For editor Mary's coverage of SXSW 2013, go here.
For TGTF team coverage of Liverpool Sound City 2013, go here.
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Golden Fable is the side project of Tim McIver and Becca Palin, otherwise known as cult act Tim and Sam’s Tim and the Sam Band with Tim and Sam. Got that? Tim and Sam are known for their gentle instrumental pieces and produced a well-reviewed album in 2010’s ‘Life Stream’, but mid-2011 they decided a new style and name was in order, and Golden Fable was born.
Maintaining the delicate instrumentation, but adding more loops and proper lyrics to their material made the name change worthwhile. First single ‘The Chill Pt. 2’ is a fragile, delicate thing, building with mellotron flutes to a dispersed vocal peak. New release ‘Always Golden’ (video below) has a more conventional song structure, with Becca’s keening, ethereal vocals the main hook, as gentle drums, strings, and sundry electronic clicks add depth and detail. Not afraid to include found sounds such as birdsong and running water, the sound is as clear and refreshing as a Welsh mountain stream.
See Golden Fable play Liverpool Sound City on Saturday (the 19th of May) at the Bombed Out Church at 19.00; they just appeared at the Great Escape last weekend. They will also make an appearance at London’s Oh Inverted World club night at the Old Queens Head on the 24th of May (this is a free gig) and Standon Calling the first weekend of August.
London-based five-piece Dry the River are garnering all sorts of plaudits for their debut long-player Shallow Bed. Combining gentle, meadowy folk with grandiose post-rock wig-outs, seasoned with a peppery gothic tang, their sound simultaneously nods to decades past, whilst achieving a fresh slant on a number of styles which were in danger of becoming parodies of themselves. In an attempt to convey their sound in writing, all sorts of comparisons have been made, chiefly to contemporary populist folk revivalists Mumford and Sons; much the same point can be made by comparing a Big Mac to rare roast rib of beef.
Even at first glance of the band in the flesh, it is apparent that superficial comparisons to the Mumford mummy’s boys fall wide of the mark. There’s not a mandolin or waistcoat in sight; what there is is heavy tattoos, skinny jeans, and an AC/DC t-shirt. Singer Peter Liddle, barefoot and flame-haired, accommodates within his slight frame a voice which in its throaty delicacy displays an uncanny similarity to Jeff Buckley. The electric guitar undulates from gently overdriven picking to frantic power chords. There’s harmony vocals, a particularly animated bassist with an impressive beard, and as is becoming increasingly common these days, a violin.
Most importantly, there are songs – excellent ones at that. The set list is pretty much the entirety of ‘Shallow Bed’ (Luke’s review of the album can be read here) with the running order rearranged. Each piece is as strong as the last; the one-hour set doesn’t sag in the middle as is the risk with young bands. The songs kick in with memorable aphorisms, progress at a fine pace and never outstay their welcome. Impressively, the arrangements are both more delicate and yet carry more impact than on record. From the gentle guitar plucking and intertwining violin of ‘Shaker Hymns’, via the sweeping finale of ‘Weights and Measures’, to the mentalist noise that concludes ‘Lion’s Den’, the material works even better shorn of production fripperies, with the simplest of presentations. Most of these songs are proper pop tunes: ‘History Book’ for example, beautifully arranged and carrying quite some punch in its guitars, remains accessible and catchy as a frisbee.
They come back for one more song – the only one left that they haven’t played – and leave to rapturous applause from a genuinely appreciative sold-out crowd. A less manufactured-looking band it’s difficult to imagine, but if one had to combine several demographics – mum-friendly folk-pop, chewy chunks of teenage moshing, a touch of ’60s psychedelia, dashed with Stonehenge mysticism – this would be the result. A fascinating band who look to have a good year in front of them.
Dry the River are scheduled to play at 23.45 on the Friday (11 May) at the Corn Exchange at this year’s Great Escape.
There’s been an explosion of bands with deliberately un-Googleable names – The Internet, College, and now we have Money. Although after getting to know the band’s music and modus operandi a bit better, I wouldn’t be surprised if being difficult to find on the internet suited them just fine. They have selected their few recent gigs carefully: a well-reviewed set at Salford’s Sacred Trinity church, and more importantly, a star-studded appearance at David Lynch’s exclusive Paris club Silencio appear to have cemented Money’s reputation as the act that hip trendy people want to be seen to like. But what of the substance – whither the music itself?
They specialise in atmospheric, emotive songs of almost indeterminate length, full of portent and innuendo. ‘SOLONG(GODISDEAD)’ (video below), their latest 7” single released on French imprint Almost Musique, weaves gossamer vocals with a droning two-chord rhythm section performance that sounds like it was recorded at the very far end of an enormous cathedral, all the time Jamie Lee emoting like an Alpine cowherd’s morning yawn. Initially completely impenetrable, and even after several listens more of a mood piece than a song, it could be immense, or it could be really dull and not go anywhere at all, depending on one’s mood at the time.
That Money are making waves after several name changes and not much more than a year together, indicates that they are doing something right. Whether it’s the vagueness of their promotional material, or some primal human urge to protect such a fragile sound that might collapse at any moment like an under-done soufflé, they are attracting the right attention right now. Whether they can maintain the halos after a gruelling tour of tiny provincial venues, as mere mortal bands are required to do in order to become well-known, remains to be seen.
Despite having been compared to a mellow Manic Street Preachers (surely not their latter incarnation as pious tune-free middle-aged pop-socialists), what Money are most reminiscent of is a young Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Their meandering songs, impenetrable yet vulnerable vocals, and fondness for psychedelic visuals are all shared, as is the vague sense of genuine unease and slight danger. Money add a darker edge, presumably born of one too many rainy Mancunian afternoons, and seem so cavalier with their entire ethos that they might change direction tomorrow. But for now, the dark, experimental sound remains, and for those who want to buy the hippest of hip 7-inchers, spend some money on Money.
Money are scheduled to perform at 20.30 (8:30 PM) on Friday 11th May at Horatios (NME Radar showcase) as part of this year’s Great Escape programming.
Oxford has form when it comes to birthing important bands: from influential noisegaze pioneers Ride, through the sadly defunct Supergrass, always in the kitchen at the Britpop party, to Radiohead, who not content with redefining the scope of modern rock several times, have seen fit to bless the world with a number of excellent solo works. Recently, revivalist dance-pop BBC Introducing favourites Fixers and math-rock futurists Foals have been upholding the reputation of the city of the dreaming spires.
Tonight sees the latest in this distinguished bloodline of musicians hit Newcastle. Spring Offensive have released but a handful of tracks; they are still at the beginning of their career, so any claims of belonging to the pantheon of Oxfordian greatness must be tempered with the chance that they might split up, get bored, or fall pregnant before anything of any particular note happens. But…let’s hope not.
In town to promote their second single, ‘Worry Fill My Heart’ (live video below), TGTF caught up with them over a coke in the incongruous environs of Newcastle’s only American-style burger joint, on a mission to find out a thing or two about Spring Offensive.
We learn that the drummer is called Pelham. That they met at school and live together in Oxford. That they count appropriately underground acts Menomena and Silver Mt. Zion in their influences, along with Cumbrian darlings Wild Beasts. Some of their songs deal with being dissatisfied with you’re doing with your life. They’re nervous people, easily frightened. They’re named after the Wilfred Owen war poem, which they were asked to recite live on German radio. They dress as they do (part war evacuee, part ’70s dad, fashion by charity shop consent) so people can’t judge them on their appearance. Or, heaven forfend, accuse them of being Foals fanboys.
They are a superb live band. The Oxford sound is present and correct – there’s a bit of white-boy funk, edgy mathy bits, anthemic choruses – but thankfully all filtered through a clear personality of their own. They have a talent for arrangements, and not just of the quiet-loud-quiet version, either – the songs ebb and flow with the oily fluidity of a calm midnight sea. This is the genuine soundtrack to how the Titanic really sank – gently, undemonstratively, imperceptibly sinking into inky black, all the while a quiet, unspoken unease hanging in the air. There’s lashings of deckhand vocal harmonies; in one memorable moment, the band leave the stage and play with acoustic guitar and voices only. It’s a brave insight into their capabilities; shorn of amplification the effect is if anything even more emotionally powerful.
They haven’t always dressed as they do now – somewhere in the last twelve months the band ditched the checked shirts, stripy t-shirts and skinny jeans for frayed cardigans, woollen tank tops, and beige slacks. Whether this is a genuinely spontaneous rejection of fashion, or a cleverly-worked decision, their sartoriality suits both demeanour and sound perfectly. The very epitome of Dave Gilmour’s famous ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ lyric, “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”, the whole package evokes a post-war shabbiness, of desolate Anglian marshes interspersed with the skeletons of abandoned hangars: an atmosphere of bleakness punctuated by the hope of regeneration. Simultaneously, they speak to the contemporary retail park mole, the burger flipper, the call centre operative: is this all life has to offer? Could things have been better sixty years ago? Is modern life indeed rubbish? These are the most important questions a band can ask; it falls to Spring Offensive to ask them.
Spring Offensive will appear on the Friday (18 May) of Liverpool Sound City, time and place TBA.
Midway through Graham Coxon’s near 2-hour set at the Sage, a couple of important points leap to mind. Firstly, Coxon is a proper, nailed-on Guitar Hero, of the kind that in the ’80s had massive poodle hair and seven-string guitars and competed to see how many notes per second they could tease from their Ibanez. It’s just that this particular exemplar happens to prefer noise, a dash of atonality, and obscurantist song forms to demonstrating his mastery of the mixolydian mode.
Secondly, how curious it is that Coxon should be responsible for some of the loveliest pop guitar playing, and indeed songwriting, of the ’90s whilst in Blur (think ‘End of a Century’, ‘To the End’, ‘This is a Low’), but his preferred modus operandi when left to his own devices is nothing as populist or crowd-pleasing. Actually, scrub that last bit: tonight’s gig is sold out, and there’s a girl at the front that knows every word of every song, so there’s clearly plenty to engage with in his solo work. Of course for every grand orchestral statement Blur recorded, there was an equal and opposite noisy nosebleed of a track: most famously ‘Song 2′, but more importantly ‘Popscene’, which not only wouldn’t sound out of place on a Coxon solo album (well the music wouldn’t… Albarn’s voice would be a bit more of a surprise), but marks an early statement of intent – Coxon might be capable of knocking off beautiful melodies, but he’d rather be making some scuzzy noise in a dark back-street club. Like the best songwriting duos, Albarn tamed Coxon’s wild, noisy side, gave him something to calm down to, and Coxon muddied and sullied Albarn’s cheeky-chappie tendencies into one glorious blend of the sour and the sweet.
Coxon’s split with Blur in 2002, following his treatment for alcoholism, is well-known and requires no further discussion here. But the essential fact is that Coxon has released more solo albums than Blur albums; his solo career deserves as much analysis as does his collaborative work. Never one to stand stylistically still, his material has run the gamut of genres, from lo-fi garage rock, pastoral acousticity, Led Zep-style heavy riffing, and back to Blurish power pop, to this tour’s inspiration, the electronic, jagged, dark-toned ‘A&E’.
There’s not much point in expecting banter from Coxon; he appears to prefer to let his guitar do the talking. Even the wag who kept shouting for Blur songs got away without a withering put-down. This is a pretty straightforward delivery of a fine selection of Coxon’s ‘electric’ oeuvre – not an acoustic guitar in sight. What there is is three pedal boards, one a particularly intimidating double-decker affair, which is pressed into service delaying, phasing, looping, and generally mangling the guitar into all manner of shapes never anticipated by Leo Fender. As if to press the meme home, Coxon, never one given to dramatic gestures, self-consciously ticks the guitar hero cliché boxes – guitar behind head, kneeling down, wrist above the fretboard, all crowd-pleasing moves… and was that a backward roll? Watch that lead doesn’t get tangled.
It’s a schizophrenic performance – of course there’s loads of great songwriting, but many of the songs themselves can’t really decide whether they’re worthy in their own right, or exist simply as a vehicle for another page from Coxon’s playbook. Certainly they are not in any hurry to showcase Coxon’s vocal, a delicate thing at the best of times, which stands not a chance of standing up to the volume of the guitars. Having said that, those songs which do stand out are particularly good – a drawn-out of ‘City Hall’ descends into all sort of chaos with an extended ferocious coda of squalling guitar. ‘Freakin’ Out’ is even more spiky than on record, and ‘What’ll It Take’ is as sardonic as you like. But the overall theme is a virtuoso guitarist doing his thing; not a subtle thing tonight, but a powerful and impressive one.
When I was a young whippersnapper, released into the big boys’ world of proper music by dint of attending a provincial university and hanging out with those who had reached the heady heights of their 21st birthday, CDs were at their peak of popularity. Those little silver discs held a genuine aura of exoticity and desire – vinyl was dead, the internet was slow – and amongst the also-ran Britpop, heavy metal and proto-girl bands available at one’s local HMV was a swiftly-growing metagenre called ‘Chill Out’. The nadir of which was “three discs for £4.99” specials, usually headed by a track made by a band one had heard of, otherwise padded with whatever the label could get their hands on with the minimum of cost – anyone with a TR-808 emulator and an FM synth could knock off a handful of chords, a basic 75bpm beat, and earn a few quid. However, its zenith was a slew of albums from genuinely talented and groundbreaking bands that just happened to fit the ;Chill Out’ label – Massive Attack‘s ‘Blue Lines’, Portishead’s eponymous debut, even acts like the Orb, who had been doing their own thing for years, suddenly found themselves the soundtrack to early-’20s’ pseudo-pretentious dinner parties across the land, not to mention the bedroom fumblings that inevitably followed.
Eventually the 1990s fizzled into the millennium; ‘Chill Out’ was inevitably adopted into the mainstream, losing its aura of sophistication in the process. CDs became tarnished, both literally and figuratively, as the world became blasė and cynical about digital technology; vinyl nostalgia increased with every little nubbin that broke off a CD case. But of course people do still engage in the act of chilling out, even if they don’t use the term itself in polite company, and require a soundtrack to enhance the experience. Which is where Lightships‘ ‘Electric Cables’ comes in (Gerard Love’s solo debut).
With not a drum machine to be heard, ‘Electric Cables’ nevertheless runs at such a trance-like mid-tempo for its entire running length, with its somnambulant vocals and gentle, flutely instrumentation, making it a perfect album to lay back, float away, and (whisper it…) chill out to. Its opening couplet in ‘Two Lines’ (“Somehow through a series of exchanges / Two lines get entangled and entwined”), sets the intent. Invisibly subtitled “love by Love”, there’s all sorts of elemental romance here – spark; rivers; blossom; silver; gold; sun; photosynthesis; dawn – even in the song titles there is earthly optimism.
This is undeniably a Glasgow album – featuring as it does half of Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian‘s bass player, how could it not be? ‘Every Blossom’, with its spiderweb acoustic guitars, flute solos (and is that a glockenspiel?), is quite the companion to the barbed pop of B&S. ‘Sweetness in Her Spark’ (video below) has a lovely, proper chorus and tempo, and shows the potential of the project for combining the pretty presentation into a chart-bothering song.
‘Silver and Gold’ is ’60s Californian fuzz-pop incarnate, with swatches of vocal harmonies and ambience, but still cannot resist almost-whispered, barely-there verse arrangements. The record pivots around ‘The Warmth of the Sun’; so sparse as to feature an actual metronome to keep time, this almost-instrumental sums up how leisurely the whole affair is – it sounds very pretty, but it’s not a record for anyone in a hurry for kicks. Things do make a break into a slightly higher gear in ‘Stretching Out’, which adds a bit more of an urgency to the whole affair, but like a chamber-pop Jethro Tull, there’s always that underlying flute to keep things grounded and, well, somehow British-sounding.
Fans of the Scottish sound will love this, as it neatly fits into the oeuvre, not stepping on any other bands’ toes, but being clearly of a certain school. Others may find it more of a niche record, one that suits a very specific need – it’s no good when preparing for a night on the tiles, for instance. But if you’re planning a romantic candlelit home-made dinner for two, once the wine has been opened, and the beef’s resting, the gentle tones of ‘Electric Cables’ will be the perfect accompaniment. Just be careful not to overdose on the chill out – everyone knows a sleeping date is not a date at all.
The debut album from Lightships (aka Gerard Love of Teenage Fanclub fame) is available now from Domino.