Live review – Lift To Experience/Meursault

Lift To Experience/Meursault

Summerhall, Edinburgh, August 17, 2017

Meursault frontman Neil Pennycook is a busy man. Just six months after the release of the band’s fourth album (sort of a comeback, in that the act had been retired in 2014) I Will Kill Again, he’s already finished the next album in the last week. Given that that album is one of the highlights of 2017, expectations are already high. Not a man to rest for long, he is joined tonight by singer and violinist Robyn Dawson for an excellent set.

Part of the appeal of Meursault is the way Pennycook and cohorts don’t feel the need to play the game that other bands would. So instead of repeatedly pushing the last album and the new one, they play a handful of covers alongside with their own material. ‘This is my new thing. I play covers and say who wrote them at the end,’ deadpans Neil. This includes local and associated acts Viking Moses and Rob St. John (the latter now making series waves as part of Modern Studies), as well as a gorgeous version of Hank WIlliams’ ‘I Heard My Mother Praying For Me.’ For those who have yet to see Meursault live, it’s worth noting that there’s a fabulous counterpoint between the songs’ fragile beauty and Neil’s uplifting onstage banter. Despite the fact that the headliners may make music that at times it seems will melt you face (more about them later), Robyn and Neil hold the crowd rapt. And as an old adage has it, talent borrows, genius steals: hearing ‘I Will Kill Again’ live and hearing how it incorporates Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ shows just what a clever steal it was.

Everyone knows about the statement about The Velvet Underground & Nico (google it, it’s become too much of a cliché to repeat, however true it is), but the legend around Lift To Experience has grown over the past few years. What is clear is this: the band were and are singer-guitarist Josh T. Pearson, bassist Josh ‘The Bear’ Browning and drummer Andy ‘The Boy’ Young. When they performed at SXSW in 2000, Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde of Bella Union were so impressed they signed the band to their label that very day. Legendary DJ John Peel was so impressed by them that they recorded three sessions for his programme in 2001 in the space of just five months (to put this in some kind of context, not even The Fall did that). That year they released their one and only album The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads; a double album about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ that casts Texas as the Promised Land. What could have fallen flat on its face is a staggering piece of work – and in some ways feels likie a cousin to Slint’s Spiderland. (Whether the band actually split or not after the release of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads or not depends on what you read.)

Having reformed for shows last year, the band have now remixed and re-released the album this year, with more shows following. By the time they walk onstage at Summerhall, anticipation has reached quite a level. Josh T. Pearson has shaved off his hellfire preacher beard and with his cowboy hat looks like a cool Texan dude, which with that accent, he most definitely is. And so it begins…

It’s not just the religious themes on the record: it must be said that watching Lift To Experience live -and even more so, seeing their effect on the crowd, is akin to some kind of religious experience. It’s a wonderful, wailing wall of sound that seems to run the gamut of human emotion, and quite staggering the think that this is just the work of three people. Seeing the crowd move almost in time, swaying to the sounds produced onstage, hypnotised, mesmerised, is really quite something.

Sure the album’s still fantastic. Live it really is taken to a whole new level. It isn’t everything but the kitchen sink (no hip-hop beats or sequencer bleeps), but what is impressive is just how much is mixed in. On one level, there’s the shoegazer-indie-post-rock axis. But then add hints of Americana, spirituals and gospel…there’s few that could even dream of trying to take this template. When Josh calls ‘The Ground So Soft’ a gospel song, it really is.

It’s not to say that the gig passes entirely smoothly. There are a few technical hitches – but the crowd, including yours truly, will forgive them anything. When Josh apologises, one audience member shouts ‘Never apologise!’ This isn’t blind devotion, but a sense that it’s worth it. For the encore, aware of where he is, Josh comes on to do a cover of the old Scottish folk song ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ which works perfectly as an idea, and even if the delivery is slightly shambolic, it all feels part of the same glorious package.

Paying tribute to those caught up in the horrors in Barcelona, Josh tells us ‘God Bless You. He means it. We file out into the open air, ears ringing, wowed.

Track of the day #47: Rat & Co.

Australian trio Rat & Co. will release their new album Third Law on August 25. The theme of the album is a futuristic world in which artificial intelligence has taken over. Ahead of it, they have unveiled a new track ‘Control.’

It compliments previous single ‘Soldiers‘ and the appropriately named ‘A.I.’ by adding Joshua Delaney’s otherworldy vocoder vocal to the track. Whilst Boards of Canada are clearly an influence, the icy post-punk pop sound adds a fresh layer of auible foreboding, reflecting a world where the news just gets darker by the day, and within the music it’s a post-apocalyptic feel; made even darker by the sense that there’s something to be feared – but what?

Delaney’s lyrics hold an authoritative tone as they guide you through the track, despite the uncertain message… unfold control, we are the other one, the other one, our hearts are cold, we’ll start again, just start again’.

Who knows what the coming weeks will hold? One thing’s for sure: assuming we haven’t descended into a nuclear winter, Rat & Co. will likely be providing the soundtrack for the coming months…

 

 

 

Getting ready for the new Mogwai album

Even into my forties, there’s still a number of bands for whom the release of a new album remains An. Event. Near the top of that list is Mogwai, who will release their ninth studio album Every Country’s Sun on September 1.

The album tracklisting is as follows:

1. Coolverine
2. Party In The Dark
3. Brain Sweeties
4. Crossing The Road Material
5. aka 47
6. 20 Size
7. 1000 Foot Face
8. Don’t Believe The Fife
9. Battered At A Scramble
10. Old Poisons
11. Every Country’s Sun

So far, two videos have been unveiled by the band for the album ‘Coolverine’ and ‘Party In The Dark.’  Two very different songs, two very different videos – but as ever, unmistakeably Mogwai.

 

The band’s world tour begins next week, and concluded with a massive show in Glasgow in December:

19 August – Hostess Club All-Nighter, Chiba
8 September – Festival No.6, Portmeirion
10 October – Rockefeller, Oslo
11 October – Nobelberget, Stockholm
12 October – KB, Malmo
13 October – Vega, Copenhagen
14 October – Columbiahalle, Berlin
16 October – Docks, Hamburg
17 October – E-Werk, Koeln
18 October – Aeronef, Lille
20 October – AB Main Hall, Brussels
21 October – AB Main Hall, Brussels
22 October – Tivoli Vredenburg Ronda, Utrecht
23 October – Grand Rex, Paris
25 October – Riviera, Madrid
26 October – Reithalle @ Kaserne Basel, Basel
27 October – Fabrique, Milan
28 October – Atlantico, Rome
29 October – Estragon, Bologna
31 October – Roxy, Prague
1 November – Arena, Vienna
2 November – Täubchenthal, Leipzig
3 November – Backstage, Munich
18/19 November – Corona Capital Fest, Mexico
20 November – Observatory N. Park, San Diego
21 November – Belasco Theater, Los Angeles
22 November – Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
23 November – Roseland Theater, Portland
24 November – The Showbox, Seattle
25 November – Commodore Ballroom. Vancouver
28 November – Ogden Theatre, Denver
30 November – The Waiting Room, Omaha
1 December – First Avenue, Minneapolis
2 December – House of Blues, Chicago
3 December – Majestic Theatre, Detroit
5 December – Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
6 December – Corona Theatre, Montreal
7 December – Royale Nightclub, Boston
8 December – Terminal 5, New York
9 December – Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia
10 December – 9:30 Club, Washington
15 December – O2 Academy Brixton, London
16 December – The SSE Hydro, Glasgow

 

 

 

Album Review – Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson -‘ Acoustic Classics II.’ (Beeswing)

There’s no shortage of half-century anniversaries to mark in the music world this year. Whether it’s Sergeant Pepper, Forever Changes or The Velvet Underground & Nico (to list three of a very long list indeed), it’s important to note that this year marks fifty years since Richard Thompson, then still a teenager, co-formed Fairport Convention, thus paving the way for British folk-rock.

Since then, of course, he’s been very highly regarded – and perhaps surprisingly, his highest charting works solo have been over the last ten years. One of those was the first Acoustic Classics album. As with this volume, it’s not a stopgap release. Rather, whilst an excellent electric guitarist and bandleader, the strength of Thompson’s singing, guitar playing and songwriting means that stripped down to just voice and acoustic guitar the listener gets a new insight into fourteen songs from his spectacular back catalogue.

It’s a fairly wide selection across his career. From the Fairport Convention days there’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’ and ‘Meet On The Ledge;’ from the days when he played with his wife Linda ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ and from the last thirty years there’s ‘Pharoah’ from Amnesia, ‘Keep Your Distance’ from Rumor & Sigh (a contender for his best album) and ‘Bathsheba Smiles’ from Mock Tudor. They may be less well-known songs than those represented on the first Acoustic album, but none the worse for that.

What both Acoustic albums – and there’s more on the way, apparently – manage to achieve is that due to to the sheer magic contained within, they stand as albums in their own right. This album is perhaps darker – demonstrating that along with the humour displayed in his work (check out ‘Hots For The Smarts’ or ‘Don’t Step On My Jimmy Shands’), there is ability to reflect the variance of all human emotion within his work.

Whether this is the best place to start with Richard Thompson’s work (shame on you! Get with the programme, Godammit), as opposed to a compilation of better-known tracks is open to debate. Half a century’s work that has been covered by artists as diverse as Dinosaur Jr, Elvis Costello and June Tabor (and that’s a small list of those who have covered his work) is going to give a lot of people a lot of individual favourites. For my money, it demonstrates an important cross-section of his work, showing why he is so highly regarded and why his fanbase continues to grow. Hell, while many artists of his age are losing their singing voices, Thompson sounds ever more powerful.

If you haven’t heard Richard Thompson’s work before, there’s nothing to be lost by starting here. If you are an afficianado, you’ll want this as a wonderfully listenable example of his work.

Acoustic Classics is released on August 11.

Live Review – P J Harvey

Photo credit: Beth Chalmers/Edinburgh International Festival (used with permission)

PJ Harvey

Edinburgh Playhouse, August 7, 2017

It’s now 25 years since PJ Harvey released her debut album, Dry. It was clear that she was one of a kind then – and tonight’s performance demonstrated that they broke the mould thereafter.

Rock acts playing during the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe – now celebrating its seventieth year – are not new, but the calibre of both performers and performance indicate just how high the standard is here. PJ Harvey and the nine members of her band come on not to backing tracks, strutting like peacocks, but process in a line, beating drums. They open with an extended version of ‘Chain Of Keys’ taken from last year’s The Hope Six Memorial Project. When Harvey first appeared she was usually to be seen wielding a guitar, now she adds saxophone to the proceedings, often holding it aloft when not playing. The songs sounded pretty impressive on record, but the live show really takes it to a whole new level. A brick wall slowly rises during ‘Chain’ symbolic about the notions of division and war that inform the record.

Even the writing and making of the album was – yet again – sign that Polly Jean is no ordinary artist. Both this album, and her previous album, Let England Shake, are intensely personal and political records, but never preaching. The Hope Six Demolition Project, is an account of her travels to experience post-war Afghanistan and Kosovo, and the clearance of housing in Washington DC, and then recorded at Somerset House in London, where the public could watch.

And here it’s all delivered in a way that adds to an impressive visual display. Not by using video or photography, but rather by the way hat the band play together on stage. In many ways it feels like watching a play, as they play to the audience but not descending to cliche.The band includes longterm collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parrish, as well as the Bad Seeds’ James Johnston, legendary brass player Terry Edwards and Queen Of The Stone Age’s Alain Johannes.

As well as album highlights like the record opener ‘The Community Of Hope’ and ‘The Wheel’ there is a carefully selected use of older songs from her back catalogue. Flowing so well together, it’s tempting to marvel and wonder at how carefully planned this whole show is. So as well as songs from her previous record like ‘Let England Shake,’ ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ and ‘The Glorious Land there are also outings for earlier singles like ‘Down By The Water’ and ’50 Ft Queenie.’ It’s incredible to think as she demonstrates her gothic blues that these songs made the top forty, and how fresh they still feel.

The effect on the audience is worth noting, too. My fiancée clutches my arm at one point in astonishment: ‘hardly anyone’s got a phone out!’ she says in wonder. There’s several kids in the audience, who may well be having their first experience of live music but also people considerably older than your forty year old scribe. At the end of the set, the band receivbe a standing ovation. The only concession to being a rock gig is the introduction of the band members – done with warmth, but no need to descend into cliche.

Even the encores are special. It’s her cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ which she first visited on her second album, 1993’s Rid Of Me. And the magical finale ofthe hypnotic ‘River Anacostia’ which becomes like a mantra as we file out in awe.

 

A song for today #46: Deerhoof featuring Awkwafina

I wrote at the end of June about how much I was looking forward to the release of the new Deerhoof album, and posted the excellent ‘I Will Spite Survive.’ 

Things have been a bit up and down these past few months, and it’s taken me a few weeks to get around to posting the next track to be unveiled from Mountain Moves, due out on September 8.

It’s a bit of a different beast, but just as good as its predecessor.

Of  ‘…Dystopic Creation’ the band said in a statement: ‘ “In the span of 10 short days last April, Prince passed away, and Bill Clinton shouted down a small group of black women who dared question the morality of 90s legislation with which he ushered in the era of unprecedented mass incarceration that continues to this day. Something about the random concurrence of Prince’s glowing obituaries and Clinton’s elitist intimidation tactics seemed to point at an absurd contradiction at the heart of America’s treatment of its citizens of color. Fortunately a favorite writer, The Guardian’s great Steven W. Thrasher, helped make sense of these events in his crucial commentaries: “Prince broke all the rules about what black American men should be” and “How dare Bill Clinton shout over Black Lives Matter protesters?”

Now over a year has passed. Many Americans, suddenly in search of strategies for surviving state repression, are turning away from witless neoliberal politicians who exploit fear to amass more power for themselves, and towards those vulnerable communities who have responded to a history of violence not with submission, but with humor, creativity, anger, and love. The song we are debuting today grew out of these observations. Strictly speaking it is not the first Awkwafina-Deerhoof collaboration, as both Satomi and Greg have guested on “My Vag” onstage. But this call-and-response is our first co-composition. Enjoy!”

Album Review – Cornelius

Cornelius ‘Mellow Waves’ (Rostrum Records)

Always make sure you listen properly to music, folks. For some reason, I couldn’t get my head round this album when I first heard it – yet now, it’s on again for the second time today, and I can’t figure out why I couldn’t connect with it at first.

Cornelius is Japanese multi-instrumentalist and producer Keigo Oyamada, who created his creative alter-ego Cornelius as an homage to the Planet of the ApesHis Wikipedia entry observes that he is ‘sometimes categorised as an ‘acquired taste.’ Well; get in line, folks – and if you haven’t put the time aside to start acquiring this taste, in time you’ll be glad you did so.

It’s now twenty years since the release of Fantasma, the album that first got him noticed outside of his native Japan, and drew comparisons with Brian Wilson and Beck. This is his first studio album since 2006’s Sensuous, though in that time he has busied himself with other projects, including soundtrack work, remixes and being part of the Plastic Ono Band. 

Mellow Waves is an appropriate album title, for the most part. The most part being that there are a lot of gorgeously mellow sounds within. If it seems odd that waves might be mellow, it’s an example of just how skilled he is with sound. The album is about getting older and all his childhood idols dying off – Prince, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie.. Surfing on Sine Wave pt 2′ is perhaps a fine example of why he may delight and confuse in equal measure. Sure, parts of the song could be described as chilled electronica, but not all. ‘Helix/Spiral’ lives up to it’s name, a track that seems to be purely mathematical as it makes its way across your stereo into your brain. 

Cornelius is not someone to be easily pigeonholed – the final two tracks on the album ‘The Rain Song’ and ‘Crepuscule’ are almost purely acoustic in their approach. This mixture of styles on an album could be fatally flawed ambition in lesser hands, yet he pulls it off with aplomb, a master craftsman. Whilst cataloguing records in a store can be tricky – and I write as a former record store clerk – the glorious mixture of eastern avant-electronica meets krautrock with jazz, bossa nova and folk for good measure is generally not a section that even the hippest music stores have (probably because the staff these days are too busy plaiting their beards and thinking about  microbreweries and limited cassette releases. But I digress.) There are two notable collaborators here – Lush’s Miki Berenyi  for the lovely ‘The Spell Of A Vanishing Loneliness’ (she’s a distant cousin), and also Shintaro Sakamoto, who wrote the lyrics for ‘Dear Future Person’ and ‘If You’re Here.’

Always make sure you listen to music properly, folks.

****

 

A track for today #46: Ummagma

‘They’ say you should never meet your heroes.

Fortunately for Ummagma – singer Shauna McLarnan and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Kretov – were introduced by a mutual friend to Robin Guthrie, guitarist in the Cocteau Twins and co-founder of Bella Union label. The result was that Robin was so taken with the track ‘Lama’ that not only did he remix the track (which originally appeared on their 2012 album Anitigravity but added his own parts to the mix. It’s the lead track on Ummagma’s forthcoming EP LCD.

The EP also features another legend from the dreampop-shoegazing world: Dean Garcia of Curve fame. Shauna McLarnan explains: ‘I grew up listening to Cocteau Twins, Curve, and so many bands from the 4AD and Creation labels, and then later introduced them to my husband [Alexander Kretov].. He learned of them late, having been born in the USSR. We feel incredibly honoured that Robin Guthrie and Dean Garcia have shaped several of our tracks as they personally envision them.”

Check out Lama below. It’s a particularly lovely, dreamy piece of work that begs to be played again and again.

Presenting…Reece

 

South London rapper Reece Robertson is 23 years old, and has unveiled his new track ‘Shot In The Dark.’ His style is most reminiscent of The Streets, mixing hip-hop with ballads quite effortlessly on the track.

The video’s lovely, taking in London panoramas as he reflects on splitting up with his partner and seeing less of his daughter. Reflective, and made all the more effective by the minimalist backing. It’s interesting to compare this track to his previous single, his first official release ‘Lifelong Love’ released last year. That track’s more upbeat – and suggests that he’s capable of turning his hand to quite a few styles in the urban genre.

Worth six minutes of your time.