Presenting…Avec Sans

Avec Sans are a name I’ve heard bandied about, but not really sat down to listen to until, well, today.

They are the London-based duo of Alice Fox and Jack St James, and their name, if my schoolboy french serves me correctly, translates as ‘with without.’ Better in French, I think you’ll agree. They make gorgeous electro-pop that is extremely moorish.

They’ve done a number of tracks and remixes, of which the latest ‘All Of Time’ can be streamed at the top of the page.

They’ve also done some excellent other stuff, including ‘Hold On’ and ‘Shiver.’

And this Kate Bush cover:


Go and like them at Facebook

Gig Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson, Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, August 25

It takes a really special skill to be able to walk out onto a stage with scarcely any more equipment than a street busker. But Richard Thompson really is a special kind of artist. It’s not the first time he’s played Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, armed with just his guitar, a few effects and a mike. But the fact remains that no matter how many times I’ve seen him, he still blows his audience away.

His latest album, Acoustic Classics, is his own attempt to convey what just some of his back catalogue stripped down to just him and his acoustic guitar sound lie. For someone frequently reckoned to be one of England’s finest electric guitarist, that might seem either leaving one of his main strengths behind or a way of conning more money out of your audience, if you wanted to be cynical. The fact is that it shows why he has such a fantastic songbook, and tonight’s gig reinforces just that.

Not only is he a master of all trades (singer, guitarist, songwriter) but he’s also a pretty witty raconteur. Early on in the set he plays ‘Valerie,’ casually fluffs up the intro and makes a joke out of it, being as he’s played it so many times. He goes on to deliver a version that is even better than on record – there’s comedians playing the now-ending festival that would do well to learn from him how to handle an audience.

And with a songbook like his – going back to very nearly half a century – he has an awesome array of tunes at his disposal. So we get a number of tunes that have reappeared on Acoustic Classics – ‘Walking On A Wire’ ‘ Persuasion’ ‘I Misunderstood’ and of course the fabulous English road song that is ’1952 Vincent Black Lightning.’ We get a number that didn’t – including tracks from last year’s brilliant Electric -’Stony Ground’ and ‘Good Things Happen To Bad People,’ as well as ‘The Ghost Of You Walks’ ‘Dry My Tears And Move On’ and ‘Pharoah’ (he introduces the latter as being his ‘paranoia’ song).

Yet perhaps the most moving moment of the night is when he talks about being in Fairport Convention and it’s clear he misses Sandy Denny still. And then he plays ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ I have honestly never cried at a gig before, but it was intensely moving and I wasn’t the only bloke playing with their glasses in the dark trying to make out they had something in their eye.

And justly, our man goes off to a standing ovation, before giving us ‘Beeswing’ and ‘Wall Of Death’ for encores (and another standing ovation). Even into the 2010s, Richard Thompson is continuing to win new admirers (the kid in front of me was ten years old, if that) and finally, getting the chart positions that he deserves.

A performance that touched a loyal and loving audience.

Acoustic Classics is out now on Beeswing/Proper

Album Review – Tiny Fingers

Tiny Fingers -’Magafauna.’ (Anova Music)

The first international release from Tiny Fingers is an enjoyably intense listen. Whilst it’s easy (too easy?) to file them under post-rock, there’s both a mixture of electronics and prog influences here that sets them apart from many other acts lumped in under that banner. They were picked to support Mars Volta, which makes sense.

Clocking in at nine tracks over forty minutes, this is very much an album as a whole, and it’s hard to pick out individual tracks per se. When I say intense, it’s not necessarily that it’s as fast as Slayer or Napalm Death or acts in that vein, it’s more that listening to this album it tends to envelop you in its sound, to the point that even in the middle of the day, on one of my many listens to it, I almost felt I was hallucinating.

It’s also entirely instrumental – and given the dance collaborations the band have been involved in, I think film producers would do well to snap them up for soundtracks. Whilst this album won’t appeal to all, for those who enjoy their music intense and atmospheric, this hits the spot.

***

Megafauna is released on August 25 on Anova Music.

Album Review – New Pornographers

New Pornographers -’Brill Bruisers.’ (Matador)

newpornographers

Yesssss!

When the title track and ‘War On The East Coast’ (the latter a serious contender for track of the year) started doing the rounds, it suggested that the latest album from this eight piece indie supergroup was going to be very, very good indeed. And so it proves.

A.C. Newman and Neko Case are [probably the most well-known members of the troupe, but between them all, they’ve produced a glorious album that begs to be played again. Right from the openeing ‘Bah-Bah! Bah-bah-bah-Bah!’ of the opening title track, this is a warm and fuzzy glow sort of record. It has been described by A.C. Newman as a celebration record and that’s exactly how it feels. And as well as the aforementioned tracks, other excellent songs can be found here in the form of ‘Another Drug Deal Of The Heart’ and ‘Champions Of Red Wine.’

Some people still think that indie rock is always navel gazing misery. If someone repeats that falsehood in your presence, hand them a copy of this: an effervescent joy from start to finish.

****

Brill Bruisers is out on Matador on August 25.

Stream the album via The Guardian

Album Review – Trwbador

trwbador

Trwbador -’Several Wolves.’ (Owlet Music)

Having released their rather fine self-titled debut last year, Angharad Van Rijswijk and Owain Gwilym have followed up with their sophomore album. And like that album, this is a veritable treat for the ears.

There’s a wonderful mix of pastoralism and bedroom beats going on here and this is a record that unveils itself to the listener with each successive listen (note: the tiny built-in speakers of a computer really will not do Several Wolves justice).

It is like wondering into another beautiful world – a feeling that is given extra enhancement by the track ‘CO2.’ This feels almost nightmarish in comparison to the rest of the record, as if to remind us all that if we are not careful about protecting what is special, we can lose it.

Last year’s album featured collaborations with Cornershop, amongst others; this time around they have worked with rapper ESSA on ‘Breakthorugh’ and former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci man Richard James on ‘Blue Minds.’

In lesser hands the very different threads of this album could have made an interesting rather than pleasurable listen. In the hands of this Welsh attic duo, it’s another treat.

****

Several Wolves is out now on Owlet Music.

The continuing story of Hiatus

I’ve featured both the music and video work of Cyrus Shahrad on 17 Seconds before, I interviewed him in 2011, and his track ‘Insurrection’ topped my annual Festive Fifty that year. You can read Cyrus’ thoughts on the song here.

Hopefully you read the papers and take some interests in current affairs (and anyone who thinks music and current affairs shouldn’t be linked is an idiot). Cyrus’ latest project is a download single ‘Precious Little.’ As he explains on his website:

“I’m releasing this track to raise money for Medical Aid For Palestinians (MAP), an organisation currently engaged in a humanitarian effort to help innocent people caught in a terrible crossfire. The track costs £1, but please give more if you can, and please do share the link around.

All proceeds will go to MAP, a UK charity that has been working in the region for more than 30 years, and is currently being stretched to the limit in the unfolding medical emergency in Gaza – providing support and training to embattled Palestinian doctors and nurses, stockpiling and distributing medical supplies, and responding to emergencies on the ground. You can find out more about MAP’s work via their website: www.map-uk.org.

Artwork for the track has been provided by my friend Spencer Murphy, who has donated an image from his recent series of bird portraits, Traces: bit.ly/X9so5E.”

If this doesn’t move you, shame on you.

As the track has now raised over £1,500 so far, Cyrus has made this track available as a free download:

Presenting… The Frozen North

The Frozen North are based in Warsaw, Poland though members hail from Glasgow and Roscrea in the Republic of Ireland. The band formed early in 2014, and over the seven months they have been together they have certainly been very busy and productive, playing a number of gigs and festivals in Poland.

If comparisons with the likes of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Sigur Ros are obvious, on the basis of their debut AA-single ‘Origin’/'Electric Mistress’ (which you can stream above, via bandcamp), they are richly deserved. For this week only, it’s available on a ‘pay what you like basis’ (i.e. you can download it for free, but a sextet have a lot of members to feed and clothe, so you might want to square it with your conscience, hmm?).

Get your mits on it, download it and play it loud. It’s absolutely lovely and it’s out through Too Many Fireworks.

Album Review – Lisa Gerrard

Lisa Gerrard

Lisa Gerrard -’Twilight Kingdom’ (Gerrard Records)

Lisa Gerrard is probably best known to the man or woman in the street as the person behind the Gladiator soundtrack with Hans Zimmer, but that’s just one of many of the magical works she has produced over the course of a musical career lasting more than three decades. Her latest album arrives today unannounced (except for those of us notified in advance by the PR!), but let me tell you that it is one of the most beautiful albums you will hear this year.

Perhaps surprisingly -before you hear a note of the music – comes the revelation that one of her collaborators on the album is Daniel Johns (of Silverchair). If this seems perhaps improbable, bear in mind that if someone had told you a quarter of a century ago that Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave would record a single together and they would both walk away from it smelling of, er roses, you would probably have scoffed. Oh, and the other two collaborators are Russell Crowe and Astrid Williamson.

And it’s a staggeringly wonderful record. The track ‘Seven Seas’ gives you some idea of what to expect, but it’s the second track ‘Adrift’ that makes this album worth the price of admission alone. The first term I heard it I genuinely wanted to put my head in my hands and cry. I’ve played it several times since -and I really wonder how anyone could fail to be moved by music this wonderful.

There’s a lot of cliched adjectives that could be used to try and describe Ms. Gerrard’s work. I won’t go down that path, but just say that this is an album almost unclassifiable by genre that will almost certainly be one of the most amazing you will hear this year.

Make that a priority.

****1/2

Twilight Kingdom is out now on Gerrard Records.

Gig Review – The Last Battle/Penny Black/Josie Long

The Last Battle/Penny Black/Josie Lawrence – Edinburgh Electric Circus, August 9

Stupidly, I missed the first few minutes of tonight’s gig due to the fact that I decided to DRIVE (through Edinburgh, during the festival? I must need certifying!) and my mood was not improved on arriving to discover that Josie Long had already started her set. However she’s so very funny with her observational comedy and quirky outtakes on life (if there’s any other comedian of either sex who name-check Joanna Newsom on stage can someone email me? Thanks), that even this grumpy git warmed up in no time. Yes, she does stuff about periods and yes you can see the funny side if you’re a bloke.

Penny Black are one of those Edinburgh names that I’ve heard bandied about over the last few years but never caught live. With the exception of the guitarist they all look like conscientious barstaff should be IDing them before serving them alcohol, but this four-piece sound very good indeed. At times they sound like they could be described as being blues-rock (no! WAIT!! COME BACK!!!), at other times they manage to evoke both the moody atmosphere of Mogwai and also the Frabbits/Jetpacks/Twilight Sad axis. The drummer may look like Harry Styles, but make no mistake this lass and three boys sound like they’re going places.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen The Last Battle over the last four years. With the release of their sophomore album Lay Your Burden Down earlier this year, the band have evolved fully from the fine Mark 1 Last Battle into the just as fine but very different Mark 2. While their still-special debut Heart Of The Land Soul Of The Sea was born of a lo-fi indie-folk aesthetic, their new album sees the band exploring and finding great satisfaction with more of a folk-rock feel, and one that’s entirely of their own making. (Actually, scratch that, they have evolved into a kick-arse rock band with folk undertones is what I noted down in the darkness of the gig.)You hear it in the way that older songs like ‘Ruins’ and ‘Nature’s Glorious Rage’ are fully realised in an entirely new light. ‘Lifejackets’ is still presented in a stripped down way (the very first song that lead singer Scott Longmuir ever wrote for the band, fact fans), and that’s actually appropriate.

But it’s not just about the old songs, it’s about the way that the new songs sound just as confident alongside them. Album opener ‘None Of That’ and ‘Perfecting The Art (Of Saying Nothing)’ stand particularly strong tonight. Yet it’s the set’s closer of ‘Wherever Our Feet Take Us’ that sounds like a band taking on the world. Sure I wonder how much of the lyrics are autobiographical ‘You got a tattoo/your father didn’t know…you’re just like your father/stubborn as fuck!’ in this song, and that’s probably between the self-styled Scotty Battle and his family. But if you still haven’t checked out The Last Battle on record or live, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice.

A glimpse at Angus & Julia Stone

Australian brother-sister act Angus & Julia Stone are one of those names that I’ve long been aware of, but hadn’t really checked out (believe me, it’s a blessing and a curse running a blog). They’ve just released their third album, entitled Angus & Julia Stone, produced by Rick Rubin (a man with the midas touch, to the extent that I’ve recently completely rethought my attitude towards Ed Sheeran).

I’ve not heard the rest of the album yet, but do take a listen, the track posted above ‘A Heartbreak’ really is rather lovely. Do check it out…and the album is out this week. A review to follow shortly.