Wednesday, 29 May 2013

may skinny

yeah, yeah, it's practically june already, but nonetheless: be sure to have a gander at this before it disappears...

ma bits:

- 'Encounters at the End of the World: An Interview with Sarah Gavron' feature (read here!)
- 'Summit Special: An Interview with Stephen Pastel' feature (read here!)
- British Sea Power/ Casual Sex @ Oran Mor live review (read here!)
- Steve Mason @ King Tuts live review (read here!)
- eagleowl - 'this silent year' album review (read here!)
- The Pastels - 'Slow Summits' album review (read here!)
- Sam Amidon ' 'Bright Sunny South' album review (read here!)
- Brazos - 'Saltwater' album review (read here!)
- Thirty Pounds of Bone - 'I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs of Where' album review (read here!)
- Boats - 'A Fairway Full of Miners' album review (read here!)
- Woodenbox - 'End Game' album review (read here!)
- 'Village at the End of the World' film review (read here!)
- 'Hors Satan' DVD review (read here!)

Sunday, 19 May 2013


So that's it - bottle rocket has placed its CD-Rs in the decks of Nice N Sleazys for the final time. Five years (or near enough) is a ripe old age all told, and i'll no doubt get all reflective and post something more comprehensive about our demise in the coming days. In the meantime, I'll just extend my heartfelt thanks to anyone who ever came along and supported the night, especially those who shared nice words with us on Friday and especially those chanting 'wan more tune' at the end - from my point of view, it was a heartwarming way to say goodbye to something that's been a big part of my months for flipping ages.

Here's what we played:

1. powder blue - what were you thinking?
2. the cave singers - dancing on our graves
3. blue oyster cult - don't fear the reaper
4. ballboy - donald in the bushes with a bag of glue
5. magnetic fields - deep sea diving suit
6. elastica - waking up
7. rem - driver 8
8. ike and tina turner - nutbush city limits
9. blancmange - living on the ceiling
10. spandau ballet - to cut a long story short
11. paul simon - me and julio down by the schoolyard
12. kate bush - cloudbursting
13. sleeper - nice guy eddie
14. suede - it starts and ends with you
15. camera obscura - french navy
16. split enz - i got you
17. devo - girl u want
18. neil young - we r in control
19. vampire weekend - diane young
20. danananaykroyd - pink sabbath
21. pavement - unfair
22. tears for fears - head over heels
23. pete townsend - let my love open the door
24. depeche mode - real life
25. lcd soundsystem - losing my edge
26. kenny rogers - just dropped in
27. talking heads - psycho killer
28. new order - bizarre love triangle
29. the b-52-s - private idaho
30. the modern lovers - she cracked
31. roxy music - editions of you
32. stereolab - french disko
33. kirsty maccoll - a new england
34. frank alamo - da dou ron ron
35. otis redding - love man
36. the four tops - i can't help myself
37. france gall - poupee de cire poupee de son
38. prefab sprout - king of rock and roll
39. jane wiedlin - rush hour
40. neutral milk hotel - holland 1945
41. the virginia wolves - stay
42. le tigre - deceptecon
43. jeff wayne - the eve of war
44. dire straits - walk of life
45. the beach boys - do you wanna dance?
46. the undertones - true confessions
47. idlewild - when i argue i see shapes
48. status quo - down down
49. fleetwood mac - little lies
50. associates - party fears two
51. en vogue - free your mind
52. pulp - babies
53. the smiths - ask
54. 10cc - dreadlock holiday
55. david bowie - sufragette city
56. weezer - buddy holly
57. bruce springsteen - born to run
58. billy joel - we didn't start the fire
59. bill haley - see you later alligator

ONE MORE TUNE oh ok then

60. the penguins - earth angel


Friday, 17 May 2013

and now the end is here etc




Thursday, 16 May 2013

reviews: The Pastels, Woodenbox, Brazos

                                             The Pastels – Slow Summits

The Pastels - Slow Summits (****)

Slow Summits is being billed by some as The Pastels’ first album in sixteen years – a timescale that only fits if you discount their 2003 The Last Great Wilderness soundtrack and their 2009 collaboration with Tenniscoats. But to strike both from memory for the sake of implying a comeback would be remiss, with both projects arguably key to Slow Summit’s graceful configuration – the former coaxing the band down more wistful avenues and ushering in a gentler aesthetic; the latter furthering the transition, and commencing an alliance carried over to this record’s guest appearances from the Japanese duo.

Opener Secret Music is an impeccable introduction, Katrina Mitchell’s purring vocals melting into rich (but never ostentatious) instrumentation, its airy beauty ushering in an album remarkable more for its sense of wholeness than its individual peaks. Nonetheless, there are standouts, including Summer Rain’s misty waltz and Come to the Dance’s lithe sign-off, which closes proceedings faultlessly, if all too quickly.

Out 27th May

                                                Woodenbox – End Game

Woodenbox - End Game (***)

They may have undergone a minor rebranding since Home and the Wild Hunt (having re-dropped ‘…And a Fistful of Fivers’ from their moniker a wee while back now), but Woodenbox’s second album suggests their influences and intentions haven’t drifted far from those that informed their gallantly spit-and-sawdust 2010 debut.

Frontman Ali Downer continues to belt out lead vocals with rugged fervour, his forefront presence anchoring a robust assortment of rollicking country-folk sounds, while the three-piece horn section (arguably Woodenbox’s second cornerstone asset) delivers bolstering melodies that quicken the pulse of tracks like lead single Courage.

But while the ingredients are occasionally over-familiar, the band have found convincing ways to extend their reach, with erstwhile rough edges scraped smooth and a streamlined sense of purpose showing through in the likes of opener Asphyxiation’s pop stomp chorus or Roll For Me’s jazzy, jerky verses. A confident, if not quite revelatory, return.

Out 27th May

                                                   Brazos – Saltwater

Brazos - Saltwater (***)

Since his 2009 debut Phosphorescent Blues, Martin Crane (who performs as Brazos, perhaps to avoid being confused with Frasier’s pop) has relocated from his native Austin, Texas to Brooklyn, New York, swapping one fertile creative landscape for another and soaking up inspiration from both locales.

Of his new neighbours, there are distinct whispers of Grizzly Bear’s urbane precision and Vampire Weekend’s cosmopolitanism across Saltwater (both acts for whom Brazos has opened for in the past). The album’s textured, layered instrumentation evidences Crane’s broad palette, with much to take in between the afrobeat flavoured pop of opener Always On and the low-key blues of closer Long Shot. But while there are no major errors of judgement to spoil proceedings, there are lesser offerings amidst the tracklisting that fail to impress themselves as confidently as the album’s highlights, rendering this an assured but as-yet-unperfected expression of a definite talent.
Out 27th May

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Summit Special: An Interview with Stephen Pastel

With a new album imminent, we chat to Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels about the record’s long history, and the band’s future

In August 1999, two years after fourth album Illumination, The Pastels entered the BBC’s Maida Vale studios for their third – and final – John Peel session. Amongst the quartet of songs recorded for the beardy broadcaster was Secret Music – a then-recently penned track set to feature on the Glasgow band’s next album. Fourteen years later, it does, its graceful swoon opening Slow Summits and establishing the long-awaited record’s rich and idyllic aesthetic. As far as waiting games go, it pales next to, say, m b v’s lengthy genesis, but the gap between initial introductions and final, finished form is notable regardless.

And yet, the caesura hardly tells the whole story. In the years since, The Pastels have applied their talents to a range of projects, including a soundtrack (The Last Great Wilderness) and a sublime collaboration with Japanese duo Tenniscoats (Two Sunsets) – all the while continuing to drip-feed further Slow Summits tasters at sporadic live shows. “If you don’t keep up with someone, it’s probably nice to say, ‘oh it’s their first record in 16 years’, [but] it isn’t really like that,” says bandleader Stephen McRobbie, chatting ahead of the album’s release.

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say this particular record’s been tantalising fans for an awfully long time, belated due to a combination of factors – most notably the departure, post-Illumination, of core member Annabel (Aggi) Wright. “We probably would have made a record around 1999/2000 if Annabel hadn’t left,” says Stephen. “That was a good group with her in it, and it took us a long time to decide how we would deal with that.” The uncertainty was partly resolved by the aforementioned soundtrack commission. “I think when you’re making a normal record you feel a certain amount of pressure to have some tracks that could maybe be played on the radio, but when we were doing Last Great Wilderness, it was just about making the film coherent. I think from working to quite a tight brief we found real freedom. And even before Illumination, I think we all thought we wanted to try to make some quieter music.” He pauses and smiles. “Not that we were ever Motörhead…”

Were the current band (as well as Stephen: Katrina Mitchell, Gerard Love, Tom Crossley, Alison Mitchell and John Hogarty) working on ideas throughout that period? “Sort of – sometimes you can drift away from it for a little while, but I definitely feel happiest when I’m working on things. It’s just really magical. A lot of the time we kind of jam for 20 minutes, and sometimes the end of the song becomes the best thing, and you think ‘oh now I need to get the main part of the song to sound as good as that.’ In a way it raises the bar. It’s not prescribed – it’s a group with a bit of freedom.”

"We all thought we wanted to try to make some quieter music. Not that we were ever Motörhead…” – Stephen McRobbie

In addition to the core line-up, Slow Summits features a range of collaborators, including re-teams with Tenniscoats and a guest spot from Stefan Schneider and Ronald Lippok of German avant-gardists To Rococo Rot. “Generally speaking, you want to work with people you respect and admire,” says Stephen. “Over a record I think it’s quite nice to be able to introduce a couple of different colours.”

Certainly, the resulting palette is emphatically complementary. While there is diversity amidst its nine tracks, there is a definite through-line – a flow that sweeps the listener along with it. Was it difficult to let go – to say categorically that the album was finished? “I think it’s human nature to feel you can improve things,” he replies. “Every time you do something it should be an improvement on the previous times, because you learn from mistakes – unless, you know, you lose your mind in-between. But we hadn’t lost our minds. So we just booked some time in Chicago [home of producer John McEntire’s Soma studio], and decided that whatever we did, that would be it. I think in some ways it’s too long” he adds. “I’d like to make a quicker record next time.”

The album has a marked pensive quality, the lyrics teeming with wistful reminiscences and introspective turns of phrase. We ask whether Stephen’s self-reflection extends to past Pastels records. “It does, I think about things a lot,” he affirms. “I maybe overthink it sometimes, and get quite jealous of people who can just do stuff and move on. I always imagine how a record from 18 years ago could have been better. [But] I’m really happy with The Last Great Wilderness, Two Sunsets and Slow Summits. And I like lots of sporadic stuff from earlier…”

Broadly speaking, ‘earlier’ can be split into two phases, roughly matched to the decades. During the eighties, the band underwent several line-up shifts before finding temporary steadiness with drummer Bernice Simpson, guitarist Brian Taylor, bassist Martin Hayward and keyboardist Annabel. But after second album Sittin' Pretty, more drastic changes were made, with Annabel and Steven parting company with the rest of the band for creative reasons. “I never thought we seemed like a group,” says Stephen of the initial line-up. “Like, the Jesus and Mary Chain looked like the Jesus and Mary Chain – they all they had their Jesus-and-Mary-Chain-hairstyles and everything. We just looked like a bunch of neighbours, like if you formed a band with all the people in your close. But I’m really fond of that period still… I like that it was such a different group.”

In 1990, Katrina joined and the trio found an instant musical rapport. “Me and Annabel and Katrina would just turn up in a rehearsal studio, just the three of us, and none of us could really play anything…” recalls Stephen. “A lot of work went in to it, whereas in the first group there, er, well, there wasn’t…” Their efforts produced two albums (1995’s Mobile Safari and Illumination two years later), before Annabel quit to focus on art (that’s one of her paintings adorning Slow Summits’ sleeve).

Nowadays, the group feels “quite focussed, quite single-minded about what our sound is,” though initially, for Stephen, that remit didn’t extend as far as lead single Check My Heart. “I was surprised and pleased that we could do something like that,” he says, “Everyone liked it but I didn’t think it would necessarily be on the record… In a way it’s kind of simple – it’s a bit dumb, you know?” he smiles. “And it’s probably not how I naturally play now. I really like it [and] I’m glad we carried on with it [but] it’s hard to imagine that we’ll write many more songs like that.”

It was Katrina who convinced Stephen that the song belonged. “When we were compiling the record, she surprised me with a couple of things that were very different from how I would have compiled it,” he explains. “I thought we could have a slightly more downbeat flow. But then I started to think of records that I really liked when I was just getting into music – things like Swell Maps and Faust, where the mood changes from one thing to the next. I started to think maybe it doesn’t have to be all the one thing. So we probably found more diversity in this record, in a way.”

In addition to The Pastels, Katrina and Stephen run record label Geographic, a Domino imprint focussed on smaller, often more left-field artists. Much like The Pastels, the label’s approach to releasing music is slow and steady, with no urgent rush to sign new acts: if they release one record a year, that’s enough. Stephen cites records by Japanese alt-orchestra Maher Shahal Hash Baz as among the label’s proudest achievements. “In a way they probably fulfilled a certain creative need, even though we weren’t part of it,” he says. “There’s a real thrill to introducing something that you think’s fantastic to people.”

In the early eighties, Stephen co-headed influential label 53rd and 3rd (responsible for releases from Talulah Gosh and The Vaselines amongst others). How do the two labels compare? “53rd and 3rd was run in a very haphazard way,” Stephen replies, “and it ended quite ugly, with people not being returned their tapes and all these ownership issues. We didn’t have control over key things, so we were able to bring in incredible music, but long-term we weren’t able to look after the artists in the way that we would’ve wanted. So with Geographic I think we had more sense of what [the label] should be… Both were good in their own way, but with 53rd and 3rd, I wish we’d been able to document it better. We just lost control.”

Right now, however, The Pastels is the locus of Stephen’s attentions, and Slow Summits is fully worth the wait. We ask whether the band’s leisurely pace and occasional line-up refreshments might explain, in part, their endurance – perhaps helping avoid the burnout that claims other acts? Stephen uses The Fall as a counterpoint example. “They existed before us and may well exist after us,” he says. “They’re much more volatile, but then there are lots of great records… It’s a quite inexplicable career in some respects. In a way I wish we’d as many records out as The Fall, but, you know, The Fall can be brilliantly slapdash, whereas when we’re slapdash it’s kind of… crappily slapdash,” he laughs. “That’s the difference. The Fall are quite work-ethicy, whereas we’ve probably been more… Well, I’d say in the first phase of the group there wasn’t much of a work ethic at all, and I have to say I was the guiltiest. But there is a work ethic now, and there’s a good level of respect between everyone in the group. Personally I think that when groups split up it’s usually a deep-rooted thing – of people no longer liking each other or things just coming to a natural end. We’re slow moving, but we always wanted to work together, and in the future I want to make more records with the same people. These are people that I like to work with.”

Here’s hoping the band’s highest summits are still to be scaled – however slowly they might choose to get there.

[written for The Skinny]

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Reviews: Samamidon, Thirty Pounds of Bone, Boats

                                         Sam Amidon – Bright Sunny South

Samamidon - Bright Sunny South (***)
A folk singer cast from an old-fashioned mould, Sam Amidon rearranges and repurposes songs from the ages, his albums to date principally reinterpreting hymns and trad folk standards – plus, often, a cover version of lesser vintage, with Tears for Fears and R Kelly gracing past releases, and Bright Sunny South offering up an incongruously reworked Mariah Carey number.

But while his sources are venerably second-hand, the selected songs are reborn in novel shapes, with jazz inflections and instrumentation beyond the banjo-fiddle-acoustic genre hub. That’s not to say the fruits of Amidon’s latest labours will curry broad favour, with Bright Sunny South likely to play best to those already partial to roots re-visitations, or existing fans of the Vermont artist’s work. But then again, Amidon’s hardly shooting for mainstream adoration, with the aforementioned Carey cut less an aspirational point-of-reference, more an impressive (and successful) attempt to find depth where it’s least expected.

Out 13th May

                                              Thirty Pounds of Bone – I Cannot Sing You Here, But For Songs of Where

Thirty Pounds of Bone - I Cannot Sing You Here, But for Songs of Where (****)

I Cannot Sing You Here, But for Songs of Where is Johnny Lamb’s third album as Thirty Pounds of Bone, and its title is evocatively apt. As Lamb sings these ‘songs of where’ – recorded in dozens of bucolic locales from Shetland loch-sides to coves in Cornwall; quartered into sections entitled Past Place, Present Place and suchlike; and woven through with field recordings that hark to earthy origins – it’s easy to feel transported.

This applies not only to space (with allusions to and echoes of landscape in every water splash and wind howl) but time, as Lamb carves his niche amidst a plethora of traditional folk sounds. But this is no moribund exercise in revivalism; rather, I Cannot Sing You Here… is a vibrant collection that combines old and new to great effect, with special mention owed to drone-backed opener Veesik for the Broch and tender ballad The Snow in Kiel.

Out now

                                             Boats – A Fairway Full of Miners

Boats - A Fairway Full of Miners (***)

On third album A Fairway Full of Miners, Winnipeg’s Boats convey an array of unruly but endearing quirks that are liable to be manna to some, anathema to others. Their hyperactive brand of indie-pop recalls the likes of Architecture in Helsinki, with lyrics that straddle strange poetry and jolly nonsense (“o mighty cufflink pincher, o frothy eater of sandwiches!”), and a playful songwriting style that conjoins carnivalesque abandon (O Telescope’s hollering noisiness) with extra-sugared electro-pop (We Got Tables and Chairs’ glockenspiel/guitar solos blend).

Mat Klachefsky’s high-pitched nasal yelp needs acclimatising to (Getting Worst.Jpeg’s shrill assault especially so) and there are moments where the smorgasbord of ideas starts to sound less like inspired eccentricity and more like a band in search of a rudder. But when it works, it really works, with Animated GIFS a squelchy twee-epic and Advice on Bioluminescent Bears undoubtedly the year’s finest song about a captive colour-changing grizzly.
Out 20th May

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

come all ye faithful

Tick tock tick tock…

Well, bottle rocket’s tenure at Nice n Sleazy is almost at an end. One more shindig to go, and then – gasp! – that’s all folks.

For nigh-on five years, we’ve had a rare old time playing danceable songs for y'all to move about to – from ABBA to Archers of Loaf, Bowie to Beastie Boys, The Cars to Chairman of the Board. And we’re going to enjoy it one last time goddammit, with an ESPECIALLY AWESOME final fling on the 17th. Mourning garb is not essential.

Nae excuses – it’s your last chance…


Requests? Well, add them to the facebook wall!

Monday, 6 May 2013

DVD review: Hors Satan

No one goes to French filmmaker Bruno Dumont for easy answers or anything approaching ‘fun.’ His oeuvre is marked by an ascetic aesthetic, employed to serve sober themes – and Hors Satan may be his most inscrutable work yet. Actually, semi-scrutable is a fairer approximation of the film’s arcane qualities: precise meanings may be elusive, but there’s more to comprehension than whos, whats and whys, and by the final scene, Dumont’s meditation on good and evil has punctured through its recondite shell to leave an indubitable mark.

Visually striking throughout, Dumont contrasts rural tranquillity with shocking violence and abnormal sexual encounters, including one scene in which the unnamed male protagonist sleeps with a backpacker, only for her to disturbingly growl and froth at the mouth in response – a reaction that may signify euphoria, but could equally indicate something more unsavoury. The ambiguity is typical, the impact substantial: in short, you won’t necessarily understand every frame, but you won’t easily forget them either.

Out 13th May

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Encounters at the End of the World: An Interview with Sarah Gavron

Over an 18-month period, director Sarah Gavron and cinematographer David Katznelson filmed a Greenlandic Inuit community on the cusp of disappearing. We speak to Gavron about her time at the Village at the End of the World

For several long months of the year, Niaqornat, in northwest Greenland, is a cold, dark and demanding place to live. In winter, night falls and stays fallen, with a muted twilight the closest thing to sunrise and sub-zero temperatures fixing the landscape into lunar-like permafrost. The only ways in and out are by sea or air, and the supply ship that brings the village vegetables, kitchen roll and anything else that can’t be fished from the sea or hunted across the polar ice is forced to pause its service 'til spring.

When winter ends, thermometers climb above freezing and flora battles to make the most of its brief opportunity to flourish. Daylight returns but does not leave, the midnight sun shines around the clock. What's more, the relative warmth carries dangers of its own, as unstable ice sheets make hunting risky.

Whether frozen or thawing, it is a challenging environment to call home; a landscape of stark contrasts presenting its populace with a precarious future. Most troubling is the settlement's declining population, exacerbated by the closure of the local fish factory a few years prior. With scarce employment options remaining, families increasingly sought work elsewhere, and Niaqornat started its seemingly inexorable shrink. By spring 2009, only 59 people remained.

It's a fascinating subject for a documentary, though when director Sarah Gavron, along with her husband and cinematographer David Katznelson, first visited the community, it wasn’t with the express intention of prepping a project. "My husband is Danish, and he’d been to Greenland and made a documentary there some years ago," explains Gavron, speaking by phone from her London home. "He was really keen for me to go with him, so we went on an adventure." But while filmmaking may not have been front of mind at the outset, their "tiny idea" quickly grew and took shape.

"We ended up visiting a few tiny hamlets, and I was immediately drawn to them – it was just a world apart from anything I'd ever encountered before," says Gavron. "When we went to Niaqornat we were greeted by Ilannguaq [the town's affable sewage collector], who was the only one who spoke English. He was really our way in – he explained the whole mechanics of the village, and we spent time there and were made welcome."

The filmmakers quickly identified the denizens with the most vivid personalities and stories: in addition to Ilannguaq, the 'cast' includes town mayor and hunter Karl; Annie, the village's oldest resident; and hoodie-wearing teen Lars. "After that first trip we thought, 'perhaps there is a story here,'" says Gavron. "One that tells of a traditional way of life fighting for survival, which will connect, perhaps, with a global narrative of small communities all over the world fighting for their existence." But despite the alluded-to global context, Village at the End of the World avoids turning Niaqornat into a universalised emblem. Its inhabitants may be struggling first-hand with the effects of climate change, globalisation and other planet-wide concerns, but they are living, breathing individuals, not representational vessels – though that's not to deny the village's microcosmic potential. "I think part of what is interesting about these tiny communities," notes Gavron, "is that everything, including relationships, is kind of heightened, because you've only got 59 people and you're living in such close proximity to one another. Life is just more extreme in every way."

While largely comprised of slice-of-life vignettes matched to the seasons – whale butchery in the gloom of winter; visits from haughty Danish tourists in the lighter months – two key strands structure the narrative: the first follows attempts to reopen the factory as a co-operative and thereby save the village from extinction; and the second, hip-hop loving Lars's dreams of moving to somewhere more cosmopolitan.

When Gavron first started filming, did she have any pre-conceived expectations about where these threads would lead? "Well, that's the big difference between documentary and fiction," says Gavron, best known for dramatic work such as the Bafta-winning This Little Life and her 2009 adaptation of Monica Ali's Brick Lane. "You can't control where the story's going to go. At the beginning, we knew that the fish factory was closed and that it had caused people to leave in droves. And we knew that there was a young boy who had his eye on travelling the world. But we couldn't predict the outcome of either, so our guiding principle was instead to follow the dramatic, extreme seasons, and to focus on those people who seemed to encapsulate some aspect of the themes and stories we were trying to tell."

“I think part of what is interesting about these tiny communities is that everything, including relationships, is kind of heightened” – Sarah Gavron

Over the following 18 months, Gavron and Katznelson returned to Niaqornat several more times. For three of the trips, the couple brought their young children with them, even celebrating their son's first and second birthdays in the village – an indication of just how accepted the family were made to feel. "The Inuit communities are traditionally very welcoming of kids," says Gavron. "Kids have a very free and nice existence in those villages, and I think that it helped break down barriers – because they welcomed us into their homes and the kids made connections with them."

In-between visits, Gavron set about imposing order on the reams of footage they'd amassed. "It took an enormous amount of time," she recollects. "Something that I hadn't really appreciated is that if you film in a foreign language, then you've got the added job of translating – and [it's] a language that no one in England speaks, so it wasn't like we could find a translator here! There were people in Copenhagen who came across and sat in the edit suite and went through [the footage with us], finding the little nuggets within the interviews."

Also complicating the edit was the early decision to eschew formal narration. "As a fledgling documentary-maker, I now know that that's a huge challenge," Gavron laughs, "because it means you have to find ways of telling what's going on without exposition. Initially we thought we might not even have interviews – in sort of the same way as Etre Et Avoir [Nicolas Philibert's portrait of a rural French primary school], we thought we might just follow life. But when we showed really early cuts to friends they'd say, 'But how does it work and what do they eat and who are they and what do they feel?' We realised that, to make it an interesting and engaging film, we needed to give people some insight into those things – it wasn’t enough to just observe." The result is something semi-observational, with no attempt to deny the filmmakers' presence and influence, but nothing as disruptive as a 'voice of God' voice-over to encroach upon the audience's engrossment.

Gavron's next project – an ensemble biopic of the suffragette movement ("I’d like it to see the light of day sometime soon but we don't yet know when production will start") – will see the director move back to her comfort zone of scripted and acted drama. I ask whether her work in one mode of filmmaking influences her approach to the other. "It's kind of a different muscle in lots of ways, but obviously one does feed into the other," she replies. "I think as a fiction director I find it very important to constantly observe the real world and life around you, because in a way you're trying to create truth – you know, what would someone do if they're told that piece of news, how will they respond... And I suppose in documentaries you've got the truth laid before you, so you're just capturing what's there." In the case of Village…,"what's there" is an absorbing snapshot of a community in flux; a rewarding glimpse into an increasingly rare way of life; and heartening proof that, often if not always, where there's a will, there's a way.

Village at the End of the World is released 10th May.

Article written for The Skinny.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

reviews: Akron/Family, Collar Up, eagleowl

                                               Akron/Family – Sub Verses

Akron/Family - Sub Verses (****)
On seventh album Sub Verses, Akron/Family again manage to sound both formidably outré yet instinctively graspable. No Room is a brooding beast of an opener; a groove-based colossus that stretches itself over the best part of seven minutes, all rippling tom rolls and ever-thickening walls of noise. Way Up follows, its multi-part vocals dancing atop brutish thuds of distortion to create one of the record’s most striking couplings.

Its hard-edged beauty then gracefully collapses into Until the Morning’s soulful psych-folk concoction, which in turn segues to the hectic bustle of Sand Talk – and so on, through still ambience (Sometimes 1), discordant squalls (Holy Boredom) and played-straight doo-wop (When I Was Young). This restlessly contrastive aesthetic delivers bulk brilliance, imaginatively weaving through disparate realms; never so sharply as to shake off those clinging on by fingernails and good faith alone, but vigorously enough to ensure it’s a stimulating journey throughout.

Out now

                                                  Collar Up – Ghosts

Collar Up - Ghosts (***)

Initially, Edinburgh trio Collar Up’s second album seems impeded by its unwavering melancholia, the overall impression one of over-earnestness and hand-me-down dream-pop sounds. Then – gradually, entirely – it clicks, Ghosts proving itself far more than just pretty piano playing and oodles of reverb.

The quiet grandeur of tracks like Tonight demonstrate an un-showy expertise, while the lyrical bite of Jam Jar Full of Wasps hints at a heated undercurrent easy to miss on first pass. Vocally, band-leader Stephen McLaren sets targets his larynx is only barely up to hitting, but his soft tones are affectingly expressive, matched to an atmospheric wash of dolorous piano and guitar melodies. And what’s more, it’s not as po-faced as first feared either, as evidenced by the existential musings of Every Man for Himself – a song in which the narrator meets his 8-year-old self playing footie, ponders the passing of time, and then promptly gets nutmegged by the jumped-up doppelganger.

Out 13th May

                                                 eagleowl – this silent year          

eagleowl - this silent year (****)

The family of birds known as eagle owls (easily identifiable by their ear tufts) are notoriously elusive, spending most of their time roosting out of sight. The group of Edinburgh-based musicians known as eagleowl (easily identifiable by their penchant for slow, sad sounds in the Low/Smog mould) also have a habit of keeping quiet, with this silent year unhurriedly arriving eight years after the band’s formation.

Not that the interceding years have been entirely silent, of course, with EPs confidently marking their territory and ensuring their debut long-player is backed by the full weight of their maturing talents – a long-game strategy that’s borne exceptional results.

From the imposing expanse of Too Late in the Day to the stately Eagleowl Versus Woodpigeon (a messy match in the bird world but an unspeakably beautiful pairing in the musical one), the band have assembled something enduring and elegant – not so much a birdie as a hole in one.

Out 13th May

Friday, 3 May 2013

Low @ Classic Grand, 27th April

Ten minutes before tonight’s headline set is scheduled to start, a projected clock commences a countdown. With fifteen seconds left, Low take their positions; the moment the digits hit zero, the Minnesotan trio begin to play. Their precision is impressive, albeit characteristic. After all, this is a band of renowned exactitude; an act with a frequently sublime discography in which every note, every brushed hi-hat and every harmony feels meticulously placed.

Tenth LP The Invisible Way dominates tonight’s set, with Holy Ghost an early standout thanks to Mimi Parker’s heavenly, devastating vocals. Alas, Low aren’t the Classic Grand’s only residents this evening, and when they hold back and play at a whisper, rumbles from the rooms beneath intrude on the mood. But Alan Sparhawk handles the infringement with good humour (his repartee culminating in an impromptu karaoke detour in the encore), and ultimately, it ceases to register – all irritations fading in the presence of such assured beauty.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Matthew E. White @ The Arches, 24th April

For whatever reason, it seems to take Matthew E White a couple of songs to find his feet tonight. Opener Will You Love Me waltzes past with negligible impact, while a close-following One of These Days is similarly diaphanous, threatening to render White’s Scottish debut an anti-climax. But the nondescript start proves a mere blip; a low-key precursor to a stirring set of gospel-country, shot through with soul and dusted in psychedelic jams.

Steady Pace initiates the upswing, with a funkier feel than on record and a spot of choreography from a visibly loosening White. Where Big Inner featured, in the Virginian’s estimation, “thirty, forty” musicians, its live retelling comes courtesy of just five, but such is the virtuoso proficiency of White and his lesser-bearded band that the record’s layers are only rarely missed. With simpatico covers (Neil Young, Randy Newman) supplementing the Big Inner cuts, White’s substantial charm secures an uplifting victory.