Editor Mary is in Toronto for CMW 2016 this week.
Ongoing coverage of the event will be on our Twitter and on the site this way.
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By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 28th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
Putting aside their leather jackets – for now, anyway – Mumford and Sons have revealed they’ve been working on a mini-album in South Africa with some high-profile collaborators. ‘Johannesburg’ is a set of new recordings the band did with legendary Senegalese musician Baaba Maal and The Very Best, who first came to more mainstream prominence in the Western world in 2009 with single ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on guest vocals.
The mini-album was released in South Africa in January and was a rousing commercial success there. They’ve now shared a live performance they did with Maal, of the album track ‘There Will Be Time’, to drum up interest in the new album, which will be released worldwide on the 17th of June. You can watch the live performance below. The band (presumably minus their African collaborators?) will be headlining a summer BST show at Hyde Park on the 8th of July, supported by Americans Alabama Shakes and Dirty Hit alt-rockers Wolf Alice. For more on Mumford and Sons on TGTF, go here.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 27th April 2016 at 4:00 pm
Tomorrow night, Broken Hands will be playing their biggest London show today, at Camden’s Dingwalls. The exciting times don’t stop there for the hard-rocking Canterbury band, who like TGTF will be heading out to Toronto next week for Canadian Music Week. They’ll be playing the following shows: Wednesday the 4th of May at the Garrison at 12 AM, Thursday the 5th of May at Drake Underground at 11 PM and later at 2 AM at Sneaky Dees; and Friday the 6th of May at Velvet Underground at 9 PM and later at Smiling Buddha at 1 AM. I’ve broken into a nervous sweat just thinking about all the shows! ::cough, wheeze::
For a taste of the band live, well, you’re in luck. Last week, the South East group were in session live for the BBC at Maida Vale for BBC Introducing, broadcast on Steve Lamacq’s 6 Music drivetime programme. A whole slew of videos were filmed, and this is just one of them, for ‘Four’. The track is one of many highlights from their debut album ‘Turbulence’, which was released back in October on SO Recordings. (Read my review of the LP here.) For the whole suite of videos from Maida Vale, go here, and you’ll see what all the fuss is about. For more on Broken Hands on TGTF, go here.
If you’re even a casual reader of TGTF, you’ll probably know by now that electronic music isn’t my particular cup of tea, though it is typically much more to editor Mary’s liking. She was quite disappointed to discover that electropop acts M83 and YACHT wouldn’t be passing through Washington, D.C. on their current tour, especially after seeing YACHT in Austin during SXSW 2016. But she did note that the Los Angeles-based bands were scheduled to play at the Rialto Theater in downtown Tucson, which is where I came into the equation.
I arrived at the venue early and was able to obtain my ticket and photo pass very easily thanks to the staff at the Rialto, so I took a spot in the crowd near the barrier and chatted a bit with some fellow punters. I was surprised to learn that many of the fans near the barrier were primarily there to see opening act YACHT, who they claimed were worthy of headline status themselves. They weren’t entirely wrong in that claim. YACHT’s Renaissance frontwoman, Claire L. Evans, who writes editorials and edits science fiction for VICE’s Motherboard channel when she’s not busy performing, was fierce and forceful from the moment she stepped onto the stage, even before she opened her mouth to sing. Throughout the set, she moved like a prowling panther on the stage, restrained by its dimensions but also using its levels and lighting to her advantage in striking a series of dramatic poses at appropriate points in the music.
Evans’ colleagues Jona Bechtolt and Rob Kieswetter mixed energetic dance beats and intoxicating grooves under her half-sung/half-spoken vocals. To paraphrase Evans’ own description, the band juxtaposed songs about present day American society with songs about a more intimate social issue, namely sex, the latter of which inspired whistles and cheers from their audience. Most of the set list came from their current album ‘I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler’, but final track ‘Psychic City’ was apparently an older fan favourite, judging by the outbreak of ecstatic dancing at the front of the stage. On the brilliant recommendation of a fellow audience member, I took the opportunity to add the song to my own run playlist as soon as YACHT made their way off the stage.
As spectacular as YACHT were, the production quality of the show ramped up exponentially for headline act M83. Even watching the stage crew work between the sets was rather amazing, as they rigged an amazing interplay of lights and sound equipment, the likes of which I rarely see in covering my usual singer/songwriter type gigs. Though the music seemed to drag a bit in places, the production quality was dazzling from beginning to end, and I could see that frontman Anthony Gonzalez must have intended this as part of his overall Gesamtkunstwerk, though it seems funny to use that Wagnerian operatic reference in a review of modern electronic music.
M83 opened with ‘Reunion’, a familiar track from their 2011 breakout album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’, before diving headlong into ‘Do It, Try It’, from their newly released album ‘Junk’. I was rather proud of myself for recognising both songs without prompting, but from that point I was a bit lost, as Gonzalez chose to play more older material than I would have expected. Keyboardist Kaila Sinclair, who is new to the M83 lineup, had ample opportunity to showcase her silky vocals on both the older tracks and the more recent releases, and Gonzalez handed the lead off to female vocalist Mai Lan on new album tracks ‘Laser Gun’ and ‘Go!’, the latter of which had a rather unexpectedly ’80s dance pop vibe. Naturally, Gonzalez held back the band’s massive radio hit ‘Midnight City’ until late in the set proper; though it prompted an outburst of manic energy from the crowd, the audience’s attention appeared to wander once they’d heard it and the jubilant mood dissipated quickly thereafter.
I thought the headline set seemed rather short when Gonzalez and his crew signed off, but it turned out that they had a extended 5-song encore planned, including a lengthy version of the groovy new track ‘Walkaway Blues’, which featured vocals by guitarist Jordan Lawlor. Many of the casual punters in the back of the theater took this opportunity to slip out (it was a Tuesday night, after all!), but the diehard M83 fans stayed to the very end, and they were graciously rewarded with spectacular performances of old favourites ‘Couleurs’ and ‘Lower Your Eyelids to Die With the Sun’.
M83 and YACHT will be on tour in North America through the end of April. M83 have a busy spring and summer schedule planned, with appearances at Coachella and Glastonbury on the docket. You can find YACHT’s upcoming live dates here and M83’s long list of live dates right here.
TGTF’s previous coverage of YACHT, including their recent appearance at SXSW 2016, is back this way. Our coverage of M83 is collected in one convenient spot right back here.
In the midst of our massive ongoing coverage of SXSW 2016, it’s often easy to forget that there’s plenty of music going on outside the scope of the annual Austin festival. I arrived back home after SXSW to discover that my own local clubs were just getting started with their busy spring concert season, and once again I found myself spoilt for choice of good local gigs to attend. It’s been nearly 2 weeks ago now that I caught Irish band Little Green Cars at downtown Tucson’s Club Congress, but the show is still fresh in my mind. With all the SXSW business going on at TGTF, I hadn’t had a chance to get properly acquainted with Little Green Cars or with opening act, singer/songwriter John Mark Nelson, and in the end I was pleasantly surprised by both.
Folk-rock artist Nelson hails from Minneapolis, and I discovered after the fact that he had also showcased at SXSW in March, though I wasn’t lucky enough to catch him while I was there. Despite his relative youth (he’s only 24 years old), he released his fourth studio album ‘I’m Not Afraid’ on Gndwire Records last autumn. He played several songs from the new album at this show, notably including ‘After All I’ve Done’ and ‘Broken’. Just ahead of his SXSW appearance, Nelson unveiled the video for ‘Control’, which features on ‘I’m Not Afraid’ and which made a strong impression in live performance here.
Nelson at one point shared with us that his keyboardist and backing vocalist Kara Laudon is a songwriter in her own right, and he graciously allowed her a moment to shine during his set, though I found it odd in the context that she chose to do a cover rather than one of her own songs. A little post-gig research tells me that Nelson sang backing vocals on Laudon’s 2015 album ‘I Wasn’t Made’, and that guitarist Steve Bosmans and bassist Benjamin Kelly also played on both ‘I Wasn’t Made’ and ‘I’m Not Afraid’. The tight-knit nature of the group was evident in their relaxed confidence and spontaneous energy onstage at Club Congress on the night.
I had a fair idea of what to expect from headline act Little Green Cars after this review of their recent single ‘The Song They Play Every Night’ and a quick listen to their sophomore album ‘Ephemera’, which was released back in March. My first impression of ‘Ephemera’ was that its name seemed like a fair title for the record. It was pleasant enough, but nothing on the studio recording particularly struck me. In live performance, however, the songs took on a completely different tone, with the band’s strong vocal foundation lending a vibrant energy that was somehow missing in the album’s production.
Having toured America with blues rock superstar Hozier last autumn, Little Green Cars have gained a reputation that apparently preceded them here, as Club Congress was filled to capacity by the time they took the stage. They opened with slow-building ‘Ephemera’ track ‘The Party’, and co-frontman Stevie Appleby’s whispered lyrics “it doesn’t matter / she’ll believe him / once you’ve seen it / I don’t think you’ve got a choice”, underlaid by a sinister guitar riff, captivated the audience, including myself, in very short order. Appleby then switched spots with the band’s frontwoman Faye O’Rourke for a song showcasing her lead vocals, ‘Good Women Do’. The pair continued to switch at intervals throughout the set, but their transitions were seamless, with the rest of the band providing equally seamless vocal harmonies in almost every song.
The Dublin quintet’s set was, to no one’s surprise, heavy on songs from their new album, but what did come as a bit of a novelty was Appleby’s reading of a poem, also titled ‘Ephemera’. His reading might have been more effective if not for an overly enthusiastic male fan in the front row, who took the quiet moment as an opportunity to shout out his undying affection for the band. This would unfortunately continue through the remainder of the set, as Appleby made the mistake of acknowledging the fan’s adoration with a reply. But the band soldiered through and seemed to genuinely enjoy the rapt attention they earned from the rest of their audience.
Of their older tracks, Little Green Cars naturally played fan favourites ‘Harper Lee’ and ‘The John Wayne’, the latter of which Appleby prefaced with a story about meeting a fan actually named—“I shit you not”—John Wayne. The energy level reached a high point with that upbeat tune, ahead of O’Rourke’s spellbinding vocals in the dramatic ‘My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me’ and slow-burning set closer ‘Easier Day’.
As I’ve noted before, the backstage area at Club Congress is all but non-existent, and Little Green Cars didn’t even fully get out of view before coming back onstage for their encore. They chose one more track from each album (‘I Don’t Even Know Who’ from ‘Ephemera’ and ‘The Consequences of Not Sleeping’ from ‘Absolute Zero’) before descending into the crowd for a flawless group acoustic performance of gospel-tinged new album closer ‘The Factory’. Its spiritual chorus lines “Jesus, Mary, Mother of God / I’m alive again” was most effective for its beautiful vocal harmonies, which fairly resonated through the small venue and echoed in my ears long after the show finished. Seeing great bands in such intimate settings is always a treat, and though I’d had my fill in March at SXSW, this show at Club Congress was a nice reminder that I can have the same pleasure closer to home.
Little Green Cars and John Mark Nelson will be on tour in North America through the beginning of May. Little Green Cars will play both festival and headline dates in the UK and Ireland this summer; you can find details on their official Facebook.
I’ve always had a fondness for stories with tidy endings, so it seems quite natural that I finished SXSW 2016 on Saturday night at the British Music Embassy, even if Mary and I were a bit delayed in getting there. After our dinner hour activities at the Hilton Austin’s Liberty Tavern (which you can read about right back here), we stopped for a quick drink across the street from Latitude 30 before heading over for the NME / UK Trade and Investment showcase. As often happens with when I’m with Mary, we ended up engaged in a rather interesting conversation with some industry acquaintances of hers, and we had trouble tearing ourselves away for the final evening of live shows.
As much as we might have liked to stay and chat, Mary and I both had other activities planned for the evening, and we made our way to Latitude 30 just in time to catch the first act on the showcase, groove rock brother act Lusts. In the brief snippet of what I saw and heard, their music was an interesting combination of heavy rhythms and hazy vocals, but it was really their insistent and compelling energy that left the strongest opening impression.
The next act originally scheduled on the showcase was rap collective Section Boyz, but a last minute substitution gave us instead Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin. She facetiously introduced herself and her band as Section Boyz just to see if her audience were paying attention, but in truth, Jacklin’s warm folk rock couldn’t have been stylistically farther from the act she stepped in to replace. Jacklin’s music had more sonic impact than her diminutive appearance might suggest, and the lyrical substance of her track ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ particularly tugged at my heartstrings after she shared that she had written it for her little brother because she wanted him to think she was cool. Those small personal details can make a song seem much more special to a listener, and Jacklin certainly won herself a new fan in me that night.
Following Julia Jacklin was self-described “industrial spiritual” band Pumarosa, who I’d seen previously on the Tuesday night showcase at Hype Hotel. They had the same lengthy setup issues here at the British Music Embassy, but once they got started, they fairly shook the stage with a much more confident sounding set than what I’d heard from them earlier in the week. The lighting at Latitude 30 allowed me to get a better photo of frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s unusual guitar technique (which you can see below), and I was thrilled to have another go at dancing to Pumarosa’s exotic hit song ‘Priestess’.
Next on the bill was an artist I’d been looking forward to seeing since our initial preview of this showcase, rock singer/songwriter Barns Courtney (pictured at top). After seeing him blaze through a spectacular set including his currently released tracks ‘Fire’ and ‘Glitter and Gold’, as well as the curiously-titled ‘Hobo Rocket’, I’m more convinced than ever that he has the potential to be a breakout superstar on the order of James Bay or Hozier if he plays his cards right. In the intermission between sets, I snagged Courtney for a quick back alley interview, which turned out to be quite possibly the most unforgettable conversation I had all week long.
I came back inside just in time to catch dance pop duo Formation, whose number had apparently multiplied ahead of their appearance at SXSW. Comprising brothers Will and Matt Ritson along with Jonny Tams, Sasha Lewis and Kai Akinde-Hummel, the band and their equipment fit on the small British Music Embassy stage with very little room to spare. But despite the close quarters on stage, the band played a beat-driven, movement-inspiring set list much to the liking of the late night dancers in the crowd.
Formation were followed on the docket by another Special Guest, who hadn’t been officially announced before the show but was rumoured to be American veterans-turned-newcomers on the music scene, PARTYBABY. I’d seen PARTYBABY along with Pumarosa on the Tuesday night Hype Hotel showcase, and I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with the choice. PARTYBABY would certainly make an energetic closing act, I hadn’t found them engaging enough to stick around for twice. Fortunately, Mary arrived back at Latitude 30 just as they came on stage to set up, and we took the opportunity to make a final round of fond farewells to our friends at the British Music Embassy before officially bidding adieu to SXSW 2016.
Au revoir, Austin…until we meet again.
After the frenetic Friday of SXSW 2016, (which I spent here and here, in case you haven’t been reading along), Saturday dawned sunny, if a little chilly. I found myself running at a slightly slower pace. I had only two interviews scheduled for the day, both with exciting female singer/songwriters, and though I was glad for a later start to the day, I was eager to get moving by the time Mary and I arrived downtown.
Recent California-to-Iowa transplant Lissie was on the schedule for the SPIN Magazine day party at the Bud Light Factory at Brazos Hall, and I had a standing appointment for an interview with her after her set. The atmosphere at the venue was relaxed but energetic, as you might expect on a sunny Saturday afternoon. And Lissie’s mellow, mostly acoustic set fit perfectly with that vibe. She played a set of songs centered around her new album ‘My Wild West’, but to my delight, she also included her well-known cover of Kid Cudi’s ‘Pursuit of Happiness’. I hadn’t heard Lissie perform live before this, but after having reviewed ‘My Wild West’, I would say that her voice in person was every bit as rich and warm as it comes across on the record, and its raw power is only magnified by being in the same room.
The sound and lighting were both excellent at the Bud Light Factory, and aside from Lissie, the showcase promised high-energy performances from hip-hop artist Lizzo (who had been first on the afternoon docket), UK indie rockers Bloc Party and genre-bending alt-pop artist Santigold. In the end, though, I only saw Lissie’s set from in front of the stage. After she finished playing, I was escorted upstairs to the VIP area for our scheduled interview. This was Lissie’s final show of SXSW 2016, and she had other press commitments as well as ours, but I was happy to wait my turn. There were plenty of amusements to pass the time, and I took the opportunity to try out a cool virtual music making machine, as well as watching part of Bloc Party’s set on the venue’s closed circuit TV. After that bit of fun, I had this casual chat with Lissie about her new album and where it has led her, both personally and professionally.
After leaving the SPIN party, I took an hour or so of “personal time” to try something new at SXSW. On a bit of a whim, I headed to the ChiveTV pop-up party on the west side of downtown, where I heard country rock band Poor Man’s Change. I can be picky about country music; it isn’t always to my particular liking, but this Southern California quartet fit nicely with my genial Saturday afternoon mood, and I had a chance to chat with several friendly people while I took in the scene.
Following my short stopover at the ChiveTV party, I headed back east to meet up with Mary at the Hilton Austin hotel. We saw a few familiar faces and had a quick dinner ahead of Brighton singer/songwriter Holly Macve’s set at the hotel’s intimate Liberty Tavern. The audience here was captivated by Macve’s unique singing voice and dramatically stark song arrangements, and particularly in her cover of Patsy Cline classic ‘Crazy’ and her own haunting track ‘Sycamore Tree’. I had a chat with the fresh-faced and undeniably talented Macve after her set, and it was truly a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak with her at this exciting juncture of her career. Mary shares thoughts on the early evening showcase just below.
Mary: I wanted to note here that if a club atmosphere is not for you, and/or you’re keen on catching fresh – and free! – entertainment during SXSW, the festival offers up the Second Play Stages at several hotels in downtown Austin, plus the Hyatt Regency south of the Colorado River where I caught Demi Louise last year and Carrie saw Roo Panes on Wednesday during this year’s festival. Liberty Tavern, located at the Hilton on E. 4th Street, had 3 acts scheduled each night of SXSW 2016. We were present for Holly Macve’s set to start the dinner hour at 6, and while Carrie was speaking with her after her set, I also had a look-in on 18-year-old James TW, who will be having his debut London live appearance the 12th of May at Islington Academy 2 (tickets on sale now).
The young James – the “TW” in his act name refers to his double-barrelled surname Taylor-Watts – holds the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to sign to Island Records UK. Prior to coming out to Austin, he released the single ‘When You Love Someone’ in February, which has already charted on the Spotify Viral Top 50. With boy next door charm, his music is easy on the ears, bridging the gap between country/western / singer/songwriter and urban vocal stylings of today, his voice at times twangy and soulful. His debut EP ‘First Impressions’ (how appropriate to reference his first showcasing at SXSW) is scheduled for release this Friday.
Carrie: Following James TW’s set and my interview with Holly Macve, Mary and I met up again to plot our course for the final evening of SXSW 2016. You can read Mary’s Saturday night reviews here and here; my own Saturday night review will post soon.
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