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Album Review: Various artists – Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014

 
By on Monday, 14th April 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Fierce Panda Records may be famously noted by pedants of the British music business as being the label that launched the careers of Coldplay and Keane, but if that was all to the label, it wouldn’t be still standing. It’s hard for me to fathom that here we are in the year 2014, and Fierce Panda has been in business for 2 decades. The London indie label has championed the little guy and released so much great music in the last 20 years, it would take me far too long to go through their storied history than there is space on our humble Web site. Instead, I’m going to focus on a new 18-track compilation the label is offering up for free with any record purchase from their online shop.

The LP’s title ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ is innocuous enough, not at all telling of its contents when, in fact, it is a careful selection of, oddly, the saddest songs from their back catalogue of the last 10 years. I say oddly, because celebrating and (surviving) 20 years in anything these days is cause for celebration, surely? However, despite being advertised by the label themselves as “some of the weepiest tunes it has had the tragic pleasure to put out over the past ten years”, you should be more impressed by the quality of the music not to slit your wrists. Hopefully, anyway. Maybe the whole ‘sad song’ is meant to be cheeky, now that I think about it.

‘Endangered’ does not rely solely on sob story, folky singer/songwriter types and in so doing, shows the breadth of Fierce Panda’s roster. But let’s first examine the more obvious sad songs. Danish girl/boy duo The Raveonettes‘ ‘Last Dance’ is innocent and twee, and Canadians Woodpigeon‘s ‘The Saddest Music in the World’ that opens the album is similar, but with added Simon and Garfunkel influence. Los Angeles quintet Milo Greene‘s harmonies shine on the Biblical leaning ‘Son My Son’, while the voice and songwriting of Tom Hickox, already being compared to Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave’s, haunts with desolation on ‘Let Me Be Your Lover’, with sombre piano and then added strings and horns.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLGd50B16Ck[/youtube]

The more bombastic numbers in this collection include the now-on-hiatus Walkmen and their optimistic (or delusional?) ‘In the New Year’, the slow burning Acres of Lions‘ ‘Collections’, Hatcham Social‘s rich guitars in ‘Sidewalk’ and Dingus Khan‘s whistle-filled ‘Made a List’; the latter’s inclusion in particular surprised me, but it just goes to show that even if you’re looking rough and tumble on the outside, you can still feel sadness inside. The sonic beauty of Ultrasound‘s ‘Sovereign’ is marred, presumably on purpose, by the repetition of the lyric “we are unclean” and the business of sex and sin, all wailed by singer Andrew “Tiny” Wood. The same can be said for tracks that include synths or twinkly keys: ‘They All Laughed’ by the Spinto Band sounds cheerful in a music box sort of way but it veils, not very well, the disgust he has for a former love, while the psychedelic feelings that Hey Sholay‘s ‘The Bears The Clocks The Bees’ engenders are appropriate for a song about confusion in a relationship.

It should also noted that sadness can also come out of mind games, craving someone else or the deepest regret. The industrial Nine Inch Nail-sey sound of Department M‘s ‘J-Hop’ (stream above) comes with the element of desire with its sensual lyrics, “we ply / by the logic of the reasoned minds / and one last time I’ll come to your body / what do you need?” The genius behind Art Brut‘s ‘Rusted Guns of Milan’ is Eddie Argos’ admittance, in his usual funny way, that he’s messed up in a relationship and he wants a second chance. Meanwhile, a similar request for a second chance is captured in a brilliant snapshot in ‘Last Decade’ by Goldheart Assembly (video below), showing a man’s final moments, first desperate to reconcile with a lover but then resigning to his fate: “but you know I’d go back, but there is no way…” I Like Trains‘ ‘A Rook House for Bobby’ I’m guessing is named for chess champion and famed recluse Bobby Fischer, using his hermit existence as a metaphor for how love can cause depression. The self-deprecation and admittance of weakness in the little girl voice of Melanie Pain in ‘How Bad Can It Be’ is, no pun intended, painful: “everyone knows I won’t change / everyone knows love is not my game / everyone know who I am / everyone but you.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uE667lCVBDA[/youtube]

Additional Panda melancholy comes courtesy of Sheffield in the form of two exemplary tracks. A man’s exasperation over his lover’s worry about losing him is made all too real in Tom Hogg’s expressive vocals with his bandmates’ gorgeously crooning backing in ‘Would You Be Blue’ by the Hosts (stream below) from this year’s debut album from them, ‘Softly, Softly’. Meanwhile, the loneliness of the protagonist of The Crookes ‘Howl’ from ‘Soapbox’ released today is haunted by the memory of another’s love, as George Waite’s voice is alternately dreamy and contemplative in the romance of song-induced candlelight: “and there’s no time, only light / no clocks, but shadows that hide the point when day becomes night / it’s hard to tell with these skies… I heard the howl, I love you but you keep me down.”

I think those two songs tell the ‘sad song story’ of Fierce Panda’s last 10 years the best, and why? Sad songs, like love songs, are often misunderstood. Emotions like sadness, loneliness and indeed, even love are like jewels. Whether they mean to or not, the people who gloss over emotion don’t seem to understand that they aren’t one-dimensional but instead multi-faceted, with dull and lifeless versus bright and sharp faces and something new to discover upon each listen. As a collection of the ‘sad song’ genre, ‘Endangered’ is a great introduction to the many wonderful artists on the Fierce Panda roster, and I can’t imagine you won’t find at least one song that will make you feel something deep in your heart.

7.5/10

You can get ‘Endangered: Fierce Panda 2004-2014’ now for free if you order any album from the Fierce Panda online shop here. For more information on the bands signed to Fierce Panda, those included in this collection and those not, visit the label’s official Web site. For a limited time, you can get another eight-track song sampler (not all sad songs!); more details in this previous MP3(s) of the Day post.

 

Post-SXSW 2014 Interview: The Crookes

 
By on Friday, 4th April 2014 at 11:00 am
 

The Crookes were a hot commodity at this year’s SXSW, so much that I never was able to pin them down myself for an interview. Instead, I sent over the questions I’d prepared to ask the Sheffield band in Austin after they returned to England so they could answer them while enjoying the comforts of home. They were kind to answer my many queries on what it was like to be playing shows in America again, the making and recording of their forthcoming album ‘Soapbox’ due out on the 14th of April, and what’s next for them. Read on…

We last caught up with you in May 2013 at your show at the Scala in London. You’ve since signed with an American indie label called Modern Outsider, and conveniently, they’re based in Austin, which makes visiting at SXSW a breeze, I would imagine. What was the courtship like?
George Waite (vocals / bass): Quite short in truth. They asked, and we said yes. That is not to say that we’d have taken any offer – there are a lot of charlatans out there and we’ve met a few. Ultimately, we went with Chip and Erin because they are honest and we liked them. Having them in our corner makes a huge difference when it comes to SXSW and our U.S. adventures.

What was it like to play – and headline – an industry showcase hosted by your American label? Does it feel like you’ve come a long way, or does it feel like everything’s going according to the master Crookes plan for world domination?
Tom Dakin (guitar / backing vocals / keys): It certainly feels like we’ve come a long way. It’s been an honour to headline the Modern Outsider showcase, particularly since we’re a relatively new band to their roster. The support they’ve given us has made all the difference to the way playing in America feels. The USA can be a dauntingly large place for us to go to, small islanders that we are, and to have the label back us as they do makes it a more realistic prospect that our music might find some more fans there.

A couple weeks prior to coming out to America, you all were interviewed on BBC Breakfast, discussing a grant you received from the UK government to break America. Before I left DC, I spoke with some other recipients of a grant, Public Service Broadcasting, and it sounds like it is a pretty big honour to receive, not to mention a massive help in advancing your career not just here in the States but beyond too. What can you tell us about it? Are there strings attached?
George: We’re incredibly grateful for the grant. It allows us to further our efforts in the U.S., which could have stalled otherwise. We love playing in America – so many of our influences are rooted in that culture – but we don’t go over there to make up the numbers. We’re not tourists. We are serious about making inroads there and this grant enables us to try at least.

This was your third SXSW. Now that SXSW has become old hat to you, how did this year feel compared to showcasing in previous years?
George: This year felt a lot less intense than previous years. Maybe because we are veterans now, but Modern Outsider certainly did a lot to put us at ease this time. Like I said, having them in our corner really gave us a lift. Also, we had played Dallas before coming to Austin, and were heading to LA after, so that took a lot of pressure off SXSW as the be all and end all.

You played a good handful of songs from your forthcoming album ‘Soapbox’, out in April. How do you think they were received?
Tom: We’re really happy with how the new songs are being received. It seems crazy that we gave these songs their first live airing at a poolside stage in Dallas, with the whole gig bathed in that Texan evening light. It’s hard to believe that they could travel so far from our gloomy attic writing rooms.

Lammo was certainly impressed; he commented on Wednesday 19/03 on his 6music evening programme that it warmed his heart to watch people down the front for your turn Saturday afternoon at Latitude 30 / British Music Embassy singing along and knowing all the words.
George: Yes, and it’s incredibly heartening for us to see that from the stage too. We rely on the crowd to contribute to the atmosphere, which is why our favourite gigs are usually the raucous ones, as opposed to the most technically adept. Having people sing along is always a help as well in case I forget the words.

You had played 7 shows across 5 days in Austin during the week, and in sorts of different situations; do any of them stand out to you, and why? (To those who were not in Austin for SXSW this year, to give you some context, just on Wednesday, the Crookes played a converted garage space [Empire Control Room] as part of a local radio station’s showcase in the afternoon, followed by the very cool Parish Underground that night where Modern Outsider was putting on their label showcase.)
George: The Parish show was definitely my highlight. We went on at 1 AM and the crowd was fantastic. There was a lot riding on our gig because we wanted to prove that, as an English band, we were worthy of headlining an American label’s showcase. We wanted to make Modern Outsider proud and we had a lot of fun in the process.

Tom, did you manage to find and see Kurt Vile perform? (This is related to an answer he gave me before SXSW as part of their responses to our TGTF Quickfire Questions.) Who else did you all see and who were you impressed by (or not), who were your standouts or who would you recommend we steer clear of?
Tom: I managed to miss every single band that I’d planned on seeing, including Kurt Vile, but I did stumble upon a few treats. It seems to be the case that SXSW is perfect for discovering bands by accident, but if you’ve already heard of an act, there will probably be a thousand other people who want to see them too so there’s not always a good chance of getting into the venues.

This year I discovered Triptides, a band from Indiana who were playing on the same bill as us for Music For Listeners (at a Mexican burger joint called El Sapo Friday afternoon). They had some very cool guitar sounds, and great songs. Also, we managed to catch Sweet Baboo, who is a long time favourite but I hadn’t seen his one-man show before.

You played a gig at the famous Echo in Los Angeles on Sunday as part of a Part Time Punks show there. Was this your first time in LA? What were your expectations of our West Coast, after having spent time playing shows in New York and Texas?
George: Yes, it was our first time in California, and it blew our minds. We arrived in Los Angeles after 4 days in the desert, and it took us a day or so to get our heads around the place. The scale of LA is crazy, but luckily we had a house in the middle of Echo Park, so we had a lot to explore on our doorstep. Literally, as there were hummingbirds in the front garden!

The show itself went really well. It is strange to find so many like minded people so far from home but Part Time Punks is a great night (the kind I wish there were more of in England!) and it was a thrill to meet people who had been waiting for years to see us play in their city. We could only thank them for their patience!

The album cover for ‘Soapbox’ is black and white like the ones for the ‘Dreaming of Another Day’ EP and ‘Hold Fast’, but it comes across more sophisticated with a touch of nostalgia. What’s the story behind it and how did it come about? The dots remind of a Lite-Brite pattern. (I’ve also seen similar lettering on the album sleeve of Patrick Wolf’s ‘The Magic Position’.)
Russell Bates (drums): I’ve never seen that before personally, but I can see how you made the connection, I suppose the initial idea came from the artwork of classic albums, the band having total prominence not clouded by anything external. I liked the idea of focusing the viewers attention entirely on the band. It’s a statement of intent.

The album is probably the best work we’ve produced to date in my opinion and the first where Tom played a big part in the songwriting. I wanted an album cover which showed this, that *this* is The Crookes. Almost like a self-titled album in a visual sense. I selected the font as I desired something subtle which blended into the black to give the picture as much prominence as possible. If you hold it a few feet from your eyes it disappears almost totally. [This disappearing act was apparent to my eyes when I got my copy in the post last week. See photo here. – Ed.]

Set the stage for us: tell us all about the place where you went to record the album. Us fans have seen the photos of the isolated church in the mountains of Northern Italy, but we want to know what it felt like to be there.
George: It was quite a changeable place actually. In the mornings and at night, it was quite eerie. We were so high up that the clouds would hang low over the house – a bit like that (Playstation video) game Silent Hill. But when the sun came out, it was stunning. You could see for miles down the valley and because it was autumn, everything was very colourful. I think these two extremes filtered into the mood of the record in some subconscious way.

From what I guessed from the photos, the location seemed quite desolate. Did that fit in well with the underlying ‘Soapbox’ theme of ‘The Outsider’, Daniel?
Daniel Hopewell (guitar / lyrics): Yes, but that was more serendipitous than by design. I was more attracted to the religious symbolism there; Catholicism is such a romantic religion full of saints and sinners and angels and demons and stigmata and transubstantiation (I think the word “blood” appears more than any other in our songs, so drinking red wine in the chapel was very fitting). Songs like ‘Holy Innocents’, ‘Don’t Put Your Faith In Me’ and ‘Straight To Heaven’ [not sure which song he meant here, as there isn’t one with this name on ‘Soapbox’ – Ed.] really fitted that location. There was also something clearly Gothic in that setting which naturally follows on from our previous Romanticism. It was like living in Bram Stoker’s imagination.

George, there was some film of you singing in front of a microphone that was situated in front of a big cross in the church. Was there any divine intervention, did you sense any ghosts while you were recording there? I’m not religious but whenever I walk into churches, I always feel this unearthly sense of power in them. Were there any sightings of apparitions or did anything unusual happen while you were there?
George: I’m not religious, but there was something about having San’t Antonio watching over us that had an impact. We did start to go stir crazy after a month alone in the mountains, and every noise we heard outside would start to take on greater significance. Russ actually took a picture of the crosses on the doors with the chapel light on inside only to discover that the shape of the crucifixes had been projected onto the trees outside – but upside down! That had us spooked for a while. Still no explanation…

Tom, you played piano on this album (‘Holy Innocents’), which was a nice bridge from spring 2013 single ‘Dance in Colour’, which also featured piano. Piano isn’t really a ‘traditional’ rock ‘n’ roll instrument the way guitars and drums are. Was including it part of this Crookes’ evolution I feel we’re witnessing?
Tom: I don’t agree that piano isn’t a traditional rock ‘n’ roll instrument – what about Jerry Lee Lewis?! [Let me explain where my question came from: as a kid I learned classical piano, but in terms of use today, I was thinking more along the lines of Lady Gaga and Sara Bareilles. – Ed.] I think using instruments other than drums and guitars is part of the evolution of the band, but only a small part. We’re always experimenting with different instruments and sounds but try to keep focused on making the best of whatever song we’re working on at the time. I don’t think I’d like it if a particular texture or sound used on a track became more important than the song itself. Piano is a nice change though, and although I can get a bit lazy sometimes when playing guitar, I don’t have that luxury with keyboards, which is definitely a good thing when it comes to songwriting.

Besides the piano, what was different this time about the making of ‘Soapbox’? I thought it was a great idea, though not practical for other bands, that you brought your producer Matt Peel with you to Italy for the recording. I imagined that affected things too?
Tom: Without Matt, we wouldn’t have been able to make the album out there. We demo all of our stuff at home, but making a releasable record that has all the songs hitting their potential as we want them to is something for which we definitely need Matt.

The main thing about being in Valle di Preone in that lonely church up in the mountains was the isolation. It being just the five of us, totally sequestered away from our home comforts, with no television, telephone or internet to distract us, we could totally focus on the album and the album alone. I think you can hear that in the recording, and coupled with the amazing sound of that church and the moody fogginess of the valley, it makes it a record we could not have created any other way.

The album feels ‘harder’ than your previous material. ‘Play Dumb’, the first single you released, felt like a kick in the teeth! Agree or disagree? (I forget now which Web site it was, they’d erased ‘pop’ from your genre description, so it only reads “indie rock” now.)
Tom: Haha! Not so sure about that. ‘Play Dumb’ sounds pretty damn poppy to me! Take away those fuzzy guitars and big drums, and there’s a pop sensibility at the core of it. We were feeling more aggressive and perhaps frustrated when we went away to make the album, though, and it’s definitely true that that comes through in the songs. I think the (closing) track ‘Soapbox’ is a good example of that. We let that one grow into something quite a long way away from its original concept, and you can hear on the record that we’re letting go of everything by the very end.

Daniel, for this album it was my understanding that as a band you took a different approach in that the lyrics were written first, which was not the case for previous Crookes’ releases. (‘The Crookes Laundry Murder 1922’ from 2011 album ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ and the way George sings its lyrics in a non-linear way comes to mind.) As a consequence, as a writer, did you find that more freeing artistically? Were the majority of the lyrics written while the band was away from Sheffield, as was the case for ‘Hold Fast’?
Daniel: A lot of lines came from old notebooks, just as they always do. The ‘Marcy’ lyrics were written one night when me and Russell were walking home through The Marcy Projects in New York (think of the subject as personification). But then those feelings of frustration and loneliness which I believe underscore everything came from being in Sheffield. [You can grab a free copy of ‘Marcy’ from this previous MP3 of the Day post. – Ed.]

Writing the lyrics first was liberating, certainly, but the melody is always the most important thing to me. Without a strong melody, people won’t come back to listen to the lyrics and work out what they mean, but once the melody to a song has hooked you, the lyrics invite the listener to keep coming back.

Did playing Bruce Springsteen in the van all the way down to Italy affect the way ‘Soapbox’ turned out? Were there any other new or recalled influences that came into play when you started writing and recording the new album?
George: ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ is one of my favourite records. There is a lot of sadness and melancholy on that which people probably don’t always associate with him. I think in terms of the frustration that he always nails so well, Springsteen was a touchstone for us. There is always that sense of defiance in his music and that is important to us because otherwise you start to sound like a bunch of whinging bastards.

What will be the next single, video…??? Will it be one of the songs that premiered in Austin? What can fans expect in the weeks leading up to the album release?
Tom: The next single will be ‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’, which is the song we’ve been opening our sets with at our latest U.S. shows. We’ve been recording the video whilst on tour in America so expect to see lots of muscle cars, cacti and sunburn. That’ll be out before the album is released, and we’ll also be releasing one or two other videos relating to how the album came to be made. [Narrated by Russell, part 1 of the Making of ‘Soapbox’ series can be watched below. – Ed.]

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRck2N0NZf4[/youtube]

You have an extensive UK tour lined up for April to start the week the album is released on the 14th of April on Fierce Panda Records, and it’s swiftly followed by a European tour. This will be your first big tour in a long time. Excited? Apprehensive? Are there places that you haven’t been to in a while that you’re really looking forward to playing in again?
George: Can’t wait now. America definitely whet our whistle for a longer stretch on the road. We always look forward to certain places – Sheffield (at the end of May at the Leadmill) is the very last show and I have high hopes for that one – but you never know on tour. It’s a complete unknown, even after so many. You never know what can happen. And that’s why it’s so exciting.

What festivals will you be playing this summer?
Tom: We’ll be announcing them on our Twitter and Facebook pages as they get booked in with us.

I am asked this constantly, from all corners of the United States; you have a lot of fans over here! When are you going to do a proper tour of North America?
George: We will be back as soon as is humanly possible! This year at SXSW we have been looking for people who will help to make that happen, and as soon as we know, we’ll tell you.

Now that album #3 is in the can, you’ve got these headline tours set up for the spring and I’m sure loads of festival appearances all summer, what’s up next for the Crookes now that you’re back to Sheffield?
George: Well, we’re home now and all we want to do is go and play again. That, and write the fourth record.

What would you like to say to your adoring fans? GO.
Tom: Go listen to Sweet Baboo. [I concur. Start with ‘Ships’. – Ed.]
George: There are times when I still find it strange that there are people out there that like our band but to those of you that do, thank you. x
Daniel: To quote the late, great Bryan Adams, “everything I do, I do it for you”.
Russell: What Daniel said, but totally sincerely.

Many thanks to the Crookes for their answers and Penny for sorting out this q&a for us.

 

SXSW 2014: last dance at British Music Embassy – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 3rd April 2014 at 3:00 pm
 

By the final Saturday of SXSW 2014, my addled brain was full to capacity with new music, new faces, and new experiences. Mary and I got off to a bit of a late start after our busy Friday (read all the recaps including my thoughts on the Communion showcase at St. David’s and more, my review of the full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s, Mary’s Friday night free-for-all featuring London, Tokyo and Glasgow bands, and Mary’s busy interview schedule), in no small part due to the rainy weather we woke up to. Mary had scheduled a quick stop at Holy Mountain (read the start of her Saturday review here), but I wasn’t officially covering any of Saturday’s events, so I was able to sneak in a leisurely cup of coffee before I headed to the British Music Embassy at Latitude 30. (Where else would we have ended up?)

Frankly, after Friday’s whirlwind of music and interviews, I was ready to let loose and dance. Happily, the lineup at Latitude 30 seemed tailor-made to accommodate me. The afternoon started off slowly with Welsh singer/songwriter Sweet Baboo, but the energy level was quickly ratcheted up by Scottish rockers Meursault, Oxford groove factory Glass Animals, Sheffield’s latest and greatest, The Crookes, Brighton-based Kins, and London jazz/funk/pop band Melt Yourself Down. Mary has already covered the acts we saw in detail here, so I will just add that I did indeed fall in love with the edgy rock of Meursault and that my second time seeing Glass Animals was every bit as steamy as the first.

By the time the fourth act, The Crookes, came on stage, I was on my fourth gin and tonic. At some point in the set, I believe I may have had a mildly embarrassing exchange with lead singer George Waite about the errant button on his shirt. I can only hope that everyone else’s memories of that are as cloudy as my own. Luckily for me, I was able to disguise my blushing with one last feverish dance to ‘Afterglow’.

Drinks at British Music Embassy, SXSW 2014

We did actually end up stretching our SXSW Saturday for just a few hours more with sushi and acts at the Hype Hotel (read Mary’s thoughts on the night here), but in my heart, that last dance at Latitude 30 was the perfect wrap up to a perfect week. I had a fabulous time, and I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about it, though I did learn a few lessons that might prove useful for next time.  And yes, Mary and I are already scheming and planning for next year!

On that note, and in closing, I have to thank Mary for bringing me along with her on this year’s SXSW adventure. I had a 12-hour road trip home from Austin, and I spent all of it listening to music I’d picked up along the way, mentally revisiting the faces and places I’d seen. Despite the lengthy trip, it was an incredible week in so many ways, and I look forward to giving it another go in 2015.

Mary and Carrie, 15 March, SXSW 2014

Au revoir, Austin!

 

MP3(s) of the Day #818: Fierce Panda ‘Survival’ eight-track sampler

 
By on Wednesday, 2nd April 2014 at 10:00 am
 

Fierce Panda Records have put out some great music over its storied 20 years in business. We should know; we’ve reviewed albums by and become enamoured with many of their artists. In case you needed further convincing (but you really shouldn’t), the influential London indie label is giving away a pack of eight mp3s for free through Amazon UK. What’s included in the bundle?

1. ‘Robin Song’ – Woodpigeon
2. ‘Cutty Love’ – Milo Greene
3. ‘Under the Waterway’ – Goldheart Assembly (pictured at top)
4. ‘Where the Wind Blows’ – The Hosts (read my review of their 2014 album ‘Softly, Softly’ here)
5. ‘Sofie’ – The Crookes (read my review of their 2014 album ‘Soapbox’ here)
6. ‘Breaking Into Cars’ – The Raveonettes
7. ‘Good Enough’ – Mélanie Pain
8. ‘The Angel of the North’ – Tom Hickox

Get your pack of free eight mp3s from Amazon here.

 

MP3 of the Day #817: The Crookes

 
By on Friday, 28th March 2014 at 10:00 am
 

Ahead of the release of their third album ‘Soapbox’ on the 14th of April on Fierce Panda, The Crookes are giving away an album track via Noisetrade. You can grab ‘Marcy’, track #8 of the new LP, in exchange for your email address via this link.

We saw a fair bit of the Sheffield band when we were in Austin for SXSW 2014, including their appearances at Empire Control Room on Wednesday afternoon, their star turn headlining their American label Modern Outsider’s showcase at Parish Underground Wednesday night, a secret Sofar Sounds show Thursday evening, and at the British Music Embassy on Saturday afternoon.

 

SXSW 2014: a flying visit to a New Zealand festival and doing a re-make/re-model at the British Music Embassy – 15th March 2014

 
By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

When we woke up on Saturday, we were greeted by rain. Not just rain. Very heavy rain. So heavy initially that I considered going back to bed. But it was our last day in Austin and I intended to make the most of it. While it was a wee dreary walking around with an umbrella after so many days of carefree strolls in the Texan sunshine, when life hands you lemons, you have to make lemonade, am I right?

Carrie went to find coffee (if you’re reading all our posts, are you sensing a theme here?) and was to meet me later, having a leisurely early afternoon, while I went off in search of the London act I didn’t think I’d be able to see all week but somehow the organisational gods smiled down on me and suddenly I found I could. St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is an annual music event in Auckland, New Zealand, and at this year’s SXSW, they hosted an afternoon showcase covering both stages of Holy Mountain out on 7th Street.

I arrived too early for who I was there for, so I walked between the stages to see if my ears perked up to anything I heard. In the backyard stage when I arrived were Brisbane rockers The Creases, who have that Beach Boys-ey, Best Coast-esque sunny surf pop sound nailed down all right. Not my thing at all but certainly enjoyable enough under a tent that was keeping us dry from the elements. Far more impressive to me was the guitar singer Jarrod Mahon was playing, in a shape that defies description. Maybe ‘The Preposterous Pentagon’?

After the Creases finished, I almost got impaled by one of Bo Ningen‘s guitars (that would have been awful) and quickly went back to the indoor stage to find a very tattooed, not at all huggable one man band Kirin J. Callinan, who according to this FasterLouder article was one of the big Aussie success stories of SXSW 2014. There was nothing about his performance that screamed ‘trailblazer’ to me, but I suppose for you ladies (and certain men) who enjoy a shirtless man with tattoos performing on a guitar and screaming into a microphone, you should probably get on this bandwagon ASAP.

By this time, you’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing at Holy Mountain in the first place. I’m glad you asked! Tourist, aka London musician and producer Will Phillips, was due on shortly after 1 PM. I actually saw him skulking around outside the venue beforehand. It must be really hard to psych yourself for an afternoon of DJaying when you really want to be playing your music in a dark club late at night, but Phelps took it in stride, even taking a joyful stab at the weather:

I’m not sure how best to describe the Tourist set to you. It was way too short – it seemed like less than 20 minutes – and Phillips doesn’t sing, so when you’re watching him perform, it’s him attacking a wide array of synthesisers, sequencers and other electronic gizmos, while he’s bopping his body around, clearly caught up in the music. Dance without words is hard to explain to other people, because you have to *be* there experiencing to really ‘get’ it, to have the music pulsing through your veins.

“I tried but I could not find a way
Looking back all I did was look away
Next time is the best time we all know
But if there is no next time where to go”
-‘Re-make / Re-model’, Roxy Music

Carrie and I had decided the night before that we were going finish up at the afternoon session of the British Music Embassy, where I had made plans to meet Steve Lamacq and have a meeting of the minds there (about bands of course). The very funny thing about Latitude 30 is that no matter who you know or have met during the week and is/are British, inevitably you will run into him/her/them at the venue at some point, because it’s like Latitude 30 has a beacon only Brits can hear and they are drawn in, usually multiple times during the week, to the place.

For me, going back to the British Music Embassy would bookend a mental week of seeing bands old and new as well as seeing old friends while making new ones. I didn’t want to miss the chance of saying goodbye and best wishes to any of my friends before I left Austin. We arrived in time to order a round of drinks (it was our last day, after all) and get positioned for Meursault, a trio from Edinburgh.

I had heard of Meursault and maybe two songs of theirs, so going into their performance pretty much uneducated about them, I was surprised when I was faced by their fabulous aural assault on our ears, led by singer/songwriter Neil Pennycook. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Scotsman be witty with his banter between songs in which where he’s practically ripping your ears off with a scream of emotion. This kind of harder rock is more John’s domain, but Meursault’s two performances on Saturday came to be defining moments of my SXSW 2014: Carrie and I were so impressed with their set, we changed our plans entirely to have an early night and swung by the Hype Hotel that night to see them again for the second time in 7 hours. I still don’t understand how another blogger could have confused their sound and called it alt-folk. That one definitely needs his (her?) ears checked. Emotionally raw vocals, raucous guitar, accompanying bass to feed the raucous sound, and driving rhythm on drums? Meursault ticks off all the boxes.

Carrie had seen Glass Animals on Tuesday at the Haven for the Harvest Records showcase Tuesday night, but I hadn’t up to that point. On paper, Glass Animals’ formula of pop and r&b with synths seemed to be right up my alley, while entirely not Carrie’s bag at all. Sadly though, I wasn’t impressed with them live. As Carrie was busy getting pregnant to ‘Black Mambo’ and ‘Gooey’, I had to wonder if my countless hours of listening to exemplary electronic music had jaded me, because their set was very much to me a “I’ve already heard that before, nothing new to see here” kind of disappointment.

Thankfully, I had the next band to look forward to, and look forward I did, as singer George Waite tuned up his bass. The Crookes, whose shows either in the UK or here in America I’ve covered on TGTF, were about to restore my sanity. It’s quite funny being in Austin with other American Crookes fans, of which there weren’t that many for SXSW 2013. However, word had clearly spread about the Sheffield band, as Latitude 30 was rammed for their 3:50 PM set.

As they played, the front section of friends new and old turned into one of the most fun dance parties I’d had in a long time, as we kicked up our heels to the infinitely rough on the edges single ‘Play Dumb’ and the driving ‘Before the Night Falls’, both of which figure on the band’s third album ‘Soapbox’ out in April on Fierce Panda. (My review of the album can be read here; it’s fantastic.) This display of unfettered dancing did not go unnoticed by Steve Lamacq, who commented on one of his first 6music programmes after returning from Austin that he felt it quite heartwarming that there were so many of us who were singing along to the Crookes because we knew all the words to ‘Afterglow’. We don’t dance alone, indeed.

“The night is still young, but the story’s so old.” The first part was most definitely true at 5 in the afternoon, but as you will read soon, my SXSW story wasn’t over just yet…

 
 
 

About Us

There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

All MP3s are posted with the permission of the artists or their representatives and are for sampling only. Like the music? Buy it.

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