Tuesday, 20 July 2010


I first heard of Mancunian Julie Campbell, aka LoneLady, after her first single, Early The Haste Comes, dropped onto my doormat from the Too Pure Records Singles Club a couple of years ago. Her debut album finally came out in the UK in February of this year and I finally got my hands on a copy this week!

After the sad demise of Too Pure, one of my favourite labels, LoneLady was snapped up by indie stalwarts Warp which seems something of an appropriate trajectory for this kind of angular female post-punk. For those of you who don't know Too Pure was the label responsible for first introducing the public to PJ Harvey and Scout Niblett as well as the bands Electrelane, The Rogers Sisters and Laika (whose very own Guy Fixsen produced LoneLady's debut effort). Warp has, in recent years been expanding its early repertoire of IDM and electronica to include recent post-punk and indie releases from the likes of !!!, Gang Gang Dance and Grizzly Bear.

LoneLady's northern post-punk roots are obvious from the first listen, without the need for quotes like this which describe the recording process in Manchester:

The aesthetics of this ex-mill were a pure joy for LoneLady and invoked the ghosts of bands she loves ... (Joy Division, ESG, Wire, Grace Jones, The Fall, Suicide, PiL) …”grainy black and white images depicting the kind of spaces that have barely changed over the past 30 years."

There has, in recent times, been something of a backlash against the kind of musical nostalgia that Manchester has been cashing in on for the past 15 year (the blog Fuc51 being one of the more amusing and accurate examples) but whilst there has always been one dimension to the city that is forever trying to stay in 1988 and is constantly recreating the Haçienda there has been the other, more hidden, side which has embraced the history, the influences, the aesthetics and, more basically, the logistics of a vibrant music scene (the studios, rehearsal spaces and gig venues) to produce something new.

Nerve Up, is a spiky album where each track feels some how uneasy and claustrophobic (perhaps agoraphobic is more accurate) despite the sparseness of the sound, often just bass, electric beats and a staccato keyboard and rarely together. This all goes to make a refreshing change from the majority of music around at the moment where we seem to be drowning under waves of airy dreampop and shoegaze. This could actually be the most refreshing thing this summer.

LoneLady - Nerve Up

LoneLady - Intuition (LA Session)

LoneLady - If Not Now

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Lisbon Scene (1)...

Last night I ventured once again into the dark world of the Lisbon underground music scene (this time literally as the setting was the ever gloomy Musicbox, situated under a bridge in one of the less salubrious neighbourhoods of Lisbon). On this occasion we were there to see a concert of two of Lisbon's new, upcoming, bands: Os Capitães da Areia and Feromona.

The newer, if not the upcoming-est, of the bands are Os Capitães da Ariea. A band who take their name from the Jorge Amado novel of the same name but who are aptly titled in more ways than one. Both the book and the band prominently feature gangs of children, in the case of the band put together by the proudly lusophone indie label Amor Furia, and the overriding thought as the band take to the stage, near midnight on a Wednesday, is, "do these guys not have school in the morning?". Much the same is thought about the crowd at this point and this reviewer definitely started to feel his age.

The second reasons the band are so well named comes the instant they start to play. Following in the footsteps of the latest movements in surf rock that seems to infuse much of what's going on in indie at the moment it is the Portuguese equivalent of naming your band Surfer Blood/Beach House/Beach Fossils or whatever the beach related band of the moment is named. And completing this impression is the band themselves wearing the pastel jeans, plaited belts and naval accoutrements that have given followers of Vampire Weekend a waredrobe for the past couple of years.

When the music starts the sound unmistakably conjures up the new wave of surf rock doing the rounds but with something of a Portuguese twist but also the gaucheness of youth. This was the second Capitães concert I had seen in around a month and already I had noticed the steep learning curve that playing in a band has on young players. The backing band seemed somewhat tighter and the melodies crisper but unfortunately the band are a bit hampered by their own lead singer. It's not just that he's not a very good singer (even taking into consideration the idiosyncrasies of Portuguese as it is sung) but he also seems particularly clumsy on stage. In a style that craves a bit of suaveness he can't really pull it off, instead lurching about somewhat surprisingly (to the crowd and to the rest of the band on occasion). All this is a bit of a shame because by far the strongest element of the group is the interplay between the guitarist, Tiago, and the keyboardist, Fred. If they could somehow combine to also tame the rhythm section from their wilder and heavier moments (and here to be very pick I think the bassist should be playing with his fingers here, but that's just my opinion) then I think there could be something interesting here.

When Feromona slouch onto the stage they couldn't be more in contrast to the previous band. Seemingly wearing the clothes they woke up in (at least for the 3/4 of the band who were fully dressed) there is really a sense of the confidence that comes with age, ability, and playing your millionth gig of the year. Feromona's classic grunge meets Portuguese rock is at once more direct and definitely tighter and better formed that the Capitães' sound. Their hooks are snappier even if the songs at the beginning of the set quickly start to sound a little samey. The 'Rock out, grungy intro, moving into the more crooney Portuguese verse followed by a rocky chorus' formula is definitely present in more than a few of their songs but that's not to say the band sound really very repetitive. A possible reason for this is the snappiness of the songs, a few of which seem to be over before they've really got going which actually gives the effect of making you want to hear more.

The second half of the set was enlivened by a quick strip show by the band, including the reluctant keyboardist, but was rather more varied than the first in terms of style and this seemed to get the crowd a little more lively. The band were fading noticeably towards the very end and returned rather reluctantly for the briefest of encores, not surprising in the increasing heat and gloom of the Musicbox.

Intentionally or not Feromona are a band who leave their audience wanting more.

Monday, 7 June 2010

It's like waiting for a bus...

...you wait for ages for one and then a whole bunch come along at once.

I am of course talking about decent albums. After a strong start to the year March through April was a bit fallow but just recently we've had a whole bunch of great new releases. Here are some of my favourites that you should look out for:

Sleigh Bells - Treats [Neat / Mom & Pop]

There's not much left to be said about this album that hasn't already been said in a million reviews which can be condensed into the one word - 'Loud'. This record is very very loud, to the point where I don't actually own a pair of headphones that can successfully deal with the loudness so what I actually hear on the bus is just the impression of incredible loudness which is conveyed by a persistent fuzz that I take as an indication of loudness.

When I get home the loudness continues but it's only here, on a pair of speakers that I can endlessly play around with, and with the aid of several EQs, can I get the distinction between the often sweet vocals and the grinding guitars and drum machines. But then again that isn't the point of this record...it's just about reveling in the fun of noise and that's my simple advice for Sleigh Bells listeners, embrace the noise.

Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em

Male Bonding - Nothing Hurts [Sub Pop]

There's a bit of a buzz going round at the moment about 'nu-grunge' and so I feel the need to plant my flag in this whole discussion. I'm not against 'nu-' anything in principle as long as there is something new about it. There's a lot of nu-grunge bands going around at the moment when they might as well pack up their plaid shirts and jump in a time-machine to Seattle. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that either (although in many cases they choose the most uninspiring bands to rip off, where are the Love Battery rip offs?) just don't call yourself 'nu-'.

Male Bonding on the other hand seem to take the fuzzy grunge base as a spring board to really cycle through what seems like a dizzying number of styles of guitar based rock. You have some surprisingly pop numbers along with a few (what seems like the now obligatory) surf tracks. The great thing about the album as a whole is that these never feel like experiments or disconnected, the sheer pace of the album, where many tracks come in at under or around 2 minutes, gives a great continuity to the whole.

Male Bonding - Years Not Long

Maps & Atlases - Perch Patchwork [Barsuk]

When I first heard this album (which is actually only out on 29th June) I immediately thought this is just what a Fleet Foxes / Fiery Furnaces collaboration would sound like. Then I put the album on again, and again...and again. In fact yesterday, for the first time I can remember, I listened to an album 3 times in a row.

For an album with such an impression of experimentalism it's also incredibly warm and listenable. Taking the strange rhythms and harmonies of what (I hate) is often called 'math rock' and placing them in an instantly recognisable setting of folk means that rather than alienating the listener this is a record that invites you in and keeps you interested.

Maps & Atlases - Pigeon

Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (Kitsuné]

OK this album was actually released in the UK on 1st March but I didn't get to listen to it until after the US release at the end of April. After creating quite a buzz in the UK press last year, and given the dubious prestige of being 'a band to watch in 2010', TDCC have actually produced a pretty damn good album.

Tourist History is most definitely a singles led affair with the two strongest tracks being Something Good Can Work and Undercover Martyn but that's not to say the rest is filler. Like Casiotone For The Painfully Alone after a few hearty meals (less depressing and a fuller sound) they could very well be the next big storytelling indie band (If that award didn't so comfortably rest with The Wave Pictures).

Two Door Cinema Club - Undercover Martyn

The Drums - The Drums [Island]

Possibly the most hyped debut this year. After a very well received EP last year there were very high hopes for The Drums, a band I recently read as 'The most English sounding American band since the 1980s'. It's either part of some new fascination with English indie or else part of a general rediscovering of 80s new wave/post-punk but considering that this style and era is one of my great passions in music I don't think the Drums will be a lasting presence in this genre. The album is a great deal of fun but for me the best tracks are those which temper the 80s revivalism with a mixture of Beach Boys surfer pop, tracks like Lets Go Surfing and Down By The Water at least display a bit of individual energy that stops the band sounding like a Cars covers band.

They also seem a bit earnest which bugs me.

The Drums - Best Friend

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Surfer Blood...

OK, it's another beautiful day in Lisbon and because of this there can be only one band for me today - Surfer Blood.

This year's Astro Coast was a bit of a slow burner for me (it does seem a little strange to release a surf rock record in January). But now that the sun is out and the opportunity to spend long days by the beach are upon us it seems only right to get this out.

Surfer Blood - Swim

Surfer Blood - Harmonix

Surfer Blood - Twin Peaks

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Trouble on the Streets of Lisbon...

So we leave sleepy Lisbon, where nothing much ever happens, for a few days and when we return a scandal has broken. Beloved indie-punk noisemen No Age were jumped by bouncers as they tried to enter a club in town.

No mention is made of the club in the various reports I've read but wise money points to this being Jamaica (in fact their own facebook page has received comments). Apparently when the Americans tried to enter the club they were informed that the management wished to keep out 'English' and when the band attempted some form of negotiation this happened:

If this is the kind of reaction tourists are getting in Lisbon's nightspots then I think it needs to be publicised more widely until the clubs decide to do something about it and the meatheads they employ get some proper training.

Fuller accounts of the incident can be read HERE and HERE.

When not getting beat up No Age make some pretty amazing music too:

No Age - Boy Void

More Primavera Sound 2010 Vids

OK OK OK...I'll stop going on about this damn festival, you weren't there, you're crazily jealous, I get it.

But first let me post a few more videos (yesterday I was tired and couldn't be bothered to look beyond YouTube).

Japandroids - Pitchfork Stage

Titus Andronicus - Pitchfork Stage

Matt & Kim - Vice Stage

Beach House - ATP Stage

OK, now I'll shut about it.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Primavera Sound 2010 - The Review

So Primavera came and went for anther year and, as ever, it was a wonderful mixture of old and new with a couple of surprises and few disappointments. We don't really like to dash about between stages just catching a few songs here and there but nevertheless we managed to catch a quite impressive 28 bands in the 3 days (and that's despite the fact that we're a pair of oldies who didn't manage to stay up beyond 03h00).

Here's the full list of who we saw and my grade for each act.

Day 1:

Bis - B
Reuniting after some time away these indie dance Glaswegians caused a bit of a stir, if only because they returned so evidently 'balder, fatter, older'. It was all the more amusing when you compare them now with the picture in the official catalogue which was from their heyday. They still know how to rock out though even if they did appear to be having more fun than the majority of an apparently nonplussed crowd. Thankfully they did play Eurodisco as a finale and so I left happy.

The Wave Pictures - B
Stuck, as they were, on one of the larger festival stages and pretty early on in the festival I thought the Wave Pictures were pretty successful in getting their witty charm across to the largely Spanish audience. Good stage banter and a surprisingly strong sound, especially considering what was to happen later. Set highlight was Love You Like a Madman.

Surfer Blood - A
First band of the festival to really blow me away and really an omen of things to come from the Pitchfork Stage which was by far the most consistent of the festival stages. They're a band who really suited the sunny and uptempo feel of the festival.

The Fall - B
The Fall is The Fall. You have to love them or leave them. I have a lot of time for the fall on record and their recent output has been some of the best in the past decade but I have to say live they're really not my cup of tea. You see the band looking like automatons whilst Mark goes round fiddling with their kit for no apparent reason other than it's now expected of him. Highlight of the set - Mark's full pockets.

Titus Andronicus - A+
Second highlight of the day and one of the highlights of the festival. The band really brought it with them and I love a strong woman guitarist. They sent the crown wild with their strange mix of punk with its hints of folk. The whole band, and the crowd, looked like they were loving every second of it.

The xx - A-
The xx is a tricky one because we both wanted such a good set from them and to be honest it started out terribly. We got the only bit of rain of the whole period just as they were starting, they looked terribly nervous of playing a huge crowd, and the sound was awful. It's like the sound tech had never hear them before and just put the bass right up. They did however settle into their set but, embarrassingly, my highlight was their mix of F&TM's You Got The Love which came on just after they left the stage.

Tortoise - B+
One of those bands who you have to try and see just once and they played an excellent, intimate, stage (although they would've been good in the Auditorium). We sat down throughout and enjoyed their move into the jazzier reaches of post-rock.

The Big Pink - A
I was looking forward to this so much and I'm really glad they didn't disappoint. One of the themes of the festival was the big big sound that the new bands got out and this was one of the biggest. Plus they played Too Young To Love which was one of my tracks of 2009.

Pavement - B+
The first BIG band of the festival which was, as you can imagine, totally packed out. As a result we stood quite far back. I was never the biggest Pavement fan in the world but I was interested to see how they'd do on this big reunion and they certainly know their stuff. The problem of course with these big reunion concerts is that they're almost too perfect, it's just how you imagine a Pavement set to be and therefore it's pretty hard to be overwhelmed. Highlight was getting Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene up for a song. That was a good way to mix it up.

Sleigh Bells - A+
We didn't stay to the end of Pavement because we were so desperate to see Sleigh Bells and this was probably the best decision of the festival because they were amazing. That girl has so much energy and if this very strongly hyped band are to be just a flash in the pan then they're probably the loudest flash we'll see in a long time. A great mix of noise, punk, hip-hop and RnB. Also one of the very rare occasions I've seen an encore at a (non-headliner) festival.
(I really wanted to show a vid here but i think everyone with decent cameras was at Pavement)

Delorean - B-
By the time Delorean rolled onto stage at 03h00 we were knackered and had the prospect of a long walk back to the hotel so we stuck around for a bit but I have to say they were the first disappointment of the festival. I loved the last EP but the album not so much and I think I let this cloud my judgement of the live show.

Day 2:

Harlem - B+
After getting lost on the way home the night before and doing plenty of walking we were looking for a chilled out start to Day 2. S suggested Harlem whose recent album had got very high scores in the Portuguese press. They were a pretty decent indie-pop/surf band for those who couldn't see the Drums later in the festival.

Scout Niblett - A-
Scout is pretty much a staple now. In 2008 she blew us away in the Auditorium and this year the performance was a bit more restrained but it's never anything less than utterly charming. It's now the 7th or 8th time I've seen her live and so I'm getting to the point where I'm really starting to notice the rarities and thankfully she played one of my favourites - 'It's All For You'. This went down very well with the crowd and it was good to see most people leaving with huge grins on their faces (All except The xx who we saw - those guys never smile).

Spoon - B
Of all the bands we probably got the closest to Spoon, simply through luck, and it was a pretty good place to be. They're not the most controversial of bands and whilst they've been consistently good throughout their career this isn't always a good thing. It was summed up by their set which pressed all the right buttons but there was never really the appearance of passion or fun. They did however play Turn My Camera On which is a damn good track.

Beach House - B
I was expecting a little better from Beach House whose latest album has probably been the one I've listened most to over the past few weeks. Sadly for them they seemed to be a little distracted, as we all were, by the freaky props they'd put up which consisted of what looked like 4 large, white, furry, mushrooms. That plus I'm always a little suspicious of a guitarist who sits down.

Here We Go Magic - B+
Just caught the end of Here We Go Magic who were appropriately noisy and chaotic in a controlled way. We caught Collector which is one of my tracks of the year so far and which made me very happy. I had thought the track quite undancable but apparently its not.

Wilco - B
Day two was the day of the 'big bands'. First Spoon and then Wilco. Again another very competent set from and indie legend but nothing that really blew my socks off. They did play War on War which I very much enjoyed but I have to say I had one eye on the clock because I was just waiting for the Japandroids to start.

Japandroids - A+
Along with Sleigh Bells this was my highlight of the whole festival. Amazing music, amazing energy, amazing chemistry. They had it all. As soon as the first chords came out I could feel the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I'm always pleasantly surprised by the force of noise that just two guys can make. They don't have much stuff released but seemed to play it all and it was one of those great gigs that really messes with time, they seemed to play forever but you didn't want them to stop. Sadly there are no good videos for this concert so I'm just going to put one of my favourite tracks on.

Pixies - B
The Pixies are quite possibly the archetypal reunion band of my generation. That classic band you grew up thinking you'd never see and now you have them. They're note perfect on everything and every Pixies set is like being 15 and in my bedroom again. That said this is the 3rd time I've seen them since they reformed in 2004. They have been reformed for almost as long now as they were active and there's still nothing new. There's a rumour of a fifth album but nothing played live and to be perfectly honest unless there was something new to catch I think this might be last time seeing the Pixies.

(We took a map that night and found our way home easily)

Day 3:

Real Estate - B+
One of S's favourite bands this year and a great, chilled out start to the last day of the festival. I admit that I don't know them very well but they were very catchy (even if some of the songs did start to blur into one another at the end).

Atlas Sound - C+
After quite a few attempts this was my first time actually seeing Bradford Cox in any of his many guises and it was really a bit of a let down. The music was OK even if it was just him and a guitar but he just came across like a complete idiot. We didn't stick around too long for this and I think next time we'll hold out for Deerhunter.

Nana Grizol - C
Bit of a cheat here as we were having a sit down in the main bowl and this was the band that was playing. I didn't know them at all but as I remarked to S they were kind of like a ska version of the Wave Pictures.

The Slits - C+
One of the big (for me anyway) reunions of the festival and we just had enough time to catch a few tracks before F&TM. And what a few tracks they were. It was like watching a car crash, terrible but you just couldn't take your eyes away. Firstly Ari came on stage alone and then claimed she had lost the Slits. She tried to engage everyone in a chant but most people weren't having it. That didn't deter Ari though and she proceeded to give a performance I can only compare to watching your grandma playing rude party games at Christmas. I can however now claim to have seen the Slits play Typical Girls and Shoplifting so I can die happy.

Florence & The Machine - B+
I had expected that this would be one of the performances of the festival. Knowing what an amazing performer and singer Florence is but again this was a bit underwhelming. She put a lot into it but as often happens with these things she just seemed completely detached from her backing band. I really enjoyed You Got The Love and Kiss With a Fist but I think we were stood a bit too far back to get much of the atmosphere. We were also distracted because the cameraman appeared to really fancy a girl in the audience and her face was on the screen almost as much as Florence's.

The Antlers - A+
I bloody love The Antlers and this was definitely the highlight of the 3rd day. Very different from the other highlights of the festival because they managed to fill the space with atmospherics rather than sound. The ghostly dance music was perfect for the last day and I was just sad that S couldn't enjoy more of it but she wanted to get a good spot at Grizzly Bear. Kettering was the haunting highlight but I was also a little disappointed not to catch them again in the 'unplugged' tent.

Grizzly Bear - B+
After the Antlers I did manage to catch the end of the Grizzly Bear set which looked amazing. S tells me that they played a really nice mixture of old and new stuff which I think it important at these festivals - you don't really want someone just banging out the hits, that would lower the tone of Primavera Sound when one of the best attributes it has is that it expects quite a high level of musical knowledge from its audience.

Matt & Kim - A-
Just caught a small bit of Matt & Kim due to my own incredible stupidity but they are now firmly high on my list of bands to watch out for. Absolutely crazy performance from the pair which contained much drumming and keyboarding whilst stood on top of their instruments and also some of the fastest playing I think I have ever seen.

Liquid Liquid - A
The festival closed for us on a really high not for me because Liquid Liquid are just one of those bands you never really expect to see. Perhaps I'm looking into it too much but their set really summed up what was great about this years festival. They managed to do so much with so little. Time and time again we were seeing bands with two or three members making such a noise and really filling the space they had with music and rhythm. Liquid Liquid are percussion and bass yet they make such interesting and funky music that you can feel it flowing through you. It was such a great sight to see the whole crowd really feeling the rhythm and this stage turned into the biggest dance party I saw this time.