Archive for the ‘The city of Liverpool’ Category

LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY – Day Two

June 4, 2013

Day two commences with math-pop heroics courtesy of Vasco da Gama. Difficult to dislike a band with such fluid mastery of musicianship, especially when they’re so goddam modest about it. There’s frequent nods to The Dismemberment Plan and Dischord Records, but for all their clever arrangements, there’s a lingering suspicion that they’re a pop band at heart. Winning choruses mesh perfectly with the frenetic fretwork of guitarist Chris Lynn, leaving early evening revellers dazed but excited.

It’s a shame that the equally energetic Hands don’t attract a bigger crowd – their forthcoming Synaesthesia album ranks amongst the most immediately catchy collections to bolt from the Kill Rock Stars stable. They bounce adorably and ecstatically around the stage, with the soaring pop melodies of songs like ‘Trouble’ suggesting there’s even better to come from a band who’ve really got this ‘hooks’ thing nailed. Keep an eye out; they could well be soundtracking your summer.

Suitably cheered, we head to The Kazimier for something a little grittier, and Bad Meds are happy to oblige. Something of a local supergroup, the band includes Vasco da Gama drummer Dave Kelly and Hot Club de Paris’ Paul Rafferty amongst their number, and as such the curious cognoscenti are out in force. Theirs is a fun and frantic take on the skate-kid hardcore of early Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, replete with knowing banter (“Has anyone been signed yet? That’s the ultimate aim of Sound City, isn’t it?”) and a gloriously sludgy cover of ‘It’s Grim Up North’. Instant favourites.

Meanwhile, up the road, the much-hyped TOY decorate the Anglican Cathedral with their mountainous noise and Cousin it haircuts – given the time they’ve probably seen their music described via the shoegaze cliché ‘sonic cathedrals’, you gotta wonder if they ever imagined they’d actually play in one. As it turns out, the venue suits their sound rather well, as woozy riffs pile into each other atop a motorik rhythm section. Some of the more subtle chord changes of ‘Colour’s Running Out’ feel a little lost in the melee, but it’s a small price to pay to have your hearing blown out so magnificently.

The dashing Dan Croll is somewhat easier on the ear, and his take on classic pop songsmithery feels positively heart-warming. An evident knack for a hummable tune is enough to make every song feel instantly familiar, almost masking the dextrous subtleties of the band behind him. More of this winsome loveliness please.

The day’s final trek to the Cathedral feels, ludicrously, like the furthest Gigwise has ever had to walk, but The Walkmen are more than worth it. As dapper as ever, the band’s newfound maturity sees the majority of the set pitching for a rather more windswept approach than the energised stress of old favourites like ‘The Rat’, and it suits ‘em pretty neatly. Difficult to believe that they’re more than a decade into their career when their manifest enthusiasm still feels so fresh.

It’s been a pretty stellar day thus far, and Gigwise begins to worry that something is bound to suck at some point. And so we come to the tipsters’ faves Savages – on hand to prove that if you’re gonna be bummed out, it should owe a debt to their own high levels of menace and intensity – they’ve drawn plenty of comparisons to Souxsie & The Banshees, but the taut funk of their basslines owes just as much to the hypertension of The Bush Tetras, while Gemma Thompson’s strafes of white-hot atonality flash across the stage like electric storms. Every song drips with vitality and purrs venomously: once bitten, you’re lost to ‘em forever. Band of the weekend? Don’t bet against it.

Melody’s Echo Chamber present a much more relaxed affair, as their dizzy psychedelic alt pop proves to be much less acrid. Their delicacy serves as a neat counterpoint to their tendency towards off-kilter shonkiness, making them lovably delirious in the best sense possible.

Over at Leaf, The Still Corners seem to be struggling with technical difficulties that delay their set by a full half hour. When their reverb-drenched indiepop finally gets going, there’s a palpable sense of relief, albeit underpinned by a sense of irritation that it’s taken this long to get going. As a result, Gigwise ends up at the back of the queue for Thee Oh Sees, whose sweat-drenched set creates such demand that the rickety old Kazimier struggles to cope. There are angry scenes as waiting punters realise they won’t get to see the show, but what we eventually manage to catch amounts to a furious blast of psyched-out garage rock. Bodies spill over the monitors as the heaving moshpit flings itself back and forth with reckless abandon; sweat-sodden riffs riding hip-swaying basslines that pummel the guts and spill out the messy yards of intestine within. You can’t help but love a good rock show.

Speaking of which, that’s precisely how Future Of The Left opt to close out the day’s events, spraying a rowdy 2am crowd with gallons of molten riffage and barbed witticisms. The somewhat inebriated audience dances, screams and collapses into dazed heaps on the ground, surrendering to the forceful rage of the band… but that’s nothing compared to what happens when FOTL unleash two classics by frontman Falco’s previous outfit Mclusky. ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ sees the first outbreak of pure euphoria, while the bon mots of ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ amount to a twisted singalong with everyone’s shit well and truly lost. They close with a cover of Andy Kaufman’s infamous ‘I Trusted You’ – a helluva song and bona fide contender for greatest piece of performance comedy ever devised. Which is as decent a summation of this Cardiff quartet’s modus operandi as you could possibly desire. Bed time approaches – not with a whimper, but a full-on roar.

(Originally published by Gigwise, 06/05/2013)

LIVERPOOL SOUND CITY – Day One

June 4, 2013

There’s few cities that can match Liverpool in the self-mythologising stakes. Football, art, camaraderie, that (in)famous ‘sensa yuma’… yes indeed, in terms of towns that loved to toot their own horn, the focal point of Merseyside would be up there with the best of ‘em. Maybe it’s down to the rich history as a port town; the former gateway to the United Kingdom. Perhaps it’s an extension of the embattled siege mentality that developed during a certain former government’s attempts to crush the industrial towns of the north. Who knows? But if there’s one area in which this place can truly claim to know its stuff, it’s pop music. Forget what you know about jingly-jangly Scousepop and cheeky chappie stoners; we’re talking about an area that’s experienced a genuine cultural renaissance in the past decade, and it’s pretty darn thrilling to see the place in such fine form.

Ok, we’re nearly done with the rhapsodising, but Sound City is as close to an encapsulation of Liverpool’s pop prominence as you could ask for. For Gigwise, the festival kicks off with a brief look at local lads Coffee And Cake For Funerals, whose silky r’n’b-tinges attract an impressive crowd early on day one. It’s about as far away from Merseybeat as you could imagine: subtle guitar chimes float spectrally atop dubstep-informed basslines and complex rhythms, making for an unexpected treat. Ok, some of their choruses sound as though they’ve been lifted from The James Arthur Guide To The X-Factor, but one suspects their ambitions are somewhat different to those of, say, James Blake. Either way, it’s a solid start.

We amble enthusiastically up the hill to the cavernous Anglican Cathedral, where The Loved Ones take advantage of their surroundings to break a few hearts with their understated folktronica. It’s cheating really – just as you think you’ve had all you can take of beardy fellas playing sad songs on acoustic guitars, along comes a band who nail the whole shebang perfectly. The ethereal cry of ’Wonderful Life’ sends us sniffling into the early evening, just in time for Kepla’s addictively weird set at The Kazimier. Electronic pulses bleed organically into one another, twisting and turning almost unnoticed into completely different rhythms before you’ve even had time to notice, while jarring blasts of sheet metal strafes keep you on your toes. The set ends with a wry grin from Kepla dude Jon Davies, and our toes continue to tap long after the beats have subsided.

Across to the Garage, and Esco Williams has the crowd eating from the palm of his hand. His brand of r’n’b is slick, commercial as hell and phenomenally catchy, but for all his gratitude and nice-guy smiles, it’s easy to see that his mind is set on bigger things. To that end, here’s the Gigwise conclusion: these songs are fun right now, but they won’t quite set the world alight – stick him in a studio with Andre 3000 or Frank Ocean on production duties and let’s see some sparks really fly. By now we’re just about ready to check out one of the acts hailing from beyond the city boundaries, and we trudge back up to the Cathedral for Noah And The Whale. Such an easy band to dislike, what with their university lecturer dress sense, unerringly affable politeness and propensity for inoffensive melodies that your mum probably likes. And it’s difficult to imagine that a band named after Wes Anderson’s head cameraman would do their best to be anything other than self-consciously odd. Luckily the band’s neat line in morose grandiosity proves to be their strength, and whilst they may not be the most mind-bendingly out-there beat combo on the block, their budget Arcade Fire- isms sure get the crowd going.

Timetable disruption means we only catch the final song of PINS’ set, but a stirring rendition of ‘Luvu4lyfe’ demonstrates why so many people are coming round to their feral, Lydia Lunch-indebted howl. Meanwhile Oneohtrix Point Never proves to be one of the day’s highlights, blasting other-worldly collages of fractured noise over glitchy, textured electronica. Like all the best acts who propped up the Warp and Rephlex stables in the 90s, Oneohtrix keeps one ear firmly to the future, but by removing the breakbeat, he allows himself space and scope to let his imagination cut fully loose. In short, he’s fucking ace.

There’s time to check out the slackered-up fuzz of New Zealand’s Popstrangers – all feedback-drenched squalls and nonchalant wails over chunky pop melodies – before Stealing Sheep set to repairing hearts broken by The Loved Ones several hours earlier. Sound problems onstage leave the band frustrated, but out front there’s nothing to worry about – songs are played out as whispers on the wind; ghostly apparitions that charm and soothe in equal measure. Lovely stuff. There’s just time to catch the end of Lunar Module’s analogue rave back at the Kazimier, providing further fuel for the argument that electronica has truly won the day today.

There’s a few murmured enthusiasms about Leeds’ own Blacklisters, which seems wholly inappropriate given the shape, size and indeed volume of their riffs. The Jesus Lizard mastered this sort of horribly brilliant chaos years ago, but it’s an absolute joy to see this lot breathing new life into it. Frontman Billy seethes his way through every last note as the band snarl around him: jagged, visceral, hypnotic. Just the sort of thing you wanna see on a Friday night. The synth-led drama of Bastille is always going to fall a little flat after that, but they still manage to turn a beer-sozzled Garage into a full-on party. The band feed off the good vibes pinging around the room, with the immaculately-coiffeured Dan Smith bouncing majestically around the stage. All in all, not a bad way to kick off Sound City 2013.

(Originally published by Gigwise, 03/05/2013)

Videotales – Are Pop Videos Still Relevant?

June 4, 2013

(NB – news article about The Art Of Pop Video, an exhibition at Liverpool’s FACT, which closed on 26/05/2013)

From Dylan waving placards along with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ to Chris Cunningham’s nightmarish animations for Aphex Twin, pop history is full of iconic, innovative videos. And yet, difficult though it may be to comprehend in the age of YouTube, the record industry hasn’t always valued them so highly.

Initially the pop promo was seen by old-skool rockists as commercial fluff, an advert that diverted attention from the more important matter of the music itself. MTV changed all that, as the artistic ambitions that fuelled 1980s chart pop provided a platform for directors to challenge their own colourful imaginations.

A major new exhibition at FACT – Liverpool’s acclaimed media arts centre – investigates the history of the medium, featuring over a hundred video clips ranging from Fred Astaire’s iconic ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ choreography to Spike Jonze’s stylised work for the likes of Björk and Fatboy Slim. According to curator Michael P Aust, the pop video’s “synaesthesia of music and moving pictures” is unique.

“No other art form has this: the moment when we’re moved by a song, but unable to distinguish whether this comes from what we’ve seen, or what we’ve heard,” he says. The Art Of Pop Video exhibition provides a rare chance to properly study this powerful combination. “There are no pop video museums,” says Aust. “Unlike in cinema, no canonized selection of important works has been established yet.”

It’s an apt time to look at this subject, as we may actually be in something of a golden era. Always a way for breaking filmmakers to boost their credentials, videos are currently attracting Hollywood big-hitters. JJ Abrams is directing Empire Of The Sun’s new ones, David Fincher did Justin Timberlake’s comeback vid, while the likes of Tilda Swinton and Shia LeBouef have taken high-profile starring roles recently. Videos are a rare chance to do an arty short film that people will actually see.

Newer acts are fully exploring the medium’s potential. North London troubadour Tom Hickox is the son of a classical composer, Richard Hickox, but takes his visuals as seriously as his songs. He collaborates with a new company called De La Muerte Films, and feels that music videos are more important now than ever.

“People are as likely to hear music on YouTube as anywhere else, so the visual half of that medium needs to be addressed,” he says. “Film is such a potent force, so it needs to be handled with care, but when the marriage of film and music works it elevates the song into a different realm.”

For FACT, the exhibition represents an opportunity to explore pop video in a grander context, posing questions about “what legitimises an art form,” explains programme producer Ana Botella, “and what defines our times – past the age of television into the age of accessible digital tools, the Internet and social networks.”

The technology has certainly improved over the years, but has the overall quality? “There are a hell of a lot of stylish, expensive videos out there which lack any soul or impact,” says Debbie Scanlon of De La Muerte, who’ve also made films for Dog Is Dead and Kyla la Grange. “We have the potential to be more creative now with new tools, but it’s important we still use our brains.”

So is there scope to take more creative risks, in the post-TV age? “It tends to be down to the artist and their team. We probably won’t be allowed to make that big budget elephant sex video we had in mind for One Direction,” she laughs. “But at the same time, if they decide they want to change their image…”

(Originally published by Clash Music, 24/04/2013)

Smudge: The Majesty Of Tom Morgan

May 25, 2010

“It’s not the tracks, it’s where they’re leading” – Tenderfoot by Tom Morgan

We all know life’s a bitch, and it can be enough of a drag struggling through from day to day. Music’s much the same. How much time do you spend subjected to other people’s tastes and wondering to yourself, ‘when will this shite end?’ But every now and again, both life and music throw you a bone. It might not be much, but that bone can still taste like manna from the gods.

WHTB is usually skeptical of events like Liverpool’s Sound City festival – essentially a week of hip-but-not-necessarily-exciting bands coming here who might not otherwise – but this year it came with a delightful bonus in the form of Australian indie-pop-punkers Smudge.

Now, you may not have heard of Smudge, and there’s no reason to feel like you should have done either. They never attained an especially significant degree of fame, and if they were influential at all, it was barely outside of their own back yard. Their only modicum of celebrity comes from singer Tom Morgan‘s songwriting partner and de facto foil. Anyone familiar with the works of Evan Dando?

Back in 1991, the Lemonheads were touring their fourth album Lovey (also their major label debut, and their first lp not to feature founder member/frontman Ben Deily) in Australia. Dando and Morgan were introduced to each other by Nic Dalton, founder of Sydney’s Half A Cow Records, and the pair hit it off immediately. The next time they met, several months later, they began tossing musical and lyrical phrases back at each other. Eventually they wrote a song called It’s A Shame About Ray.

Dando and Morgan would also collaborate on Bit Part for the Lemonheads’ fifth album, before going on to co-write at least half of its follow-up (the under-appreciated Come On Feel The Lemonheads). Morgan speaks fondly of the process, describing it thus in 2005:

“It was never like a business arrangement, it was a product of hanging out together. We always have one guitar, we never have two guitars because people get caught up in your own little thing. So, you have to have one guitar and you hand it back and forth… Otherwise you’re playing over the top of each other, there’s no focus”

It’s strange to imagine one of the 90s’ most famously loopy rock stars forming such a disciplined partnership, especially with someone on the other side of the world, but even now the pair continue to write together or for each other (albeit sporadically).

So that’s why you might have heard Tom Morgan’s work before. He was never invited to join the Lemonheads, however, because Dando knew that Smudge was already a going concern. Indeed, by the time Come On Feel… was released, Smudge had released a series of EPs and were preparing to release their first long-player Manilow on Half A Cow.

This, and the three albums that followed, demonstrate that Morgan was more than just a source of material for his famous friend. The sound may be scruffier and the delivery scrappier, but Smudge’s heart is firmly on its sleeve – passion and sheer glee plainly audible for all to hear, and perfectly encapsulated within two-and-a-half-minute pop songs. It’s easy to see why they were much beloved of the slacker congnoscenti, since their songs fizz with the same guitar buzz that powered the likes of Superchunk, Eric’s Trip or Guided By Voices. For those bands, the sound is part of the selling tool – the lo-fi hiss that defined a generation of American indie rockers. But in the hands of this Australian trio, it merely helps to propel songs that are by turns funny, upbeat and (occasionally) resigned to their fate. There’s a warmth and… well, yeh, a humanity in their snappy, crackled pop that you rarely find in any band. Some days it’s positively reassuring to know there are folks out there who ever made records like these.

So it was great to see them turn up in Liverpool, at a free Saturday afternoon show with a BBQ. WHTB geeked out sufficiently to earn some personal dedications (and a worrying sense of fanboydom… but hey, that’s what this blog’s all about, so best quit worrying about it, eh?).

Smudge on an uncharacteristically sunny day in Liverpool

They were utterly wonderful, from the opening breeze of Ingrown to their tribute to one of “Australia’s greatest bands” (their take on You Am I’s Berlin Chair). Tom is still chirpy and sweet, Adam’s melodic basslines still brighten up even the perkiest of pop songs, and Alison is still simultaneously the sweetest of presences and a joy to watch behind the kit. In short, Smudge are still great.

They were going to play Divan, but I asked for Don't Want To Be Grant McLennan. GAH!

Fire Records has recently reissued two Smudge albums, including the classic Manilow. You’re well advised to start there. Then investigate Tom’s work with Nic Dalton in Sneeze, as well as the various other great bands the pair have been involved with over the years.

Peace out. x

Absence

March 13, 2010

Over a month since the last post… i’m slipping already.

Anyway, fans of cute pop records with boy-girl vocals should be ecstatic to learn that thoroughly ace Liverpool trio Meow Meow have finally released something. I Wonder What Went Wrong is a free download available through top indiepop label WIAIWYA as part of their monthly singles club, and it’s backed by a nifty cover of Go Sailor’s Ray Of Sunshine. Lovely stuff all round, and well worth your perusal. Get it while it’s hot!

Personally, WHTB deeply loves this band. They’re cute as a bug’s ear, instantly loveable and catchy as hell. The sound of pop music falling out of a tree to tell you it loves you, before running back into the woods to hide again.

(As ace as Meow Meow are, it should be noted that Mark also spends a lot of time on the road with Earache thrash-punks SSS and Down And Outs, both of whom are a bit louder but no less awesome).