NARC Magazine - October 2014
Posted on Thursday, 2 October 2014 | No Comments
One hundred issues! We trust the card from the Head Lizard is in the post...
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead – IX
Not many bands can make it out alive out of a hype bubble that explodes in their face, but kudos to the Trail of Dead for hitting their ninth studio album of ambitious, intelligent prog-punk. Recorded with the same stripped-back quartet behind 2012’s superb Lost Songs, IX tilts the balance back towards the prog end of their sound, for better and for worst. There’s none of the over-reach or poor genre pastiches that marred their mid-period works, and when the songs land – see Lie Without A Liar or closer Sound Of The Silk – they’re on as fine a form as ever. However, the drifting, build-up dominated nature of the record leaves IX slightly less than the sum of its parts.
Vashti Bunyan – Heartleap
If you’ve ever enjoyed the work of anyone operating of the weirder or quieter side of folk music, from Devendra Banhart to Liz Harris’s music as Grouper, then you’ve stumbled across the subtle, pervasive influence of Vashti Bunyan. Only her third album (and, according to reports, her last), Heartleap is a powerful addition to her dazzling albeit miniature catalogue. The subtle electric guitars criss-crossing across Holy Smoke suggest that she in turn has come under the sway of disciples like Mazzy Star,yet this is no imitation: the serene beauty of Bunyan’s whispered yet precise vocals throughout could only ever be her. As the album concludes with the ambient drift of the title track, her place in history is thoroughly assured.
St Vincent, Arc IrisThe Sage Gateshead, 27/08/14
Well you wouldn’t have got this back in The Low Anthem. Having left that band to focus on her own work in Arc Iris, Jocie Adams has thrown away her previous outfit’s minimalist folk in favour of dizzying, intricate piano lines, glitzy costumes and freewheeling song structures that come across like Laura Nyro in double-time. With just two on-stage members, Arc Iris make a dramatic impact, and while not everything coheres yet (one Portishead-indebted number impresses, but also sits so far apart from the rest of the set as to be plain confusing), the promise here is evident.
A few years back, well-respected singer-songwriter Annie Clark of St Vincent had something of a brain wave: if nobody out there is aspiring to be the next Bowie, Bush or Prince, why not roll up my sleeves and do it myself? Her efforts to streamline, stylise and modernise her art paid off in full with this year’s stunning self-titled fourth album, and her live show has evolved in rapid fashion alongside it. This stripped-back yet theatrical production is one of the most impressive to have hit the rock world in years, as Annie and her band power through electro-rock stompers like Digital Witness and Huey Newton with steely precision and visceral force: standing atop a throne for a remarkable take on Cheerleader, the gesture seems fitting rather than arrogant. Annie Clark no longer walks amongst us, but St Vincent is here to bless us with strange, savage gifts from an alien dimension.
White Hills, Blown Out, Cave Suns
The Cluny, 25/09/14
A trio of trio’s at The Cluny tonight: anyone with an aversion to loud guitars, look away now. First of the three is Cave Suns, offering a distinctly more vintage, hard rock leaning sound. The opening instrumental is impressive, and there’s no doubting the passion of this band, but all too often it just turns into a generic riff stew. Fine musicianship, but for what purpose?
Taking a very different tact are Blown Out. Featuring members of Bong, Haikai No Ku and Khuunt, their talent for locking into a devastating repetition is manifest from the off. Their set takes the form of an extended exploration of one basic groove: a fast-track to tedium in some hands, but with these three it’s an invitation to push at the boundaries of their self-inflicted confines and build up a fearsome groove.
That Jim Jarmunsch chose White Hills to feature in his recent film Only Lovers Left Alive makes perfect sense. They deal in a gritty, gutter-crawling sound that owes as much to The Stooges as to any psychedelic forefather, and while on record there’s plenty of ambiance and calm between the freak-outs, live they’re a juggernaut, brute force combined with effects-laden exploration. Resplendent in -naturally - black leather, the core duo of Dave W and Ego Sensation bring a stunning set of fried cosmic rock to The Cluny, tracks like the tense lurch In Your Room extended and bent out of shape, driving ceaselessly forward. Of course hipster vampires would dig this.