Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Album Review: Bardo Pond - Bardo Pond

Bardo Pond: Transcending boundaries of meter and time
Noise-rock nearly men (and woman) return with first ear-splitting record for four years

sextet Bardo Pond don’t like change. 20 years and 8 records served, the band’s droning noise-rock and psych-folk flourishes remain comfortingly embalmed in post-alt-rock boom 1993. The songs still regularly breach the 10 minute mark – although nothing rivals the 29-minute ‘Amen’ from 1995’s magnum opus Bufo Alvarius, amen 29:15 – while alterations in chord are eschewed in favour of spectacular dynamic shifts. It’s a cacophony of sound which explains why they never became alt-rock royalty, despite stints on pre-eminent indy labels Matador and 4AD; too impenetrable, too esoteric, and too darn druggy for the casual party stoner who’d rather be learning rote lyrics from a Pavement CD inlay.

However, they’re masters of their craft. Opener ‘Just Once’ explodes with hair-raising bursts of distortion. The shimmering feedback and the off-sync murmur of singer Isobel Sollenberger on ‘Undone’ – “spun out into space” – transcend accepted boundaries of meter and time, yet fashion something strangely regimented; until the microdots are passed around, that is. Better still is ‘The Stars Behind’, where rare open spaces are saturated with Sollenberger’s elegiac howl. “Lost in the night” she repeats, like a Jennifer Herrema who gave a damn. The world won’t listen. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.


Choice Cuts: The Stars Behind; Undone

Out now on Fire records

Monday, 21 February 2011

Album Review: Banjo or Freakout - Banjo or Freakout

Banjo or Freakout: A head full of ideas?
Yet another autonomous bedroom-introvert negotiating the psych-ambient divide under an unfathomable nom de guerre might not set the pulses racing, so Banjo or Freakout’s Alessio Natalizia at least has the good sense to have a mildly diverting back story. He grew up in a small medieval Italian town called Vasto. He started playing classical guitar at 8. He listened to Italian artists Claudio Rocchi and Alan Sorrenti – unlikely to figure on the average Spotify playlist. Perhaps the beaming coastal sun, Adriatic waters and unheralded musical preferences could engender something memorable and unique?

This review was written for Notion magazine. Go here to read the rest (page 91 of the digital reader).

Album Review: Wye Oak - Civilian

Wye Oak: No longer plunging in at the deep end
Baltimore, Maryland duo Wye Oak’s first two records, 2007’s If Children and 2009’s The Knot, sounded like a band with the all the tools required to be master-sculptors or their art, but one lacking in the requisite experience – and often direction – to fashion something truly worthy. Although their enviable ear for a hook was plainly manifested, the songs’ attempts to subvert de rigueur ‘trends’ overcompensated. Mix introverted folk-sprawl with hootenanny freakouts? That’ll show ‘em! But it was too much, too often; thrilling on an artificial level, without having the artifice to craft something with lasting appeal beyond the live performances for which they were famed. However, their apprenticeship served and with new UK label City Slang affording them a shot at reinvention, Civilian succeeds by playing it straight.

This review was written for Notion magazine . Go here to read the rest (page 90 of the digital reader)

Friday, 18 February 2011

Album Review: Gruff Rhys - Hotel Shampoo

Ever wondered what the Super Furry Animals get up to on tour? The sex, the drugs? The indie rock ’n’ roll? Well, according to SFA frontman Gruff Rhys, the one boundary of decadence most often pushed is the pilfering of vast quantities of hotel toiletries. Such was the childlike enthusiasm and wonder with which Rhys approached professional touring after the band signed with Creation in 1996, he’s been collecting hotel shampoos as mementos ever since. But what to do with your haul when there’s only so much hair to wash? Of course! Build a miniature hotel out of them and then name your third solo album after it. He’s a peculiar fellow...

This article was written for TheLineOfBestFit. Go here to read the rest.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Album Review: Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo - Almanac

Emily Barker is something of an enigma. The Australian born singer-songwriter has, since forming alt-folk outfit The Low Country back in 2002, racked up several remarkable musical milestones. She has enjoyed a critical kudos which has dutifully persisted from her earliest output through two outings with current foil the Red Clay Halo. She has toured with luminaries such as Jose Gonzalez. She also has an uncanny knack of picking up awards, with the handful of Aussie songwriting gongs she netted in 2006 now vying for pride of place in the trophy cabinet with the BAFTA and Royal Television Awards she won last year for providing the theme to hit BBC series Wallander (a reworking of her 2008 track ‘Nostalgia’). And yet, she returns this month as a virtual unknown outside a network of zealous folk-enthusiasts, and with a third Red Clay Halo album, Almanac – her first in 3 years – funded largely with donations thanks to an arrangement with the Pledge Music initiative...

This article was written for TheLineOfBestFit. Go here to read the rest.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Live Review: The Joy Formidable at Koko, Camden, 14 October 2010

Live review of The Joy Formidable headlining the NME Radar Tour at Koko in Camden on 14 October 2010 for

If the ever-expanding number of NME tours tells us one thing, it’s that the demand for seeing bands work their magic in the live arena has never been greater. We’re constantly told that it’s touring, not record sales, that is keeping all but the very highest echelons of the music industry afloat. And who better to cash in than the NME? Their flagship NME Awards tour has long been a bastion of saleable yet credible guitar music and even better value, whilst the NME Radar tour has, since its 2005 inception, proved a perfectly-pitched arbiter of ‘who’s next’ for the indie masses. One need only look at the previous headliners such as La Roux (2009), Crystal Castles (2008) and Maximo Park (2005) to know that get it right more often than not. Now even the Radar tour has a sister-site to boost even lesser known acts, the so-called ‘Autumn Radar Tour’.

However, despite the tour’s track record, there’s a murmur of suspicion amongst tonight’s assembled throng that this year it might not come off for headliners The Joy Formidable. Anyone who has seen the band in pokier surroundings – such as an incendiary show at the Camden Barfly last December – will know that despite their simple guitar-bass-drums ensemble, the trio have always been able to hold their own (and then some) in the noise stakes. But that was in 300 person venues. The cauldron-like Koko, with its rising stories and deep, dingy pit of a central dancefloor could be a much more taxing engagement.

The doubters needn’t have worried, as the Welsh pop-gazers fill every inch of Koko’s cavernous expanse of stairwells and stalls with crescendo after crescendo of beautiful noise. Launching straight into two new songs might seem brave to the point of folly, but with such confident, effusive delivery the audience are instantly charmed – the sheer saturation of sound allowing no time to act upon any misgivings. It’s a third of the way through the set before the band play anything from their 2009 debut, A Balloon Called Moaning. When they do, the one-two punch of ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ and ‘Austere’ stir what started as a rebellious gaggle of moshers into a sea of pogoing patrons stretching rows and rows back.

Whilst the band’s main strength surely lies in livewire frontwoman Ritzy – a bundle of wide-eyed energy and sweetly melancholic vocal delivery – her co-conspirators revel in their equal billing, with drummer Matt unconventionally positioned to the right-front of stage. They’re an act who are almost impossible to dislike; wholly lacking in pretension and with a raw passion for their craft too often forgotten by today’s bright young things.

And the songs. Even the superb ‘The Last Drop’ is eclipsed tonight by a swirling, visceral ‘Whirring’, expanded in length and breadth to peak with a thrilling climax of distorted noise after singer Ritzy bustles into the crowd with guitar in hand. It seems like a seminal moment in 2010. If this is the sound of tomorrow, then the future is in safe hands.

Thanks to Roz @ Atlantic
Click here to see the band's website

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Live Review: Placebo at 02 Brixton Academy, 28 September 2010

Some words I did on the Placebo show at 02 Brixton Academy on 28 September 2010

It’s hard to believe that Placebo first surfaced back in 1995, some fifteen years ago. Back then, even as the young whippersnapper that I was, their punky, angst-ridden slant on the alternative-rock scene grabbed me immediately. I should have been 16 and into marijuana and perfectly executed misery; I was 9 and interested only in music which sang in my ears. I remained a committed disciple from Placebo, their striking debut, through the more sombre Without You I’m Nothing and production-heavy (and occasionally awful) Black Market Music. However, just as I approached my supposed years of ‘teenage angst’, shifting musical allegiances and a slightly protracted period of inertia from the band saw my interest wane, singles aside.

Indeed, Placebo had so withdrawn from my radar that I’m immediately taken aback with the sea of baying fans who line the Brixton Academy floor man-for-man awaiting the arrival of their treasured heroes. A band I had always seen as a scratchy, artsy aural pursuit are suddenly transformed into double-dose – the band also played the Monday evening – Brixton headliners, with an authoritative aura of those not crashing a party, but anointed as the guests of honour

For a band who have always flirted with the flamboyant decadence of androgyny and knowing sexual ambiguity, tonight they don’t disappoint. Latest drummer Steve Forrest is an indie-boy’s Tommy Lee, his bare body covered to the inch by an array of tattoos, and assaulting the drums with bone-shaking vigour. Meanwhile, imposing bassist Stefan Olsdal dazzles in an iridescent silver suit, whilst the wafer-thin Brian Molko’s babyface and skin-tight jeans belie 15 years of hard toil on the road. It’s glamorous without being glam; showy without showing too much.

Pleasingly, the music also delivers. Launching straight into early standout single ‘Nancy Boy’, the band rifle through a back catalogue which, whilst weighted with a number of tracks from last year’s Battle For The Sun, plucks hit after hit from each of their records. ‘Ashtray Heart’ and ‘Battle For The Sun’ deserve their warm reception, whilst ‘Every You Every Me’ predictably sends the crowd into raptures. All the while, background visuals maintain the bands air of tongue-in-cheek subversion, depicting everything from a hindu dancer to sand-encrusted lovers. It might seem inane, even deliberately insincere, but it works.

Some might point to this along with a bizarre, gothic-themed mime show which precedes the encore as an example of a band who are complicit in sending up their own style without necessarily allowing their audience to laugh at the joke. However, as the last strains of an extended ‘Taste In Men’ flood the venue, few care for any more than the music which sings in their ears.