Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Thanks to the ineptitude of Northern Rail, I arrive at the Showroom Cafe in
Cut. Almost a year to the day previously I had returned from holiday in
And not even the fans expected it. I certainly didn’t when I devised a run of articles for Rhubarb Bomb which would focus on their 1994 release ‘The Sisters EP’, a personal favourite of mine. I was only 17 when they released their final album, ‘We Love Life’, yet I spent most of my university years hunting down their more obscure releases, with especial fondness for ‘His n Hers’ era electro pop gems and those disintegrating descents into ‘This Is Hardcore’ despair.
‘The Sisters EP’, released between His N Hers and Different Class was, for me, a perfect moment in their history. It was everything I wanted it to be. It mixed the dark, desperate vicious nature of ‘Razzmatazz’ with the stretched, slightly sinister pop structures they had found success with on His N Hers. It was the Jarvis of ‘Deep Fried In Kelvin’ and ‘Inside Susan’ honed down to a white hot razor of indignation and exasperation. The music was heavy, emotionally heavy. Most of their work had light and dark, moments of wit and sarcasm amongst the dissections of ‘ordinary people’s lives’, yet ‘The Sisters EP’ was what I wanted; for them to push that darker side even further with no submissions, no backing out, no joke at the end to lighten the mood. That it was wrapped in a perfect pop package made it all the better. Genius.
And so the plan was to try and meet each member who played on the EP (Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackay, Nick Banks & Russell Senior) in turn and try and find out what made that particular record so special. That the record is rarely mentioned in interviews or critical appraisals made it all the more exciting to me and I thought it might be something they would go for; no questions about Common People or Brit Award ceremonies. Something only a ZINE would cover.
Naturally, the dramatic cycle of the articles would mean Jarvis would have to be last. But who would I try speak to first? I chose Russell. He left Pulp after Different Class and is regarded as the more… militant member of the band. Full of ideology with a thirst for experimentation. As my good friend Rob Dee said as we watched them at
So in September 2010 I got in touch. To my great surprise he was more than happy for a meet up. Initially we couldn’t find the right time; trips away, bouts of flu getting in the way. Then, towards the end of October it looked like we had it. But then I received an intriguing email.
He told me that if I needed to get the interview done ‘soonish’ it would have to be via email. However, if I could wait a couple of weeks we could hook up in
So naturally I waited and flew off to
Cut back to November 2011. It may have taken me 2 and a half hours to get here today, but this interview's been nearly a year in the making. As it turned out, Pulp as a whole decided there would be no interviews at all. Russell had hoped they would speak exclusively to small fanzines akin to Rhubarb Bomb. But the band vetoed the idea. They wanted to maintain an air of mystery. If you wanted to experience it, you’d have to come to the shows. Russell was apologetic when breaking the news, but did promise when it had all blown over, he would still meet with me. So after a year, surely another 15 minutes wouldn’t make any difference?
I fall through the front door of ‘The Showroom’ and glance around. I see a few tables taken but don’t spot Russell. I begin walking up to the counter when I get a wave from the back of the room. He’s there waiting patiently as I walk over. ‘I’d recognise a fanzine writer anywhere’ he says and I sit down, shaking and slightly out breath. But I’d made it.
Thursday, 24 November 2011
So Constellations returns for a second year. Last year I made it through Runaround Kids' set before going to home to spend the following week in bed with Flu. I missed a good do by all accounts so i've got high expectations for this year.
Things don't begin especially well as i arrive in time to catch the last twenty five seconds of Hookworms in the alcohol free Riley Smith Hall. Bugger. I then make my way to Mine to check out Outfit. I wish I hadn't bothered. They do nothing for me, seem a bit dull and pedestrian and each song bleeds unrecognisably into another. The beer soaked copy of The Independent on the table soon becomes more appealing.
Back To Riley Smith Hall for Zulu Winter who I know nothing about but think their name is good. They don't sound as good as their name but they do a similar thing to Outfit in a more interesting way. I reckon they probably sound better on record though. Staying in the Riley Smith Hall for Islet. I've been looking forward to seeing these again since they were a highlight at Leeds Festival in the summer. And they don't disappoint. They are quite frankly awesome. I don't suppose you can really say they have structured songs as such which lets face it doesn't matter. Their playfulness and experimentation finally fully gets the day going for me. Perhaps understandably they appear to polarise opinion in the crowd and that really is always a good thing.
Needs to be something good after that, and I could probably do with checking out some of the other venues in this festival. Well wow look at that Stephen Malkmus is on inexplicably early. Surely he should be headlining right? Apparently not and it doesn't matter really does it? I guess it goes without saying working closely with so many bands who have Pavement deeply embedded in their DNA and never having got to see Pavement myself, I was really looking forward to this. Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with The Jicks material so can't sing along even though I feel like doing so. I probably ought to rectify this as I really enjoy the whole set. I would have done so even if he hadn't dedicated a song to the people of Wakefield.
After you've watched the real thing there doesn't seem to be much point in watch a pretender straight afterwards. That's a little unfair as I have enjoyed them earlier in the year and Get Away was one of my favourite songs of the summer. But it's hardly a fair slot to put them in. So anyway, I don't watch Yuck. Instead I head back to Mine for Vondelpark. Interesting ambient atmospheric stuff for sure, very soothing, I like what I hear but I head back to Riley Smith Hall again in time for The Antlers.
After the disappointment of no 'Hospice' material in their festival set during the summer, I was at least prepared but still hopeful of a 'Two' or 'Epilogue'. They didn't make an appearance but the 'Burst Apart' material has become familiar to me now and I don't miss the older songs too much now. After seeing a couple of bands not quite getting atmospheric quite right, The Antlers are a joyous sight (sound, surely) to me. It's a perfect ending to the day for me, anything after that will only be an anticlimax for me. So; taking into consideration I've already missed a good portion of Wild Beasts due to Riley Smith Hall running further and further behind as the day progressed; I decide to leave. I've done better than last year after all.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
During their career Wilco have been perceived by many as a contrary bunch, shifting stylistically between albums and line-ups; this stigma is one that frontman Jeff Tweedy has been eager to dismiss whenever the subject of his integrity has come into question, rather he wishes to be perceived purely as a songwriter who is interested in one thing; the song, and how best to serve it. And so when Wilco delivered their 4th studio LP to Reprise Records in 2001, the radio-listener conscious major label decided to pass, deeming the record too difficult to market, dropped the band and sent them on their way. As it happened Yankee Hotel Foxtrot proved to be the bands most successful effort yet, allowing them to drop their Alt. Country poster boy image, paving the way for the band who was to be labeled "
The album's opener 'Art of Almost' is the only track on offer here that really delves into the crazy world of the electronic freak out that has been explored on previous records. Kinetic buzzes, bleeps and glitches flow alongside the rock solid rhythm section of Glenn Kotche on Drums and bassist John Stirratt, who delivers one of the dirtiest, and dare I say it, funkiest bass lines ever committed to a Wilco record. Tweedy croons over the chaos with his cut-up lines and phrases, while guitarist Nels Cline intermittently cuts through the din with chord stabs and arpeggios. Just as the song comes to it's conclusion it starts up again, this time paving the way for the biggest guitar freak out since Sky Blue Sky's 'Impossible Germany', only a hell of alot louder and faster.
After the aural onslaught of the opening track Wilco slide into the acoustic groove of the album's first single 'I Might', this song most of all shows off the talents of this band as a whole and as individuals. Mikael Jorgensen's chirpy hammond organ bounces along side Tweedy's effervescent acoustic work and another brilliant bass line from Stirratt, Cline's sinewy, distorted slide guitar adds the vinegar to this otherwise bubblegum sweet pop number, and much like Johnny Greenwood's chain-saw-buzz-stops in 'Creep', sets this song alight.
The ethereal 'Sunloathe' follows, with Pat Sansone taking the lead on piano while the rest of the band provide a swathe of dream like sound washes and prepared percussion until the 2 minute mark when the drums strike up and Cline's 12 string guitar drops in. There's more than a hint of Sgt. Pepper here, especially in the Lennon/McCartney styled backing harmonies and unusual chord patterns.
'Dawned On Me' possesses the album's first toe-tapping, head nodding, gem of a chorus, with Tweedy professing "I can't help it if I fall in love with you again, I'm calling just to let you know it dawned on me." With it's lush arrangement, instrumentation and heartfelt lyrics this track oozes summer sun and is enough to carry anyone through the coming wintry months.
'Black Moon' takes the album down a step, with a finger picked, country tinged number, complete with sweeping strings and pedal steel guitars, Tweedy delivers a near whisper through the track asking "I'm waiting for you, waiting forever, are you awake now too?".
We're back in sunshine territory now with "Born Alone", again we're carried along through the verse by Tweedy's upbeat vocals and another toe-tapping back beat from Kotche, until the instrumental refrain which sees Nels Cline rioting through a sugar sweet guitar riff until the song ultimately culminates in the band blasting it's way through an ever descending power chord assault.
Once again the band returns to it's country roots with 'Open Mind', Tweedy delivering heart warming lines such as "I could base my whole existence upon the cherry strands of your gold hair".
The next track '
Following that 'Standing O' blasts into action with all guitars blazing, in many ways it's very similar to the other more upbeat numbers on the album, in that it features familiar key board punches and Nels Cline rips it up throughout but it still manages to hold itself with Tweedy's penchant for a strong melody, culminating in another huge sing-along chorus.
'Rising Red Lung' is another finely tuned acoustic number, again showcasing the band's unnerving ability to create dramatic sound collages, while Tweedy once again in a near whisper delivers more of his trademark quasi cut-up lyrics: "I want a wig that's been blown by something unknown, buried under a mile of snow."
The album's title track 'Whole Love' slips back into the groove with swung acoustic guitars, shimmering lead lines and Tweedy doubling up his vocals in whispered baritone and cracked falsetto simultaneously, resulting in a group vocal refrain chanting on the song's title, before the band are granted another psychedelic wigout; this one far removed from the opening track boasts delicately tumbling drums, sweeping synths and pitch-twisted guitar lines echoing throughout as the song quietly resolves.
'One Sunday Morning' continues the album's theme of alternating between upbeat songs and slower, acoustic numbers, only this time Tweedy's acoustic strumming is backed up fully by the band with Kotche providing a brushed snare (complete with egg shaker), Sansone back on piano duties (and a spattering of glockenspiel), while Nels Cline manufactures lap-steel like shimmers on his guitar (according to the sleeve notes Mikael Jorgensen provides 'wavetable scrubbing'...? Whatever the hell it is, it's working). The song flourishes into an almost ambient middle section before starting up again instrumentally; pockets of warm free form noise rise up and float along and then drop again until after nearly 12 minutes the song, and the album, fades out.
Wilco are a band I've know about for a long time, but I hadn't really given them much attention until this past year or so (in which time I've devoured all the albums, watched the DVD's, read the book and now I'm about to delve into their bewildering world of side projects), and so this is as a result my first ever brand new Wilco release, one that I'm hearing and holding in my hands for the first time alongside everyone else who has bought into the band over the years. It's a great feeling to finally catch up with a band, and for that matter catch up with a loyal fanbase that have followed them since the beginning. The feeling is made all the better for knowing that this really is the band's best album since YHF, and I can feel justified in pestering everyone I know into listening to it.
Monday, 21 November 2011
If you went to Damnation Festival on the strength of my preview then I better get my apologies in nice and early. Of the four bands I highlighted only two delivered full sets. To use betting parlance Decapitated were a non-runner, which is quite understandable given that they were onboard this flight only days before:
Cerebral Bore whilst still running, were very much a three legged horse, with the absence of vocalist Som forcing them to take the Terrorizer stage as an instrumental trio. Three, it seems, was the not so magic number as that’s the amount of songs they performed, in a set that was no where near as long as the increasingly tedious preceding sound check. Whilst the band undoubtedly garnered respect from the audience for soldiering on and playing, they were already running late when they commenced their curtailed set. Perhaps they should have just jumped in at the deep-end with little in the way of a sound check, for whilst their death metal is extremely technical, as a three piece everything punched through the PA clearly as opening number, ‘The Bald Cadaver’, testified.
It certainly seems there’s no shortage of prospective member willing to join the band’s ‘Cult’. Having checked out the video (Which has had over 60,000 views in just over two months on YouTube) this was the new cut I was anticipating the most. It was inevitable they would play ‘Thrasher’ (Now over a million views on YouTube!!!), but thankfully, despite garnering a massive reaction in the pit, it didn’t herald the end of their set. ‘Infected Nations’ may not be the finale some were hoping for, I’m sure many were hankering for something else from their debut, but to me it made perfect sense. Despite the death of original bassist Mike Alexander early in the touring cycle for said album, Evile really earned their stripes whilst promoting ‘Infected Nations’ and it seems they are finally getting to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Grand Magus excelled in the great outdoors the last time I witnessed them live. Today they are another band who fall victim to the curse of the Refectory. The room was perhaps only half full when they took to the stage, and despite charismatic frontman JB’s attempts to get the crowd to sing along to the likes of ‘Silver Into Steel’ the atmosphere was somewhat flat. The classic metal drama of ‘Shadow Knows’ (Always a house favourite when I shared a flat) is a highlight of the trio’s set and even the security guard on the balcony is nodding his head in time to ‘Iron Will’, but through no fault of their own today was a case of merely Good Magus.
Due to the running order on the Terrorizer stage being thrown out of the window as soon as Cerebral Bore started late I didn’t catch as many bands down there as I would have hoped. For me the Stylus venue is the heart of Damnation. That it was the main room at last year’s event contributed a lot to the great atmosphere. Unfortunately today’s proceedings never quite live up to the memories of 2010.
With this in mind a conscious decision to catch some of Doom was made, that’s Doom the crust band, not the Radiohead collaborator just in case you’re wondering Bomb readers. They played to a packed room and the d-beats never let up, making for an intense set that was well worth the descent into the University’s bowels.
Ascending back upstairs, I witnessed Godflesh manage to ratchet the intensity levels up even higher than Doom. Much of this is down to the volume of their drum machine; even with earplugs in it was punishing my hearing! In fact after a while it begins to feel like a full body assault and I actually made a conscious decision to leave the hall. It seems it was equally intense for Godflesh mainman Justin Broadrick, who had obviously worked up quite a sweat and was bemoaning the lack of towels onstage.
Prior to headliner Devin Townsend we were treated to some home movie antics, courtesy of his warped mind. In some ways they were reminiscent of the skits Ozzy Osbourne used as an intro to his gigs around the late nineties, in which the double-O inserted himself into clips from films such as Titanic; witness Devin in Star Wars for example. But then he ups the ante somewhat, with a series of clips revolving around his own creation Ziltoid The Omniscient, somehow I can’t imagine “Sharon” letting Ozzy make a concept album revolving around an alien in search of the ultimate cup of coffee any time soon. At the conclusion of this rather bizarre build up Devin has The Venga Boys “The Venga Bus Is Coming” played over the PA, before he appears, cheap shiny suit and all, goading the crowd “If you’re too cool for the Venga Boys, get the fuck out of here!”
Musically the set leans heavily on the aforementioned ‘Ziltoid’ album and ‘The Devin Townsend Project’ quartet of albums. Although Devin goes right back to his early solo career for set opener ‘Truth’ and it’s a pleasure to hear ‘Bad Devil’, both from his ‘Infinity’ album. When Devin played ‘Supercrush’ from the ‘Addicted’ album he perfectly lambasted the sort of uninspired, expletive reliant, banter that Illuminatus’ Julio had employed earlier in the day. “Do you want to hear something from Addicted? I can’t hear you, anybody want to hear some fucking Addicted shit! Put your arse out to the right whenever you say that.” This song did highlight one of the only downsides of the Devin live experience though, namely that not all of his expansive sound can be performed live, with Anneke Van Giersbergen’s vocals being pre-recorded. Following this ‘Juular’ is yet another example of how diverse Devin’s output is, combining extreme metal with the sensibilities of a musical highlight from a Tim Burton film. Throughout the set the visuals behind the band underline Devin’s own cinematic ambitions, although in truth it’s always the slightly low budget, tongue in cheek videos that work best, with the camp comic strip shenanigans of ‘Vampira’, coming hot on the heels of Halloween, working as a perfect encore.