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NARC Magazine - August 2014

Posted on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 | No Comments

Lots of brass, lots of psych.

Album Reviews

James Yorkston – The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society

The title’s hint enough: this ain’t a concise, quick collection you’re faced with here. For his eight album, Scottish troubadour James Yorkston has spread out and invited some of his friends round for a loose yet sophisticated set of songs. While the length of the album might intimidate all but the most dedicated, there’s some typically fine and heart-warming work on here. Throughout, new producer Alexis Taylor (he of Hot Chip) subtly interweaves new sounds into Yorkston’s songs, such as the steel-drum assisted Guy Fawkes’ Signature or the subdued ambiance of Embers, finding new wrinkles within the homely, worn Yorkston template. Even if the full album might feel baggy, the quality of the songwriting is as high as ever.


DZ Deathrays – Black Rat

DZ Deathrays, a drum, guitar, vocals and nothing else duo from New Zealand, were the darlings of the press when they first burst out…and then Death From Above 1979 had the temerity to reform and steal their thunder. Their second album Black Rat could have been the sound of a band on the back foot, but their heavyweight party-rock proves more resilient than that. At times on Black Rat, they inch closer towards a more bluesy sound that isn’t their strong suit (as well their attempt to do a slow one, Northern Lights, which works on account of being nothing like a slow one). When they stick to the heavy, nasty riffs of tracks like Reflective Skull though, all is suitably un-well.


Live Reviews

Glass Animals, William Arcane
Think Tank (23/06/14)

Be it the blazing sunshine of a summer evening or the fact that everyone else is watching the World Cup, but it has to be said, Think Tank isn’t exactly heaving tonight. Still, support act William Arcane battles through even with punters being somewhat thin on the ground. Hunched over a mass of wires and machinery, he sets up a set of subdued neo-soul in a post-James Blake vein. There’s moments when the gentle percussion hits and synth pads get just too tasteful and zeitgeist-riding for comfort, but there’s still plenty to enjoy in William Arcane’s music. The real test though will be where he stands when trends move on in two or three years’ time.

Without introduction or niceties, the lights dim and Glass Animals emerge on the stage, diving straight into the ambient grooves of their debut Zaba. Balancing earthy murk with pristine, heady soars, they strike out early with their more immediate material like the spiky, direct Pools and Psylla. The most interesting moments arrive later in the set though, when they slow things down and let their hidden Massive Attack influence rise up to the surface, a modern yet distinctly English strangeness beneath the polished exterior. Their lyrics are, admittedly, still something of a sticking point – of the many ways Wild Beasts have evidently affected these musicians, their lyrical prowess is unfortunately not one of them – but when they balance atmosphere and percussive drive as well as on encore song Gooey, there’s still plenty to enjoy. 

Kawabata Mokoto, Richard Dawson
Cluny 2 (14/07/14) 

As the leader of the numerous different guises of psychedelic collective Acid Mothers Temple, Kawabata Makoto has kept the fire burning over hundreds of releases and with his hectic touring schedule. It’s for good reason that the Cluny 2 is packed full with an apt, awaiting audience for this solo appearance. 

Before his set though, a turn from local guitar hero Richard Dawson. As with many of his recent sets, the focus falls largely on his acapella renditions of his and other songs. It’s when he treats the crowd to a brand-new, fifteen-minute composition that the night soars however. His guitar playing has become increasingly aggressive and untethered to folk tradition, and an even more expressive beast than before, an audacious blend of modernist jazz, classical and metal traditions, that when combined with a remarkable, surrealistic, blackly comic lyric that takes on childhood ghosts and misdemeanours makes this a remarkable endeavour. A recording can’t come quickly enough.

With just a quick thank you to the crowd, Makoto settles in with his intricate set-up and begins a haunting, meditative hour-long performance. Starting with the sound of a Tibetan bowl rung against his pickups, he uses all manner of bows, pedals and techniques to wring a dark, shifting dream out of his guitar. Combined with live visual manipulations by Dan Gibson, it’s an intoxicating brew, avoiding cliché whilst diving into the darker recesses of the psyche dream, before finally bursting into gorgeous acoustic playing and sharp feedback pyrotechnics . The flame still burns bright. 

British Sea Power - Sea of Brass
Durham Gala (17/07/14)

British Sea Power are not a band averse to taking on unusual gigs or oddball challenges: the spirit of endeavour that so often fuels their music has also manifested itself in a variety of collaborations, off-the-beaten-path tours and soundtrack releases.

As part of the Durham Brass Festival though, they’ve embarked on an ambitious re-working of their music with brass accompaniment, Sea of Brass. With arrangements supplied by Peter Wraight of the Matthew Herbert Big Band and the full power of the NASUWT Riverside Band beside the core British Sea Power six-piece, the cosy theatre at the Gala Durham can barely contain the players.

Kicking off with the sweet drift of early track Heavenly Waters, British Sea Power have curbed some of their more chaotic and noisy tendencies to give sufficient room for the brass. It’s an intriguing selection of tracks as well, with singles like Atom and Machineries of Joy sitting beside rarities such as the fragile B-side The Smallest Church of Sussex (which from this dedicated crowd gets one of the biggest applauses for the night).

As a debut performance, there’s still a few flaws to iron out - the bombastic parping on Once More Now subtracts significantly from the stoic beauty of the original - but when the brass and the material work together, as on a sublime The Great Skua and an epic take on Lately, these new arrangements bring out the humane warmth at the heart of the band to thrilling and truly powerful effect. 

Lanterns on the Lake
Durham Cathedral (18/07/14) 

The slowly fading light of the summer evening, cascading through the stained glass, the pillars that reach up and up into the ether,– Durham Cathedral is certainly an architectural marvel, and a remarkable place to experience live music. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in the Ouseburn any more.
The breath-taking beauty of the building might be recommendation enough, but the chance to see Lanterns of the Lake perform in front of the Cathedral’s packed nave is difficult to turn down. With the graceful yet dramatic music, it’s difficult to think of another act from the area more ideally suited to this place (even if, as the band joke, their previous performance in Durham was in the somewhat less hallowed confines of the Fishtank.)

Performing for the Brass Festival, tonight the band finds themselves joined by the Durham County Youth Big Band, who acquit themselves marvellously throughout. The addition of the brass section is largely subdued throughout the evening, but perhaps that’s just a sign of how well they fold into this subtle, nuanced material. Encouragingly for all concerned, it’s the material from last year’s Until the Colours Run and two new songs written for the event that really stand out: the musicianship has become even more focused, while Hazel Wilde’s lyrics have become more pointed in their personal-as-political stance. I Love You, Sleepyhead gets the biggest cheer, but tonight it’s the future that shines brightest – and we can only hope that they get to work with these brass players again.

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