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Albums Of The Year: Endless Window 2013 Review, Part Three

Tuesday, 31 December 2013 Category : , , , 0

Here we go. The big one.

Tindersticks - Across Six Leap Years

Thursday, 17 October 2013 Category : , , , , 0


For an industry that prizes the immediate and the ephemeral, rock'n'roll sure does love an old timer.

Bass Bin Nostalgia: Four Tet - Beautiful Rewind

Tuesday, 8 October 2013 Category : , , , , 0

Kieran Hebden's gradual repositioning of his Four Tet project away from the headphones to the dancefloor has been one that has walked step by step alongside dance music's own re-evaulation.

Interview - These New Puritans

Monday, 7 October 2013 Category : , , , , , 0

Ahead of their October UK tour, which starts this Friday in Manchester and hits The Sage in Gateshead on Friday October 18th, I had the chance to interview Jack Barnett from These New Puritans for NARC Magazine. A very thoughtful, intelligent interviewee. Due to space constraints, not all of the material would fit in the magazine piece, so here's a full transcript of the interview.

Live Report - Manic Street Preachers

Friday, 4 October 2013 Category : , , , , 0

For a band so well-established in the musical fundament, the Manic Street Preachers still provoke some unusually diverse reactions.

Turn It Up: Album Roundup, July-September '13

Wednesday, 2 October 2013 Category : , 0

In a summer that seemed to consist mostly of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus twerking on a human face forever, the less observant might have been forgiven for thinking that music had taken the silly season off and was busy sunning itself somewhere. Needless to say: bollocks.

...like we've woken up from a beautiful dream...

Monday, 30 September 2013 0

Apologies for the dormancy of this blog of late. Between moving houses, a new job and all other sorts of activity, it's been difficult finding time to add anything up here. Be assured though: Endless Window will be back properly this week. Expect a live report from the latest tour by British rock titans Manic Street Preachers and a round up of the summer's finest records this week. So just take a seat and have a cuppa, we won't be long now...


Preview - Beacons Festival 2013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013 Category : , , , 0

Having somehow managed to miss pretty much every festival going this summer - well, no 'somehow' about it, I just plain couldn't afford the ticket prices - I'll finally be getting by fix this weekend at the Beacons Festival in Skipton. Now in its second year (third if you count the 2011 event that was cancelled at the last minute due to extreme weather), Beacons has already carved itself out a neat niche of catering to the more raucous ends of the indie/dance spectrum, with great punk and alternative bands sitting alongside an impressive array of DJs and electronic talent.  I'll be heading down Friday morning, band shirts and booze in tow, but while you're getting ready for the 2013 event, here's fifteen acts that you may want to look out for:

Danny Brown
Sunday, Loud & Quiet, 7:00pm

Confrontational, debauched and irrepressible, Danny Brown has emerged as one of the most exciting new hip-hop talents of the last few years. Coming to prominence on the back of his bawdy XXX album, Danny Brown takes hip-hop braggadocio and pushes it to surreal new peaks in frequently hilarious manner. Although his new album Old remains delayed, brining Danny Brown to Skipton is a real coup for the Beacons organisers, kicking off the finale of the festival with unshakeable vigour.

East India Youth
Saturday, You Need To Hear This, 3:00pm

There's a plethora of great new emerging bands on the You Need To Hear This stage across the weekend, but the one that really warrants genuine excitement is East India Youth. On his debut EP Hostel, William Doyle mixes together Krautrock pulses, house flourishes and his own precise vocals into a dizzying soundscape that bears its own individual footprint. The Quietus have bet the bank on him, funding the release of his EP, and so far it's sounding like money spent remarkably well.

Fucked Up
Friday, You Need To Hear This, 11:00pm

If you're looking for something loud, seek no further. Canadian hardcore act Fucked Up straddle a line between art-school experimentation (check out their last album, the eighteen-track concept album David Comes to Life for proof) and old school thrills. Their live show has become infamous - although if you don't want to see a very large, topless man screaming, this may not be the one for you - so seeing them round off the You Need To Hear This stage on the Friday should be a triumph.

Friday, Loud & Quiet, 9:10pm

Nominated for a Mercury Prize for his debut Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, Ghostpoet has already made his mark as one of the most distinctive voice in the British scene right now, and on this year's Some Say I So I Say Light he raised the bar even higher. Mixing his own darkly beautiful productions with lyrics that take a surrealistic take on young British life today, he's a hip-hop auteur whose charm and intelligence stand far out from the crowd.

Sunday, Loud & Quiet, 3:15pm

The great psychedelic white hope: Leeds act Hookworms have been riding a wave of critical adoration on the back of their debut album Pearl Mystic, a bold and dynamic take of psych-rock that uses distortion and mantra-like repetition to bury its way into the listener's head. As great as their recorded work is though, they've also gained a reputation as a truly fierce live band, so seeing them on (close to) home turf looks set to be a highlight of the weekend.

James Holden
Sunday, Red Bull Music Academy, 9:00pm

There's no shortage of great DJs at Beacons, but one of the most exciting names on the bill is James Holden, whose sporadic but brilliant output has earned him a mighty reputation. His latest album The Inheritors sprawls itself all over the dance continuum, mixing experimental synth washes, old-school rave and minimal to great effect. If you want a seriously idiosyncratic groove, Holden's set on Sunday night is the place to be.

John Talabot
Friday, Resident Advisor, 12:00am

On the Friday and Saturday, the Resident Advisor tent is keeping the party going late into the night, and as the clocks hit midnight on the Friday they're playing host to one of the most exciting and respected producers of the moment. The Spanish DJ burst to international prominence with his brilliant 2012 debut album fIN, an exceptional record that deconstructed the house formula without sacrificing his melodic talents. Bring your finest dancing wellies for this one.

Julia Holter
Saturday, ELFM, 7:00pm
Calling someone a bedroom songwriter might suggest a certain lack of ambition. But while Julia Holter may meet the first description, her bold songwriting defies the second. Her classically informed 2012 album Ekstasis was a genre-defying gem, and her upcoming third album Loud City Song looks set to take her creative arrangements and haunting songwriting to new heights. Even amongst the Beacons line-up, she stands out as a truly boundary-pushing talent.

Lulu James
Friday, Loud & Quiet, 6:50pm
South Shields resident Lulu James is starting to gather some serious attention, and anyone who's seen her powerful and commanding performances will know just why. Boasting a mighty set of lungs and some seriously classy dance-pop tunes courtesy of producer Domzilla, recent singles Closer and Step By Step have seen her twenty-first century soul get bigger and bigger. If you want to see the future of pop, make sure you're down at the front for this one.

Melody's Echo Chamber
Saturday, Loud & Quiet, 6:30pm

Tame Impala mainman Kevin Parker may have been getting the acclaim, but make no mistake: while he might have weaved his production magic on Melody's Echo Chamber eponymous album, it's singer-songwriter Melody Prochet running the show. Her dynamic take on dream-pop is very much its own beast, referencing the past masters but proceeding on its own course. Hearing Some Time Alone, Alone and You Won't Be Missing That Part Of Me ringing out is something I'm looking forward too hugely.

Sunday, You Need To Hear This, 9:00pm

One of those rare times when a hype band has the goods to back up the claims, Savages take the classic post-punk sound and give it a violent, intense new kick of life. Their debut album Silence Yourself was a grand introduction that's already one of Endless Window's favourite albums of the year, and having seen them blow away The Cluny in 2012, I'm expecting their Sunday evening set to be one of the peaks of the festival. Make sure you get down in time, because this one is bound to be busy.

Sky Larkin
Sunday, Loud & Quiet, 1:00pm
Having spent the past two years on hiatus while frontwoman Katie Harkin joined Wild Beasts as a live keyboardist for the Smother tour, it's a delight to say that the indie riff-masters of Sky Larkin are back and opening the main stage on the final day of Beacons ahead of their forthcoming third album Motto. If it's anything as good as The Golden Spike or Kaleide, then it'll be more than worth the wait.

Stealing Sheep
Saturday, Loud & Quiet, 4:30pm

Adding a folk current to proceedings are Stealing Sheep, who've been busy amassing a cult following in the last eighteen months with tours supporting the likes of Field Music and a highly recommended debut album in the form of Into the Diamond Sun. What could be contrived or quirky is compelling and impassioned with this band: Stealing Sheep are clearly destined for greater things, and their live show is bound to be the perfect mid-festival pick-me-up.

Friday, Loud & Quiet, 8:00pm

For something more subdued and laid-back, Vondelpark might be just the thing for you at Beacons this year. Signed to influential Belgian dance label R&S Records, the Surrey trio offer a sound that mixes up the post-dubstep craft of an James Blake with the lo-fi indie sounds of an Ariel Pink. Coming on like a hazier, less lovelorn xx, their chilled out sounds might be the ideal soundtrack for the sunlight fading into the dusk.

Saturday, You Need To Hear This, 11:00pm
But here it is, the best saved for last: the big event of Beacons. Wire are the band that pioneered post-punk, and arguably perfected it. Their initial run of albums - Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 - is one of the great triptychs in rock history. In the 1980s and early '90s, they experimented with dance music. Since reforming permanently in 1999, they've been on yet another creative roll that has seen them cement their status with further superlative albums. With new recruit Matthew Simms on second guitar and new album Change Becomes Us (based on rewritten fragments of material intended for an unrecorded post-154 album), Wire continue to be the gold standard for British guitar music. True musical icons that you'd be a fool to miss.

Haha Sound, Ten Years On - A Broadcast Retrospective

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 Category : , , , , , , , 0

I: Introduction and Reclaiming Psychedelia

“[Psychedelia isn’t] a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper… We discovered psychedelia and it seemed to have self-help properties that allowed us to let go of an immobilizing working class pride that was cementing a false identity into our psyche, stopping us from transforming.” - Trish Keenan

The above passage from an interview with Broadcast frontwoman Trish Keenan is one of my favourite quotes. In a quick outline, Trish hit upon exactly what it was that made her band so vital and unique. Because truthfully, when we think of psychedelia, what do we think? The old stand-bys, invariably: your stoned and huddled masses of hippies and broken post-beatniks, four-hour films with plenty of trippy effects but not a lot else, unending guitar solos that would a few years later tip over into the prog wilderness, a scene that promised to change the world but couldn't change its underwear.

What Broadcast did so brilliantly was to refute this lazy categorisation, and to re-discover the liberatory and revolutionary potential of psychedelia. Their work might have tipped the hat to cult trailblazers like California sister duo Wendy & Bonnie (whose sole album Genesis has been sampled by the Super Furry Animals and covered by Laetitia Sadier) and electronic pioneers The United States of America, but the way they took their West Coast influences and combined them not just with a distinctly British and working-class perspective, but with a taste for cutting edge electronica - listen to some of the instrumental tracks on their EP/B-side collection The Future Crayon and suddenly their presence on Warp Records doesn't look so anomalous - and a clear-headed desire for epiphany and change. Not just sous les paves, la plage, but psychic liberation within the tower blocks.

Listen to Broadcast in this way, and the wonderful melancholy of their arrangements and lyrics emerges even more precisely. Across their career, from Lights Out on Work and Non Work through to Tears in the Typing Pool on Tender Buttons is a fine lineage of laments, lovelorn in a traditional romantic sense and also with their surroundings, the confines of British urban and suburban existence. By the same degree, when they emerge with glorious hymnals like the sublime single Come On Let's Go, the potential for emancipation becomes evident. Broadcast always acknowledged their situation and the world they were born into, but pushes valiantly and successfully at its limits, using psychedelic art as a way to transform the world permanently into something more humane, vivid and remarkable.

II: Haha Sound and Reconstructing the Pop Fabric

Haha Sound, Broadcast's second full-length album (Work and Not Work consisting of previously issued singles), ended up sitting somewhere in the middle of their recorded output, both in chronological sense and in its sonic makeup - often noisier and darker than Work and Non Work and The Noise Made by People, but not as stripped-back as Tender Buttons or free-form as their collaboration with The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age. This could suggest that this a less remarkable album for them, a necessary transitional piece as Broadcast reconstituted itself from a full band to a core duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill. Ten years on from the record's release though, it seems clearer than ever that Haha Sound might represent the most complete and coherent summation of the numerous strands of Broadcast's career.
There's still some of the swooning pop beauty of their earlier work tucked within this record. Many bands go their entire lifespan without writing melodies as strong or lyrics as touching as those on Colour Me In, Before We Begin or Winter Now, and yet Broadcast have got three of those on the same record. What changes the context though are the songs that surround and envelop them. Brief instrumentals like Black Umbrellas and Distortion offer clattering percussion and cacophony, indulging the band's love of the more outré experiments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (and especially of Delia Derbyshire), while the Silver Apples pulse and guitar scrapings of lead single Pendulum result in perhaps the most anxious, dread-filled moment of their career. There's also the brilliant mid-album tracks Lunch Hour Pops and Ominous Cloud to consider, both of them fine pieces of psychedelic pop, but wedding to lurching rhythms that render their nostalgia deeply queasy - no wonder Ghost Box acts like The Focus Group found them such a kindred spirit - yet in doing so liberate the past from safety and render it a fresh playground once more. If there's any grand message to Haha Sound, it's that the process of breaking down established identity is tricky and full of dark realisations, but still rewarding and freeing for those ready to tumble down the rabbit hole. All manner of pop and alternative structures are broken down and reconstituted over the course of the album in pursuit of a construction that points to the way forward.
For a long time, I always considered Man Is Not a Bird and Minim the heart of the record, two tracks that demonstrate Broadcast's mastery of abstract yet richly melodic arrangements and assert how, no matter what the rest of the band threw in the way, Trish's voice always acted as a wise, kindly signal from across the confines of reality, guiding us into this strange old-new world. Listening back to it now though, it seems clear that it's the earlier track Valerie that really contains the key to the album. A soft, folky track unlike the rest of the album sonically, it takes its inspiration from Jaromil Jires's 1970 surrealist film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (adapted from Vitezslav Nezval's 1932 novel), a strange depiction of the onset of puberty and sexuality. I'd recommend Movie Feast for a full description, but what intrigues about Broadcast's reading is how they take the often troubling material and, without denying its undertow, find a way to make it more entrancing than terrifying. Just lay down your dreams on my pillow, before bed.

III: Conclusion - Until Then

Trish Keenan passed away on 14th January 2011 after contracting pneumonia following a tour of Australia with Broadcast. It's one of the most cruel music deaths I've known in my lifetime, the silencing of a unique voice that, if Broadcast's contributions to Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age and recent live improvisational soundtracks are to go by, was just entering a new artistic phase. For all who knew her, it was the tragic loss of a friend and partner. For those of us who just knew her art, it was the silencing of one of British music's most creative underground icons.

As such, Broadcast has inevitably become a past tense institution, their body of work gaining an unwelcome finality. Although this year saw the release of Broadcast's soundtrack to Berberian Sound Studio, begun before Trish's death and completed by James Cargill and further rumours concerning material half-completed by the duo being compiled for a final release, Broadcast as a working band is no more. This does nothing to lessen the great creative evolution they underwent as a band, from purveyors of soothing electronic psychedelia through tense, post-punk influenced urban hymnals through to the sound collages and cut-up ruralism of their final works, and it's an evolution in which Haha Sound played a pivotal role. It's a record that can be bewildering and scary at first, but with time blossoms into a technicolour fantasia.
With time, it seems certain that Broadcast's stature within underground and alternative circles is set to grow and grow. They were a band that breathed fresh new life into psychedelia and found a way to dodge the druggy clichés to arrive at an interrogative, imaginative sound that paved the way for the psychedelia revival that has resulted in the formation of festivals like the Austin Psych Fest and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia as well as the mainstream success of an act like Tame Impala. Within their recorded output is some of the most vital, heartfelt and forward-looking music of the last two decades. They took the promises of the past and reworked them into grand promises for the future - eighteen years after their formation and ten years after Haha Sound, their vision of psychedelia as a platform for re-envisioning the self and the self's relationship to the world remains far ahead of the pack.

O'Messy Life - Challenger

Friday, 9 August 2013 Category : , , , , , 0

...hey, is this thing on? Phew. Apologies for the longer-than-planned summer hiatus there: life does have a habit of getting in the way sometimes. Anyway, there's plenty of articles (or, if you're a moron, 'content') coming your way in the near future. For now though, here's some words on the new EP from O'Messy Life to welcome you back... 
Funny thing happened on the way to this review: this record played a part in a nightmare. A few nights ago, some dread combination of the summer heat and my own crazed subconcious jolted me awake suddenly, because somewhere in my head the melodious closer to O'Messy Life's new release Challenger EP The Rebel in Love hit some kind of insidious locked groove, it felt like the whole bedroom (for this is where this most mundane of night terrors was set) was shaking as in some '70s disaster movie, and then I was upright and awake, jolted and alarmed by a) an increased tendency towards unwelcome dreams in my life at present, and b) that even in those, I'm a dreadful record geek. Which of these revelations is the more unwelcome I'll leave to the eye of the beholder. 

But yes, as you'll have already gathered by now, I've been giving this EP a fair amount of time and thought of late. A large part of that of course is thanks to the band's pedigree: while their very earliest ventures may have resulted in some fairly undistinguished Americana, somewhere prior to their superb third EP O'Messy Life & The Quarter Life Crisis of Conan, they hit upon their own brand of fuzzy, hook-filled, emotionally resonant indie rock and transformed themselves into one of the best acts the North-East has to offer, both live and on record. Subsequent singles Escape Velocity and Little Vehicles/Space Holiday refined the formula further and cemented their gift for smart power-pop gems.

For their fourth EP however, O'Messy Life have veered away from the more immediate sounds of these last few releases for something darker and more subtler. Anyone expecting another Escape Velocity sugar rush may feel a moment of buyer's remorse: "hey, who put all these piano ballads and post-modern grunge epics about detectives tracking down their own past in my rock band?" Needless to say though, after a few listens all settles into place as Challenger reveals itself as a deeper, more immersive set of songs from the band, and one that cleverly expands the boundaries of the O'Messy Life sound.
The luscious, Jeff Buckley-via-Will Oldham guitar pickings that open Heat Shield signal the more intimate atmosphere of the record from the off, and as the song floats by on yearning vocal harmonies and the occasional blast of traditional O'ML distorted riffing, it takes the ambition hinted at on six-minute single Little Vehicles and takes it further. The title track itself unfolds as a scrappy indie rock take on Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac before exploding into grand Weezer riffage, its lyrics dealing with the the Challenge shuttle disaster from an oblique, personal angle (as does the record's superb artwork). There's also the two shorter ballads that round out the collect, the piano-driven wintery stillness of On the Cancellation of the Constellation Program and the electrified campfire sing-a-long of The Rebel in Love - the gentle, soothing closer that found itself looped into frenzy in my dreams, curiously enough.

Between those however lies the EP's centerpiece Invincible History. The song's conceit of a detective attempting to track down his earlier self to punish his own mistakes already has all the Paul Auster credentials you could want, but the scope of the lyric is more than matched by the music, with hushed guitars interposed with grand organs, soaring leads, traded vocals and a line in quiet-loud-quiet-loud-nothing-REALLY LOUD dynamics that would do Mogwai proud. It's a track quite unlike anything the band have attempted to date, and the success with which they pull it off proves the level of songwriting talent that Dave Littlefair posesses and just how tight a unit they've become.

In summary then: one of the region's best bands continues its proud evolution, and if you miss their EP launch gig at Cluny 2 on Thursday 29th August...well, have a good bloody word with yourself. The whole EP is available to stream and order from Tiny Lights here: just take care, and don't have nightmares.

Live Report - The Unit Ama Album Launch

Friday, 19 July 2013 Category : , , , , , , , 0

A brief note before we get down to the main business: in many ways, it's encouraging that Newcastle and the north-east takes its cultural heritage seriously, and wants to keep it alive for future generations to access. When this results in a horde of morris dancers blocking off the entrance to The Cumberland Arms on a blazing summer night however, I have to protest in the strongest of terms. The old adage that you should "try everything once, except incest and morris dancing" springs to mind - in my mind's eye, morris dancing sits on the list of truly evil works and deeds somewhere above shoplifting, the infamous mauling of The Magnificent Andersons and Katie Hopkins, and just below war, the legacy of Thatcher and Jimmy Saville. In other words, morris dancers, kindly just fuck the fuck off. I don't want nor need the sacrifical screams of Edward Woodward reverberating across the Ouseburn when I'm just trying to get to the bar.
That aside then, the real reason for this article. To celebrate the release of The Unit Ama's new record The Mason's Mallet, a live recording of their performance at TUSK Festival 2012, they took to the stage of The Cumberland Arms to dazzle the more adventerous minds of the region once again. Having been amazed by my first exposure to their unique spin on avant-rock at last year's Split Festival in Sunderland, it became imperative for this scribe to brave the sweat-box of The Cumberland's events room and exchange a note for entrance and a Unit Ama LP and set myself up for a night of left-of-centre delights.
Thankfully, before The Unit Ama's performance was a righteous support billing. Having never heard them before (having foolishly missed their opening performance for Mike Watt at The Cluny earlier this year), openers Fret! made an instant impact as another tight power trio on the bill, with brutish and incessant bass lines propelling the pieces through as the drums submit to flailing fury and the guitar splinters off into (post?) post-punk shards. With their short, largely instrumental tracks, it was a confident and empowering display of force - certainly a name I'll be looking out for on line-up's in the future. For some calm before the storm, the night then turned to the talents of a certain Richard Dawson, en route to a performance at the Latitude Festival. Covers of standards popularised Mike Watterson and Shirley Collins mingle with Dawson's own work, including Black Dog In The Sky and The Cumberland Rag from The Magic Bridge an an intriguing new guitar piece that operated at the more frenzied, explosive end of his work, taking off perhaps from where the instrumental interludes on The Glass Trunk left off. Throw in some pinapple-centric chat, and you've got a fine balm for the increasingly crowded and humid room.
When it came to The Unit Ama's turn though, it began without warning. The trio, on stage clad in their stage suits - which, on a night like this really takes some aesthetic dedication, so nice one gentlemen - work their way in without any notice, toying with their instruments and slowly bringing the sound up until the crowd notices that, hey, shit, this is actually the set you know. Over the next forty-odd minutes, they set out their stall brilliantly, with relatively composed sets of math-rock fury coming in and out of free-form chaos, with song and improvisation taking equal importance. One of the joys of The Unit Ama is how surprisingly difficult it is to tell what's pre-prepared and what's improvisation - the more obviously 'song' segments boast far too many odd shifts and turns to feel entirely pre-written, while even in their more abrasive and atonal instrumental patches, there remains a great sense of direction. Also key to the band is the wry humour they display, an all-too-rare acknowledgement that this kind of music can be fun and silly as well as intense and challenging. When their non-stop wall of sound finally fades into nothing, the roar of approval from the audience is unmistakeable, compelling the band into a brief encore of an older, shorter rock piece. On a night like this, the gauntlet they lay down to other rock trio's is simple and unmistakeable: we can get away with this and take the audience down some unexpected avenues and have them love it, so why they hell aren't you putting even a tenth of the thought and effort into what you do that we put in? Their public appearances may be rare, but good christ the wait between Unit Ama gigs is made more than worthwhile.

Live Report - NARC Fest '13

Monday, 8 July 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , , , , 1

Inevitably, with an event like NARC Fest - a free for all, free entry occurrence with eight venues running simultaneously - there's no dominant narrative or easy guidelines on what to experience and how. Even more so that usual for this site then, this is a purely individual account of what I saw during NARC Fest '13, concerning the acts I saw, the impressions I received and the confirmation that even in this age of corporate sponsorship and synergy, live music at a local level remains an anarchic and uncontrollable force.
For me, the festival starts at half six, as I emerge past Byker Metro into the kind of glorious British sunshine unmistakeably at odds with what one has come to expect from the British summer. As such, the whole of the Ouseburn is even more crowded that would normally be expected on either a) a Saturday evening or b) a gig. In fact, the only remotely quiet spot is in front of the trailer parked up by the Quayside for the Airsteam Sessions, where Agerskow is running through a brief unamplified set for recording. Given the hushed, intimate nature of her work, hearing without any amplification can be a bit of a struggle, and even for self-un-facilitating media nodes like myself (ha), the emphasis placed on recording the set for later over the enjoyment of those watching live - at an event designed to promote live music in the region no less - is surreal. Nevertheless, a concluding run through of her single This Train Terminates is a richly melodic treat for those who made the effort.
After this, it was time to head into the festival line-up proper, starting of at The Tyne Bar to take in the recently revived punk fun of The Second Prize. Leaping about the stage at seven in the evening, they're a suitable shot of adrenalin for the evening ahead, and it's all done with an emphasis on great big sweaty, angry, daft fun. It's not the music that made the gig so memorable though as the actions of one of the crowd members, as a portly middle-aged man takes the opportunity to strip bare (aside from his socks - makes you proud to British, doesn't it?) and start his own one man mosh-pit...while everyone else around burst out in shocked laughter as this large bellied, small dicked madman, henceforth known as Radgy McSmallnob proceeded to take over the gig. So much for 'family friendly festival' then. The band take it in their stride as a not-exactly-welcome addition to their set, with frontman Jack getting the world's most discomforting piggyback ride from him at the set's finale. Be warned reader: this was not to be the only appearance of Radgy McSmallnob either.
Escpaing from unwelcome public nudity, we take refuge in the Cycle Hub by the quayside (and yes, dear reader, this is just a bicycle shop they've taken over the night). Performance poetry organisation Apples & Snakes curated a welcoming, low-key line-up of spoken word and acoustic music here for the evening filled with some of the region's best poets, and we arrive in time to catch one of the final sets before settling down to the warm sounds of Nev Clay. Interrupting himself constantly to comment on the songs, the occasion and even break down his songwriting formula ("right, you've had the instrumental bit...the next two verses are quite fun, but the last one's the kicker, isn't it?"), it's impossible not to warm to his kind-hearted songwriting and generous manner. The Bard of Benton, he's done it again.
The Free Trade Inn. Drink booze here.
Scaling the steps to the rustic delights of The Free Trade Inn - unquestionably one of the finest of Newcastle's numerous boozing establishments, and the finest view in the city - your fearless, thirsty correspondant is forced to squeeze his way through the horder queueing at the bar to get himself a good spot for Our Imaginary Friends. As an indie fan who spends most of his time these days getting frustrated with the complacency and smugness of many indie bands and fans, I'm happy to report than Our Imaginary Friends's powerful and punchy songs more than make the grade. Having spent the time waiting for the completion of their debut album working on new material, they're evolving into an increasingly strident and confident live act. More recent tracks suggest a lean to a fuzzy, blown-out take on Britpop with moments like Graham Coxon at his most tired and emotional, while older material such as The Chaos is now sped up and delivered with a fresh urgency. The five-piece (completed tonight with Marc Bird, frontman of the rather fantastic Yellow Creatures, on bass duties) have still retained their talent for sweet melodies and arrangements, but live they're definetely hitting new form.
For the main event though, it's back to the Tyne Bar for their stage headliner, local doom juggernaut Khuunt (to be pronounced as you would expect), premiering new material with the assistance of new collaborator Richard Dawson. Taking their template of grinding bass riffs and shrieked vocals but expanding it and pushing it further into the avant-garde with alternate swarks of ferocious, trebly guitar noise, the relentless thirty-five minute free-metal monolith they unveil demonstrates Khuunt's remarkable potency and stands far away from Richard Dawson's own recent work). The loyal crowd is loving the chaos of this loud pummeling, only guess who's come back to join the fray again? Why, it's only the dance craze of the season that absolutely none of the kids want to ever have within a hundred miles of them, let alone join in with, the one and only Radgy McSmallnob! Again, in fairness, his deranged antics do lend an extra level of filth to the grimy proceedings, but it's still an unwelcome repeat, even if the Tyne staff do shout him into putting his jeans back on (although he does still wander around with his underwear on his head, mind). That aside though: it's an exceptional performance that left me ecstatic and dazed: just what you want mind?
Even with that ringing in my ears though, I brave the Free Trade once more to experience the soothing harmonies of The Cornshed Sisters. A mixture of the truly packed crowd gathered to soak in their performance (although the noise of the bar did still render them hard to hear) and the extreme musical whiplash experienced in jmping from Khuunt to this polar opposite did result in me taking my leave before the end of the set, but from the songs I stuck around from, let me assure you: their harmonies remain as pristine and delightful as ever, and Tell Tales highlight Dance At My Wedding remains utterly heart-melting - as well as the only use of a ukelele that Endless Window is prepared to allow.
While there were a few options left available, a combination of chasing friends, band fatigue and the need to catch the Metro left my night curtailed after this point. But in my experience of NARC Fest '13, what was proven is that despite the increasing hurdles in putting on such events and the continuing dumbing-down of the usual gig circuit, there's still space for exciting-despite-themselves occasions and wild, unexpected performances. All it takes are the acts worth hearing, the promotors willing to take a chance and for the world to turn its head and listen for a change.

Back to the Middle: Album Roundup, April-June '13

Thursday, 4 July 2013 Category : , 0

We may only be at the half-way point, but 2013's already been an astonishing year of releases. There's been a plethora of surprise comebacks, stealth releases and established acts stepping up to the mark and delivering some of their finest work to date. There's been so much great music to listen to, that following my previous quarterly round-up I've had to dobule the selection to twenty albums this time round, and even that's forced me to leave out some more than worthy records by the likes of Cathedral, Wire and Zomby - hell, even Yeezus himself couldn't get himself guestlist to this exclusive club. So read on to find out which twenty slabs of wax/transmissions into the digital void that are well worth your time...

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Boards of Canada's <i>Tomorrow's Harvest</i> to be played in full at record stores around the UK and Ireland

Following the triumphant returns of My Bloody Valentine and David Bowie earlier in the year, Boards of Canada were the latest missing in action act to finally emerge from the fog. Unsurprisingly, Tomorrow's Harvest doesn't represent any huge shift from their established template of layered, psychedelic downtempo electronica. After the shift to more pastoral realms on the guitar-driven The Campfire Headphase however, Tomorrow's Harvest represents a 180-degree shift into a post-apocalyptic landscape, with the presence of John Carpenter and Wendy Carlos looming large. Dark and anxious, it's a deep and rewarding records with plenty of puzzles to keep the fans engages until the next transmission.

Key Track: New Seeds

British Sea Power - Machineries of Joy

Reliable is always a fairly damning piece of praise for a band, a fairly meaningless 'well, at least they turned up' badge for the merely mediocre. British Sea Power are reliable in a different sense: their eccentric, askew world-view remains a delight a decade after they promised The Decline of British Sea Power, and although they may be a decidedly cult concern these days Machineries of Joy finds them on taut and playful form. From the euphoric title track to the glam stomp of Loving Animals and the epic What You Need The Most to the breezy joy of Radio Goddard, this is beautiful and consoling work made for a difficult time.

Key Track: Loving Animals

The Child of Lov - The Child of Lov

For that hideous cover art alone, this one almost didn't make it in. But as much as The Child of Lov's eponymous debut acts as a summation of everything wrong with hipster aethetics and its appropriation of R&B forms, the music contained within in of an althogther distinction. Sometimes lo-fi in timbre but meticulously arranged, the deep grooves this Amsterdam resident minds speak to the head as well as the heart. I was impressed when I reviewed the album for KYEO, and I remain so now.

Key Track: Fly

Deafheaven - Sunbather

Deafheaven's bold second album was a thuderbolt from the blue: plenty of acts have been exploring the intersection between black metal and shoegaze over the last few years, but it's hard to think of any that have done so with such fluidity and success. Balancing anger and introspection, the lenghty tracks on this album never outstay their welcome. I've written on here previously about this seriously successful album, but the point's worth stating again: don't let any genre stereotypes or personal prejudices keep you away from one of the most affecting and powerful records of the year.

Key Track: Sunbather

Deerhunter - Monomania

Bradford Cox might have kept an unusually quiet 2012 release-wise, but on their new album Monomania he and his band Deerhunter remain a distinct presence within the indie rock sphere. The album's tilt into raw garage rock tropes might result in a record lacking in some of the gorgeous ambiance of Cryptograms or Halycon Digest, but as stated here on Endless Window before, he's still "following his own peculiar, obsessive muse" in pursuit of rock and roll nirvana.

Key Track: Monomania

The Fall - Re-Mit

John Peel's favourite band, ooh they do change line-up a lot don't they, and that Mark E. Smith does like a drink, doesn't he? Cliche's duly dispensed with, the important stuff remains: over thirty-five years on, they remain the most essential rock band on the face of the Earth, and while some may have doubted after 2011's better-than-you-think but slight Ersatz G.B., Re-Mit is another confirmation of the group's unyielding brilliance. The current line-up remains a joy, and on tracks like Sir William Wray, Jetplane and closing number Loadstones, Mark E. Smith and company sound like they're having more fun than ever. Hail to the real king.

Key Track: Loadstones

Ghostpoet - Some Say I So I Say Light

How do you capitalise on a Mercury Prize nominated debut without going the way of Speech Debelle? Easy, if you're Ghostpoet: just get your head down and keep pushing with your sound. Some Say I So I Say Light may not have been revolution, but it certainly took everything that was great about first album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam and ran with it, to produce a touchstone for British hip-hop and electronic music that manages to defly blend downtempo beat wizardy and an intriguingly surreal take on Britishness lyrically. 

Key Track: Meltdown

The Haxan Cloak - Excavation

The cover might suggest heavy metal parody, but you'll find something far more fearsome if you dig yourself into the haunted subterranean visions conjured up by Bobby Krlic on his second album as The Haxan Cloak. Excavation follows a loose narrative of a journey beyond death and through the afterlife, but never has a voyage over the River Styx been so heavy in endless bass and churning electronics. Eschewing the modulated avant-folk of his debut, this formidable second set is a journey through the darkest recesses of modern bass music and drone whose pristine blackness is only pierced in the haunted, mesmerising closer The Drop.

Key Track: The Drop

James Blake - Overgrown

After a series of increasingly impressive and hermetic post-dubstep EPs, James Blake's eponymous 2010 debut marked the arrival of a bold new songwriting voice that married cutting-edge production with the kind of muso chops only an upbringing in jazz and classical tradition can grant. On Overgrown, James Blake expands the palette of his debuts and blends in some new colours in the form of Brian Eno and RZA collaborations. If not as assured or dazzling as his debut, Overgrown's evolutionary ambition is still one Endless Window found hugely rewarding.

Key Track: Digital Lion

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Keyboard and production whizz Jon Hopkins had previously been more of a side-man, far better known for work with King Creosote or Brian Eno than his efforts under his own name. Immunity is the album to change that though, a heady and immersive record that balances IDM ingenuity and ambient langour to create a complex but inviting ecosystem of its own, nodding to past and present club trends but setting off unmistakeably on its own path.

Key Track: Collider

Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down

Any band featuring alumni of Zun Zun Egui, The Heliocentrics and the much-missed Acoustic Ladyland is going to have a lot of live up to. It's a testament to the sparkling chemistry of this new seven-piece formation then that Melt Yourself Down's eclectic, energetic debut stands as some of the finest work all involved have ever done, touching on the kind of jazz, psychedelia and Afrobeat touchstones one might expect but blending them together into an individualistic sound that  might just be the year's best party album. Outstanding, unmissable stuff.

Key Track: Release!

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The music industry might be a limbless syphilitic tramp lying in the gutter these days, but it turns out mope-rock remains a good meal ticket. Yes, The National have now found themselves as unexpected arena headliners, yet on Trouble Will Find Me they're celebrating their success with one of their most nuanced and entrancing efforts to date. The early signs were promising, and in my NARC write-up I noted that even if as a collection it may be slightly over-long, from song to song it finds the band on imperious form.

Key Track: Humiliation

The Pastels - Slow Summits

Coming away with the Silver in the International Piss Taking, Musician Class at the 2012 Olympics (our mate Kevin Shields getting the Gold, natch), Stephen Pastel and friends have finally awoken from their slumber to provide us with their most sumptous effort yet. Slow Summits is a gentle stroll through the city landscape, guiding us through the seasons in Glasgow with a gentle guiding hand. It may have been some wait, but thankfully The Pastels have produced an intelligent album befitting their status as indie-pop godparents.

Key Track: Slowly Taking Place

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels

2012 was a triumphant year for Killer Mike and El-P, with their respective records R.A.P. Music and Cancer 4 Cure marking an astonishing one-two punch. Teaming up as Run The Jewels, their eponymous debut is an equally inspired victory lap, trading some of R.A.P. Music's political vitriol and Cancer 4 Cure's paranoia for some hilarious raging takedowns and bizarro party rap, all fuelled by El-P's adrenalin rush. Run The Jewels makes it a hat-trick from a duo that abolsutely know they're smarter and harder than anyone else around - and hell, they even made it free to download.

Key Track: Sea Legs

Savages - Silence Yourself

Can any of you remember a time when a hype band was actually good? From Gay Dad to Viva Brother, it's normally a sign for any listener with the slightest bit of discernment to turn away and wait for the air to clear. Yet in the case of the much-hyped Savages...well, they actually do live up to it. Some complaints have been made of them being yet another bunch of post-punk revivalists, and in fairness not without a degree of truth, but what Savages a special case is that they're one of the few who actually have the attitude, the poise and the intelligence to back it all up. As such, Silence Yourself is a fully-formed statement of intent that sounds vital and urgent, whatever the touchstones may be.

Key Track: She Will

Scout Niblett - It's Up to Emma

Scout Niblett has always balanced the unnerving and the raw with the open and cinematic in her career, but never have they made such a synthesis as on It's Up to Emma. As I observed in my review for KYEO, the intensity of her blues-informed guitar playing is matched by the occasional bloom of strings, resulting in a spell-binding listen. The end result is something in keeping with the Scout Niblett persona, but also open and emotionally honest without resorting to singer-songwriter cliche. Again, she remains one of these isles most curiously undiscovered stars.

Key Track: Gun

Sigur Ros - Kveikur

If the ambient Valtari was a necessary pallete-cleanser after years of increasing bombast and Jonsi's emerging solo career, Kveikur is the sound of a new, re-modelled Sigur Ros, fighting against their own history to emerge with something new over a decade after they first emerged from Iceland. Stormy and bullish where previous albums were gentle and enveloping, the band (now trimmed to a core trio, with studio and live accompaniment) still totes much of the orchestral, flowing beauty that made their name, but this time around it's matched by an interest in electronic noise, distorted guitars and a far more dominant rhythm section that before. On Kveikur, Sigur Ros sound like a band revitalised.

Key Track: Brennisteinn

These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

In a British music scene increasingly, dispiritingly, driven by conservatism and false nostalgia, the independent minded These New Puritans (as with their one-time label mates Wild Beasts) are a much needed corrective. After the post-punk/dance fusion of Beat Pyramid and the dark percussive majesty of Hidden, Field of Reeds marks their most surprising, experimental and heartfelt expression to date. It's an album that just grows in stature with every listen: as made clear in my previous review, it's the wonderful sound of an auteural vision reaching full maturity. A truly essential listen.

Key Track: Organ Eternal (but seriously, just listen to the whole damn thing, okay?)

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend had previously been slightly frustrating: clearly far more intelligent and self-aware than many of their detractors would suggest, but always slightly light-weight and unambitious - on Contra, songs as well-crafted as Horchata and Diplomat's Son sat alongside the lazy Cousins or Holiday. Come Modern Vampires of the City though, they've not just made the record we hoped they might be capable of: they've completely exceeded any expectations placed on them. An insightful, creative record that touches on ecenomic inequality, the loss of faith and the fear of death, it's one of the year's most welcome surprises.

Key Track: Ya Hey

Various Artists - After Dark 2

Chalk it up to the Gosling effect or whatever else you like, but right now the Italians Do It Better stable have never been more in-demand. The long-delayed After Dark 2 therefore is a much welcome distilliation of their Italo disco/synth-pop aesthetic, bringing together their most notable acts - Chromatics, Glass Candy, Desire and others - for an ideal noctural mixtape of brand-new material that suggests Johnny Jewel's songwriting is only just hitting its peak. Endless Window has raved about it before, and what's more it's now available to stream and download from Johnny Jewel's Soundcloud for free.

Key Track: Glass Candy - The Possessed

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