Monday, October 15, 2007
PJ Harvey – White Chalk (Island)
In search of her muse Polly Jean Harvey has ditched the stripped down bone dry blues of Huh Huh Huh. In the arch of PJ Harveys career this is nothing new, each record seems to have been a reaction to the previous one, but she has never gone this far out before. Purged are those trademark guitars, missing those deep vocals growls, absent any signs of alternative rock. The results are a brave, honest and terrifying record.
In fear of repeating herself, unwilling to release substandard material, she has abandoned the guitar as a writing tool. These songs where written and performed on the piano. An instrument that is an unfamiliar to her as a healthy diet was to Elvis. The results are a collection of sparse, skeletal songs. This is audio ectoplasm. The material haunted by ghosts, unfulfilled desires, departed lovers and loved ones.
From the first moment you hear Polly sing on this record you aware of the change. Her voice is pitched at the highest point of her range. A floating whisper compared to her usual tone. The backing track just sparse piano notes, a barely audible guitar and restrained drumming.
Lyrical concerns are cryptic, impressionist, allowing the listener to draw the dots to divine the meaning from the dark and broken images. There is loss, regret and a fair degree of guilt hidden amongst the twisted oaks, decaying fallow earth and enveloping darkness
The lead single When Under Ether is a brave choice. Harvey has spoken of how pleased she was that it sounded so odd when played by Zane Lowe on Radio One. That it’s otherworldliness provided such a stark contrast to the lumpen guitar rock that is the programs stock and trade.
The piano melody of the track gently repeats itself as Harvey sings of an operation, probably an abortion, in a hushed drowsy timbre. The description is in the first person but you not sure if its autobiographical or dark fiction. The protagonist is focussed on the human kindness of the staff; it is an unsettling and unusual twist. The theme is of an unwanted child is alluded to throughout the record.
On the gentle acoustic strum of White Chalk there is mention of “Dorset’s white cliffs reach the sea, …unborn child me, scratch my palms there is blood on my hands..”, the guitars are coupled with a banjo and then a set of single hammered piano notes carry the song to a close.
A single vocal pleading “please don’t rapproch me for how empty my life has become..”snaps you awake at the opening of Broken Harp. The clanking of, well broken harp carries the melody before the songs drops to a multi tracked vocal and a organ drone Harvey sings “Something metal tearing my stomach out, if you think ill of me, can you forgive me.” The starkness of the declaration is an electric shock, a high voltage and soulful testimonial.
The brevity of White Chalk, little over half and hour, leaves you breathless and anxious. The ideas crammed into these eleven songs are more than many artist manage in a career. This is a record for the dark nights of the soul. Heaven only knows where PJ Harvey will head next. Will she be able to top the power and precision of this record? I don’t know but I am already desperate to hear her next step forward.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Have done a few reviews for Music OMH this month.
St Vincent - Marry Me
Annie Clark's debut is a hit and miss affair hamstrung by the over the top production and the juvenile nature of some of the lyrics.
Shearwater - Palo Santo
Oh joy! A record full of ambition,post rock ambient textures, guitar shredding, think the majestic late period Talk Talk. Pure bliss.
Liars - Liars
Loud, proud, obtuse, arty, artful you have to love the liars.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The National - Boxer
I was worried when I heard that The National where struggling to follow up the breakthrough success of Alligator. All the bands previous LP’s had been so fluid so natural that I feared that a creative impasse would result in a tedious mess of a record.
The first syncopated piano notes on the opening Fake Empire buries that thought for good. The slow build from a piano, low humming guitar and Matt Berninger’s gorgeous baritone is all restraint. A full minute and half passes before the first drum roll that rattles like a gun shot, another fifteen seconds before the drums properly kick in. Then a burst of brass elevates the song onto another level.
It’s a brave opening, a statement of intent. Boxer isn’t going to be Alligator mark II. They could have written huge guitar anthems and become Coldplay. Thankfully they have minted something darker, fragile, deeper, troubled and glorious. Boxer progressively unfolds as a series of stark tracks, all monochrome guitar shades, intense drum patterns and obtuse melodies. Berninger’s dense lyrics concern themselves with the ennui, the emptiness of urban life. He nails the anomie, the soulless city sickness that seeps through the cracks in the sidewalks.
For all the dark subject matter, this is an uplifting record. Squalor Victoria , is a beautiful collision, of piano, strings and drums that sound like Steven Morris on Unknown Pleasures. Start a War, all chiming guitar refrain and gentle eddy of ambient organ is Johnny Marr produced by Brian Eno. If Burt Jansch was raised in Ohio he may have written the beautiful lament of Racing Like A Pro.
Boxer is a subtle masterpiece. The band are disciplined enough to let the songs breath for themselves. They sound like a 60’s soul band covering Joy Division. Wonderful.
Tony Heywood (C)
First published in Mercury Moon
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I seem to spend a large amount of my spare time watching music clips on you tube and I have become increasing interested in the rough hewn cover versions that appear on the site.
I will endeavor to bring you my favorite cover each week.
The honour of the Highway Five cover of the week goes to:
djambas cover of PJ Harvey’s Dress
With just her acoustic guitar and a soaring voice djambas strips the song back to its harsh and aching core.
This version of Dress is much closer to the demo version of the song than the one released as a single The conflict between desire and self loathing that forms the centrifugal force of Dress is highlighted perfectly in djambas no thrills cover version.
I am sure Polly would be proud.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Have written a review of Kelly Clarkson's My December over at the wonderful musicomh.com. I was impressed that Kelly managed to get this record out against the pressure from her record company. Life for a former American Idol must be hard and she has had to grow up in public. Its not the worlds greatest break up LP but it does have the correct ingredients, scorn, spite, rage, anger, despair, self doubt with a side order of loathing.
Okay its not Lou Reeds Metal Machine Music or Wolf Eyes but for someone used to producing such softly packaged material its a brave start.
Hats off then to Miss Clarkson.......
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Strays Don’t Sleep - Strays Don’t Sleep
One Little Indian
Strays Don’t Sleep are an eccentric alliance of two Nashville-based songwriters with a shared love for those doomy Scottish romantics The Blue Nile. Neilson Hubbard and Matthew Ryan have both gained more critical acclaim than record sales in their respective careers, trailing in the wake of the likes of Ryan Adams. Yet on these wonderful nine tracks the pair have ditched the stylised shorthand of the singersongwriter genre. This is much weirder, a splintered, drifting collection of loops, synths, acoustic guitars and quality songs.
This is a cinematic record (there is a set of films on a separate DVD), haunting and ghostly. The songs build from tiny fragments, little keyboard riffs, drum patterns, sparse melodies. They unfold like daylight in winter. The contrast in their respective voices adds interesting counterpoint. Hubbard sounds like Robert Mitchum singing lyrics penned by Sylvia Plath. Ryan’s voice is a little cleaner but has the steely edge of an executioner’s axe. When they intertwine across the minimalist backing tracks the results are stunning.
For Blue Skies is pure musical melancholy. The delicate static drum loops and fractured piano allows room for the pain to flow through. It’s the space, the stillness that carries the emotional weight. The melody is picked out on a lone piano, the notes falling like snow on cedars, the guitar muted and aching, it’s stark undertow dragging you into its depths. Martin Luther Avenue is existentialist dread set to drum machines and guitars. New Years eve ennui set to a plaintive whirling organ informs Cars and History.
Tony Heywood (C)
The Video for the amazing For Blue Skies
Monday, June 25, 2007
Werner Ghost Truck
The band’s name, taken from a William Faulkner short story, suits them perfectly. Close your eyes and slowly repeat the name Barn Burning, Barn Burning. What images do those two words conjure in your mind? In the darkness of my post-midnight imagination, I can see images of smoke against night-time skies, the darkness at the edge of town, rural feuding, shallow graves. The name suggests a Twin Peaks landscape, Truman Capote’s Handcarved Coffins scored by American Music Club.
Werner Ghost Truck is a desolate howl into the void. A raging against lives half lived, crippled by small town ennui. It whispers tales of shackled hopes and broken dreams before unleashing guitar fireworks and heart-wrenching melodic twists. It’s a sharp right hand to the blue-collar romanticism of early Bruce Springsteen. This is not born to run, more born to drift. There are glimpses into a stilted world, a world of empty old age, drug addiction and betrayal. There is an urgency here, a desperation to slip the chains that bind you so tightly. A bloodstained desire to escape the limits of geography, of economy, of imagination.
Despite the lyrical gloom these are uplifting songs. The LP was recorded in a large empty house and you can hear the space, the ghostly reverb in the sound. William is a breezy circling acoustic chord sequence with a riff that is prime Peter Buck, a harmonica and then a lone piano briefly echoes the melody. The lyric is a puzzle, a memory trapped inside an old photo, and the debris of life.
The keyboard playing on the whole collection is a joy. There are two fractured piano pieces that link the LP together, ghostly ambient interludes that revolve like dust in the sunlight. The hushed warming tones and organ washes tether the mix like flags at half-mast. Rubicon builds from a set of suspended organ tones, acoustic guitars and rattling percussion. The instruments interplay beautifully, a soaring lead guitar explodes in short bursts of noise as the high hats trash like heavy rain on a drugstore window.
Long Dark Room is six minutes of pure beauty, the pedal steel guitar unfurling like smoke rings in a backroom bar. It’s a dark night of the soul, a struggle towards dawn, with little more than some vinyl records and a bruised heart for company. Robert Fisher from Willard Grant Conspiracy adds his craggy tones and then a series of AM radio signals are mixed into the sound. Its spectral, haunted, perfect.
This is a record that is frozen in a deep winter malaise. A brooding, dark, dissolving mesh of guitars, insistent drumming and starlight melodies. The sound wraps around you in a dense fog of strident acoustics and warming bass-lines. Anthony Loffredio’s vocal has an ache, an undertone of melancholy that drags you into its murky depths. There are touches of alt.country in the sound but this is much more sinister, grittier, loud and tangled.
Imagine Wilco jamming with the creeping dread of The For Carnation, or Joy Division’s dense alienation re-routed via the open highways of America. Startling, one to cherish.
Tony Heywood (c)
First published in Mercury Moon
Barn Burning Website
Tour Dates July 2007
Providence, RI @ Jake's Bar & Grille
w/Okkervil River (Jagjaguwar Records)
Cambridge, MA @ T.T. the Bear's
w/Jason Isbell (formerly of Drive-By Truckers) and Justin Townes Earle
Saturday, Jul-21st (Anthony Solo)
Providence, RI @ Jake's Bar & Grille
w/a bunch of other bands to celebrate Jake's Anniversary.
Washington, DC @ The Red and The Black
Providence, RI @ The Penalty Box
w/Returnaround, Chris McCoy & the Gospel, Dead End Armory and Rock Paper Rock
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Thirteen Cities - Richmond Fontaine
El Cortez Records/Décor
After the beautiful dustbowl austerity of previous album The Fitzgerald, Willy Vlautin and cohorts have relocated to the deserts of the Southern USA, residing in Tucson after years in Portland. Their travels south across these arid landscapes provided the inspiration for the songs collected on Thirteen Cities. The album comes with a map to trace out the route that they and the songs followed, a lovely touch in a world where the packaging of music seems to have become an afterthought. It’s the attention to detail, not a word wasted or a music backdrop over-egged, that mark Richmond Fontaine out as something incredibly special.
The brief opening track The Border is all pedal steel and sunrise atmospherics. As it slides into the horn-drenched Moving Home Again, you can hear that the sun-bleached environment has informed the sound of the record. Those Tex Mex masters Calexico and Giant Sand have stirred a little hot burrito sauce into the sound on several tracks and it’s a welcome addition.
Thirteen Cities is much more of a band record that the stripped-back Fitzgerald. There are marvellous little sonic touches, little flourishes that add sparkle to the songs - the rippling guitar figure and organ tones that underpin $87 and A Conscience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go, the haunting harmonica on I Fell into Painting Houses in Phoenix. Capsized has a bouncing, nagging riff, pedal steel sighs and a drum track that sounds like a boxcar heading for the scrap heap. It’s the Band meets Uncle Tupelo, all rustic charm and warped country-pop sensibility.
Vlautin is the heir to the mantle of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and therefore Springsteen. These tracks speak for the disaffected, the disenfranchised, those lost on the fringes. A world of McJobs, chasing low-rent dollars on the edges of criminality. This is a bleak vision of the American Dream, scripted by John Steinbeck and illustrated by Edward Hopper.
The lyrics are stripped of metaphor and the allegorical, finding beauty and passion in the mundane. Willy Vlautin’s vocals are as lovingly worn and cracked as the spine of a preacher’s leather-bound bible. The flaws and dusty folds in his voice are testament to his commitment of speaking for the voiceless. Vlautin’s magic is wonderfully demonstrated by the 1:38 of St Ides Parked Cars. In a series of brief images and taut lines, the song conveys fractured relationships, faded dreams and a deep well of hurt. Backed by only the lightest of acoustic guitars and that sonorous voice, it squeezes more ennui and sorrow into this track alone than plenty of bands manage in a whole album.
The Kid From Belmont Street opens in a near silent rush of ghostly febrile guitar whispers and cymbal washes; it has the space, the vacant haunted quality of American Music Club circa California. It’s an alt.country take on the ambient void, the silent humming of dread, the overpowering pressure of silence and endless space.
Lone piano notes and elongated brass notes paint sparse soundscapes that invoke the deadly stillness of the desert at dusk. Lost in This World closes the LP. Against a sparse piano part and vapour trails of guitar, Vlautin sings of being lost in the world, of regrets and fucking up. It’s breathtaking, heartbreaking and one of the most beautiful songs you will hear this year. In the hands of a less talented band the album could have come across as an audio version of the National Geographic written by Howard Zinn. Thankfully, it transcends that bone-dry premise to become something extraordinary.
Tony Heywood ©
First Published in Mercury Moon
This is some footage of Willy Vlautin in a motel room (The perfect setting for him)play acoustic versions of two of the songs on the LP. The two tracks are The Kid From Belmont Street and Capsized.
This is the myspace page of the new guys in AMC.
The Larks MYSPACE PAGE
There are three tracks on the page. Its a sweet indie pop jangle with sunshine harmonies and some clever musical hooks. Its really not dark enough to be in the same league as classic American Music Club. I am interested to hear how its going to effect or compliment Marks songs. It maybe and case of Vudi meets the textures of West the record that Mark recorded with Peter Buck. Vudi's guitar playing adds so much texture to Mark's songs I am interested to hear how it will play out against a different rhythm section.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
From the Merge press release:
FROM MARK EITZEL
June 20, 2007
American Music Club has a new line up.
Vudi - guitar
Sean Hoffman - bass - vocal
Steve Didelot - drum vocal
Mark Eitzel - guitar vocal
AMC moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. The original members Danny Pearson(bass) and Tim Mooney (drums) still work in San Francisco and perform in various bands. Danny is releasing a solo record by the end of the year. Mark and Vudi started working with Steve and Sean about a year ago. The chemistry was great and so they continued with the project and called it the MacArthur Park Music Club but
this work eventually became the new AMC record.
Members of the band:
Vudi lives in LA, drives a city bus and also plays with the popular rock band Ariel Pink.
Sean Hoffman is a producer, commercial music maker, ex skate punk and plays all the shredding guitar that you enjoy whilst watching Fox Sports. He also plays guitar in a band called the Larks.
Steve Didelot is a songwriter, drummer, surfer, and a Mathematics teacher in the LA public schools system. He also plays in the Larks
Mark Eitzel still lives in San Francisco, loves the Bay Area but spends a lot of time in Los Angeles. He says he 'loves all the trees' and says Los Angeles is "so "triumph of the will"'.
The new album:
Tentatively called MacArthur Park because Vudi lives in that neighborhood and because we all enjoy the original song by Jimmy Webb.
It will be produced by expert producer Dave Trumfio at his studio called King Size. We are very excited by this....
The overall sound is lighter than on previous AMC recordings. Of course there are many reasons why. 1) AMC refutes the label of 'Emo Pioneers'. For the record they hate Emo and have never been on the soundtrack for any W.B. network show. (yet) 2) Dark music is for people who are healthy enough to take it - and AMC want to appeal to all people - including the sick. 3) Mark Eitzel comments: "What will my neighbors in my retirement community think? How will I charm the nurse that tends to me? I want to fill my mouth with sugar and spit it on everyone when I talk. I want to cover the world with chocolate cake icing."
Yes there is a song about the World Trade Center. But such controversy is nothing new for this 'Right On' political band. Sean (bass) is a right leaning liberal texan who hates NPR and is the proud owner of a Segway. Vudi (guitar) dreams of an imperialist world of powdered wigs and waltz's in ballrooms. Mark (vocals) is a gay communist who once wrote an article: 'How Secure Will Your House Be During The Apocalypse'. Steve (drums) is a Christian activist who only plays in this band because the end times are upon us and what the fuck.
The new album should be released in early 2008. When the ice and snow is thick and heavy. When your winter depression finally kicks in. No Christmas or New Years to look forward to - just the iron grip of the cold and the bleak endless news reports on the death we bring to the middle east and to ourselves. Perfect. Merge did much market research and focus group after focus group said this would be the perfect time to release our new record. Of course it will be. After that we tour and bring our own version of American Freedom to a waiting and willing world.
Not sure what to make of AMC with Dan and Tim. The world trade center track hopefully is the amazing Worlds of The World and is about a fucked up night in NYC and just uses the bar at the World Trade Center as a back drop. Its one of my favorite songs of Marks in recent years I hope it shines on the record.
Shaun has done an amazing job of collating all manor of fabulous Mark Eitzel and American Club related information, MP3, sessions and videos. It’s the X on the blog treasure map for American Music Club fans like me.
It’s a goldmine of info. I had never heard of the film, I, Curmudgeon. Has anyone ever seen it? There are links to a wealth of wonderful video clips, interviews and some interesting reviews.
Go visit today its well worth the time.
The Invisible Blog
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
When I heard that the Mary Chain had removed for series of live dates this summer I was worried. I am always worried when my favourite bands reform. Where they going to piss all over their own legacy for a quick buck, a pension plan and a last chance to play the rock star?
Is it just the dollar signs that see them put aside musical and personnel issues? They imploded so violently, on stage and with flying fists. Stir in the intensity of a fractured sibling rivalry and the likely hood of a reunion looked slim.
For once I needn’t have worried. The Jesus and Mary Chain have returned, wired, bruised, lithe and punching above their weight.
They paraded their warped pop sensibilities on David Letterman. Unleashing the wonderful All Things Must Pass. Its built around a riff as taut as a junkies tourniquet. Jim Reid looked younger than he did ten years ago. His voice as beautifully frayed as ever. The lyrics pure Mary Chain, drugs, sex, violence let loose on prime time US TV. Smart ! William coaxed sheets of buzz saw noise from his guitar, his manic curly head down firing out that killer riff against a backdrop of tribal drumming.
After the terribly thin, lacklustre Stooges reunion record this clip is a relief. Now get in the studio and let’s have a new album soon.
To download the audio go here:
This is great new interview with Jim and William from the Guardian
Patrick Wolf - Live In Bristol
I am sure I was dreaming when I wrote this so forgive me if I go astray. My notebook is a litany of wild adjectives, non sequirs and exclamation marks. My heart is full of relief. Relief, that Patrick Wolf has delivered on his tender promise.
Relief, that the new material is flushed with youthful vigour. The order of the songs may be jumbled, the images blurred, it was intoxicating and vibrant. A glance at my fervent scribbles: vivid, striking, gypsy chic, beats and Byron, cheeky, charming...
The Thelka is a converted tug afloat in Bristol docks. A dark venue, that can be cold and unforgiving. Tonight Patrick Wolf turns into a gateway to a shimmering future, he is an avatar for the pariahs, an author of outsider anthems. An extraordinary boy in a world of prosaic chancers. Yet somehow he is living in the margins and not dazzling the mainstream. Why do we seem to have settled for the anodyne when we could have androgynous? Settled for the ordinary boys, the Razorlights and Keanes of this world. Why revel in the bland when we could be luxuriating in the exceptional.
From the moment he bounds on stage an lurches into Overture it is clear that the evening is going to dazzle and delight. There is a skip in his step, a snap in his violin bow. With his gravity-defying ruby hair and glittering eye shadow, he is Martin Miller's Lux The Poet unleashed from the page.
Pop music is a powerful tool for reinvention. It can transform the awkward into heroes. On stage you can see the possibilities glinting in Patrick Wolf's eyes. As the set progresses I am reminded of Marc Almond, those bedsit tales welded to disco beats and phat basslines. To The Lighthouse pluses with the guttersnip beauty that fires Almond's finest work. His electronic duet with samples of Marianne Faithfull is as stark and touching as Antony and The Johnsons.
On Jacob's Ladder, Wolf is sat at his synth banging out a harpsichord melody shaded by a lone cello. It's a brief interlude before he is back on stage leading the crowd through a storming version of Accident and Emergency. The stifling heat results in him stripping down to a furry guliet. His skinny pale physique is not the only reminder of a young David Bowie. There is something in his blending of styles, his obvious love of the avant garde that are reminiscence of Bowie at his best.
The reading of Pigeon Song is achingly beautiful, the plucked violin strings and glistening melody framing his tale of loneliness on the streets of London. Special Position is a French kiss, a spiralling romp, its verses fluently flowing into its huge chorus. It could be the song that pushes him into the mainstream.
The eager crowd pull Wolf back for a second encore. He seems touched. Genuinely surprised by the warmth and desire of the crowd. A huge smirk breaking out across his boyish features, his eyes ablaze. A fervent fan has been badgering him all evening to play Wind In The Wires. He finally relents and produces a stunning rousing version. Backed only by his toy guitar his voice floats across the crowd and out on the waters of the Bristol docks.
This is a wonderful live version of Bluebells from Patrick's series of Vodcasts
Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain - Sparklehorse
Five years on from the last Sparklehorse record Mark Linkous has surfaced again. He is back with his static clouds of melody and warped country noir. If a week is a long time in politics then five years is close to a lifetime in music. Thankfully Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain is as welcome as January’s pay cheque.
Linkous has spent a large part of those missing years in combat with his demons. They were dark days for him. Despite or maybe because of this there is a gentle optimism that floats just beneath the surface of the songs. From the spectral 3am whisper of Return to Me to the wasp’s nest on a roller coaster of Ghost In The Sky the lyrics and music continually take surprising and uplifting turns.
The opening Don’t Take My Sunshine Away is The Beatles refracted through the shattered shell of a Cadillac on the highway to
Shade and Honey is the perfect metaphor for Linkous’ songs. Dark lyrics wrapped inside sugar-coated melodies. Melodies that are then dragged drunk and crazy through a junk yard at midnight. The chugging guitar riff opens into a sly and upbeat chorus.
The title track closes the LP in 10 minutes of instrumental melancholic delight. The guitar chords float across a piano part that is barely there, it seems to repeat itself like an eerie dream. It drifts off into silence before gently returning. Welcome back, Mr Linkous. Please don’t stay away as long next time, we’ve missed you.Tony Heywood (c)
Comets on Fire
Comets on Fire’s sound is a mess of dreadnought riffs, sky-scraping spherical freak out and tribal drums. A sound not unlike watching burning comets in the
Tony Heywood (c)
Friday, June 15, 2007
Found this lovely live take of a new Low Lows track Five Ways I Didn't Die from their second LP Little Tigers . It has a kind of acoustic shuffle, its like a long lost Sun recording, a missing demo of a Elvis track with lyrics by Van Dyke Parks and vocals by Lou Reed. Lets hope of the whole LP is up to this standard. Enjoy !
Five Ways I Didn't Die (Live)
Thursday, June 14, 2007
|Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly|
| @ Academy 2, Bristol, 16 October 2006 |
The Boyfriends - The Boyfriends
A certain Mr Steven Patrick Morrissey hand picked the The Boyfriends to provide the support on his UK tour. From the opening bars on their eponymously titled debut LP is easy to hear why. Martin Wallace's croon bears a striking resemblance to the bard of Manchester's own weary tones. The band punch their instruments with the passion that fired The Smiths.
There is a crackle, a swoon, a thump that rushes out of your speakers in vaguely 1980's indie style. But are the Boyfriends more than a bunch of Handsome Devils, a gang of Charming Men? Does the music oscillate wildly or is it a pale imitation or a well thumbed record collection? Are The Boyfriends a miserable lie?
Well, strike me down with a feather, hang out the bunting and turn off your phone. This is something to treasure. Despite my huge reservations and my obsession with The Smiths, I am smitten with this record. There is more than enough invention, wit, wisdom and zeal here to mark the Boyfriends out as something special - a rare band, even. Wallace's words are by turns heartfelt, funny, clever and well observed.
Thankfully all the quick word play is not lost in a stew of Albion skiffle. That fragile indie sound that has ruled the roost since Pete and Carl split is nowhere to be seen. The lyrics soar across the ominous mechanical throb generated by the band. If you were looking to The Smiths for reference then this would be them in their post The Queen Is Dead glory. This is not meek or delicate - the guitars lash like Bernard Butler jamming with The Who.
The opening Brave Little Soldiers is a bold statement of intent. A set of chords ripped through with glorious abandonment, the rhythm snarls with dark intent. The lyric a call to arms, a plea to keep your dignity and your individuality in face of indifference. The guitar riff is as catchy as a common cold. British Summer Time opens on a reverb heavy riff that builds slowly to its Graham Coxon style fractured melody.
When Martin Wallace sings "It is far too a nice day to be in playing scrabble, let's slap on some factor 15 on and join the half naked rabble..." I can't suppress a smile. The picture he paints of London hanging out in the summer time would make Ray Davies proud. It could be a Blur classic apart from the fact that Wallace displays empathy for his subject matter and not misplaced scorn. The military drum rolls match the mood delightfully.
The bassline and toms that open Adult Acne provide Richard Adderley the space to show off his chops. From atonal sparks, via wah wah funk to the chiming chorus, the playing is a master class in precision; mind your backs for a new guitar hero. Adderley further enhances his reputation with the dissolving chords that open I Love You. An aching plea, a declaration of love that pricks the skin like a tattoo needle, leaving an impression long after the sensation has faded. The guitars are like whiplash on the bullet train. There is Always Hope closes the LP in a slowly drifting maze of melody and noise. Eight minutes of melancholy bliss.
Everything here is disciplined and succinct, nothing over stays its welcome, the whole collection hums with purpose. The only thing that stops me declaring it a stone cold classic is a certain lack of variation. It's nick picking really. This is music of passion and soul. If you miss this you're a fool.
Fire on the Bright Sky - Low Lows
The Low Lows have arisen from the ashes of NYC dream pop band Parker & Lily. I have to whisper it quietly. I can’t quite believe what I am hearing. The ghost of Galaxy 500 haunts the grooves of this record. The mesh of melody and noise, the languid grace, blissed out chord progressions and dark undertows. Think the Velvet Underground drinking with Big Star. These songs hang suspended in heavenly reverb. PL Noon’s weary croak slides in-between the guitar storms and organ flashes. Restless, burnished, bruised and beautiful.
Tony Heywood ©
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – St Georges Bristol – 25th January.
Isobel Campbell’s soft tones are darting around the black hole of Mark Lanegan rasp as he sings “the flame that’s burns’. The crowd is in rapture, clapping along with some spirited prompting from Isobel Campbell. It’s a new composition for the crowd to absorb and the first signs of something stirring up on stage. A spark at last in evening that was threatening to hang suspended. Mired in good intentions but lacking soul
The genesis of The Ballad of Broken Sea’s, written and arranged by Campbell with Lanegan adding his vocals in America, always posed the question of chemistry. How would a studio based project recorded by vocalists in different studio translate on stage? How well do they know each other? Would it gel?
They wandered onto the stage at St Georges to loud applause from the eager crowd. They are a striking pair up on what once had been an altar. Lanegan in his scuffed apparel, dark denim, a menacing presence. His frame and manor mark him out as dark avenger, Harry Powell in The Climate of The Hunter singing the Nick Cave song book. He struggles with the mike stand extending it up reach his height. Isobel Campbell’s looks slight, a furtive, benign jumble of June Carter Cash and classical musician. Dressed in an emerald green 50’s frock and a fetching pink bow tied around her waist. A chair and a cello beside her position on the left of Lanegan.
Revolver opens the show but fails to ignite. Lanegan voice is even deeper live, a low rumble. He grips the mike and stares out into space, his baritone as dark and bleak as a murder victim’s grave. It fills the empty spaces, the hidden hollows in this old church with ease. Unfortunately Campbell ’s voice seems paper thin in contrast, getting lost in the wide open acoustics of the cold stone walls.
It wouldn’t be an issue if there vocals blended as sweetly as they do on record. The light and shade is missing, only Lanegan’s darkness seems to have turned up. The opening tracks are underwhelming. A combination of nerves, lack of familiarity and the difficult atmosphere of St Georges ruining any chance of building a momentum.
There is no audible communication between Isobel and Mark, they look lost, like a couple on a first date or an aging partnership after one hell of a row. It gets worse. Lanegen keeps disappearing off stage. Maybe he is watching Celebrity Big Brother. Maybe downing a drink or ten, as you can’t bring them into the stage area. He could be doing both at the same time, it would be more entertaining that the opening section of the gig.
During one of Lanegan’s absences the gig starts to take flight. Reaching for a series of notes at the top end of her range and missing them Campbell visibly relaxes. It dawns on her that she can take risks and fail. Fail and not be rebuked by the audience. Her confidence blossoms and the mood improves markedly. There is a lightness in her voice, a playful skip in her step.
Lanegan returns and they rattle through a couple of well chosen covers. Bob Dylan’s Little Sadie has been previous recorded by Lanegan and he comes alive during the delivery. The version of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s Sand is enlivened by a funky little stylophone solo from Campbell . It helps that the stronger cuts from The Ballad of Broken Seas are keep over to the end. The Circus Is Leaving Town is tight and focused, the riff bouncing off the heads of the congregation. Honey Child What Can I Do finally delivers on the promise of the LP. The voices blend perfectly, they soar upwards alive with a passion. Then its over, a beaming smile from Campbell and a wave from Lanegan. A great end to an imperfect gig.
Tony Heywood (c)
Isobel and Mark Live in London on the same tour....