Tuesday, 30 November 2010

reviews: gregory and the hawk, the forest cafe, seafieldroad

Gregory and the Hawk - Leche (****)

Type ‘Gregory and the Hawk’ into YouTube and, alongside self-uploaded videos and phone-shot live clips, you’ll find an inordinate number of fan-performances – multiple pages of acoustic-toting adolescents mimicking Meredith Godreau’s style and evidencing how personally effecting it can be.

The twee vocal affectations and pizzicato melodies of Landscapes suggest a contracted Joanna Newsom, chopped down to bitesize dimensions and occupying a breezier milieu (it’s hard to imagine, for instance, Newsom dropping Cutting Crew quotes, as Godreau later does). But Godreau is a canny operator, sifting the seriousness into delicate pop on the likes of the springy uke-led Olly Olly Oxen Free and injecting Over and Over with an echoing counter-melody that reverberates across acoustic arpeggios.

A sweet syrupiness can occasionally encroach (Soulgazing is particularly saccharine on first listen), but Godreau is largely successful at balancing flavours, soaring from feather-light whimsy to more emotive territory with flair.

Out Now

Various Artists - Forest Records Presents... (***)

Whether you’re a patron of the place or not, the news that Edinburgh’s Forest Cafe might be on the ropes is surely cause for concern. The hippy vibe might not fit all tastes, but as an independent open-doors venue in a city whose music scene is already reeling from the loss of the Roxy, its survival is undoubtedly worth supporting. This lengthy compilation leaps from bright and catchy chip-tune, pseudo-Dashboard Confessional cack, big-band pastiche and wet folk wibbling, suggesting the record's vast discrepancies in tone, genre and quality – but then you’d expect nothing less from the Forest. It’s undoubtedly patchy, but there’s no need to pick on the weak links here: in the thumbs up camp are Enfant Bastard’s 8-bit bleeps, Robin Grey’s lovely string-backed balladry and Danseizure’s light, fresh electro. If you couldn’t care less about the Forest’s future, buy a copy anyway. If you do care, buy two.

Out Now

Seafieldroad - There Are No Maps for This Part of the City (***)

Swimmer One’s appeal largely lies in their imaginative genre combinations and ever-varying aesthetic, with this year’s Dead Orchestras an impressive case in point. Seafieldroad – the solo project of the Edinburgh band’s frontman Andrew Eaton – therefore initially disappoints due to its relative straightforwardness. The full-spectrum experiments of Swimmer One seem drained to monochrome, and this reduced ambition prevents There Are No Maps for This Part of the City from generating the same levels of excitement as his principal band. But once you adjust to its narrowed pallet, it provides multiple pleasures: for instance, Brian Wilson Karaoke makes for a gently amusing opener, while The Truth’s delicate arpeggios are combined with building strings (arranged by Pete Harvey of Meursault) to form a striking whole. Overall, there’s less to love than on Eaton’s other release of 2010, but there’s majesty enough to keep Eaton strides ahead of the curve.

Out Now

Monday, 29 November 2010

november skinny...

...has been out for ages already, making this post pretty redundant (unlike the rest of this blog's content, which is SOLID GOLD ESSENTIAL STUFF).

the cover looks like this:

and inside our these things i typed oot:

- shugo tokumaru - 'port entropy' album review

- gregory and the hawk - 'leche' album review

- the flowers of hell - 'O' album review

- '45 a-side records presents the glad cafe' album review

- yusuf azak - 'turn on the long wire' album review

- twin shadow - 'forget' review

most of which are up on this blog already. twas a good selection of promos this month - expect a couple of them to appear on bottle rocket's best of '10 list

Thursday, 25 November 2010

jimmy eat world @ barrowlands, 19th november

Tonight’s topped with two cuts from Bleed American and tailed with three more: you certainly can’t accuse Jimmy Eat World of misreading their fans’ desires. By privileging their 2001 classic so matter-of-factly, they temper any potential accusations of decline – an accusation that has felt overstated in recent press, premised on a false history of the Arizona soppy-rockers that willingly omits their long-held tendency towards corniness.

Tracks from Chase This Light and this year’s Invented may pack less punch, but they’re undoubtedly cut from the same cloth as undisputed highlights like evergreen emo-anthem Blister, aggro-pop bruiser Pain, and the aforementioned fourth album picks. At the outset, the pulverising title track coupled with a sentimental A Praise Chorus generates familiar exhilaration; at the close, an impeccable final trio (Get It Faster, The Middle, Sweetness) washes away any hints of blandness. Jimmy Eat World might be increasingly static, but they’re prevailing.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

randolph's leap @ captains rest, 18th november

To paraphrase one of their own songs, Randolph’s Leap very nearly had to cut crisps out of debut EP Battleships and Kettle Chips after a scary email from Kettle Foods arrived the morning of its launch. “Who knew ‘Kettle Chips’ was a trademark?” asks singer Adam Ross incredulously. “I thought it was a type – like crinkle cut…” But rest easy: masses of complimentary crisps are apparently now winging their way Glasgow-wards. If only all potential copyright infringements were resolved so amicably.

It’s fortunate the suits saw sense, as any bully-boy big-shottery against so enjoyable a bunch might have forced a minor, localised boycott. They charmingly twist folk-pop into odd knots, and though there’s faint danger the light-hearted results could be considered throwaway, trying to discard such witty ear-worms would be pure contrariness (as Kettle Foods no doubt recognised). Let’s just hope Hasbro don’t call dibs on the rest of the title.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Strange Powers round-up!

thanks to everyone who came out on sunday evening to see Strange Powers at the GFT, especially considering we were up against the krankies switching on george square's christmas lights.

I hadn't seen the film before sunday, so I was rather relieved that it turned out to be just as good as was hoped. I haven't yet received a final figure for the number of tickets sold, but i reckon the attendance must have been over two hundred since the lovely big cinema definitely seemed more than half full.

as i said in my wee introduction on the night, the film will be betting a digital release next year from the independent film company, so if you're kicking yourself for missing it, you'll get another opportunity if you're nice and patient. i don't know if anyone else had a similar experience, but i had to concentrate pretty hard to stop myself from applauding at the end of some of the live performances (particularly the lovely rendition of papa was a rodeo), which would have been a tad embarrassing... anyway, judging by the frequent laughter, i'm guessing it went down pretty well: here's the clip that prompted the loudest chuckles.

ah, mr merritt, you lovely grump.

Monday, 22 November 2010

november playlist!

what a cracking weekend that was. saturday's dancing club was jolly good fun, while the screening of strange powers went down rather nicely indeed (i'll post properly bout the latter tomorrow no doubt).

first, here's the cds we played tracks from on saturday in the order in which we played em:

1. the shins - strange powers
2. shugo tokumaru - rum hee
3. jonsi - animal arithmatic
4. marnie stern - transparency is the new mystery
5. sebadoh - flame
6. the yummy fur - fantastic legs
7. charles douglas - earlybird school
8. grandaddy - am 180
9. david bowie - ashes to ashes
10. twin shadow - at my heels
11. holy fuck - latin america
12. wire - 3 girl rhumba
13. the beastie boys - no sleep till brooklyn
14. future bible heroes - don't you want me
15. roxy music - over you
16. belle and sebastian - you're just a baby
17. the raveonettes - bang!
18. the shins - australia
19. kirsty maccoll - he's on the beach
20. the primitives - can't bring me down
21. new order - true faith
22. lacrosse - we are kids
23. young friends - downtown
24. sleeper - statuesque
25. the cribs - when the lights go out
26. apples in stereo - energy
27. the magnetic fields - long forgotten fairytale
28. joan jett - bad reputation
29. the pipettes - pull shapes
30. belle and sebastian - i'm a cuckoo
31. devo - gut feeling
32. blondie - call me
33. the walkmen - the rat
34. comet gain - love without lies
35. gang of four - i found that essence rare
36. buzzcocks - everybody's happy nowadays
37. bruce springsteen - dancing in the dark
38. modern english - i melt with you
39. fleetwood mac - you make loving fun
40. the 6ths - falling out of love with you
41. xtc - life begins at the hop
42. the national - lit up
43. prince - i could never take the place of your man
44. arctic monkeys - i bet that you look good on the dancefloor
45. pixies - gouge away
46. le tigre- deceptecon
47. the go-gos - head over heels
48. pet shop boys - it's a sin
49. omd - enola gay
50. the rolling stones - brown sugar
51. ivan - real wild child
52. the ramones - rockaway beach
53. the replacements - bastards of young
54. idlewild - little discourage
55. abba - lay all your love on me
56. the go-gos - we got the beat
57. b52s - 52 girls
58. violent femmes - blister in the sun
59. css - let's make love and listen to death from above
60. pulp - do you remember the first time?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

les savy fav @ oran mor, 13th november

One song in and Les Savy Fav’s mercurial frontman is living up to his reputation, swinging from lighting rigs and trying to grab his own tongue mid-lyric. This is a man for whom the verb ‘overshadow’ is neither a criticism nor an occasional trait but a natural state of being: Tim Harrington overshadows the same way the rest of us breathe or move. Hats off to Wichita, then, for finding supports capable of cordoning off their own patch of memory tonight. They might not share the headliner’s carnivalesque spirit, but Cloud Nothings knock out their art-punk power-pop with comparable energy. Their powerful rhythm section negotiate shifting time signatures without losing grip of Dylan Baldi’s canny melodies: think teenage Superchunk, and get excited.

Sky Larkin don’t offer the same surprises, but only because anyone with a taste for loud guitars and big choruses should be familiar with these premiere practitioners by now already. Katie Harkin is warm and funny between songs, punchy during them, and with Still Windmills as a parting shot, they’re developing quite the golden arsenal.

And then Harrington bounds on stage in a poncho, spitting and undressing and offering a trade – one manner of performance forfeited for another. Eccentricity replaces actually singing all the songs, but it’s a swap all are happy to accept. The rest of the band are steadfast and tight, ensuring Harrington’s antics don’t throw proceedings irrevocably off course as he bathes in beer and threatens a garrotting each time his mic lead wraps around the crowd. It’s visceral and exhausting without ever detracting from the exuberance of sing-alongs like Let’s Get Out of Here and howl-alongs like What Would Wolves Do. When we hit the curfew, Harrington remains amongst us, dishing out hugs and thanking people individually for coming – a civil sign-off to a rambunctious riot.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

casiotone for the painfully alone @ captains rest, 11th november

While Adam Stafford is pained by a sore throat tonight, his discomfort has no discernible impact on his performance; good thing too, since a lost voice would reduce much of his music to dead air. Larynx and loop pedal layer hoots and hollering over tongue clicks and self-harmonising, but while impressive, the results are difficult to fall in love with.

Owen Ashworth has no such problem, his introspective style naturally attracting devotion. But considering tonight’s significance (Ashworth shortly puts the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone moniker – and the songs written under it – out to pasture, making this their Scottish swansong) the half-full Captains Rest feels strangely subdued and reserved. Sad queries regarding his recording future are as emotional as it gets in an atmosphere of muted politeness.

Our quietness is rewarded with a set showcasing his lo-fi electronic melancholia at its best. The charm of songs like Young Shields bitter-sweetly underscores the disappointment their impending retirement will bring, but Ashworth isn’t about to reject his reputation absolutely. He promises to return under the guise of Advance Base, a name based on last year’s career-spanning compilation. With his rechristening reeking of continuity we leave reassured that, while Casiotone shuffles to the grave, Ashworth’s sharp talent lives on.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

all my little words

here's a wee news piece i wrote for the skinny about the forthcoming screening of Strange Powers. note: prof. martin cloonan is going to introduce the film!

The 2011 Glasgow Film Festival kick off their Music and Film strand early with the Scottish premiere of Strange Powers later this month. Organised in conjunction with indie clubnight Bottle Rocket, this documentary follows cult songwriter Stephin Merritt, most famous for his work in the Magnetic Fields. Merritt’s mix of misanthropy and romanticism has garnered celebrity admirers (Peter Gabriel, Sarah Silverman and Neil Gaiman all appear in the film to extol his virtues) and a reputation as one of the finest purveyors of pop working today. Especially beloved is his three-disc opus 69 Love Songs, which delivered love, lust, loss and lasciviousness, and prompted Pitchfork to remark at the time, “there’s only one question that really needs to be asked: is it a brilliant masterpiece, or merely very, very good?”

Having followed Merritt for over a decade, directors Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara have produced an intimate portrait of the notoriously grumpy/secretive artist, focusing in on his close relationship with collaborator and friend Claudia Gonson. With Professor of Popular Music Martin Cloonan providing an introduction on the night, Strange Powers promises to peek beneath Merritt’s sardonic façade to shed some light on one of pop’s most intriguing figures.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

knock knock who's there BOTTLE ROCKET NOVEMBER oh hello

november is freaking awesome for the following reasons:

1. the clocks have gone back, and while the shitty rain can do one, the early darkness is lovely (controversial?). screw s.a.d., i LIKE night.
2. when november finishes, it's pretty much christmas. you can put up your tree and everything.
3. bottle rocket has not one, but TWO events in its calendar.

let's focus on the latter of these points.

tickets for the premiere of Strange Powers (sunday the 21st november!) are on sale now from the GFT box office, and if yer a fan of stephin merritt and the magnetic fields then p-p-p-p-pick yours up now. the night before, bottle rocket will have its regular shindig at nice n sleazys, and you can bet your bottom dollar that merritt's music will crop up once or thrice or more in anticipation of the following day's cinematic feast. otherwise, it will be business as usual, and by business i mean:

11:30PM START!

so come along if you fancy a dance and a drink. need further persuasion? here's mr merrritt on the merits of booze:

"sober, life is a prison. shit-faced, it is a blessing
sober, nobody wants you. shit-faced, they're all undressing.
sober, you're old and ugly. shit-faced, who needs a mirror?
sober, you're a cro-magnon. shit-faced, you're very clever."

requests, as always, belong on the facebook event page which you'll be magically transported to should ye click here.

Monday, 8 November 2010

fence halloween @ stereo

Glittery globes and cardboard cacti transform Stereo and its half-finished lane-neighbour The Old Hairdresser into appropriately galactic settings for a Space-Cowboy Halloween; Buzz Lightyear and Marvin the Martian mingle off-stage, while Fence alumni thrill onstage. James Yorkston hasn’t played live for a while due to experiencing “the year from hell”, but he successfully converts an atmosphere of glum reverence into an airy pleasure, best encapsulated by a closing improvisation that has him sheepishly scrabbling for rhymes to the delight of the crowd.

Said punters have translated the costume theme in some unexpected ways, with Space-Prawn and Santa With Oven Gloves particularly perplexing. Glitter-trews aside, Lord Cut-Glass and band have interpreted the brief more traditionally. Their saloon band garb suits their sound: a solid mid-afternoon set that aids the knees-up atmosphere no end.

Across the alley, the mid-renovation Old Hairdresser hosts Randolph’s Leap, who sing about crisps and squeamishness and infect all in the vicinity with their twee wit and silliness. Upstairs, James Acaster reacts to fake doughnuts and wears the wrong day-of-the-week socks for our amusement, but the sound of The Pictish Trail starting up beneath us is difficult to resist. When we make it back through the courtyard, a solo Johnny Lynch is proving a stand-up hit in his own right, guiding us through synth presets and airing thirty-second compositions like the uncharacteristic noise-nugget Sweating Battery Acid.

Johnny pops up again during King Creosote’s second set of the day (his first lost out to humus flat-breads in the early afternoon battle for attentions), helping turn a high-energy Happy into today’s highlight. Kenny leads his band of udder-bearing man-cows and cone-headed wizard-creeps through a sterling set that could contentedly top the night if weren’t barely nine.

For a Halloween bash, there have been few spooks and scares – until we venture back into a deserted and dilapidated Old Hairdresser to find the Fence film playing to an eerily empty room. Back downstairs, John B McKenna reliably delivers further top tunes, though by now there’s a craving for something from outside the guitar-toting mould. Silver Columns sate the hankering with a brash set of beat-heavy electro-pop, with Johnny Lynch once again at the heart of today’s unqualified success-story. As he pushes the crowd through towards the final furlong, Fence adds another superb day to its events roster in style.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

reviews: yusuf azak, shugo tokumaru, twin shadow

Yusuf Azak - Turn on the Long Wire (****)

Yusuf Azak is a singer-songwriter without peer, thanks to a voice that proudly earns the epithet ‘acquired taste’. With each encounter, either in a live setting or on past EPs, his peculiar gasping sigh grows more fondly familiar and less curious, to the point where Turn on the Long Wire can be instantly enjoyed, without the initial moment of adjustment previously required.

Of course, if this debut album is your first Azak experience, his odd cadence and wheezy timbre might still surprise, but the songs herein are the finest, most accessible tracks he has thus far committed to tape. Strings are used more extensively than in the past, augmenting intricate guitar-work and fleshing out his gentle sound, while structurally, Azak’s grown incrementally more conventional, with verses and choruses where once there was mist. But such refinements are always to his credit, pointing Azak towards a peerlessness of a different sort.

Out 15th November

Shugo Tokumaru - Port Entropy (****)

Live, Shugo Tokumaru plies his trade with little more than an acoustic guitar and an effects pedal or two. It’s near impossible to imagine Port Entropy as the product of such modest labour; rather, it evokes some manner of elaborate clockwork contraption – a mechanical contrivance of finely-tuned percussion and alchemic music-box delights.

Turning Port Entropy’s crank animates pistons and cogs, causing beautiful harmonies to skip through tubes and pipes, delivering melodies that blend child-like whimsy with intricate musicianship, eccentric invention with dreamy nostalgia. While Tokumaru is evidently fond of the sixties Brit sound – Drive-Thru closely echoes The Kinks’ Picture Book – he successfully stakes out new ground. Tracking Elevator and Rum Hee offer two particularly transformational examples of his fourth album’s considerable charms, the latter managing to trump Jónsi in the day-glo elf-pop stakes. As the cogs settle with Malerina’s enchanting finale, Port Entropy begs to be wound afresh.

Out 6th December

Twin Shadow - Forget (****)

Like post-dawn melancholia after a glittering soiree, Forget is alternately bittersweet and euphoric. The debut album from Twin Shadow (AKA George Lewis Jr.) shimmers and struts with disco-flair one moment (on the funk-tinged Shooting Holes) before turning solemn and intimate the next. There are echoes of both The Associates’ brooding aesthetic and Saturdays = Youth’s nostalgic sparkle, but an ear for invention and the immaculate production of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor ensure this is never a retro masquerade.

A clarity of vision cuts through the various stylistic detours; Forget might possess hints of yesteryear, but it never surrenders its steady sense of self. Whether sighing hushed come-ons (“as if it wasn’t enough just to hear you speak/they had to give you lips like that” Lewis Jr. purrs on Tyrant Destroyed), or howling denials of love on indelible first single Slow, Forget quietly but assuredly announces a singular new talent.

Out 15th November

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

reviews: charles douglas, the flowers of hell, the glad cafe

Charles Douglas - The Lives of Charles Douglas (****)

When Charles Douglas first sang the lyric “Made a record without even trying/ No one could find it so they thought we were lying,” it’s unlikely he fully appreciated its prophetic value. When the record subsequently disappeared following a cheap and limited US run in 1999, the irony was probably appreciated less still. Now, eleven years after it was committed to tape, the Moe Tucker-produced The Lives of Charles Douglas gets its belated dues, yet its convoluted journey hasn’t rendered it lost or out of time.
Douglas’ brand of fuzzy guitar rock marks him as a temporarily waylaid contemporary of Ted Leo, freely mining the classics for inspiration (Lou Reed is a recurring presence, while Baby Come On practically plagiarises The Angels). But despite the lost decade, it never feels like a time capsule – turns out one of the most refreshing alt-rock records of 2010 was made in the nineties.

Out Now

The Flowers of Hell - O (***)

The Flowers of Hell aren’t a band in the typical sense, their assemblage more akin to that of an orchestra. Greg Jarvis assembles a revolving line-up of talent around him, a congregation to which members of Broken Social Scene, Guided By Voices and Spiritualised have all previously belonged. Past releases have advanced an impressive synthesis of post-rock and neo-classical sounds, embellished with traces of shoegaze and an unorthodox compositional style.

O is something less conventional still: a single forty-five minute improvisation in which repetition of any sort is avoided. Its tongue-in-cheek working title was apparently Business Suicide, and it undoubtedly has a snow-drops chance in Hades of shaking free from its niche, so loosely arranged that it threatens to collapse for lack of structure. An accompanying DVD showcases Jarvis and co to better effect, with footage shot in less avant-garde days, before highfalutin artistic ideals endangered their enjoyableness.

Out 15th November

Various Artists - The Glad Cafe (****)

While Glasgow’s hardly starved for venues, those living south of the Clyde are generally underserved. Opening in early 2011, the Glad Cafe aims to rectify the situation. Raising both funds and buzz for the forthcoming arts venue and Southside “creative hub” is local DIY label 45 A-Side Records, who’ve compiled a diverse selection of central-belt talent.

Some listeners will gravitate towards the earnest indie of Barn Owl or Admiral Fallow’s low-key ballad Concrete Oaths, while Fox Gut Daata and Dam Mantle cater to the other end of the spectrum, the former serving up laidback glitch-ridden electronics and the latter an ominous collage of sampled shouts and squelchy beats. From the slow-build, delicate melodies proffered by The Japanese War Effort to Yahweh’s bubbling lullaby, fingers crossed The Glad Cafe will echo this dynamic curatorial approach in its bookings; with these thirteen-tracks as heralds, it’s off to a splendid start.

Out Now