Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Gig Review: School of Seven Bells, Manchester Ruby Lounge, 19th of July 2010

Sorry for the missed post earlier in the week - things have caught up with me.
Right, now. Where was I? Oh yes, the School of Seven Bells gig I went to on Monday.

I now feel completely vindicated in my mini architectural reviews that I do of venues I visit. The Ruby Lounge is really a poorly-designed gig venue, with a massive lounge and bar space, but a tiny, cramped stage shoved in an overheated corner, with the view obscured by pillars. This isn't helped by the lowness of the ceiling and the lowness of the stage itself. I didn't actually see much of this performance at all.

The main support act, Active Child, pulled out at the last minute, which was disappointing. Another support was playing when I arrived. She was a solo female singer with an acoustic guitar, a reverb pedal and quite a lovely, powerful voice, but I spent most of her set locating my friend and talking (not near the stage, I might add), which was really rather rude of me. I don't know who she was, although she might have been part of a band called The Steels. She was quite good.

School of Seven Bells take the stage after a suitable delay. They are augmented tonight by a live drummer. For most of the set, I can only see a bit of Claudia Deheza, with the odd glimpse of Benjamin Curtis. Claudia struggles with her monitors and other issues to begin with, and is not quite comfortable during the first number. Things loosen up with the first big song, Windstorm, which makes a welcome, but surprisingly early, appearance.

Understandably, SviiB live is a different experience from SviiB on record, and this is most evident during the newer numbers. On record, these are heavy on the electronics with clean, bright vocals, but live, there is a pleasing fuzzy texture and rawness to them. Both Claudia and Alejandra have strong live voices, and their harmonising chimes well with the washes of guitar and synth noise.

At first, their demeanour is shy, with little eye contact or communication, but they open up considerably after declaring that Manchester is one of their favourite musical cities. Stand-out tracks from the latter part of the set are the new songs Camarilla and Joviann, which combine strong vocal hooks with hazy guitars. The latter's Jesus&Mary Chain-esque drumbeats are especially good and hypnotic.

The set contains songs from both albums, but there are some surprising omissions: Connjur and Prince of Peace do not get an airing. However, the set proper ends with a pretty, note-perfect My Cabal, which leaves the crowd wanting more. The Deheza sisters and Benjamin Curtis oblige with an extra number, a new song I cannot remember the title of.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Album Review: Best Coast - Crazy For You

Best Coast has kindly put their album online for our streaming pleasure, prior to its release on the 27th. For a reliable UK-friendly stream, go to this Guardian page.

Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno play sunny, fuzzy Californian cool-kid guitar pop. Their sound is not groundbreaking, experimental or even particularly innovative, borrowing heavily from Sixties surf anthems, garage rock and lo-fi Americana. However, Bethany's smart songwriting and bright voice save them from AN Otherness, and their songs are just so likeable, it's hard to ignore them.

Crazy For You has an impressive thirteen tracks, but still clocks in at a sweet and concise 31 minutes and 40 seconds. Everything is small (sub-three minutes, usually) and perfectly formed, with not a wasted note. Despite the definite Best Coast sound and set of influences, there is enough variation in tempo and tone to retain interest, as well as the presence of some previous blog favourites like This Is Real and When I'm With You.

In some ways, the album is like a plate of biscuits; you know you're going to get a biscuit when you pick one, but will it be a crunchy lo-fi slacker biscuit, or will it be a crumbly, hazy one with lots of reverb?

Enough of the silly analogies. If you want a great summery pop record about beaches, boys, and worlds gone crazy, this is for you.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The WTF Files #1: Forum Fetishism

While trying to think up themes for my weekly token non-music post, I go on forums. I spend far too much time on forums, if I'm honest.

After coming up with the idea for "The WTF Files", which was originally going to be me bitching about bands I don't like, I realised there was a whole can of WTF just waiting to be opened in this particular corner of online culture.

I've noticed over the years that certain forum posters, on a variety of boards, are not there to take part in the discussion. They are there to pleasure themselves. They think up ever more elaborate, or simple ruses, to get others to share stories about their strange obsessions. For strictly information purposes only, I'm going to list a few of these. No usernames or forums themselves will be implicated, but you might find yourself recognising one or two.

1. The Piss Fetishist
Sorry for the foul language, but there's no better word for it. This person tries to get others to post stories about wetting their pants. I think it's a he, and he prefers male pant-wetting stories. He has at least five IDs on one forum alone, which are traceable through their similarity and use of the same bland questions about radios and printing to cover his tracks. He also likes to post stories involving policemen and footballers being caught short, or having their dirty underwear exposed. He has a side interest in socks that he finds hard to hide.

2. The School Tie Perv
Known on at least two forums, this individual posts endless threads about school ties, and how to wear them. Worryingly, this extends to the manner in which young and underage actors in TV shows such as Waterloo Road and Eastenders wear theirs. He also likes to talk about other school uniform items, football shirts worn by schoolboys, and tracksuits, particularly worn by young men.
He is seriously creepy and confessed to having a restraining order against him.

3. The Fart Fantasiser
Pops up on several forums posting stories about farting, and tries to get others to do likewise. Usually, they involve a young female office worker who has embarrassed herself at work, or a wife who is disgusted by her husband farting in bed. They are really quite shoddy and post identical stories on different forums.

4. The Knicker Sniffer
Obsessed with women's underwear. Has an imaginary girlfriend who may or may not be a TV weathergirl, whom he allegedly buys the underwear for, thus giving him an excuse to ask about it. He appears to have an imaginary friend who always pops up to agree with him and defend him.

I think that's enough for now.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Music Monday: what is Oh Land doing in England?

I came across Oh Land quite recently on Myspace. There is quite a crop of current Scandinavian bands, from Sweden especially, who I have been following, but Oh Land stands out at the moment.

According to her Twitter, she is on her way to England. As far as I know, she hasn't got any gigs planned here. Who is she working with then? Or is she just here for a holiday? Who knows.

Oh Land, real name Nanna Oland Fabricius, is due to release her second album in August, her first for Sony. Her first, Fauna, was released on Fake Diamond to excellent reviews. In true RWL style, here's why she is worth listening to in five points:

1. She grew up in a family of classical musicians and was not encouraged to listen to modern pop music. The only band she was permitted to hear was the Beatles. Later, she discovered pop music through a Bjork album that she bought for herself. All of these things come through in Oh Land's music, from the Beatles' ear for a pop tune, the subtlety and delicacy of chamber music and the organic-electronic approach of Bjork.

2. She trained for a long period as a ballet dancer, until a back injury forced her to retire. This part of her life informs a lot of her lyrics, both explicitly (in Break the Chain) and more subtly (she has another song called Audition Day).

3. Fauna was mainly recorded by Nanna herself, playing various instruments including keyboards, guitar and orchestral instruments. She got some help with vocals on tracks like Heavy Eyes, which has also been remixed by Trentemoller.
Her second album apparently contains more collaborations with as-yet unknown musicians. It is said to have a dancier feel, so more remixes might be in the pipeline.

4. Her live show is very theatrical, making use of costumes and projections. Her videos are also dramatic, without being "wacky". (Take note, Lady Gaga).

5. Her sound is all hers, but some useful pointers are: CocoRosie (without so much of the self-conscious weirdness), Bjork (some vocal stylings, electronic/acoustic crossover) White Hinterland (soul influence, electronic sounds and textures.

Oh Land Myspace
Oh Land official site

Friday, 9 July 2010

Songs in French

This week's vaguely-themed, vaguely topical music post is running under the banner of "songs in French". It was inspired by the first band in question, Cours Lapin, who I discovered on Line of Best Fit with their latest single, Cache Cache. You will find a download link there, too.

Despite their French name and French lyrics, Cours Lapin ("run rabbit") are not French at all, but Danish. Most of the time, all four of them compose film music, but they like to get together and make slightly sinister, somewhat catchy melodies inspired by chansons Francais and other traditional European music. There are also traces of old fashioned gangster film tunes, Gallic pop and bits of Bristol trip-hop in there as well, although their sound is all their own.

The band is Louise Alenius (vocals), Asger Baden (keys), Peder (keys and production) and Jonas Struck (guitar). They have just played a couple of UK dates, but Cache Cache has proved quite popular, so they may return.

The second Francophone act I wanted to blog about is Chat. Strictly speaking, Chat isn't quite topical at the moment, as her last release was in 2009, but she is starting to play gigs again, and more importantly, she is good, so I'm going to talk about her.

Chat, who formerly recorded as Mademoiselle until about 2006, is a young classically-trained pianist who has turned her hand to singing. She is actually French. Her songs combine superb old-fashioned piano with the sort of whispery, rapid vocals you tend to associate with French singers. She collaborates with other musicians a lot. Her songs divide into Gallic piano chansons and looser, guitar-infused numbers. Below, you can see her performing Alice, a song she has been playing since at least 2006. I once saw her rehearsing this in London on the way to another gig. Her piano playing is really quite superb.

Chat Myspace
Cours Lapin Myspace

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Style Inspirations #4: A Clockwork Orange

Yes, I know. There is nothing remotely glamorous or stylish about violence. I also know that if Anthony Burgess's characters inhabited our world and not the world of the Korova Milk Bar, they would be snotty-nosed, tracksuit-wearing hoodies and unsightly as well as a menace.

The classic Clockwork Orange look is more to do with Stanley Kubrick and his design team than Burgess's writing, but there are similar themes - for instance, the all-white look and the single false eyelash do not appear in the novel.

To grab yourself a bit of droog style: monochrome, old-fashioned accessories such as braces and hats, flip horrorshow boots for kicking. I'd leave the codpieces out though.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Music on Monday: Part Zwei. School of Seven Bells - Disconnect From Desire review

School of Seven Bells release their much-awaited second album, Disconnect From Desire, on the 13th of July. Being the generous sorts they are, they are allowing listeners to stream the entire album from their site, for the price of an email address. I have done this and can now report back with an album review, which I will present in the form of five bullet points, because there's not much of Monday left and I should go to bed, to be quite honest.

1. It has ten tracks, but they are all quite long and meld into each other a little, so it doesn't feel short at all. Each song has a couple of changes of direction, as well.

2. My first impression is that it is much more electronically-based than the first record, with an almost dancey feel to the songs towards the middle of the album, such as Dust Devil.

3. The non-remix version of Windstorm opens the album, and it's one of the most kinetic tracks on there. It'll be a lot of people's favourite.

4. Towards the end, there is a darker feel. Joviann, the sixth song, is quite sombre and early-80s-dreamy, with a Jesus and Mary Chain influence. The next song, Camarilla, sounds a bit like an electronic sea shanty.

5. As ever, the vocals are beautifully strong throughout, with Alejandra and Claudia sounding crystal-clear over the layered, scuffed music. We even get to hear Benjamin on back-ups.

The album is out on Full Time Hobby in the UK. The band are touring the UK very soon - more on that later.

Music on Monday: Part Eins. Crystal Ball time...

A little while ago, I blogged about Tennis, and predicted that they would feature in the Guardian newspaper's New Band of the Day feature within one month.
Well, I was right.

So, as I look into my musical crystal ball, who can I predict will grace the hallowed pages of New Band of the Day in the next month?

My money is on Sweet Bulbs. They've been gathering a fair bit of blog buzz in the past month or so, up to and including a mention on Pitchfork. I heard them first on the Pelly Twins blog.

Sweet Bulbs are "Michael, Inna, Jack, Ray and sometimes Alex". Inna is the singer, I'm not sure what the others do, but one of them plays drums standing up. They're from Brooklyn, they've not been going for very long and they play the sort of sweet-voiced, fuzzed-up garage pop made, well, popular by the Vivian Girls and the Dum Dum Girls. With Sweet Bulbs, however, there's always a tinge of melancholy underneath their blurry harmonies: the stand-up drummer is not the only nod to The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Velvet Underground.

Springstung is their stand-out track. You can listen to a demo of it on the band's Myspace, or download it from Pelly Twins or Pitchfork.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Olafur Arnalds: and they have escaped the weight of darkness. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. 1st July 2010

This was not the ordinary kind of gig that gets reviewed on RWL. Icelandic pianist and composer of delicate, haunting soundscapes, Olafur Arnalds, was in Manchester to play a new, orchestral re-working of his latest album, ...and they have escaped the weight of darkness. This was to be my first classical concert, as the bill also included a Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead fame) composition, a new piece by Avner Dorman, a contemporary classical composer of whom I had never heard, and a performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The conductor for the evening was Andre de Ridder.

The Bridgewater Hall is a surprisingly friendly venue, spacious, with comfortable seats and nice toilets. Okay, architectural review over. After a selection of Radiohead songs reworked by the Loudon Piano Quintet in the lobby, which I did not catch, the evening opened with Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a 2005 piece by Jonny Greenwood. Jonny himself did not perform; I'm not sure if he was even present. Popcorn is inspired by white noise and the interplay between car engine noises and tape players on long journeys in Jonny's childhood. It is a wavering, sliding, quite subtle piece, performed by a string ensemble. The ranks of violins meshing over the top of one another creates a convincing, yet musical impression of white noise, and the piece builds to a pleasant crescendo.

The second performance was Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, a new work by Avner Dorman for orchestra and percussion, in three parts. It is said to be inspired by the three titular substances, and influenced by the sounds and rhythms of the Near and Middle East.The percussion was provided by the DYAD Percussion Duo, who both moved between marimba, drums and orchestral percussion throughout the piece. Each movement became more dramatic and frenetic, culminating in a huge, cacophonous climax. The Eastern rhythms were hypnotic and the contribution of the marimbas put me in mind of more organic electronica I've listened to before, like Four Tet.
The percussion duo were really rather special, and were excellent performers as well as wonderfully intense musicians. They rightly received massive applause.

After an interval, the orchestra reformed for Rite of Spring, a composition considered so shocking on its debut in 1913 that concert-goers walked out in fear and disgust. Telling the story of a pagan sacrifice, a young girl forced to dance herself to death for the gods, it still retains some of its ability to shock now. From innocent, pastoral beginnings, it soon becomes one of the most brutal classical works I have heard, all stabbing violins, lamenting woodwind and thunderous percussion. The RNCM Symphony Orchestra more than did it justice.

After another interval, during which the Bits&Pieces Big Band played some more loose-limbed free-jazz Radiohead covers, Olafur Arnalds took the stage. Looking somewhat nervous in jeans and a bow tie, he took his place at the piano and softly launched in to Thu ert solin. To begin with, it was hard to adjust to Olafur's spare, delicate piano playing after such dramatic precursors, but the ear sooned re-tuned. The first song combined wistful piano with melancholy strings, underpinned by subtle electronic pulses. The second song, Thu ert jordin, continued in the same vein, with rain effects washing over the end giving a pastoral feel. By the third song, Tunglith, the rest of the orchestra joined in, filling out the spaces in the original with warm brass and dabs of percussion.
As befitting an album tracing a journey from the sadness of Olafur's debut to a more uplifting place, the pace and volume, although never more than gentle, increased as the set went on. Towards the middle, the orchestra was joined by synthesized beats and more atmospheric weather effects, which made it impossible not to think of Olafur's homeland with its elemental climate. The stand-out song for me was Gleypa okkur, which begins as melancholy and brightens towards the end, playing piano off subtle strings and the mellow sound of a bass clarinet.
The final song, whose title I will not even try to type using this non-Nordic interface, ended in a beautiful, warm crescendo of percussion and brass, a truly uplifting place to end the journey. Both Olafur and the conductor, as well as the orchestra, received multiple rounds of applause.

This was the only date in the UK on this tour, and the only one with this combination of people and music, and I feel privileged to have been there.