Posts Tagged ‘hardcore’

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)

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THE THERMALS interview

June 4, 2013

“This record’s about killing,” announces Hutch Harris emphatically.

A bold statement, perhaps, but The Thermals frontman isn’t entirely averse to heavy themes. In 2006, the Portland popsters’ third album ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’ – widely regarded as their magnum opus – depicted two young lovers attempting to flee a fascistic parody of America’s fundamentalist Christian right. They followed it up two years later with ‘Now We Can See’, a record told entirely from the perspective of the dead. Yeesh! And yet Hutch tuts at the very notion that thrilling latest effort ‘Desperate Ground’ might be anything so vulgar as a concept album.

“We try not to say ‘concept’. It makes me think of Yes or Styx – all that bloated 70s stuff. I don’t want people to think, ‘I really gotta know what the story is’,” he explains. “It’s too much of a burden on the record.”

There’s no plot to follow?

“No, no. We keep it intentionally vague, so it’s not about something specific. It’s just about humans and violence in general. Really we wanted the record to be like a film, y’know? Like Die Hard – an action movie.”

See, that’s where the new Thermals album differs from their most famous work. The Superchunk-y noise-pop of yore remains gratefully intact, but this time the lyrical thrills are far more visceral.

“We wanted to write something timeless. Something about how humans are always killing each other, and probably always will,” he continues. “I love 80s punk but there’s a lot about Reagan or Thatcher – go back to those songs now and it’s hard to relate, especially if you’re really young and you never knew those people. We wanted to write something that still could be relevant 20 years from now.”

Some have suggested that this makes for a somewhat simplistic political statement, an argument which leaves Hutch exasperated.

“There aren’t supposed to be any politics on this record at all. It’s irresponsible! There’s no morals!”

And this from the band responsible for one of post-millennial indie rock’s most explosive pieces of polemic in ‘The Body, The Blood, The Machine’.

“Man, I’ve been trying to get away from that for so long. After that record people started thinking, ‘Oh, The Thermals are a political band’. I don’t want that to be our thing. It’s fucking boring, you know?”

You don’t agree that songwriters are obligated to uphold any moral code to the listener?

“It should be exactly in between – not moral, not amoral. To me, one of the worst clichés in music is the anti-war song. It’s been done. We should be able to sing about war without having to say ‘war is wrong’, because we know that already.”

By this stage, dear reader, you might be forgiven for wondering whether there’s any room for optimism amidst the unforgiving frontiers of ‘Desperate Ground’. Fortunately, a chink of light appears at the death, in the form of ‘Our Love Survives’ – the album’s sole moment of romantic defiance.

“That was the last song we wrote for the record,” Hutch notes. “I think it works perfectly. I guess it’s optimistic because it’s about hope, and yet the record ends the way ‘The Body, The Blood…’ did – the world is pretty much destroyed, but love can survive. It might sound like a cliché, but it was a good note to end on.”

At the time of our chat, the band has just finished the video for forthcoming single ‘The Sunset’, with a rousing performance from bassist Kathy Foster as a Rocky-esque boxer. Hutch is audibly enthused:

“It’s a tribute to a bunch of different movies at once. I dunno if you remember [Spike Lee movie] Do The Right Thing – the end credits with Public Enemy, and Rosie Perez dancing with boxing gloves on… we decided to have Kathy doing that. And if you’re gonna do a video about boxing, you should probably have a lot of Rocky in there.”

Are you a fan of boxing in general?

“Y’know, I don’t love boxing, but… we decided Kathy should look like she knows what she’s doing, so we actually got her boxing lessons. It looks awesome. Kathy loved it, so I think I might actually take some!”

It’s a slight variation on the album theme…

“This one’s not as violent as the ‘Born To Kill’ video, which was a ton of blood and shit, where I get the shit kicked out of me. But this video is violent and the next one should be, too.”

For all this talk of violence, it’s easy to forget that The Thermals were distinctly less brash last time out. 2009’s ‘Personal Life’ LP was noticeably more morose than previous collections, relying considerably less on velocity and volume. It’s a path that Hutch was keen to get away from.

“That record [‘Personal Life’] was kind of like a breather,” he says. “It maybe ended up being softer and quieter than we’d intended, but it was different.

“Whenever you’re making something, you’re reacting to the thing you did previously. We didn’t want that to be the path that the band was on – like, we’re just gonna get slower and quieter… that would be terrible. So ‘Desperate Ground’ was a conscious decision to get loud and crazy again.”

Do you prefer listening to louder, faster music?

“I almost only listen to 80s punk! I listen to The Addicts a lot, and Agent Orange – ‘Living In Darkness’. I listen to that record more than anything, so that’s definitely a huge influence.”

The Thermals seem to have quite a lot in common with power-pop from that era.

Yeah, I feel like we sound so much like The Undertones. I never got so into hardcore because I need a really strong melody.”

It’s interesting that you prefer to align The Thermals with indie rock rather than punk…

“I just don’t want people to think of us and picture leather jackets and Mohawks. punk is such a weird word, it doesn’t describe us as people.”

Either way, this is certainly a louder, faster album.

“I feel revitalised by this record. Really excited by the band again. Some records I’m like, ‘well, I’m spent.’ I feel like this record is great and I could do it again.”

Looks like ‘Desperate Ground’ has plenty of cause for optimism after all.

(Originally published by The Fly, 03/05/2013)

IL SOGNO DEL MARINAIO – Liverpool, Eric’s, 05/03/2013

June 4, 2013

Things were different last time Mike Watt came to Liverpool, in support of his fourth solo album Hyphenated-Man. A collection of herky-jerky spasms in the vein of the Minutemen, his legendary 80s outfit that expanded the horizons of hardcore, the record was a simultaneous rediscovery and affirmation of the idiomatic singularity that defined his early career. With new ‘uns captivatingly despatched, we were then treated to an encore of fan favourites from his former band’s catalogue – a punk-funk dance party with nostalgia as the icing, not the cake.

This time, Watt may be the draw, but whatever it says on the poster, he ain’t the whole of the act. Il Sogno del Marinaio’s Stefano Pilia originally approached San Pedro’s favourite son about the prospect of recording and touring Italy together way back in 2009, and it’s only now that we’re seeing the fruits of their endeavours. But that’s enough context – what does it do? Well, quite simply, as much as it possibly can. This is incredible music, lurching from dissonant post-punk racket to funked-out groove to free jazz-inspired dexterity and more. ‘Zoom’ rolls by on a gently loping bassline, while Pilia uses a bow to tease freakish atonality from his guitar, and Andrea Belfi skips subtly across the kit with elastic-limbed rapidity. ‘Partisan Song’ just plain rocks, sounding like a riff Tim Kinsella and Sam Zurick might have dreamed up for one of their mathletic Joan of Arc spin-offs. Every song gives voice to a collective imagination set free and doing what the hell it wants.

The effect is wonderful. Il Sogno del Marinaio project movies onto the canvas of my mind: one minute I’m in a scuzzy backstreet bar straight out of dystopian cyberpunk anime. Next I’m wandering the desert of a western as directed by Jim Jarmusch; poignant in its monochrome starkness. Suddenly I’m lying in a field, gazing at dark clouds overhanging the cold earth, feeling the rain tapping softy against my face. I’m Roberto Benigni singing sweet inanities behind bars. I’m Robert de Niro driving the diseased streets of New York. I’m everyone and everywhere, lost to the illustrative flow of the sound. See, this music is cinematic and visual, not just noise but allegorical narrative, as emotive and viscerally beautiful as any words or physical action. I am so fucking in love with this band.

They round things off with a blistering cover of The Stooges’ ‘Fun House’, which closes with the frontman holding his bass aloft to yell, “Start your own band!” You can practically hear hearts being crossed as everyone present mentally promises to do so, whilst also suspecting that it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as what we’ve witnessed tonight. If Mike Watt wants to play songs from his formidable back catalogue, I’ll be there. But man, if he and his equally-impressive bandmates want to make new music as richly powerful as this, I’d almost be happy to never hear a note off Double Nickels On The Dime again. Il Sogno del Marinaio rule.

(Originally published by Get Into This, 10/03/2013)

ICEAGE – Liverpool, Shipping Forecast, 26/02/2013

June 4, 2013

Moody fuckers, Iceage. You can tell from the way they march sombrely onstage – no strut, no swagger, just unblinking, unsmiling purpose. Guitars are strapped on with no acknowledgement of the crowd, and with a swift ripple of drums, we’re straight into the first song. And what a fabulous din they make: solid sheets of freezing, isolationist noise, skirting the dextrous, probing jabs of their post-punk influences in favour of powerful, pummelling onslaughts. They’ve quite reasonably drawn comparison to Joy Division for the mechanistic nihilism of their recorded output, but tonight’s set calls to mind Moss Icon’s anguished howls, or even the prototypical emocore of Embrace (not that one) – punk that’s progressive with a small ‘p’.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the controversy over the Copenhagen foursome’s dabblings with far-right imagery – undetectable here (well, they don’t unfurl a giant swastika behind the Shipping Forecast’s tiny stage or anything), but still, there’s an element of freakshow in the air, the room full of typically-liberal hipsters. Will they address it? How will they deal with it? What will they do? Well, nothing, as it turns out. ‘Banter’ (ahem) is limited to song titles spat into the air with typical sang-froid, ignoring the fratboys’ relentless, drunken shouting (in mock-Scandanavian accents – nice). Difficult to judge, but when an excitable punk audience seems reluctant to punch the air, lest it be mistaken for sieg heiling, it seems fairest to cautiously accept the band’s official line: that their aesthetic choices are made with an apolitical approach, however misguided or naïve that may seem. Something tells us the debate will rumble on tediously.

Anyway, back to the music. It’s powerful. It’s punchy. It’s positively seething. It’s the familiar sound of youthful disaffection, crushed into jagged shards of thrilling brutalist sound. Hear that, Iceage? You’re something, alright.

(Originally published by The Fly, 07/03/2013)