RIP LOUIS BARABBAS & THE THE BEDLAM SIX

Image © Steve Hall 2014

Image © Steve Hall 2014

Today, long-standing Friends of ANBAD, Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six announced that they were done. The band is no more, save a couple of farewell gigs, which will be great, because their gigs are always great.

(This is the band’s best song, by the way, although I’m not sure if Louis ever agreed with me. Anyway, it’s beautiful and heartfelt and it feels true. Statistically none of us will ever make a song this good, so go ahead and listen.)

I first met Louis in about 2010 in the Castle Hotel in Manchester’s then-seedy-now-glitzy Northern Quarter. We’d been set up on a weird kind of man-date by arch-musical-matchmaker Chris Long, who was then running BBC Introducing Manchester.

Louis and the band had just recorded a cover of Relight My Fire for the show. I had no idea what to think about the band off the back of that, but we hit it off immediately; both of us delighted to discover we had similarly bottomless appetites for ale.

It probably says more about my lax approach to blogging than the band’s output that it then took me 18 months to feature them on ANBAD.

Later, in my PR capacity, I tried my hardest to get their songs to stick at levels a little higher than  previously. Both parties felt a bit icky about doing this: I felt like I was doing Louis’ job and I cared too much about the band; Louis felt like doing PR was not very “Bedlam Six”. We were both probably right.

In the meantime, the band played all over Europe, had a set of genuinely excited and dedicated fans and released a bunch of albums. It was a running joke in our mutual circle of friends that the band had laboured over creating so many great songs, but the one the audience always clamoured for was one where Louis impersonates a dog. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer band.

But now they’re gone, and they get to keep a ton of amazing stories, memories and friends they made along the way.

In his farewell post, Louis touches on the idea of fame, success, and whether they “made it.”

This is the same conversation we had the first time we met, in 2010. Back then, Louis explained that he wasn’t really sure what “success” means, whether it matters, or whether it should even matter.

It doesn’t matter. The whole band have lived richer lives than 99% of the people they will ever meet. What more could anyone want?

Some final notes on the Bedlam Six:

Here’s the most important thing: Louis and the band are arch DIY-ers. Everything was done by them: writing, recording, label services, distribution, promotion, gig booking, roadieing, everything. Their approach is pure punk, the real deal, the 360º deed done dirt cheap. If a young band ever ask me how to “do it”, I point them in the Bedlam Six’s direction. Most nascent bands don’t want to accept the hard truths of the Bedlam doctrine, and I don’t blame them. But the Bedlams had the right idea. Who else gets to have 10-year music career in today’s music biz environment?

• I’m genuinely grateful that I got to have a quick ride on the Bedlam machine. My best memories are mainly of drinking in the pub with the band, but the day I spent getting sunburnt in a street of abandoned terraced houses in Toxteth for a Bedlam Six video as part of Louis’ street dance troupe comes close.

• Louis thinks “Youth” is the band’s best LP, and he’s probably right. Here’s an album commentary I recorded with him for a project I later abandoned: a track-by-track dissection of the album. It’s (honestly) more interesting than it sounds, especially if you’re interested in what the musicians actually think about making and playing songs off a new album:

• Via Louis, I was introduced to artists I’d never have found otherwise, like Walk and TE Yates. It helped that Louis signed these artists to his label, Debt Records, and it’s notable that he works just as hard for his signed artists as he does for the Bedlam Six.

Godspeed Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six!

YOUTHLESS – This Glorious No Age

 

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ANBAD has always run the risk of veering into fan-club territory when it comes to  Youthless, the purveyors of kaleidoscopic outlier-pop who I first met in 2010 and have championed like an enthusiastic schoolboy ever since.

Over the years, Youthless’ Sab and Alex kindly kept my appetite sated by emailing me a series of songs, rough mixes and EPs - most of which never seeming to make their way out of the (varied and exciting) Portuguese music scene.

I’m not sure if this mighty collection of Youthless aural bumph makes me a super-fan or mere nut job, but at times I did feel like I was the lone outpost of Youthless fever in the UK. So while This Glorious No Age is the band’s first official LP, it follows a fascinating and impressive body of work.

The album’s release (out now on CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH.) is worth celebrating for more than it simply being an official debut. The reason that Youthless’ star stalled just as the band was entering low-orbit is because singer Alex badly injured his back at exactly the wrong moment.

For a long, drab time, it looked like Youthless might never realise their ambition, but thankfully, with a combination of relentless touring and the release of This Glorious No Age, they have started to do just that.

This is a concept album (the songs are all based on famous musical duos) that’s carefully pulled apart in a neo-psych frenzy, and once you engage with it, it’s hard to pull your gaze away.

Songs like High Places make clear exactly what Youthless excel at: sweet pop melodies which - surely – are beamed in from outer space, then drenched in hallucinogens, before finally being fed through a meat grinder.

The single Attention, championed last year in this very parish, is still a smash. It’s essentially the pop song equivalent of the Shepard Tone: a sound that seemingly gets endlessly higher and higher and higher.

In Attention’s case, it’s the song’s sense of blissfulness that keeps building, starting at 100% wide-eyed joy and galloping upwards from there for its duration. (The video is brilliant – spend a moment to enjoy it, BTW.)

Actually, this ability to keep apparently tightening the screw might be Youthless’ secret weapon: Lightening Bolt, Mechanical Bride and the disorientating LP closer Lucky Dragons all hit the ground running and dash desperately for the horizon.

The album’s pace isn’t neck-breaking by any stretch, but instead leaves you feeling like a strong undercurrent is pulling you somewhere not quite of your choosing.

These dense and wild songs are made by just two individuals - which is not only a feat in itself (Alex sings and plays both the drums and keyboard simultaneously, whilst Sab sings, plays bass and furiously taps a maze of effects pedals), but it also explains the weird tension between utter lawlessness and laser-like focus in Youthless’ music.

This Glorious No Age is much more than the sum of its parts: it’s the sound of a glorious, colourful release arriving after many years of unwelcome frustration.

The songs are unavoidable and relentless. I’m hoping that now, the band are as well. Awesome.

Download: This Glorious No Age (iTunes)

RUSANGANO FAMILY – Heathrow

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I’m fairly sure there are very few Irish, Togolese and Zimbabwean trios making music today, and while there’s a lot more to Rusangano Family than their nationalities, it sure is a fascinating starting point.

Rapper MuRli, MC God Knows and producer mynameisjOhn are creating some of the most arresting and direct music around. Think of Sleaford Mods’ minimalism and ear for tasty loops, minus the bilious world-view, and you’re halfway into what makes their sound so great.

The other two parts of Rusangano Family’s secret recipe is their enthusastic live show – they are essentially a band with three hype-men, and crowds react accordingly – and their fascinating, important, excitable songs.

New song Heathrow is timely, describing the feelings of arriving migrants in Western Europe. It’s powerful where in other hands it could be pious. It’s thoughtful but rollicking fun.

It’s hard to be fun and important at the same time – these are notoriously uneasy bedfellows. But Rusangano Family know all about squeezing seemingly conflicting styles, stories and backgrounds together – it’s pretty much their raison d’etre – so of course they can pull it off with panache.

Awesome. Watch out for them.

STRAW BEAR – All You Need Is An Electric Guitar

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Just like the recently rejuvenated Youthless, Straw Bear are a band for whom a slight return is actually a doubling-down of their brilliant abilities, and confirmation of their rare talent.

In many ways, Straw Bear couldn’t be more different. Where Youthless’ M.O. is to plunge head-first into life, Straw Bear explore the world with rapt curiosity — and yet both bands produce deeply life-affirming pop songs of love and beauty.

Their last LP of songs, the fragile and lovely Black Bank, grabbed them a slew of hugely influential fans at the BBC – in Tom Robinson, Bob Harris, Huw Stephens and Cerys Matthews – scoring not only a BBC 6 Music session, but also being selected to play the BBC Introducing stage at The Great Escape.

So how do you follow that? Well, you disappear and return with another bunch of lovely songs, of course. Easy.

All You Need Is An Electric Guitar drags the slightly woozy quality of Straw Bear’s songwriting to the fore. The result is a song which weaves folksy tunefulness with a hazy chorus that repeats and repeats and repeats – just because it’s so simple and good.

Choruses that burst into life with such oomph and such purity are the most difficult thing to write. It’s been spinning around my head since I first heard it.

Their new album follows soon, and live London dates. Sound familiar? They’re the anti-Youthless, in the best possible way. Wonderful.

More: strawbear.bandcamp.com

YOUTHLESS – Attention

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How wonderful is it to have Youthless back in our lives? Answer: very wonderful, and frankly, it’s all that they deserve.

Youthless were ANBAD’s band of the year in 2010, after the duo won me over at the In The City music expo with their acid-soaked pop songs, white-heat basslines and all-round goofy charm. And then they vanished, just at the moment their breakthrough seemed assured.

But 2010 is an almost comical distance in the past in music biz terms — so what happened?

Rank misfortune and debilitating injury, that’s what. Singer Alex damaged his back so badly that he and bandmate Sab were forced into hiatus for years, while urgent surgery and years of rehab gobbled up time.

Time heals, and time changes, and for Youthless, both of these have resulted in a raft of new music which continues where they left off, but benefits from the reflection and pain.

And? And their new single, Attention, is fucking amazing; snagging ears as readily as any of their golden, fried pop songs that preceded it.

The song is gently pensive and furiously grateful at the same time: it’s stuffed with lust for life and beautiful harmonies. It’s as fresh as a strong sea breeze: salty, sandy, cold, alive.

And? And things are truly looking up: Line of Best Fit debuted the new single as Song of the Day, a gorgeous video is to follow and they’re working closely with new music champions CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH.

Gigs in London and support slots with Unknown Mortal Orchestra are approaching fast. The new LP is a focussed, mind-melting clutch of psyche-pop hits. The world is their oyster once again.

I couldn’t be happier for them. Into the future!

Youthless dates:
24th November – The Forum, London (supporting Sticky Fingers)
13th Nov – Armazem F, Lisbon (supporting Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
14th Nov – Hard Club, Porto (supporting Unknown Mortal Orchestra)

RUSANGANO FAMILY

RUSANGANO FAMILY

Can you imagine how hard it is to convince a bunch of 19 year olds to jump up and down to songs they’ve never heard before, in a style they’ve never really considered feasible?

In one way, I don’t envy Rusangano Family in this regard: at this stage in their career, this is what they have to do at every gig. In every other way, I envy them with every fibre, because they have that ability to get The Kids moving. It’s the rarest of skills, and the surest sign that they’re doing something very, very right.

Rusangano Family’s live show is entirely energetic, and utterly engaging. The crowd of kids who came to watch them, either out of interest or accident, were won over almost immediately.

I assumed that the crowd were their local fanbase (I saw them at the excellent Hard Working Class Heroes music festival/conference in Dublin) but I chatted to the band afterwards and it turns out they hail from the other side of the island. The crowd were just swept up by their presence.

I imagine they don’t see too many artists who blends so many styles. The guttural thrust of hip-hop, stabs of sub-Saharan African music, old-school house chops, and the build-and-release of the most effectively brutal dance music all combine to create a platform for the thrilling lyricism of the band’s dual MCs, who clamber all over the stage, taking the idea of “owning the space” to a near-logical conclusion.

I can’t remember the last time I was so enthused and energised by a performance – the music is brilliant, fresh and simple; the songs sharp and fascinating; the performance cutting and dazzling. Rusangano Family are so obviously the real deal it hurts.

ATA KAK, AKA ANBAD ’94

Ata Kak
Well, all pretence of blogging regularly appears to have gone out of the window now, let alone the now remote and frankly hilarious idea of a new band appearing every single day here on ANBAD.

However, while this month’s excuse is the blog-silencing classic of “I’ve been distracted by a new job,” this month’s contribution to the bottomless-pit-of-bands on ANBAD is truly a 100% solid-gold addition.

It’s old gold, actually, and the rediscovery and re-release of Ata Kak‘s outrageously perfect Ghanaian hip-house music that dates from 1994 is a story that is worth #longread status.

I would call Awesome Tapes From Africa a “fellow music blogger”, but that would imply that ANBAD is somewhere vaguely in the same league as this wonderful music resource, which of course it is not.

Ata Kak’s re-emergence is the work of the amazing ATFA – and Obaa Sima is just about the best thing I’ve heard since Oh Jesus I Don’t Even Know When.

Obama Sima is so bouncy and fun it should be illegal. It’s so unlike anything else I’ve ever heard anywhere near this genre of freako-house music that I strongly suspect it has been sent to an increasingly ambivalent world by a concerned God to prove their mere existence, kindness and generosity.

It’s this simple – if you’re not moved to at least nod your head to the above song, don’t bother to call a doctor: you’re already dead.

DEAN BLUNT

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I only really blog now when I’m frothing at the mouth about something, so please believe me when I tell you that my heart did backflips when I heard 100, the new song from Dean Blunt.

Here’s the video (because I can’t find it on Soundcloud.)

Yes, that Dean Blunt, who was one half of the amazing and amazingly mysterious Hype Williams.

The same Dean Blunt who thoroughly pranked an oblivious NME when he won an NME award — and then didn’t tell them that the man he’d sent in his place wasn’t, in fact, him.

That Dean Blunt. He’s just released the best song he’s ever written (or its video at least). 100 is almost too gorgeous to bear. It’s like slowly lowering your body into molten chocolate, but better.

Simple, sweet, husky and weirdly intimate, this is simply dripping with nonchalent brilliance. It sounds like a song that someone would write for Roy Orbison, if he was still alive.

PS – If you care about “beef”, the video starts with a half-negative quote from Idris Elba, who’s going to be the next James Bond but it seems that we have to wait for a number of people to come to terms with his skin colour first.

Maybe Idris should send Dean in his place.

LUSTS

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A good friend sent me an email frothing wildly about Lusts. These are always — always — the best, most accurate recommendations.

In the Music Blog World™, clicking on a new band’s Soundcloud link is almost always a trepidatious affair, but this time, the click was deep-fried GOLD.

 

You can figure out their musical touchstones within a minute, and that’s fine, because Lusts sound like all those bands which you love that you’ve somehow forgotten about, or thought would never be heard of again, or thought no-one would ever care about again.

If you ever hear anyone moaning about the dearth of Guitar Bands These Days, wordlessly point them at Lusts and observe their joy.

And those guitars! There are amazing, spidery guitars, huge, whooshing guitars, and guitar noises that sound like they have gone through a magical FX pedal that doubles mellifluousness.

Brilliant. So happy.

PS: According to Facebook, the band are signed to 1965 Records, which kind-of makes sense, because owner James Endeacott signed a bunch of great bands, and also kind-of doesn’t make sense, because Wikipedia says 1965 Records are “defunct,” and their website looks that way too.

I guess it all sorts of makes *actual* sense, in context.

CALUMMA AMBER; VOWELS AND CONSONANTS

 

Calumma Amber (2)

Well, what are your initial reactions to a song titled Lielielielielielielielow?

Mine – which were, “hmm, this is probably going to be either heinous or excellent” – were compounded by the first few, odd, ephemeral bars.

And then it became clear that Calumma Amber‘s song met the latter expectation.

Lielielielielielielielow is the kind of song Kate Bush has been making at home for the last twenty years, but has never dared release. It’s almost all vowels, with no clear lyrical points of reference to cling onto.

Instead, much like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, we’re subtly encouraged to look beyond prosaic things like words and notes, and to connect to something much less tangible: feelings, emotions and the base meaning of sound itself.

Whoah. But it’s really brilliant and dashing. Trust me.