Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An uneasy pact: Radiohead host an evening at the O2 Arena

First published in Loud And Quiet

O2 Arena
9th October 2012

One miserable day in the late 1990s, five successful young men called Radiohead decided to get off the bus, in a manner of speaking. From now on, they said, this stadium-filling rock band wouldn't be playing stadiums. They wouldn't be playing rock, either. So they binned their guitars, sent drummer Phil Selway on an extended tea break and totally recalibrated their musical compass.

It was a savvy and well-timed move; even if that drastic severance with guitar-based anthemic angst rock had produced nothing but the opening track to Kid A, it would've been a major success. The stadiums and guitars crept back in slowly, but their point was made.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

"There's nothing ironic about it": How To Dress Well on sex, drugs, philosophy and 'hipster R&B'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Tom Krell has released over 50 songs as How To Dress Well in under three years, across one album (Love Remains) and a bunch of small-scale releases. I hadn't really taken stock of this overabundance of product until a few days before meeting him, when I dutifully revisited the tracks I'd heard before and listened for the first time to the others, including his new record Total Loss, which represents a subtle but resolute shift in sensibilities for an artist who is far more sincere and cerebral than that unfortunate 'hipster R&B' label would suggest.

Meeting Krell on the morning of his impossibly sold out show in Dalston, he talks at length about the elements that drive his creativity: musical, personal and philosophical. That hazy patina on the surface of How To Dress Well's abstract lo-fi soul music isn't just an Instagram of a passing trend. In contrast to the copycats who've emerged in the wake of his innovation, Krell is lucid and assured in putting across his artistic intentions. In the end, the 40-odd minutes of recorded conversation were so densely packed with ideas that it wasn't worth tainting them with my own feeble edit, so here follows an abridged transcript for your consumption.

Through wildfires and scorpions: the making of Grizzly Bear's 'Shields'

First published in Loud And Quiet

Grizzly Bear have been plodding round Europe for days now, from hotel room to airport to private members' club, the latter being the type of venue they find themselves in today, answering questions and posing for photos for an unending procession of scribblers and snappers. Despite the band's indie credentials, it looks like we've got an A-list press junket on our hands. A trip with no sightseeing. A bandwagon with no groupies. A tour with no gigs. Yep, the bears are in the big league now.

They're here to talk about their fourth album Shields, due for release on Warp in September. Since they finished touring the hugely acclaimed 'Veckatimest', two of the band have spent time on solo projects – Daniel Rossen with his gorgeously understated, Grizzly Bear-ish Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP, and Chris Taylor with the less Grizzly Bear-ish Dreams Come True, a set of starker electronic songs recorded under the name CANT. Meanwhile, de facto frontman Ed Droste got married and drummer Christopher Bear – well, who knows what drummers do with their time off?

The band heralded their reunion as a four-piece and the completion of the new album by posting the first single online at the start of June. Named after a mountain said to be shaped like a slumbering warrior, 'Sleeping Ute' wrestles with a natural mystery, with the ghosts of the American wilderness, the magic of a waking dream. Rossen wrote the song, but the sleeping slopes of Ute are just a dream to him, too.

Moon Duo's 'Circles': Round and around and around the desert rock badlands

Moon Duo
Souterrain Transmissions

Starting life as a side project for Ripley Johnson's psychedelic drone machine Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo was a vehicle for Johnson and his partner Sanae Yamada to explore the grittier end of the endlessly repetitive space rock spectrum – but with a handful of EPs and an acclaimed album, Mazes, behind them, the pair now seem to have the edge on their wooden mothershjip.

Like its predecessor, the title of Circles gives you some idea of the territory we're in here. Lost in the badlands without a map, Moon Duo's desert rock takes a wrong turn and ends up on the Greyhound to NYC, where Silver Apples lend them an oscillator and Suicide provide the beat with a pawn shop drum machine. San Francisco breathes through them still as their muscle memory teaches them deadhead jams that loop round and around and around ('I Been Gone' and 'Rolling Out'), but the joyous inanity of garage rock shines through (the 'Nuggets'-ish 'Sparks' and 'Circles'). Deliciously deranged.

Music from the past, music for the future: Silver Apples live at The Lexington

Silver Apples
The Lexington
18 September

The music of Silver Apples is not so much timeless as it is out of time; an ex nihilo miracle that appeared almost a decade before it could be comprehended. Metronomic drums place the songs somewhere in the machine age, but after that it's anyone's guess. Violent synthesised disturbances recall the minimal electronic underground of the early 80s, and a discordant no wave vocal hovers uncomfortably on the wrong notes, but it's the bubbling oil lamp projections on the back wall that provide the clue to this apple's provenance.

Simeon, the sole remaining member of the group, is 76 years old – and he's here not only to play songs from the band's 1968 debut, but also newer compositions that suggest his idea of a good night out is 14 hours in the darkest corner of Berghain. He cracks wise when his equipment fucks up before realising he's forgotten to turn up the volume, but otherwise he too is a wonder from outside of time playing macabre nursery rhymes from the not-quite-future.

'Oscillations' still sounds off its actual box and evocative of those vintage drugs us young'uns shall never imbibe – ludes, bennies, purple hearts – and for us, he's even gone and put a donk on it.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eyelid-peeling kosmische heaviness from
Japan-via-E8's Bo Ningen

First published in Loud And Quiet

Bo Ningen 
Line The Wall
Stolen Recordings
Out 8th October 2012

Any Dalstonite who knows their Acid Mother's Temple from their elbow should recognise this quartet of Japanese psych rock spacemen – their bum-length black hair and 26-inch waists can often be seen prowling the piss-stained pavements of E8 when they're not savagely molesting speakers in underground clubs across the same postcode.

London has been a fertile incubator for Bo Ningen's Sabbath-gone-kosmische sound, what with The Horrors spearheading a revival of esoteric psychedelia and loping krautrock in recent years, so that Line The Wall's frenzied jumble of heavyweight riffing ('Daikaisei Part 1' and, er, 'Daikasiei Part 2'), stabbing math rock ('Nichijyou') and even drifting electronica ('Ten to Sen') sounds surprisingly cohesive. While their debut suffered from a plug-in-and-play live sound that lacked the energy of their eyelid-peeling performances (see video above), this album has the dynamic elbow room to make it more than just a souvenir of the live experience.

Baltimore analgesia: Lower Dens live in Hoxton

First published in Loud And Quiet

Lower Dens
Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen
16th August

Before walking on stage, Jana Hunter takes off her round Lennon glasses. Maybe she can barely see up there, lights flashing in her eyes as she myopically stabs at the keys in front of her, picking out guitar lines with just her fingers' muscle memory.

It's ironic that Hunter might voluntarily handicap her performance with sightlessness as she leads her band through songs from their second album Nootropics, a title referring to those 21st century designer drugs that sharpen your brain and increase productivity. If there's a narcotic haze of any kind floating around Lower Dens, it's the analgesic sort. 

Formed by Hunter after a string of anti-folkish releases in the later 00s, the Baltimore band's subtly addictive strain of nocturnal dreaminess, underpinned by Hunter's fascinatingly ambiguous voice, has been gaining ground on the back of 'Brains', the lead single and linchpin of tonight's set. Climbing to a stirring, unsettling peak, it grasps the crowd tight, shaking us with every beat and graceful chord change as Hunter's cool and distant voice ascends to the climax, causing clenched fists and eyelids tightly shut.

'Propagation' and 'Lamb' are excellent too, but nothing can take away from those five glorious minutes, which remind you that even boring old drums and guitars can still sometimes prompt a little shiver, blindsiding you with a grain of emotion you'd swear you've never felt before. Truly special.