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F♯A♯∞ turns 20 today!

The classic debut album from the Montreal experimentalists Godspeed You Black Emperor celebrates its twentieth birthday today. Not only is F♯A♯∞ their best album, it’s also the best post-rock album of all time, only rivaled by Mogwai‘s Young Team and Sigur Rós‘ Ágætis byrjun.

The record took a sharp stylistic U-turn from the krauty, ambient post-rock of the time (TortoiseBark PsychosisTalk Talk) and transformed it into a genre packed full of crescendos, progressive song-lengths, orchestral movements and cinematic drones.

If you haven’t heard this epic beauty yet, set some time aside and give it a full listen. You will not be disappointed.

Live Review: Frankie Cosmos at Band on the Wall – August 4th 2017

Greta Kline’s transformation from bedroom-recording songstress to indie pop sensation has been nothing short of spectacular. From her humble beginnings as a Bandcamp folk musician to topping end of year ‘best of’ lists, her prolific Frankie Cosmos project has become one of the most hotly-tipped acts in twee pop. Their unique take on guitar-based pop music is celebrated here at Band on the Wall, with the group playing to a packed audience of Friday night revellers.

The first act of the night is from Bristol based musician Trust Fund. Whilst Ellis Jones’ outfit often features additional members, it’s just one man and one guitar tonight. Musically, Trust Fund combine the sound of indie pop melodicism with tinges of Midwest-emo vocals and twinkly guitar playing. The solitary guitar work is warm and appealing, and Jones’ vulnerable falsetto vocals support his wry, earnest lyrics. Bearing similarities in both sound and mood to Greta’s work, Trust Fund are a well-chosen touring partnership and an excellent start to the evening.

Greta takes to the stage shortly after the other three members of Frankie Cosmos and they burst into their set with immediacy. There is very little chatter between the brief songs, with a performance which mainly stems from the breakthrough record Zentropy and their most recent critically lauded album Next Thing. Tracks including ‘Fool’, ‘Leonie’ and ‘Embody’ showcase Greta’s ability to wistfully lament upon lifetime experiences into a few lines of pensive prose. Her effortless, contemplative romanticisms lead to audience singalongs and cheers, with the band matching her steady guitar playing and unforced lyrically delivery with sparse percussion, gleaming keyboards and echoing basslines. The comfortable feel of the venue and note-for-note clarity of the sound faultlessly supports the group’s subtle instrumentation and unobtrusive playing style, whilst allowing enough room for impact in the louder and brisker moments. Tonight is the last night of the tour for Cosmos, and though her demeanour is often shy, it adds to the allure of her music. Her frequent exchanges with the band members result in charming instances, including a smiles abundant glance with keyboardist Gabrielle as they sing extended vocal harmonies.

Frankie Cosmos leave the stage to calls for an encore, though the switching on of the house lights suggest otherwise. It wouldn’t really seem right for the group to indulge in rock clichés after-all, save for the bass player’s Spinal Tap looking guitar. Frankie Cosmos’ charisma lies in their ability to summarise adolescent nostalgia into two-minute pop songs, and this knack shines through in a performance which leaves every audience member with a smile on their face.

Originally written for Band on the Wall

An Introduction to UK Garage

The unique subgenre of electronic music that is UK Garage has a rather impressive family tree: from dubstep to grime, future garage to UK funky, bassline to 2-step, UKG has had a massive impact on the underground dance music scenes on these shores and beyond. From its humble beginnings on pirate radio and London raves, to dominating the charts in the late 90s and early 2000s, the unmistakable sound of garage has been ever-present over the last twenty years. This selection of tracks ranging from the old school to the new showcase a broad variety of sounds and styles from the genre.

 

Zed Bias – Neighbourhood

Manchester’s very own UK Garage legend released this banger back in 1999. Complete with ridiculously catchy hooks, shuffling beats and an innovative call and response interaction between the vocalists, ‘Neighbourhood’ is irresistibly brilliant and to this day remains one of the genres most loved tracks.

 

The Streets – Has It Come to This?

The Streets changed the game back in 2002 with Original Pirate Material, one of the first UKG albums which worked excellently as a complete record whilst boasting killer singles to fill the clubs and the airwaves. This lead single from the debut gave everyone their first taste of Mike Skinner, a rapper and producer who mixed grittily urbane poetry with the garage rhythms.

 

MJ Cole – Sincere

‘Sincere’ just oozes with positivity. Its laid back and spacey vibe offers a take on UKG suitable for both post-club chill-outs and the dancefloor.

 

Mosca – Bax

Mosca’s ‘Bax’ is a new school speed garage banger, often heard mixed into dubstep and grime sets thanks to its DJ friendly crossover of danceable rhythms and wonky sub-bass. Proving once again the power of the UK Garage single, ‘Bax’ is the B-Side to the equally brilliant ‘Done Me Wrong’.

 

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX – NY is Killing Me

It would be impossible to compile a list about UKG without mentioned Jamie XX, a figure who takes snippets of every sub-genre of garage and gives his own forward thinking spin on the sound. Part remix album, part collaboration, his reworking of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here saw Jamie stepping out from the shadows of The XX into newer musical territories, mixing future garage and UK bass with the poetic soul of Scott-Heron. The track ‘NY is Killing Me’ features dubstep build-ups and pulsating sub-bass and is one of the “heaviest” tracks on We’re New Here, especially heard when stacked up against the shimmering deep house numbers such as ‘I’ll Take Care Of U’.

 

DJ Luck & MC Neat – With A Little Bit of Luck

This classic climbed to the top ten of the UK singles chart back in 1999, the first in a string of hits for the duo.

 

James Blake – CMYK

Often mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Jamie XX, James Blake is perhaps most well-known for his mellow take on UK Garage known as “post-dubstep”. Before creating acclaimed albums in this style (such as Overgrown and his self-titled debut), he released several EPs of rather different character, owing to the classic sounds of UKG and newer producers such as Pariah and Joy Orbison. Taken from his excellent sophomore extended play, ‘CMYK’ features layers of reworked vocals and percussion, amounting to a dizzying yet danceable effect.

 

DJ Zinc – 138 Trek

DJ Zinc is one of the most highly regarded figures in drum n bass, so what’s he doing in a UKG list? It’s simple really: you’re just as likely to hear this in a jungle/drum n bass set as you are a garage mix as it’s one of the greatest crossovers heard in electronic dance music, remaining one of breakcore’s most cherished singles.

 

Musical Mob – Pulse X

Musical Mob’s ‘Pulse X’ is an example of how UK Garage led to the emergence of grime. Grime materialised when British MCs started rapping over garage beats, often at raves and on pirate radio stations. Grittier and aggressive instrumental tracks such as ‘Pulse X’ and Wiley’s ‘Eskimo’ were favoured, thus creating a new musical movement which has dominated the UK underground for the past 15 years.

Packed to the brim with first-rate singles, it would be impossible to cover all of the hits and classics of UK garage. It’s brought about countless dancefloor ready bangers, whilst the likes of the critically acclaimed James Blake and Burial offer appeal to home listeners. With present day artists such as Jamie XX, SBTKRT and Disclosure bringing the sound to a younger audience, and the escapades of garage DJs appearing on national TV in the BAFTA winning mockumentary People Just Do Nothing, the sound and cultural influence of UK Garage isn’t going away anytime soon.

Live Review: Silver Apples at Band on the Wall – August 2nd 2017

The late 1960s is known for being one of the greatest periods for musical creativity; psychedelia came to prominence, experimentation in rock and roll increased dramatically and world music found its way into the heart of the mainstream. One of the most seminal acts to stem from this era are Silver Apples; whilst they may not be as well-known as the huge psych-rock acts of the time, they remain a highly influential act who are name-checked by all your favourite electronic and psychedelic groups. Thanks to their experimentations with electronic music and developments into synthesizer technology, their sound (which pre-dates krautrock) became a hugely influential force in the progression of electronic music whilst offering a unique and experimental flair to the guitar-driven psych at the time.

The modern incarnation of Silver Apples features Simeon Coxe as a solo act. On stage he mixes samples of late percussionist Danny Taylor’s drum parts to his wild synth arrangements, amounting to a performance which is nothing short of spectacular. Complete with support from shadowy post-punkers Slow Knife and drone-tinged neo-psychedelia duo SilVer VialS, tonight’s show at Band on the Wall is a perfect example of how experimental music is equally interesting as it is enjoyable.

The first act to take to the stage are Slow Knife. Sporting blazers and an array of instruments ranging from bongos to a saxophone, the six-piece group start their set in an astonishingly dramatic fashion. The band provide a perfect musical backdrop to underpin the frontman, who delivers vocals in a spoken word fashion from a collection of scruffy notes. Whilst they may immediately invite comparisons to John Cooper Clarke and The Invisible Girls, their set reveals an array of influences and sounds, ranging from Tom Waits’ pairing of cryptic lyricism with eclectic instrumentation, the driven repetition of The Fall, flairs of effect driven guitars and intimidating noise rock freak-outs. Slow Knife’s set is interesting and memorable, proving to be an excellent start to a night of strange revelries.

Next up, is Manchester based two-piece SilVer VialS. Fresh from supporting Chilean purveyors of psych Föllakzoid and Berlin based Camera, the multi-instrumentalists play a lucid and dreamy set which gives the impression of one magnificently woven song. Their performance plays upon Neu!-esque krautrock rhythms, jammy repetitive grooves which harks to Wooden Shjips, and the shimmering melodies of Spiritualized. Even as a duo, the group hold the ability to assemble numerous layers with loops, hypnotic effects, fuzzed-out basslines and trippy vocal measures which are reinforced by the droning synths and motoric drum machine beat. SilVer VialS possess a sound where brilliantly executed repetition and kaleidoscopic psych builds and builds to a create a meditative effect. With a string of support slots from across the psychedelic world under their belts, SilVer VialS are a group to look out for amongst the Manchester alternative music scene.

The final performance is by none other than Silver Apples. Armed with an assortment of analogue synthesizers, oscillators, sound filters, effect pedals and other pieces of bizarre looking technology, Simeon delves into a set which spans all of his studio output. Following a short tweaking and warm-up of his otherworldly looking equipment, he begins to explore the left-field of 60s psych with the futuristic sounds of pounding beats and electronic drones, which are greeted with a rapturous applause from the audience. The appreciation is noted by Coxe, who engages in friendly chatter and jokes with the crowd for the duration of his set. The tracks are modified on the spot by Simeon, with the free-form sonic experiments giving the impression that no two Silver Apples performance are alike. With the bass heavy rumbling synths, electro grooves and head-nod inducing drum machine beats, it becomes clearer to hear the influence Simeon has had on genres from techno to hip hop; it’s no wonder the likes of Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Stones Throw label owner Peanut Butter Wolf are avid fans. The highlight of the set is an extended cut of ‘Oscillations’ from the classic self-titled debut album; the reverberating vocals weave through dense, spacey synths which Coxe oversees with effortless ease. He leaves the stage, but the crowd desire more. After a brief break, he returns to perform a final song, a cut from the sophomore record Contact.

Silver Apples is a project which has overseen vast transformations throughout the years: from rising from the ashes of traditional rock outfit The Overland Stage Electric Band to adjusting the manner of performance and composition after losing a member, Simeon is a testament to how to change a project without losing the key essence of a group. Tonight’s gig highlighted Band on the Wall’s commitment to celebrating free thinking and innovative music, with three acts all performing to a first-rate standard.

Originally written for Band on the Wall 

Classics Volume 7: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

It’s rare to witness a musician reach their musical peak eight albums and twelve years into their career, yet Tom Waits accomplished this feat with his 1985 classic Rain Dogs. Continuing from the sonic detour of preceding statement Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs is a collage of America’s musical past, where each uniquely constructed track is assembled into an expansive and assorted, yet unified and flowing record. Released in an era where lush electronic production and synthesizers dominated, the album sticks out like a sore thumb, yet this reluctance to play to trends is where Waits’ charm has always lied.

Ever-notorious for his inimitable character and lyricism; Tom Waits paints vivid pictures of grotesque oddballs who haunt bars among the squalors of the concrete jungle sprawl of America’s cities. Waits is just as much of a spectator as a participant in these depictions of failed American dreams; his prose matches the Beat Generation poets with wry, humorous lyricism as he details the peculiarities of the environments amidst an inebriated haze.

Newfound obsessions with Captain Beefheart sparked a sudden musical change in Waits; he adopted an instantly recognisable, experimental song-writing approach which merged traditional American blues with unconventional percussion, eccentric guitar parts and wild vocal performances. This investigational style is best comprehended in the vaudeville accordions of ‘Cemetery Polka’, the concoction of hypnotically plodding rhythms and nursery rhyme-esque lyrics heard in ‘Clap Hands’ and in the off-kilter sea shanty ‘Singapore’. Wild temperaments are soon lightened by mellower tracks such as the authentic country replica ‘Blind Love’, the inconsolable ‘Hang Down Your Head’ and the tender ballad ‘Time’, which harks back to the fragile poetics of Leonard Cohen. Surprisingly, one of the standout tracks on the record is the most candid; the effortless ‘Downtown Train’ is so first-rate that not even a Rod Stewart hit cover version could ruin it.

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Elsewhere on Rain Dogs, Waits explores Latin instrumentation in the undeniably catchy ‘Walking Spanish’, a character’s interest in his own demise soundtracked to a drunken piano waltz on ‘Tango Till They’re Sore’, cabaret theatrics in the title track, and unruly blues rock (with the help of the The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards) on ‘Union Square’ and ‘Big Black Mariah’. Waits resumes the ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ tale developed on Swordfishtrombones in ‘9th and Hennepin’, a haunting spoken-word piece where vivid evaluations of seedy characters are fashioned, including the arresting line: “Such a crumbling beauty, there’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix”. Featuring perhaps the wildest vocal performance of Waits’ career, ‘Anywhere I Lay My Head’ both typifies and surmises the entire album, closing the sprawling record on a dramatic, intoxicated final note.

Encompassing sounds which span all eras, genres and regions of America, Rain Dogs compelling take on the blues refashioned tall tales from the inner-city into unforgettable carnival atmospheres; it’s humorous yet heart-breaking, monstrous and stunning, twisted yet charming, and remains Waits’ greatest achievement, cementing him as one of music’s most celebrated storytellers.

 

Now Playing: Kamasi Washington – Truth (2017)

Kamasi Washington is one of the most hotly tipped musicians in modern jazz, and for good reason. His 2015 album The Epic was, well epic. Spanning almost three hours, the triple album took the music world by storm, receiving an overwhelming amount of acclaim for its daring nature and modern take on the genre. It even produced a few younger converts to jazz thanks to Kamasi’s associations with Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder Label and Washington’s appearance on Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly.

Washington’s latest single ‘Truth’ was released in April this year and it’s a soaring mammoth of a track, complete with wild solos, lucid percussion and beautiful gospel choirs. It’s got an experimental charm that harks back to the spiritual work of John Coltrane whilst being soothing and incredibly uplifting.

It’s definitely interesting to see jazz artists appeal to younger crowds, highlighted in the recent successes of Kamasi and other musicians including BadBadNotGoodPortico Quartet and Thundercat. It’s become easier to notice and hear this influence on the current musical landscape with the increasing utilisation of jazz from the likes of Kendrick with his thick jazz production and FlyLo’s bizarre concoction of electronic dance music and jazz fusion.

Washington is set to release an EP titled Harmony of Difference later this summer and if ‘Truth’ is anything to go by, it’s going to be an excellent slice of engrossing jazz.

ho99o9 – United States of Horror

I pledge allegiance to the burning flag of the United States of Horror”- a child’s voice states at the beginning of Ho99o9’s début album. It’s a grand declaration, yet the sound snippet aptly directs the ensuing lyrical and musical content; brash hip hop meets anti-authoritarian hardcore punk and dense industrial experimentalism. The emcees theOGM and Eaddy grave-rob from countless subgenres to stitch together a monstrosity of crass proportions, fashioning an LP which mirrors their anarchic live shows. United States of Horror rears its ugly head to make a pertinent announcement of the internal and external sentiments of the current state of the USA, though Ho99o9’s nihilism offers no resolve; instead the New Jersey two-piece revel in goofy yet entertaining unruliness for the entirety of the record…

Read the rest here!

Originally written for Broken Amp

Classic Radiohead and Spiritualized Albums Turn 20 Today!

 

Radiohead‘s OK Computer and Spiritualized‘s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space were released on this day, June 16th in 1997, the year which marked the beginnings of the Britpop decline, the birth of post-rock (Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Mogwai both released their debuts) and the ever-increasing influence of electronic music on the alternative landscape. Themes of introspection and melancholy began to triumph over the hedonistic, lager swilling tendencies of Britpop, and guitar music hasn’t quite been the same since. These two records experiment in similar manners with an array of instrumentation and textures to create progressive, psychedelic, and thematically cohesive pieces of work.

So, what can be said about OK Computer that hasn’t been said? It’s one of the most acclaimed albums of all time after all. Radiohead earned the “musical chameleons” tag with this album, a descriptor which has continued to follow them throughout their career. A departure from the guitar-led sounds of their prior two albums, the band began to experiment with electronic instrumentation to form a more avant-garde sound which drew heavily on progressive rock and ambient. The band headlined the Glastonbury festival for the first time shortly after the release of OK Computer, and they’ll return to the Pyramid Stage to top this years event. Who knows, they might even play this in full to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the album, which they are also re-releasing as part of a special boxset named OKNOTOK.

Spiritualized also received a huge amount of acclaim for their record Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, an album which granted them the coveted NME Album of the Year award and propelled them to stardom. Encompassing sprawling psychedelia, droning space rock and uplifting gospel into a sonic cocktail of huge, orchestral proportions, Spiritualized had created a career defining moment. Nothing like this had ever been made before, not even in Spiritualized’s or Spacemen 3‘s previous work which was more often minimalist and sparse rather than orchestrated and huge sounding. It was like a bizarre mash-up of Pet Sounds and The Soft Bulletin and it put the band in the Premiership of neo-psychedelia alongside the likes of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.

It isn’t often you hear of two incredibly acclaimed and influential albums are released on the exact same day, however these two beauties show otherwise.

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