Posts Tagged ‘psych’

MARK LANEGAN & DUKE GARWOOD – Black Pudding

June 4, 2013

Where to begin with Mark Lanegan’s voice? It’s a melted-down chainsaw. Soft beams of light shooting across a bubbling tar pit. A rusted tractor set ablaze amidst heavy downpour. Rich. Ragged. Ridiculous. It’s also one of the most uniquely expressive voices in American music – arguably similar to that of Tom Waits in its ability to extricate a sumptuously soulful croon from the sound of over-zealous vocal cord scrapings. But unlike the perma-hatted veteran, Lanegan never gives into the gnarl. He’s simply a vessel for sorrows that are resigned to their fate: in other words, the blues.

For all the raw feeling summoned by those rattling pipes, Mark has always worked best in collaboration with others. Sure, he’s made stand-out solo records since making his name as the Screaming Trees’ frontman (Whiskey For The Holy Ghost and Bubblegum representing particular career highlights), but sparks have truly flown when rubbing shoulders with the likes of Isobel Campbell and fellow Gutter Twin Greg Dulli. On Black Pudding he’s enlisted the help of multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, and the results are often stunning.

The opening title track introduces us to Garwood’s nimble guitar work, which is both delicate and yet subtly powerful, paving the way for the tone of the rest of the album. Basic blues motifs serve as a peg on which to hang his ideas, which make songs feel like meditative explorations of mood rather than linear stories. Nothing is resolved. Instead we find textural experiments like the quick bursts of guitar drone that scorch ‘Mescalito’s arid shuffle, coalescing and gradually evaporating like sunspots in the desert heat.

Then there’s the tumbling, intuitive piano that stumbles dizzily around the drunken lament of ‘Last Rung’, brashly beautiful in its plaintive chaos. In the midst of all this, Lanegan offers thoughtful whispers of lost loves and portents of doom – “Death rides a white horse,” he sombrely intones, “But I ain’t seen him yet.” If that reads like a defiant claim of invulnerability, the song’s fooling no-one. The line is practically shrugged into your speakers, grimly accepting the inevitability of mortality: a spine-tingling moment.

‘Black Pudding’ works best at its most sparse, which is why flute-drenched psych ballad ‘Shade Of The Sun’ is infinitely more arresting than ‘Cold Molly’s loose-limbed, stoned groove. Minor quibbles aside, however, it feels more like the product of two minds in sync than a collection of contrasting ideas thrown at the wall, which tallies up with Lanegan’s admission that Garwood is one of his “all time favourite artists”.

With an over-saturation of pseudo-folkies grabbing acoustics and aiming pointlessly for some intangible sense of ‘authenticity’, it’s easy to feel that there’s an over-saturation of terrible faux-Americana in this day and age. By plunging impassively into their own hearts of darkness, Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood have demonstrated that there’s still plenty of life lurking in the muddy waters of the blues. (7.5/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 17/05/2013)

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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)

TUNABUNNY – Genius Fatigue

June 4, 2013

When we were 12, my friends and I formed a band. Our “skills” were best described as rudimentary, matching our shoddy equipment and a feeble understanding of what we were doing. In school, we sold cassettes of ourselves (it was the mid-’90s) trying to articulate the raw sounds that buzzed frantically around our heads; perched awkwardly over a one-channel recording device but oblivious to its restrictions; gleefully obeying the gnawing need to disregard our artistic limits and just create for creation’s sake.

We told our peers we were the greatest band in the world, perhaps even convincing ourselves that three Beatles-obsessed fuckwits using two pencils as drumsticks might be capable of bursting past the surface; melting through the slime; becoming a phenomena for the ages.

Naturally, we were shit. But it’s the most artistically “free” I’ve ever felt in my life – the only time I can honestly say that notions of “how things are supposed to work” (yawn!) or “other people’s standards” (fucksake) or “professionalism” (spit!) were irrelevances. When self-belief and necessity and an inability not to create drove everything more than aspiration or consideration for how other people might perceive it. It was liberating, it was wonderful, it was the impetuosity of youth illustrated in such glorious colours that it’s dazzling to look back. So yeah, I peaked with shitty tapes of poorly-recorded, woefully-played half-songs, and fuck, man, I miss that feeling.

I’ve not thought about this stuff for years (the joy, the excitement, the unrecreatable  sense of wonder), but Tunabunny bring it all flooding back.Genius Fatigue is the third album from the Athens, Georgia four-piece, following the nihilistic avant-sulk of their self-titled debut and its post-punk-inflected follow-up, 2011’s Minima Moralia. Together those two records formed a diptych positing the destruction and ultimate salvation of music; an artform which has chewed itself and spat itself out so many times that any deviation from the tried and tested feels like a minor victory. Rest assured: this band are far from ordinary, and this continues the frankly mind-boggling acceleration of their capabilities. A sped-up image of a flower; growing and bursting and blooming into being. It’s beautiful.

Take that frantic opener, ‘Duchess For Nothing’. Building from panting, staggered urgency to high speed roars of assertion, vocalists Brigette Adair Herron and Mary Jane Hassell kick and punch their way through the song’s two raggedy minutes as though the fate of the world depends on them. “She ain’t a parody of woman – she’s a screaming queen”, they declare, pounding transphobia to dust with voices not wildly dissimilar to those of the Deal sisters (never a bad thing). Lo-fi, raw and bruised, it ain’t the stuff top ten hits are made of. But it is the sort of thing wide-eyed kids fall for with unabashed, undying devotion. We’re so used to the forced passions and staged over-emoting of 21st century pop that it almost feels shocking to hear people actually singing from their hearts – that’s exactly what this record does.

Elsewhere their muse takes hold of dizzy psych (‘Serpents And Lights’), fractured, ethereal balladry (‘Airplanes In Echelon’) and dusty, damaged drone-pop (‘Wrong Kind Of Attention’). Topics leap from Hollywood nepotism to political insurrection, while echoes of Throwing Muses, Sonic Youth and The Fall fly around with heroic abandon, occasionally crashing into each other and tumbling into concussed piles underneath the whole wonderful mess. Tunabunny’s glory shines through in the way their incandescence is more audible than their battered, scratchy instruments – songs are captured upon creation, valuing the rawness of the art and the celebration of its completion far higher than less interesting matters like musical proficiency. The scope of their imagination wins out, and tremendously, triumphantly so.

The “genius fatigue” of the title refers to the band’s disillusion with the same old artistic figures being held up as sources of inspiration; of the same old source material being devoured and excreted and devoured and excreted, again and again, in increasingly tedious ways. Maybe it’s time we cast off the old guard and developed new ways of appreciating art. Let’s give up on championing the fixed legends of received wisdom and abandon notions of aspiration or imitation over genuine heartfelt artistry (after all, where have they got us? Fucking Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran, that’s where – a patriarchy of mediocrity and smooth-edged tedium). Why don’t we try celebrating ideas that challenge? Or cheer at the accumulation of potential, instead of glib approximations of overly comfortable sentiment? We need a revolution. Maybe, just maybe, Tunabunny are the band to lead the way. (8/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 29/03/2013)

BLANK REALM – Go Easy

June 4, 2013

“Will you clean up my mess again?”

Ok, so we know Richard Hell was talking nihilism. His fabled Blank Generation stood in staunch opposition to the failed idealism of the hippy dream; bathed in defeat and ruin; recognising that if it’s all for naught, you may as well do what the f*ck you want.

He was saying “get me out of here” before he was even born, although he’s still kicking around, so what would he think of 2013’s broken-down, end-of-days mindset? We’re beyond mere generational talk here: pop culture has eaten and regurgitated itself so many times that all that’s left to do is re-arrange the excremental remains in as many different patterns as we can. See what sticks – hey, guess what? Shit does. There are no new ideas, we’re constantly told. No new sounds. No new grooves. The new is fucking gone, and so often it feels like vitality and focus have gone with it – we inhabit an amorphous, flaccid blob of culture, with no defining qualities except blurred flashes of what went before. Welcome to the blank realm.

“Guess I’ve been acting kinda strange”

One of the central tenets of postmodernism was that there were no new ideas – which means that pop music in particular has been trapped in a postmodernist nightmare since the revivalist culture of the ’90s kicked in. It’s been (pseudo-)intellectualised and cemented into such an institutionalist clusterfuck that there’s no longer debate to be had – when received wisdom dominates, it swiftly wears thin, so the logical option is to tear away at it. Of course, when everything’s torn and splintered into miniscule subgenres, there’s no longer a dominant culture. Everything is murky and unclear.

Now, I’m not saying that this is what Brisbane quartet Blank Realm had in mind when they made this record (in all likelihood, they were driven by the same primal urge that drives most kids to whack guitars at volume – the insistent desire to make noise). There’s nothing high-concept or era-defining about this collection of spacey noisepop. What I am saying is that they’re a pretty accurate reflection of the age in which we live; the basic thrills of, like, whatever, hidden behind clouds of woozy fug. Narcotic yawns hidden behind guitars that sound like sloppy shit one minute, and an imploding cosmos the next. Dismissive loucheness, shrugging off the complexity of life in favour of knowing, wilfully-dumb slogans. The need to thrill with everything, powered by a recognition that it means nothing. Plus a flat refusal to give a solitary fuck.

Rhetorical question: how many fucks do you have to give for pop music to mean anything anyway?

“Gotta go to school today/Gotta learn that stupid shit/Soon as I can get a car to drive/Then I’m gonna be done with it”

Go Easy is Blank Realm’s first album, and it’s really good. Drenched in the reconstructionist rock’n’roll of Royal Trux, it veers from gaping spacerock chasms – all cheap weed and broken effects pedals – to perky, post-punk pop. They lack the studio mechanics of Herema’n’Hagerty, but the desire to rock out scuzzily is all present and correct, with equal emphasis placed on committing to the energy and surrendering to the drone. Hear the way ‘Cleaning Up My Mess’ stomps mightily through its snotty chorus before nodding out to a lazily blissful riff. “Girl, will you clean up my mess again?” Literal mess? The mess of sound? The mess they’ve made of life? That’s not answered, but it plays out as an admission of male ineffectuality as much as a terse refusal to resolve a situation. The title track is even more wracked and triumphantly lost: guitars stutter and start; uncertain and sounding thoroughly sick of it all. Meanwhile there’s tracks like ‘Acting Strange’ which pick our ears apart with disco damage and a barrage of disorienting effects, rebounding chaotically and majestically between speakers until you feel like you’re falling off the fucking pavement.

See, that’s the thrill of pop in this day and age. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It rarely does. But sometimes something comes along that seems to revel in nonchalant noisemaking; gives in to the din and just is. Effortlessly, thrillingly, brilliantly, Go Easy does that in spades. Blank Realm? I’ll take it. (8/10)

(Originally published by The Line Of Best Fit, 28/02/2013)

MAZES – Liverpool, Camp & Furnace, 22/02/2013

June 4, 2013

Jack Cooper looks tired. A day wasted by the side of the road will do that, of course, and a broken-down van looks to have drained the joy from his bandmates’ faces. The quietly-spoken Mazes frontman looks particularly affected, his sombre expression capturing the meagre space between disappointment and exhaustion. Of course, by the time the spiralling, Television-esque ‘Bodies’ reaches its juddering climax, he’s jumping and stomping around the stage, lugubrious chords ringing ominously and punctuating his flammable fretwork. And why not, huh?

Most of the cuts tonight come from new album ‘Ores And Minerals’, with the tartrazine-fuelled Eric’s Trip-isms of their debut reduced to a few brief cameos. And that’s a-OK – nothing against their former life as lo-fi Yankophiles, but the out-rock tinges of their new material fit them like a particularly well-tailored glove. So, as welcome as old favourites like ‘Bowie Knives’ may be, they’re attacked and received with less relish than the discombobulated lurch of ‘Daniel Higgs Particle’. The band acknowledge the latter as their tribute to Baltimore legends Lungfish, fuelled by cyclical, awkward pulses and a hook that yearns without imagining there’s a resolution on the horizon. Zen psych-pop that permanently blemishes the skin rather than pointlessly blistering – it’s great stuff.

‘Skulking’ is the other set highlight: a locked, motorik groove underpins a meandering melody, sung plainly and mirrored on the guitar before the whole thing launches into a fuzzed-out solo that channels the band’s frustrations into engaging fury. It’s all anchored by the restraint of the rhythm section, reminding us that rage is expressed even as the rest of the world continues to spin, and it’s even more intensely thrilling for that. Marry that mastery of form and execution to a knack for pop tunes and you’ve got a real force to be reckoned with. Luckily, that’s exactly what Mazes are.

(Originally published by The Fly, 08/03/13