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August 2013

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.

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