Saturday, 31 May 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties - Friday Review

Having had a week plus back from holidays to digest the whole experience of ATP vs Explosions in the Sky, I feel suitably calmed to begin reviewing it. For the rest of the hols after the weekend, I was completely buzzing and wanting to get the next one on the horizon (which is frighteningly quick, given this new announcement). That's still the case, of course, but at least I'm no longer foaming at the mouth and miming Battles sound effects without cause or warning.

As planned, we blitzed the motorways during the morning and had very little trouble even on the last 30 A miles to Minehead. The reason was to get there in good time to set up and pitch on over to watch Constantines (7), who gave a brave first performance of the day to a newly arrived and slightly hesitant crowd. Still, as the beers began to flow and people shrugged off their day's travel, a holiday atmosphere kicked up and the straight up rock got some heads moving. I didn't recognise any songs but have only a loose grip on newie 'Kensington Heights' as reference, so it was left to solid grooves and driving guitars to draw me in. They did so well enough and I'd be interested in catching them again in a smaller club environment.

Next up was the first of many downstairs rushes to dig on the first main stage band, Papier Tigre (7.5). As evidenced in the archives here, I gave these Frenchies a good listening beforehand and was quite looking forward to them. They didn't disappoint, again getting the bodies moving somewhat to their angular but catchy Fugazisms. The crowd was still small - most remaining upstairs Centre Stage to watch Mono - but certainly appreciative. Their draw seemed to me to be in the intricacy of the two guitarists, underpinned by the tight drumming. Strikes me that it must be hard to get this type of music to be catchy as well, yet I patently came away humming the songs. Songs which I later chose to purchase from a merch lad who hopefully got the money to the band, after they seemingly abandoned their table. A brief note on Mono, whose last song I caught and seemed to have really stirred the crowd I'd briefly abandoned. Reliable sources tell me they were very good too, so things were off to a magical start.

The first big act of the night came next, as messrs Mascis and Barlow stepped up to the stage to begin the riff carnage of Dinosaur Jr (9). This was truly the start of the weekend in terms of pure walls of guitar. The '90's come flooding back over your senses as the riffs from both classic and current material are served up fresh and raw into your cranium. The musicianship in the wall of guitar sound is amazingly clear and effortlessly flawless. Guys that make it look this easy deserve some form of tin pot Royal medal really, but hopefully they're more than happy with the rapturous applause and adulation of the proper chuffed Centre Stage audience. A weekend highlight.........already.

Moving further into the night, the head honchos are on next for a surprisingly early appearance at their creation. As it happens, Explosions in the Sky (8) perform a majestic close to the main stage proceedings, without ever crossing into the removal of our breath. The sweeping guitar melodies and fragile silences mix well with the fading light and onset of dusk, with the Pavilion Stage providing a significant enough backdrop to close out the bigs boys and usher in the more frenetic, lesser known acts of the evening. A class effort.

Now, are The Octopus Project (8.5) worth the ever-expanding queue snaking away from the Reds stage......oh my yes. I'd not seen them before and was only marginally taken with their most recent outing 'One Ten Hundred Thousand Million', but I did fancy something upbeat in my newly energised mood, so I joined the heaving throng. Good decision. Aside from the nigh impossible task of obtaining a Guinness to accompany the music, this was superb with the band having tunes and energy to burn.
The jittery synths and breakneck electronica of the songs, added to the tacky Butlins late-night disco decor of the venue, made this set feel like the perfect mutant indie-dance party which so befits the ATP profile. The climax of the set for me is also the best summary of the weekend as a whole, a rapturous run through of 'Music Is Happiness'.

That could easily have been both the high point and end point of the evening but with 4 hours of music time still to run and this being the first day, the night was still young. Venturing back to the Centre, I find Ola Podrida (6) halfway through a gentle acoustic set. Nothing to set the world alight but a pleasant interlude nonetheless. I take some time to rub salt in the wounds of those put off by the masses and therefore missing the Octopus folks, then we're onto The Paper Chase (9). With bleach blonde front lad John Congleton swaying and hacking into his guitar, they rip into an utterly unhinged and intentionally disturbing set. From a band choosing such album titles as 'Hide the Kitchen Knives' and 'Young Bodies Heal Quickly, You Know', it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these boys unearth dirty Americana and have backing rhythms that sound like blades being sharpened. Half cut in a mutated Butlins holiday resort on a rainy Friday night, however, the effect is sensationally multiplied. One of the surprise and standout performances of the weekend, sans doute.

Pretty far gone (not to mention mentally shaken) by this point, no one really wishes to move away from the plentiful beverages and sticky floor of the Centre stage, so we remain for the electonic DJ stylings of Four Tet (7). To be perfectly honest I only remember enjoying the club-like end to a superb first evening, which I can just about recall being very well mixed. This was more about a bit of drunken rambling and gushing over the nights entertainment though.........and with two days to go we had started off even better than anyone could have expected. Roll on Saturday!

Now playing: Tool - (-) Ions
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Pick a Bigger Weapon

Reasons to write about Cadence Weapon:

1) Playing Liverpool's SoundCity event tomorrow night at Alma de Cuba (supporting Santogold - take a goosy gander here) but a 23:00 - 02:00 schedule and I'm on earlies........what to do?

2) New album 'After Party Babies' was on my eagerly awaited list earlier this year but has been cruelly overlooked thus far due to an underwhelming first impression. Despite this, still more than good enough to review.

3) His song '30 Seconds' has long been an intended source of inspiration to write about ethical buying, multi-national company sourcing policy, and the inherent complications and hypocrisy thereof. Unfortunately that's about as coherent as I've achieved to date, so still waiting for a certain shade of green on this point.

4) ATP utterly overwhelmed me as a musical experience and I still haven't fully gathered my thoughts on all we took in. Then how to dissect it down into coherent band reviews.......argh, run for the safe hills of individual artist worship!

More than enough reason, I think you'll agree?

So this is a guy called Rollie Pemberton from Edmonton, aka Cadence Weapon. A freelancer, I think, for Pitchfork now releasing heavily electronicised hip hop at a rapid pace. Last year (or late '06 Stateside) saw his debut 'Breaking Kayfabe' race out the cage like a puppy who hasn't yet learned which leg goes in front of the other for successful walking.This was not to its detriment. The harsh electronic backings on songs like 'Sharks' and 'Vicarious' added a vibrancy to the staccato flow of the beats and rhymes. Granted, hip hop/rap is far from my area of expertise but I have dipped in regularly since being nudged that way by Method Man in the late '90's, so I at least know what I enjoy if little more. To wit, I like energy, passion/anger, and hopefully a sense of individuality. 'Breaking Kayfabe' had this in spades and is easily my favourite release in this genre in the last few years.

Cadence Weapon - Sharks

Moving onto newie 'After Party Babies' was exciting as I only really got the debut this time last year, so after only 9 months new material was an unexpected bonus. So initially the smooth flow of 'In Search of the Youth Crew' threw me somewhat. Following that, much of the album follows in the same vein, a much more coherent and streamlined listen. Perhaps that should be expected as an artist matures, but it wasn't what I was hoping for on the surface.......surely most rappers do this, so moving towards it loses some of that critical identity creation? Well, maybe not. Further listens reveal more of the character and lyrics that made Kayfabe excellent, it's just more subtle and well directed. Most of the static electricity has been replaced by a well regulated supply of power, but it still lights the bulb more reliably.

On balance, I'll still plump to listen to the debut album if only 50 minutes to spare and the two loaded on my iPod, but the happy news is that the sophomore outing is a grower and may yet elicit even more personality. Put '30 Seconds' and 'The New Face of Fashion' back to back, though, and tell me which one best gets the blood pumping.

Now, back to that dissection of ethical commerce.......errr, maybe figuring out ATP will be easier, on head hurts.

Official Site

Buy Buy

Multiple freebies
....nice man

Now playing: Cadence Weapon - We Move Away
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, 15 May 2008

At Tomorrow's Party

The National are the band I'm most anticipating at ATP, on the basis of them building slowly and soundly in my heart over the last 2 years. Initially, I had a few mp3's that I thought I should certainly check out more, when the chance arose, from which I grew into piecing together Boxer from eMusic, getting Alligator this past Christmas from my good lady, and now needing to dig into the first two releases and see them live. They have a rich, layered sound that bends from silky smooth to wildly unstable, which continues to surprise me. Lots of love to these guys and more afterwards I'm sure.

Official Site

Buy buy

Now playing: The National - Mistaken For Strangers
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A Trivial Pursuit?

Not that they're not well-known enough, but Okkervil River will often float under the radar initially. First listens elicit only a general feeling of pleasant indie tunes, rooted in gentle acoustics and Americana vocals. Keep listening, though, and each song has the most intricate, layered feel that you could wish to hear. Their songs have a subtle beauty, with unobtrusive yet effective instrumentation that adds to their charming calm. That's one facet, then you'll also stray across the more upbeat, rocking Americana. The best example would be to stick 'Savannah Smiles' on next to 'Unless It Kicks', then pick out the similarities despite the variation in pace. Then see them live.....that's fun too.

So, although I caught these guys at the Carling in Liverpool late last year, I'm very much enthused at the chance to see them again this Saturday on the ATP bill.

Official site


Okkervil River - Savannah Smiles / Unless It Kicks

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

All Tigres Papier?

Today's spotlight falls upon the shadowy French figure (think the start of Pink Panther - da da, da da....etc) of Papier Tigre, a band that have solely come to my attention thanks to a late addition up the ATP bill. In fact, they're one of the very first on this Friday, which makes it all the more exciting that they're a bit special.

Their tunes at first seemed a bit stripped down, but soon I realised where that wonderful familiarity in the sound stemmed from.......Fugazi! They have a terrific off-kilter, angular approach to their music that grows with each passing listen, so that now I'm really rather thinking that Friday morning blast down the M6/M5 might need to be notched up to 90mph, thus ensuring these boys and The Constantines are seen.

A pleasant discovery, hopefully only halfway fulfilled.........

Papier Tigre - Writing On the Wall

Now playing: The Constantines - Hard Feelings
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Anti-Terrorism Pact?

The party starts here! Well, not really but this is the build up week to ATP pour moi, although the listening began in earnest over the last two weeks. I've been wanting to attend one of these niche, anti-festivals for a good 5 years and this weekend it comes to fruition.

Excitedly informing colleagues that I'm going to this acronym festival generally elicits only vague recognition at best, confused/fearful stares at worst, so I'm taking it upon myself to showcase a few of my most anticipated bands from the line up here this week.The first being Battles.

I saw these boys in Liverpool last August, so I have an idea what's coming, but the beauty here is that they're playing not only two sets across 3 days, but also that one of them is a blast through '
til 3am on a Saturday night. Futuristic robot rock soundtracking an elongated drinking session into the wee hours of Sunday morning.......well it's my idea of a blinder anyway. The song that pulled me into them was the 7 minute plus, Clanger-vocalised 'Atlas', after which the rest of their 2007 album 'Mirrored' all fell into place. They're sure to put on a couple of very differing but innovative sets, all based on the pinpoint rhythm (and exceedingly high hat cymbal) of John Stanier's drumming talents. Ace.

Official site

Battles - Atlas

Now playing: Exit Ten - Softwatch
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Pick 'n' Mix

Today being my day of birth and hence a day off, I've spent much of it schizophrenically hopping from tune to tune to soundtrack odd jobs around the flat. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that it got me thinking about the effects of the digital 'revolution' and the knock ons to our listening habits.

The big scoop, of course, is that we're all listening to single tracks now. Everyone can consume the artist in Chinese buffet style portions, meaning we can try a little bit of lots rather than, errr, a lot bit of little. Which is an ineloquent way of saying that the hit is king. Make a show stopping single and you're on your way baby, people will lap it up as they don't have to pay through the nose for the the lesser songs. Is this a good thing?

On the one hand, we might find that bands can get away with less 'fillers', which is inarguably positive. Sure, you could buy a single previously and not pick up the album, but what if there are two or three hits on that release? The few singles mount up to just shy of album price, hence the fan will pay a couple more quid to get the whole shebang......then find the true reason that the other three were singles. Cynical but certainly not uncommon, especially in the world of throwaway pop bands. Now that the listener can preview and select only the tracks that they think are worthwhile, perhaps the emphasis will be for bands to create to a consistently higher standard, eventually creating enough for a full quality album that flows well throughout. It could mean that we see more mini-albums and EP's, smaller projects that showcase the best work of a band and cut out the fat.

That would be interesting and not entirely a downside for me as a listener, but the negative as I see it is a trend towards only singles. The lost art of making an album. As much as the traditional requirement for 10 -15 songs may push artists towards filler territory, it's also the form that allows bands like Neurosis, Tool, Mastodon, Deftones, The Mars Volta - to name
too infinitesimally small a number - to create masterpieces over 50 - 60 minutes. Can anyone fathom how Ænima could be distilled into only 10 minutes? How would they cram spoken word German detailing a recipe for deviled eggs down into a hit single?? Fair cop, bad example. Point is, album length is required for some bands to be at their creative peak. It would be dispiriting to see artists increasingly pushed towards making that instant track at the expense of musical adventure.

Perversely, I've found that getting all my tunes into one program has made me more likely to listen all the way through an album. The play count visualises the balance of how one listens to the album, which made me realise that I was listening to a lot of bands in a front loaded fashion. In some case this is perfectly justifiable, as the second half is shite due to aforementioned filler. Often, though, I was simply demonstrating the Gen-X led tendency of ADD listening, thereby missing out on some killer album endings. So I'm currently tending to choose the shuffle option if I'm feeling indecisive, but enjoying a full album more often when I have the time and attention to do so. The latter I find is the more audiophile, engrossing way to take in music, where the real passion and love for a band is formed. This is also the reason I hope the album as a work of art and musical expression continues to thrive.

This does come full circle by reminding myself that I went entirely against the above today and flitted from album to album like a musical magpie, attracted to the next shiny tune that flashed into my peripherals. To ensure this ends with some musical end product, I'll get some of the tunes that I covered together and post them up shortly. Jumping from Meshuggah to Midlake is surely not a sensible option, though.....?

Meshuggah - Combustion
Jr. Juggernaut - Believe In Something
Motion City Soundtrack - When You're Around
Yeasayer - 2080 (Live on Jools Holland Later...)
Dinosaur Jr - Freak Scene (stream)
Midlake - Head Home
Jane's Addiction - tbc
Nickel Creek - tbc
Handsome - tbc

Now playing: Grails - Soft Temple
via FoxyTunes

Monday, 5 May 2008

Monday Memory: Pitchshifter

Pitchshifter have a special place in the blackened metal heart of my teens, as one of a clutch of British metal bands that first made me feel excited about the UK scene. Along with Dub War, One Minute Silence, Pulkas, and Bullyrag, they toured regularly and released albums that in the mid to late '90's sounded cutting edge and turned me onto a variety of sounds and styles.

The most memorable of the 3 or 4 times I saw them live was at a converted church in St. Paul's, Bristol. It was something of a notorious area, partially for racial undertones, which added to the uncertainty of where I was going and what I'd see. As it turned out there was nothing dangerous, save the ear-destroying bass levels. Pitchshifter always delivered a high energy, pounding set that revelled in railing against their pet hates. And with the monarchy and recently elected Labour government at the top of their shit list, it gave the kids something much closer to home at which to vent our undefined angst. More importantly, though, we got to crash into each other like a game in the Derby FC defence.

They're still fusing their distinct drum n bass-tinged rhythm section to serrated metal guitars to this day, as far as I'm aware, so below are then and (almost) now live clips to show they more than still have it. A cracking British band that I loved growing up with and whose music still sounds urgent and relevant today.

VIRUS - Live 1998