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.

Album Review – Meursault

Meursault – ‘I Will Kill Again.’ (Song, By Toad Records)

In 2014, Neil Pennycook announced that he was retiring Meursault and bowed out with a final performance at Edinburgh Queen’s Hall. Despite releasing a cassette under the name Super Moon, towards the end of last year a six-track EP Simple Is Good heralded the return of the Meursault name – and now the release of the fourth album, I Will Kill Again.

First of all, that album title. It’s not that Pennycook has changed direction with something akin to Slayer’s Reign In Blood. It’s the punchline to one of comedian Josie Long’s jokes. (Well, that’s that cleared up.) Musically it continues the journey begun with the debut Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues back in 2008. The band were once described as epic lo-fi. They’re less lo-fi these days, but that gorgeous epic melancholia that seduced all who heard it still soars.

The first track to be released as a single ‘Klopfgeist’ sets the tone for the album. There’s something about Pennycook’s voice and songwriting that could make even singing your shopping list heartbreaking yet simultaneously life-affirming. With the sung refrain of ‘Like Sinatra, Sinatra, Sinatra’ it seduces you, commanding your attention. An earlier version of this appeared on the aforementioned Super Moon release, but this version is far superior.

The idea of things being ‘clever’ in rock music often arouses suspicion (possibly a decades-long hangover from the worst excesses of the prog-rock era) – but Meursault can pull this off without ever seeming self-indulgent. This is perhaps most clear on the title track. At moments almost ambient and other times a soaring cacophony, over the six minutes play time there’s an ascending and descending scale, radio samples, backing vocals, a church organ and it all comes together.

Like the best albums, this is one that reveals itself upon repeated listens, even some of the effects that can seem a little irritating on first hearing make more sense when heard more frequently within the wider context of the record. There is no justice in this world (frequent perusal of the media will confirm this) but Meursault have made their most accessible album yet, without compromising what made them so special in the first place. It would be great to think that not only will this make end of year lists, but take them to the next level commercially speaking.

****1/2

I Will Kill Again is released by Song, By Toad Records on February 27. The album will be launched at Edinburgh’s Summerhall on February 25.

The album can be pre-ordered here.

 

 

 

The return of Meursault (part 2)

Meursault will release their long-awaited fourth album on February 27. Entitled I Will Kill Again, the first track to be unveiled is ‘Klopfgeist.’ (That’s German for ‘Poltergeist’, apparently)…The album launch takes place at Edinburgh’s Summerhall on February 25.

The video for the song can be seen below:

 

The album can be ordered via the Song, By Toad Records Bandcamp.

The return of Meursault

Having seemingly called it a day a couple of years ago (after what was an excellent ‘farewell’ gig at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall), Neil Pennycook and Meursault have returned, with a new EP, some videos and an album very soon…

At the end of last year, they returned with a new six-track EP, from which the title track ‘Simple Is Good’ made no.15 in my annual Festive 50 (and yes, my end of year albums list will appear, finally, very soon). Due to the general exhaustion around these parts, not a lot was getting written at that point (not helped by a poor internet connection) but the EP is very good indeed and the band have just unveiled a new video for the track ‘By Gaslight.’ The new album, scarily entitled I Will Kill Again is due in February. And it’s coming out on their old and always spiritual home Song, By Toad Records.

 

Gig Review: Meursault/Found/Withered Hand

Meursault/Found/Withered Hand

Edinburgh Liquid Rooms, April 26

Put on as part of Haddowfest, even before a note had been played, on paper this was a fantastic gig featuring three of Edinburgh’s finest acts. And given the profile that both Meursault and Withered Hand now have – having headlined the much bigger Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh in their own respective rights- at this point in their respective careers it could be argued that this was an intimate gig.

Doors were at seven so I was aghast to arrive at twenty-past seven to find Dan Willson and his band well into their set. Focusing on new songs, they sounded brilliant, and when the long-awaited follow-up to Good News appears, don’t expect it simply to be part 2 on the evidence of tonight.

‘Hi, we’re Found…we think.’ Found have parted company with bassist Tommy Perman, but the new look, two-piece band are now trading in rather fine analogue electronica. Their most recent album, 2011’s Factorycraft saw them reaching new heights critically and commercially, so let us hope that they continue. ‘Bangin’ has been the description of their recent shows -and I would agree.

Neil Pennycook and his merry men take to stage with a reminder from the compere that they have been longlisted for the Scottish Album Of The Year Award, alongside obvious pals like Paws, Errors and RM Hubbert and commercial heavyweights like Calvin Harris and Emelie Sandé. To my shame, I hadn’t seen a full band show from Meursault before, but I’m in quite a hurry to see them again. If their third album, Something For The Weakened demonstrated that they had evolved from folk-meets-electronica (don’t you dare call them folktronica!), then live this is one step even further. Opening with ‘Flittin’ they show that actually they can rock -but on their own terms.

This is perhaps best demonstrated by ‘Crank Resolutions’ which live is more in keeping with the magnificent melancholia of The Blue Nile or Mogwai. It’s not to say that Meursault are a miserable band -live on stage Neil Pennycook is on fine form, and quite the cheery bloke. He even dedicates ‘Dull Spark’ to Oskar ‘who is four today!’ Between their first album in 2008 Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues and the present there’s an impressive trajectory, and it will be interesting to see what Neil and co. do next. THere will be an ever-growing crowd of obnservers waiting, too…

Avalanche Records to close?

avalanche-logo-use

Over the last few years, with Independent Record Stores struggling to keep their heads above water, Record Store Day has been promoted as an initiative to try and get more people into record shops. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, this is only a success if it actually gets people into the shops more than on just one day a year. As Matthew at Song, By Toad pointed out ‘In a sense Record Store Day reminds me a little of Valentine’s Day or, to be a little more facetious, Don’t Beat Your Wife Day – yes the message is the right one, but what, only today? What about the other 364 days of the year?’ (There are some excellent posts on Song, By Toad about the pros and cons of Record Store Day – if you have not read them, I suggest you do so).

It is with sadness that I found out this morning that Avalanche Records in Edinburgh will be shutting on January 6 2013. Owner Kevin Buckle and I may have had some frank exchanges of views over the years, but I am a regular customer. It might be overegging the pudding to say that Avalanche (along with Fopp, in its’ pre-HMV incarnation) was one of the reasons I moved to Edinburgh, but it wasn’t something that put me off, shall we say. It has had a major impact on my music collection as somewhere to buy, sell and exchange music* and was one of the first places to stock physical releases that I put out through 17 Seconds Records.

There may be some glimmers of hope, but the prognosis is that things will have to change. As Kevin says in his statement: ‘ I have to draw a line in the sand somewhere and that date is Sunday January 6th 2013. I hope that by then there will be a plan but at worst I will simply close the shop and concentrate on expanding our online presence and pursuing other opportunities. I’ll always be keen to support Scottish artists but maybe the focus on how that is done will need to change. I’m happy to listen to all ideas of course. Avalanche is a fantastic shop window quite literally for Scottish artists and their music but sadly it is often taken for granted.

Up to that date I will need to take as much money as possible to catch up on just about everything (rent, rates, tax, record company bills etc) and therefore will have the sale I vowed I wouldn’t have. We are not short of stock and hopefully a sale when added to some Christmas business and the visitors here for the festive period will enable us to catch up. With the announcement that the new Frightened Rabbit album will be released on February 4th in an ideal world a new revitalised Avalanche would be in place by then but … unless there is a noticeable and prolonged improvement in business we simply can’t survive where we are.’

Read the full statement here

Avalanche have supported many Scottish artists particularly over the years. Not only did various members of bands work there at various points (including Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes, X-Lion Tamer, Broken Records and Usurper, and that’s just those I can think of off the top of my head) but it has given a platform for people to hear new stuff. And in the internet age that’s actually more important than ever. I helped out in the store last week -and yes, people do actually come in and ask for recommendations about scottish artists. Trust me, ‘customers also bought this’ on certain online and download stores really ISN’T the same thing.

The music industry is changing, and it’s far from only being the small indies who are struggling. But in a very real sense, the message is clear: ‘Use it -or you’ll lose it.’

Here’s a couple of bands who have benefited from exposure in Avalanche, but I could name many more labels and artists…

eagleowl -‘Blanket.’ mp3

Meursault -‘Crank Resolutions.’ mp3

Vaselines -‘Son Of A Gun.’ mp3

Mogwai -‘Rano Pano.’ mp3

*Do you honestly think I keep every single physical release I am sent? I’m not paid to write this blog!

Presenting…Whatever Gets You Through The Night

whatever-gets-you-through-the-night

This was in my inbox this evening when I came home. It’s an album called Whatever Gets You through The Night, and it comes out on November 5 on Biphonic Records (home to Swimmer One and Seafieldroad).

Sixteen tracks in total, this was a live show that took place at the Arches in Glasgow back in June of this year.. This is the accompanying album – 16 brand new songs inspired by the hours between midnight and 4am, by a cross section of Scottish musicians.

And when I say cross-section, it’s Ricky Ross (of Deacon Blue) on the same album as Wounded Knee, Errors on the same album as Rachel Sermanni, Eugene Kelly as Meursault. Lots of 17 Seconds favourites, Swimmer One and Emma Pollock were the first acts I ever interviewed for the blog, over five years ago. There’s a feature over at The Skinny which explains how it came together.

Stream it below, you can also download the Swimmer One track for free.

New from Meursault…

meursault-dull-spark

I’ve long supported Meursault via the blog and, of course, their label, Song, By Toad Records. Meursault released their third album, Something For The Weakened a couple of months ago. The second single from the album ‘Dull Spark’ was one of the tracks I picked up on in the review -and like most great singles, it is:

a)available to buy on 7″
b)has a b-side which makes it worth buying the package
c)has a rather cool video.

Now, I’m not going to go and buy the 7″ for you, but you can watch the geometrical (from about 04:00 in) video and then stream the single.

‘Dull Spark’ is released on Song, By Toad Records on September 24.

Album Review: Meursault

meursault-something-for-the-weakened

Meursault -‘Something For The Weakened.’ (Song, By Toad Records)

At this point in time, Meursault have proved themselves to be the biggest selling act on Song, By Toad Records. Following on from their fine, first two albums Pissing On Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues and All Creatures Will Make Merry, the band now deliver their third album. The reception for their second saw them playing big festivals and round Europe, and seemed to be an even bigger response than band or label dared hope for.

The promo email for this album from head Toad Matthew Young read: ” It’s rather different to previous Meursault stuff. Not so lo-fi, with lusher strings, and rather more of a thumping indie-rock (horrible term, I know) vibe where the big, loud tunes are concerned.” Now, I don’t know if that was meant to worry us Meursault fans that they might be about to go all stadium rock on us, or just explaining a progression in sound. Fortunately, it would appear I overreacted and they haven’t. Hoorah!

Granted songs like ‘Dull Spark’ and the single ‘Flittin’ may sound more polished than the earlier stuff. But that’s not to say that the rough edges which made the early stuff so exciting has been rubbed off. Because few bands do melancholy like Meursault, and tracks like ‘Hole’, standout track ‘Dearly Distracted’ and album opener ‘Thumb’ deliver it in spades. In the best possible way.

Yes, they recorded this in a poper studio, rather than on a portastudio in their own homes like with previous records. This has captured the evolution of the band. There’s perhaps less of the electronica feel than there might have been on Creatures, but the band seemed to have wisely decided to avoid making the same record twice.

Looking forward to hearing the next stage of their evolution, sometime about 2014…

****

Something For The Weakened is released by Song, By Toad Records on July 16.


The album launch takes place at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on July 7. Gulp! Tomorrow..
.

The return of Meursault!

meursault-500

Perhaps the biggest stars so far of fellow Edinburgh blog turned label, Song, By Toad Records, Meursault are set to release their third album Something For The Weakened on July 16.

Having recorded their previous two albums in bedrooms and living rooms, this album was recorded in an actual recording studio (Pumpkinfield Studios, near Perth). Production duties were handled by Pete Harvey, the ‘cellist whose work on other SbTr records I have singled out on this blog before.

‘Flittin’ is the first single from the album, and you can stream it here:

The full tracklisting for the album is:

Thumb
Flittin’
Lament For A Teenage Millionaire
Settling
Hole
Lightning Bolt
Dull Spark
Dearly Distracted
Mamie
Untitled

It’s playing as I write; so far the album sounds bloody brilliant.

It’s always good to support your local record store, but you can also buy the 7″ of Flittin’ from the Song, By Toad Records site. You can also donwload mp3s from the site of earlier Meursault work.