer Laura Hayden is also a model and could give Debbie Harry a run for her money in the looks department, and she can sing too. Songs are more than acceptable substitutes too ...
Cassia (early Vampire Weekend, Talking Heads, Graceland period Paul Simon)
Northern trio with a distinctive afro-beat sound, very summery, tuneful, and with occasional depths to the songs that certainly make them ones to watch. Their debut album exceeded my expectations and is one of the highlights of 2019 so far.
Kawala (Simon and Garfunkel, Jack Johnson)
This north London duo blend skilful harmonies, acoustic guitar and folk/pop tunes, but with touches of more contemporary rhythms and vibes to make a very pleasant noise that avoids MOR but will be great on a warm afternoon, we suspect!
Sophie and the Giants (Florence and the Machine, Maccabees)
Sheffield based indie pop with huge choruses, strong tunes and fronted by Sophie who has a great Florence (of Machine fame) type soul-tinged emotion-filled rock voice. This band really sounds like a major act in waiting – one song going viral will break them.
Sea Girls (U2, Bombay Bicycle Club)
Not girls at all – four fairly normal looking blokes form London, in fact. We saw them on the Introducing stage at Reading last year, but their material since them shows growing confidence and maturity. The basic approach is classic “indie”, but they embrace big, almost U2-like choruses now, and are clearly aiming for stadiums rather than niche venues.
Twisted Wheel (Libertines, The Enemy, Oasis)
This Oldham rock trio formed in 2007, but have been away for a while. Back together with their ramshackle indie-punk, they have energy and limited sophistication, but hey, we need a bit of this alongside “the new Warhol” and so on! This could be brilliant or a disaster at the festivals…
Æ MAK – (Pet Shop Boys, Bjork, the Unthanks)
Fascinating Irish band, brainchild of Aoife McCann, with two female front-people singing in complex folk-like harmony (note the use of open fifths). The music is more electronic pop than folk though, with other influences (e.g. African), but the quirky vocals give them a pretty unique sound. They deserve to go global, really, and YouTube suggests they can cut it live, too.
Stand Atlantic – (Blink 182, Foo Fighters, Green Day)
Australian pop-punk with charismatic and talented front-woman, Bonnie Fraser. Chunky pop choruses with big rock guitar, but some sophistication (and Fraser) lifting them above the mass of similar bands.
Cavetown – (Nick Drake, Isaac Gracie, Ed Sheeran)
Already huge on Spotify, Robbie Skinner is Cavetown. He is a young Cambridge singer songwriter, with nice under-stated voice and intelligent lyrics, and he can write a catchy chorus too. Mother is a professional flautist and father is Director of Music at Sidney Sussex college, Cambridge University… it’s in the genes, you know.
Remind us of: the Cure, Joy Division, Death Cult/early Cult, early U2, Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, David Holmes, Echo and the Bunnymen, Public Image Limited
Links to songs in blue
The Wikipedia definition of ‘Post Punk’ describes it as ‘a broad type of rock music that emerged from the punk movement of the 1970s, in which artists departed from the simplicity and traditionalism of punk rock to adopt a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and diverse influences’. 40 years on there is now an exciting new wave of post punk, and at its heart are the Murder Capital.
The band come from Dublin, and have very much become the doyens of the press, critically lauded even before they released anything based on their electric live performances. Their first single release was ‘Feeling Fades’ which made its debut early this year, subsequently followed by ‘Green and Blue’, ‘Don’t Cling to Life’ and just last week ‘More is Less’. Their debut album ‘When I have Fears’ was released on Friday, and has garnered a heap of critical praise.
I grew up on a staple diet of post punk with a bit of Goth thrown in here and there, so listening to the album has been an interesting experience. It’s almost been like revisiting my past and waking old memories that I’d previously tucked away.
The original post punk influences are very clear on ‘When I have Fears’. Opening track For Everything could quite easily be mistaken for ‘Horse Nation’ by the Cult or ‘One Hundred Years’ by the Cure. It’s a powerful start that’s complemented by the thrashy More is Less which seems influenced by IDLES, who the band have previously supported on their tour.
The pace slows with Green & Blue, which evokes Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘All my Colours/Zimbo’ and Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’, and then slows further with the excellent Slowdance I and beautiful Slowdance II and On Twisted Ground. Within this section there are hints of U2 and the Cure from their Faith album, particularly on On Twisted Ground which is reminiscent of ‘All Cats are Grey’.
Feeling Fades ups the tempo, still within the Cure territory, sounding like the Hanging Garden from ‘Pornography’ with shades of Killing Joke thrown in. Don't Cling to Life sounds like a cross between Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Transmission’ mixed with fellow countryman David Holmes’s ‘I Hear Wonders’. An element of David Holmes’s ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’ from the same album permeates How the Streets Adore Me Now before the album closes with the menacing Love Love Love which could easily have found itself on an early Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy album.
Overall it’s a very good album and the placing of the songs give it an excellent structure. If I’d heard this as a teenager I’d have it on repeat and loud, just like I did with the bands that have clearly influenced this record.
It is however slightly let down by the production – the vocals are too high in the mix for my liking which doesn’t do them any favours and the bass is submerged where it should really be driving the music alongside the drums. Nonetheless this is a promising debut and it will be very interesting to see where they take their music to next.
The band are touring extensively in October. I’ve not seen them yet but it will be interesting to see how they sound live compared to record. As mentioned above they’re supposed to be superb live, so if you can get to one of their gigs do so. I’d also recommend checking out some of the other new wave of Irish bands – the likes of the Melts and Silverbacks for example, as there’s some seriously good stuff brewing there.
Reminds us of: Oasis, the Stone Roses, the Damned
Links to music in Blue.
The first time I heard ‘Shakermaker’ by Oasis I was blown away. I’d been steadily falling out of love with guitar music for a couple of years at that time, but hearing that I was seriously impressed. A great tune, well written, oozing with swagger. I’d hoped that they’d make a great album after that, and so they did with Definitely Maybe, which I put on the other day and thought that it still sounded wonderful.
I was reminded of that Shakermaker moment in May of this year when I heard Stupid by the Boho’s for the first time. There are definite similarities between the two bands in terms of production and overall sound, as well as that sense of confidence that comes out and says ‘we know we’ve made a great song here’, although they don’t seem to be benefiting from the same level of hype that Oasis had when they first emerged.
Having merrily feasted on ‘Stupid’ I wondered if they could get anywhere near to that standard again with their next release, but reassuringly they have. Already Dead came out at the end of June and it’s also a cracker.
The band come from Liverpool and have been around for about 3 years. Lead singer Finn Power has the distinction of being John Power of Cast’s son. Similar to another of the North West’s great bands the Stone Roses, it would appear as though the bands’ early output is pretty forgettable compared to these latest two singles. As with the Roses, Stupid and Already Dead represent a significant evolution in the same way that Elephant Stone and the first Stone Roses’s album was.
‘Stupid’ starts anonymously with a muted guitar refrain before launching into a powerful riff, soon accompanied by a very confident vocal that absolutely revels in its scouse roots. It’s an immense song that culminates with a wicked riff. Already Dead follows a similar pattern, with the guitar and vocal sound really giving the band character and identity, with a Led Zep like break in the middle. Stirring stuff.
It will be interesting to see how the band develop over the coming months. By all accounts they toured nationally with Cast late last year, but since Stupid came out I haven’t seen them play a single gig outside of their native Liverpool. If that continues I can’t see them building up a massive fan base, which is a real shame. Musically they’ve set the bar really high with these two singles, and hopefully the quality of their output will continue in the same vein.
Reminds us of:
NEU, Can, Faust, Hawkwind, Kikagaku Moyo, Loop
Links to music/references in blue
According to Wikipedia, ‘Krautrock is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among bands that blended elements of psychedelic rock and various avant garde influences. These artists largely distanced themselves from the blues influences and song structure of traditional Anglo-American rock music instead utilizing hypnotic rhythms, tape music techniques, and early synthesizers.
The term "krautrock" was coined by British music journalists in the early 1970s as a humorous umbrella label for the diverse German scene though many so-labelled artists disliked the term. The period contributed to the development of ambient music and techno and influenced subsequent genres such as post punk, new age music and post rock’.
If you go to Minami Deutsch’s social media accounts, you’ll see their very short but to the point description of their music: ‘Japanese Krautrock’. It’s a clever description, as the genre encompasses so much variation and creativity and doesn’t tie them down to any particular sound, and they do it very well.
The band were formed in 2014 and the name translates literally as ‘South Germany’. At the heart of their sound is repetition and their excellent music drifts from instrumental pieces to vocal tracks mainly sung in Japanese.
Their self-titled first album was released in 2016, and it’s very much awash with the Motorik beat that’s so associated with Krautrock or Komische Music overall. You can listen to the whole album here and I recommend that you do, as it’s great. You should be well into by the end of track 2 ‘Futsu Ni Ikirenai’ especially with that wonderful fuzz guitar that lights up the end of it.
Second album ‘With Dim Light’ was released last year and sees their sound evolve further – in addition to their love of Krautrock the band also like a bit of techno and seventies funk, with the latter influence prevalent in opening track Concrete Ocean. Tangled Yarn, Bitter Moon and Don't Wanna Go Back take more of a psyche rock direction with the remaining two tracks Tunnel and I've seen a ufo reverting back to Motorik. It’s all good though, and pretty immediate like its predecessor so do dig in.
The band returned early this year with the Live at Roadburn EP, which has ex Can vocalist Damo Suzuki warbling freeform over it. The music is very good of course, but Suzuki ruins it for me – at times he sounds like he’s commentating on horse racing.
Also (just) released this year is the Can’t Get There EP, with lead track ‘Can’t get there’ available in three mixes – a Psychedelic original, a techno take by Mytholgen and a beatsy version by Jamie Paton. I’m less partial to the Paton version but the others are very good. The EP also has Israeli Blues which they themselves have described as ‘cold funk’ (and who am I to disagree?) and Nishi No Jiku which takes a while to warm up but when it does you get that glorious blast of fuzz again.
I’d love to tell you how good they are live, but I’ve not seen them yet and they have decided to play over here when I’m on holiday (grrrr) so I won’t get the chance. Apparently they’re very entertaining though, so check them out if you can. I’ve put the dates in the gigs page of the site.
It's funny how things can change in the blink of an eye; one minute I’m in a seedy club bemoaning the cost of a lager and getting more and more annoyed that the artist that I’ve paid a lot of money to see still hasn’t made it on to stage, and the next I’ve had a great night watching probably the best front man rock music has to offer, who has just announced to a packed club that he loves my shirt.
Perry Farrell’s Kind Heaven Orchestra released their first album at the start of June. Two UK dates were scheduled in the UK to promote the album, both at a nightclub called The Box. The pricing for these gigs has been controversial: initially to stand you had to pay £193 a head, or you could have a private booth at £315 per head. Given the uproar on social media, the pricing was changed to £65 per head (including fees) but the booth prices stayed the same. £65 is still a lot of cash to pay to see an artist, but Perry does put on one hell of a show and only plays over here once in a blue moon, so we thought it would probably be worth it.
The club itself used to be the Raymond Revuebar, a theatre and strip club which was once the only venue in London that offered full frontal nudity, and used to refer itself as ‘The World Centre of Erotic Entertainment’. The Raymond Revuebar closed down in 2004 and after a couple of changes of ownership became the Box in 2011. In its current iteration the Box has been referred to as ‘Britain’s seediest VIP club’ with sexually explicit cabaret and Burlesque shows. If you have a look at the website you’ll get a flavour and a quick look at its page on Wikipedia may pique your interest in ‘Laqueefa’.
Walking in to the club felt seedy, standing in the club felt seedy. Going to the toilet even felt seedy, as the loos are positioned near a set of stairs and an entrance that says ‘Sex’. We certainly felt a bit soiled after buying drinks too - £9.50 for a bottle of beer (less than half a pint) or £17 for a spirit and mixer anyone?
It’s obviously no surprise that Perry Farrell should choose to play here – for as long as I can remember his shows (with Janes Addiction or Porno for Pyros) have always had a bit of sleaze and cabaret associated with them, dancing girls, fire eaters and all that. So despite the toppy prices however you knew were going to get properly entertained, and that was certainly the case.
The band finally appeared at 9.30, kicking off with ‘On the Beach’ from Jane's Addictions second album ‘Nothing’s Shocking’. Most of the new album got played alongside a few more old Jane's tracks (Mountain Song, Jane Says, Stop) and a couple of Porno for Pyros tunes too (Tahitian Moon and Pets). While Etty Farrell tried in vain to keep her herself in her top, Perry Farrell (of course) prowled around the room and along the catwalk, ever the showman delighting his audience. In between the songs he plied us with his trademark banter and naturally everyone was captivated.
Naturally there was cabaret: a lady carrying a live snake round her neck and allowing it to slither around her mouth as Farrell sung close by. The same lady then disrobed into her underwear, attached herself to an overhead harness and began twirling around to Tahitian Moon. Two acrobats then did their thing, followed by another scantily clad woman who had her hands tied and was twirled around by a seedy looking bloke. Not your normal rock gig by any stretch of the imagination!
So was it worth the hefty entrance fee? I’d say so, it was a brilliant show and to cap it off right at the end Perry Farrell pointed to me and said ‘I want that shirt, that’s a great shirt’ so naturally I felt honoured! He is undoubtedly the best front man I’ve ever seen, and he has such an amazing presence on stage that you can’t help but enjoy yourself.
Reminds us of: Gang of Four, Foals, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wire, The Fall, Joy Division
A few years ago I read a book by Simon Reynolds called ‘Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978- 1984’. It was quite a good read, and as I finished each chapter I’d jump online to listen to the bands mentioned if I they weren’t familiar to my earbuds. The band that I remember most from this was Gang of Four, and in particular the ‘Entertainment’ album, which is pretty damn marvellous. Egyptian Blue sound like the Gang of Four from that period, which makes them pretty marvellous too.
The band come from the Essex/Suffolk borders, but reside in Brighton. I’m also an Essex émigré, as are a lot of my friends, and who can blame them for heading for Brighton? There seems to be a burgeoning music scene growing down there with a number of other exciting prospects emerging, including noiseniks Happy Couple, whose lead singer Lena Pilshofer produced the artwork for Egyptian Blue’s singles.
Over the last year the band have released three singles digitally, with all three songs alongside another forming a proper vinyl EP ‘Collateral Damage’. The lead track from that EP was To Be Felt which was the one that brought them to my attention in the first place and has garnered a lot of positive media reaction, and this attention has subsequently been built on by the other two releases Collateral and Contain It, both of whom have made it on to the Radio 6 playlist.
All the tracks on the EP are excellent (the EP is completed by Adderall). The guitars judder and occasionally jangle, the bass is inventive, the drumming is tight and powerful and the dual vocalists complement each other well. It feels like each song has gone through a lengthy process of refinement to get to its finished state. The band have indeed erased all of their earlier releases, such as ‘Cut Me a Hole’ which is understandable as that output does not compare favourably to this EP.
The band have toured extensively with fellow bright new things The Murder Capital, and I had the pleasure of seeing their set at All Points East earlier this year. Despite looking a bit serious throughout I thought they played a blinding set, and the quality of material over the half an hour or so that they played certainly suggests that there’s more good stuff from them to come. I’m certainly looking forward to catching them at their headline gig at the Servants Quarters in October.
Reminds us of: Air, Ballistic Brothers, Broadcast, Skalpel, Fragile State, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Stereolab, Saint Etienne, Skylab, Lemonjelly
Links to songs in blue.
Amidst the explosion of dance music in the 1990s, chill-out music blossomed, designed to aid the come down from the full on clubbing experience. Although ambient music from the likes of Eno, Harold Budd, Laraaji and so on had been around for quite some time, it was the KLF who started to integrate club sounds through their ‘Chill Out’ and ‘Space’ albums, with artists like the Orb following suit. As dance music diversified, incorporating a range of different influences, so did chill out, creating lounge, trip hop, downtempo and so on.
Compilation albums like the Rebirth of Cool showcased acts that embraced jazz, dub, Latin and more, and compilation series like ‘Back to mine’ and DJ Kicks series saw DJ’s putting contemporary downtempo artists alongside easy listening tunes from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s this melting pot of influences that I’m most reminded of when listening to Vanishing Twin’s music, and it is rather wonderful.
Vanishing Twin syndrome refers to a process called fetal resorportion whereby the embryo of one twin is absorbed into the other twin, which happens in about 30% of all twin pregnancies. Lead singer of Vanishing twin the band Cathy Lucas found out that she was the twin that survived when she was 12, and sings about this on the first track of their debut album ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’.
Vanishing Twin is a coming together of a number of notable musicians in their own right. Cathy was formally a member of Fanfarlo, and also recorded an album as Orlando with Tomaga a year ahead of Vanishing Twin’s debut. Valentina Magaletti played in Fanfarlo, Tomaga and Neon Neon, Susumu Mukai records as Zongamin, Phil MFU as Man From Uranus and Broadcast, and they are joined by Elliot Arndt. Most of these artists create pretty experimental stuff on their own, but together seem to curb their excesses and make music that is very accessible, albeit pleasantly eccentric and quirky.
Vanishing Twin Syndrome kicks off that debut album, a song in two parts – the first jazzy psychedelia slightly reminiscent of ‘The State I’m in’ by Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation and the second like ’93 aka Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Lemonjelly. Telescope, The Conservation of Energy and It Sends My Heart Into a Spin channel that sixties pop psychedelia sound with the latter two reminiscent of Air, with the rest of the album navigating its way through some pretty experimental but also very listenable and cool sounds. It’s a fine record.
A six song EP followed a year later in 2017 in the shape of Dream By Numbers with five new songs plus one from the debut album. Again all good tunes, all slightly experimental and in places you feel as though you could be watching a trippy independent film from the 1960s.
New album ‘The Age of Immunology’ was released last month, and is of a similarly high standard to its predecessors. Lead single KRK (At Home In Strange Places) kicks off the album combining the jazziness of Skalpel and Kruder and Dorfmeister with a vocal that sounds similar to Skylab’s Fragment. Wise Children floats dreamily into psychedelic territory before we back into filmic Lalo Schifrin mode with Cryogenic Suspension May Save Your Life. You are not an Island reminds me of an other-worldly Nick Drake, and then we float off again with the albums’ title track. The breezy Magician's Success is next – quite Saint Etienne poppy, and then we get Planete Sauvage with its vocals sung in French to a jazzy beat, accompanied by noises that are remarkably similar to the Moon Up mix of Can’s Pnoom. The rest of the album twists and turns into ever more interesting territory with Backstroke and the lush Invisible World before closing with Language is a City.
All in all its brilliant stuff, quite unique and yet somehow reminiscent of so many things.
Reminds us of: Suicide, Nico, The Velvet Underground, Goldfrapp, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Spiritualised, Can, Stereolab, Broadcast, Mazzy Star
Links to tracks in blue
Since I started this blog in March 2019, I’ve vigorously used social media to promote the content. The aim has been to say nice things about people that make good music, and probably the most satisfying part of doing this comes when the artist acknowledges the post. The most appreciative people are without doubt all those associated with Rocket Recordings, which only makes me like them even more. Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation are part of the Rocket Recordings roster, originally from Sweden but now based in London, they make damn fine music, and from my interactions with them on social media they seem like very nice people too.
As is often the case with me, my first exposure to the band was via their latest album ‘Sacred Dreams’. Having been suitable impressed by what I heard, I was encouraged to steadily work my way through their back catalogue, which has been an enjoyable experience that I’d thoroughly recommend.
Latest album ‘Sacred Dreams’ was released in April this year, and kicks off with the track that I first heard of theirs Feel the Sun, a lovely bit of psychedelic pop. The album twists and turns through a variety of genres - from the Goldfrapp like electronica of I Can Feel It and Desire to Velvets style 60s pop like Hey Little Boy and ‘Caramel Head’ to the T-Rex glam of Baby Come On and the Suicide-esque Whatever You Want. It’s not perfect, and could probably have done with a couple of songs being left off, but it is none the less a very good album, and probably the most accessible of the three produced so far.
Far nearer to perfection are the previous two albums, Horse Dance and Mirage. The pick of these for me is Mirage, which starts with the excellent The State I'm In – all trippy organ and driving 60’s psych. Sister Green Eyes, follows, and then we get into Suicide territory with In Madrid and Rainbow Lollipop, with the latter building nicely over whispered vocals. Endless Ocean takes us into Nico and the Velvets/Spiritualised territory before we head off into the realms of Krautrock with Looking for You and Rushing Through My Mind and album closer Imagine You, with the experimental Circular Motion and psych pop Where I'm Going in between. I really can’t fault this album, it’s superb.
Debut album ‘Horse Dance’ was released in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim. The band use the mostly one chord drone effect well throughout, switching between the driving psych rock of Dunes, Green Blue Fields and Talk , and Krautrock like Sanity and Take Me Beyond interspersed with more experimental tracks like Horse Dance. Overall it’s an impressive listen, with the spirit of Alan Vega strong throughout. First EP Diamond Waves (including the excellent Free) is also well worth checking out, and by all accounts it won a Swedish Grammy.
What I like most about Josefin Ohrn and the Liberation is their ability to seamlessly blend such an array of impressive influences cohesively into their own particular style of music. Having recently played at Glastonbury, the band are touring throughout the UK in November, which should be a good opportunity to check them out live. In the meantime, I shall enjoy the music!
Reminds us of: The Velvet Underground, Parquet Courts, The Cure, New Order, The Sundays, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Blur, Elastica
Links to videos and articles in blue.
What is it about Dutch musicians and the Velvet Underground? First Lewsberg release their debut album sounding almost identical to Lou Reed and co, and then just a couple of months later we have ‘Boat’, the debut album by Pip Blom which also takes on some of their trademark sound. Not that I’m complaining of course, in fact I absolutely love it.
Pip Blom do of course have their own sound, and what a wonderful sound it is. Pip herself was apparently inspired to learn guitar about six years ago, after her mother took her to see Parquet Courts. She released her first music in 2016, and then managed to persuade her brother and a couple of others to form a full band, and they’ve just released that debut album, and it’s great.
Boat opens with the super catchy Daddy Issues, one of the singles used to promote the album alongside the excellent and equally upbeat and catchy Ruby. Don't Make it Difficult continues the upbeat start to the album with the slightly more sedate Say it and Tired coming after. A bit of new order influence comes through on Bedhead and then were into the second side of the album which continues the high quality song writing on tracks like ‘Sorry’ and the album closer Aha.
This is proper C86 style jangly / classic indie music, and it’s not unsurprising to hear from listening to it that Pip’s father was in a post punk band, and by all accounts was friendly with John Peel at some stage. No doubt if JP (RIP) was still around now he would definitely be championing Pip Blom’ cause (probably on 6 music). Alongside the jangle there is Pip’s vocal, which sounds uncannily like Edie Brickell, very distinctive and entirely mellifluous.
Once you’ve been seduced by ‘Boat’ remember to check out the Paycheck EP from 2018 which is similarly excellent, and on a couple of the tracks has what for me is probably the only thing missing from the album, which is a little bit of feedback and fuzzy guitar.
The band completed a UK tour in May, but return for another in October. If you want to read more about the band, click here for an interview in So Young Magazine and here for an interview in The Skinny.
As I write this, the sun is shining, it’s a lovely day and ‘Boat’ makes for a great soundtrack to it.
Links to music etc in blue.
Last Friday saw two albums released that caught my attention, The Raconteurs ‘Help us Stranger’ and Black Midi’s ‘Schlagenheim’. I was a little underwhelmed by the Raconteurs when I saw them at All Points East last month, (probably because I was still buzzing from Yak’s riotous performance which had preceded them), so I wondered what it would be like to listen to these two albums together, and whether the new sound of Black Midi would blow them away. Not quite, is the quick answer.
I must admit I’ve been looking forward to the Raconteurs new album. I’m not a massive fan, but I have been really impressed by most of the tracks that have been issued as ‘singles’ in the run up to its release. Two of these - Bored and Razed and Help Me Stranger - kick off the album with the former a great Led Zep-like balls out rocker, and the latter a catchy little number with an almost ‘funky drummer’ like beat. Only Child slows the pace down before the tempo gets upped again with Don’t Bother Me, and then we drop back down with Shine the Light on Me and the rather MOR ‘Eagles’ like ‘Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying) – the low point of the album for me.
Thankfully the pace is picked up with the excellent Donovan cover Hey Gyp and the lead single Sunday Driver before we head into bluesy territory with ‘Now That You’re Gone’. ‘Live a Lie’ sounds very New York Dolls before we get back to Led Zep with ‘What’s Your is Mine’ and ‘Thoughts and Prayers’, the vocal on the latter almost sounding like it could be Robert Plant singing.
So is it any good? Yes, I think so – if you like your Led Zep and Stephen Stills et al (and I do) you’ll be very much at home with this album. It’s not going to change the world, but who cares? There’s a lot of decent tunes on here and it’s an easy listen. If you’re fan of the Raconteurs, Jack White etc, you’ll know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed.
Next, onto Black Midi’s debut album. The band have been widely described by the music press as the most exciting new band making music right now, and there’s a lot of love for them across social media so I thought I’d give them a go.
I must admit I’ve been a little put off by the incessant fawning by the likes of the NME, so I’ve had to be very disciplined and stop myself from becoming very dismissive of this latest music phenomenon. My initial impressions of the album were not good: immediate thoughts were that the band remind me of the Fast Show Jazz Club moment where the James Nance Quartet (with Theydon Bois on guitar) break into some ultra-pretentious improvisation, only in Black Midi’s case, featuring Shirley Bassey with mental health problems singing over the top. This vision was almost completely replicated at a recent BBC session, so much so that I thought Steve Lamaq might just turn around to the camera at one point and say ‘grrrrrreat.
Instead of dismissing them outright however, I reminded myself of an article I read once about Captain Beefheart’s seminal album ‘Troutmask Replica’ (from which Black Midi borrow) that said you will not understand it until you’ve listened to it a number of times. So I’ve persevered and I must admit the albums growing on me. Schlagenheim starts off with ‘953’ with an initial riff that directly rips Frownland by Beefheart before jumping into a heavy Metallica-like headbang, interspersed with those Bassey vocals. Speedway ‘Reggae’ and ‘Near DT, MI’ follow, all sounding like various Minutemen/Firehose tunes before the albums’ centrepiece ‘Western’ kicks in. ‘Of Schlagenheim’ reminds me of the Miles Davis’s Jazz/rock fusion era albums ‘Big Fun’ and ‘On the Corner’ and then we get first single Bmbmbm which starts like the Fall’s US 80s 90s mixed up with the end of ‘Nerves’ from Bauhaus’s debut album ‘In the Flat Field’. ‘Years Ago’ and Ducter round off the album, in suitably raucous fashion.
So is this album any good? That depends on how much of an open mind you’re prepared to give them. Overall, Black Midi sound like a bunch of lads improvising and mixing jazz and post punk music. If you like that sort of thing (which I do when I’m in the right mood) give them a try.
The (jazz) drumming on the album is brilliant, and it provides the platform for the rest of the band to wig out. After a while I started to not be so bothered by the vocals, and they start to just become part of the music overall, and they do make some glorious noise at points. The songs eschew traditional verse chorus structures, so if you feel uncomfortable with that you may struggle, and if you can’t handle your Captain Beefheart I’d give them a swerve too. Parts of the music press have made comparisons with Prog rock artists like King Crimson but don’t let that put you off, it’s not that horribly excessive and self-indulgent, although there are aspects of both traits.
Overall, listening to both the Raconteurs and Black Midi back to back just reminds’ how wonderfully diverse the alternative music scene is becoming and how exciting the UK music is today. Both bands will inspire new artists in time and introduce those bands to the different genres that have inspired them, and that’s a healthy place to be.