REVIEW // Shockwaves NME Awards Tour

Today, a rarity:  an ANBAD live review. It’s one of an interesting gig for those interested in new bands, though: the NME Awards tour, which provides a helpful snapshot of what is deemed to be now in the UK by both the NME and the teens that treat it as the music bible.

The Shockwaves NME Awards gig at Manchester Academy drew curious punters from across the social spectrum, but for the hoards of teens, it was Mecca. Finally, the bands they have only read about, or listened to online, or squinted at garbed videophone footage were playing for them.

They dressed to capture, as best they could, the look of rock ‘n’ roll detrius. The boys were Primark Sid Viciouses – deliberately dazed, stained, and quasi-lairy; the girls dressed in a style that occupied the awkward halfway-house between instinctive prettiness and designated trashiness.

Queuing in rain that was almost too stereotypically Mancunian, we jostled amongst teenage girls with clumsy makeup, candyfloss hair and velour hotpants, and boys wearing T-shirts with necks ripped down to their sternums. Scuffed denim abounded. This crowd was Skins made flesh, with all that that entails.

In front of me, a girl who looked no older than 15 and staggering in drunken befuddlement, was turned away by a weary security guard and a mostly-lighthearted, “not you again.”

We stepped inside, to be greeted by tall models from a local agency, wearing spray-on jeans, huge blonde hair and holding cameras. They stood by the hall doors, collaring excitable male gig goers and taking pictures of them for a hair-product promotion. Most passed them by, but some – the ones with more carefully preened hair – stopped to pout and flirt awkwardly.

The huge, wet queue meant that a lot of people missed a lot of The Vaccines, a band who were very new just six months ago, and are now apparently the future of rock ‘n’ roll, albeit ones that have to take the stage at 7.20 pm.

For all their genericness, The Vaccines do at least give their crowd what they want: sing-along songs by handsome boys, with nice haircuts to go with their nice accents. Every generation needs a band like this, and The Vaccines may be theirs.

By the time Everything Everything took to the stage, the room was packed and musty from drying clothes, a sea of checked shirts and fluffy fringes. It’s hard to find anything to dislike about Everything Everything, and indeed, for the man in front of me who was smoking a joint and gazing deeply into the terrific light show, their songs may well have a transcendental quality.

But to these ears, the band seemed – well – technically perfect, and bands that are technically perfect have an unwitting affinity with Level 42 and 80’s Genesis. The band seemed to be having more fun than the crowd, who sporadically burst into raptures upon hearing the first few chords of a hit song, and then settled down into a more passive sway.

Everything Everything are a nice band. I like them. But weirdly, I was longing for them to break from the one-pace clatter-pop and burst into a something altogether more woozy – a cover of ‘Sway‘ by the Stones would have done it – entirely inappropriate for the crowd, of course, but it might have shaken a few locked-in minds.

Magnetic Man, with the constant rabble-rousing of their MC, quickly had the crowd responsive,  sweaty and pulsing. Once questions like, “why do they need four of them when surely one guy with a laptop would do?”, were put aside, it was impossible not to be drawn in, overwhelmed by the dizzying weight of their near-sub-sonic barrage.

Their sound is like an achingly slowed, dubbed-up Drum ‘n’ Bass, and yet so hyperactive that no song settles into one groove for any reasonable period of time. It was received by a furiously hyped crowd, and only the most curmudgeonly grumpy soul could deny their bowel-worrying excellence.

Crystal Castles’ appearance were prefaced by a slightly suspicious announcement that while doctors had advised singer Alice Glass  not to perform, she was going to anyway! – and lo, she strolled onto the stage leaning on a crutch, to whoops of delight and celebratorily-lobbed plastic beer glasses.

As the most famous of the bunch, Crystal Castles had a lot to live up to – and they largely succeeded, assuming that you can accept that their music is as dumbly one-note and direct as Ramones-esque punk, but with ZX Spectrum bleeps in place of guitar fuzz.

So they reeled off their hits, and Alice Glass wobbled around, yelling into a microphone channelled through so many effects filters she may well have been furiously discussing her holiday plans.

The music continued to spasm and drill, and after a while it became apparent that the room was divided into those who were having the time of their lives, and those who were edging towards the exits. Both parties were rapt/repelled by the consistent chug of the bleeps, beats and endless bass bounce.

This was symptomatic of the night as a whole: music for the ADD generation, for whom you suspect the bands’ constant musical skittering is a necessity in order to retain the attention of their information-rich, time-poor crowd.

There was a marked lack of breadth in the acts’ repertoires: songs we not given time to breathe, and the pace was relentless and sometimes brainless. Brainless is often enormous fun. But sometimes it’s simply brainless. At this gig, that line was crossed repeatedly and without regard. The audience didn’t care, as long as they kept moving.

Range Rover: Hypnotic, Fuzzy Headed, Relentless

Funny how a change of heart can take you by surprise.

Whilst some songs simply bludgeon their way into your heart on the first listen, like this one, and others induce forehead-palming within seconds, there are a slender selection of songs that merely induce puzzlement.

A large, felt-tipped question mark loomed large next to Range Rover on the ANBAD To-Do List for over a week, a stern black reminder that at some point I was going to have to make up my damn mind.

Their name became an exercise in visual embellishment, and were, variably, underlined, circled and adorned with arrows. At one point I crossed them off. Then I decided to listen again – you know, just in case.

What I found was – surely – not the same song. What before left me unmoved now connected with a sharp snap, and the fug of procrastination dissolved. Soda may be a hard song to love, at first, but its lovely qualities, once noticed, are impossible to ignore.

Not unreasonably, for a song with such insistent momentum, it begins with a train’s toot. Increasingly delicate noises and melodies are piled high on top of one another, until the noise is a sweet, swirling mass of sonic barbe à papa.

Thus, having once ignored this song, I’m now in the enviable position of having listened to it a dozen times. It’s a hypnotic, fuzzy-headed, relentless, blissed-out, whited-out, drizzle-soft beautiful song. Underline that.

Takeda; When Bad Recommendations Go Good, Part Two

When Bad Recommendations Go Good, Part Two. (See yesterday’s adventures for Part One)

When Takeda were pitched to me, I had little hope. Vague mutterings about a world-folk ‘outfit’ who were ‘getting attention in Norfolk’ just didn’t reach up my trouser leg and grab me by the balls, in all honesty.

Within this article, then, lie lessons on the benefits of ignorance, bloody-mindedness and the value of another weary click of another speculative URL. Because – and listen carefully – if A Million Years isn’t the most damn beautiful song I’ve heard for weeks – months even – I’m a banana.

Why explain any more? Listen:

Takeda // A Million Years

There’s no point in wondering where this song came from, or how it came to be, or even what sparked its existence. Just be pleased this song is here, and gratefully allow its downy softness to slowly envelop your body.

There are times when the weight of the world just seems too much, and times when finding comfort is impossible. This song can’t help you with that.

But when that weight is lifted, and when you experience the honey-sweet lightness of relief, the sound you hear in your head will either be a soft, delicious wash of tinnitus-white noise, or it will be a song as beautiful, orange and warm as A Million Years. Hopefully it will be this exact song.

Life is strange. Orson Welles touched greatness and then never recovered. Joseph Heller stumbled over a baby-sized gold nugget first time. Takeda might never reach these heights again, but who cares? This song is the sound of them standing at the top of the mountain; panting, happy, dizzy.

Grasshouse; The Dangers Of Folk and Folk-Related Materials

All this folk music that’s been on ANBAD recently is making me feel decidedly uneasy.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with folk, I hasten to add, it’s just that – well… that’s the music my dad listens to, isn’t it? Am I, in the words of Joe Strummer, ‘growing up and calming down’?

Maybe. I do, after all work for Clampdown Industries, Inc. these days. Still, it doesn’t seem too long ago when, for me, a folk song might send me rushing to dig out old Mr. Oizo records.

So maybe it’s that Grasshouse‘s Bottom Of The Sea isn’t a folk record at all – it’s just a nice ‘n’ uneasy rockin’ stroll that just sounds like a folk song.

Grasshouse // Bottom Of The Sea

Actually it’s more blues, isn’t it? Or folk-blues? Or gothic-folk-blues? Whatever – Bottom of The Sea is a minor delight, retaining a strange sense of humanity despite the ludicrous premise.

As the song builds, it explores increasingly weird and uncomfortable cubbyholes, and as the song passed, so did any anxiety I had about listening to it. Blackest of black beauty.

NB: It’s a bank holiday for the next few days here in the UK, so normal service will resume on Tuesday – starting with the exciting Best Of March Radio Show Round-Up! Set knees to ‘tremble’.

Damien*, and Gushing Praise of Epic, Breathless Proportions

Corrr, I tell you what: after a few spins, the new Four Tet album has revealed itself to be a really lovely album. A coiling, Mobius-strip album of sauna-warmth, tangerine-orange sunset glare and organic beauty.

It’s Snivilisation-era Orbital crossed with any-era Boards of Canada crossed with golden, gloopy warmth.

Listening to it is like having a hundredweight of warm, golden, microscopically-granulated mica poured over your naked body; glistening, silver, dazzling, dense.

Well, follow that, Damien*. It’s true that superlatives have been bandied around on ANBAD before, but that was an especially breathless gush.

Fortunately, Damien*, a band whose name suggests that there’s an adjunct lingering at the bottom of every article written about them, are different enough to Four Tet to not stand comparison.

Damien* // Lesser Thoughts

Lesser Th0ughts is a straightfoward song in many ways. Sonic experimentation is not neccessarily the order of the day here, but it doesn’t need to be when you’ve written a good Indie pop song.

Especially so when that song builds and builds from simple chiming guitar beginnings into a rage of bulldozing guitar grime.

Italian guitar pop seems to be reinvigorating itself, if not re-inventing. But the simple things don’t need re-invention. Damien* know the visceral thrills of a good song, and craft them lovingly, brightly and well. Nice.

>Coyote Eyes, and IKEA/ADHT/H1N1

Looking for new bands by wading through Myspace – which sometimes can resemble an endless, IKEA ball-pit playroom populated only by ADHT snot-nosed kids with Swine Flu and soundtracked by a million Coldplay-a-likes – can be a genuinely despairing experience, especially when one drab band after another is whelped into your lap.

Today, it took an uncommon amount of time before the abrasive buzz of Clumsy by Coyote Eyes served as a very welcome reminder that it was all worth it. Like a disproportionate number of sharp new things at the moment, Coyote Eyes summon from Brooklyn and make rugged, metallic, yelps from somewhere far beyond comfort.

Yellow Red is bloody and raw, searing and naive; juddering with sweet and sour vocals and guitars that slope and slide muddily. Out Of Mind is a slow gentle cry, bandaged, dabbed and dried, with a chorus drenched in mania – purposely built for fey Indie kids to sing along to.

Their songs are cleverly built and lackadaisically compiled – and this combination of spirit and slumber leaves them with a selection of songs that are uneasy but enthralling. Coyote Eyes prod at your worries but leave you strangely soothed.

Photography by Michael Seto for L Magazine // Northside Festival


>***A New Band A Day is taking a ‘well-earned’ break until the New Year, so no more new bands until then. BUT over the next week-and-a-bit there’ll be a whimsical (i.e. hastily cobbled together) look back over the Best Stuff of 2008! Best enjoyed with a plateful of Stilton, a glass of sherry and an overwhelming sensation of sorrow as you realise that Christmas used to be more exciting when you were a child***

Lists were promised last week, and so here they come: one today, one tomorrow, and then in the New Year – the Big One: ANBAD’s Top Ten New Bands of 2008. Today’s though is a bit more sedate, and, with an end-of-school-term impishness, has virtually nothing to do with New Bands at all. It’s…

The ANBAD Top Five Gigs of 2008!

As usual, these are in no particular order, apart from one which will be deemed ‘Best Gig’. So it is in some kind of order after all.

5) Art Brut, Stoke Sugarmill, February-ish

Here at ANBAD, we’re happy to admit that we’re massively biased towards Art Brut and would, in all honesty, proclaim their greatness even if they released an album full of Kenny G-esque jazz-lite numbers.

This is because they’re just about the most brilliant, consistently fabulous live band out there – great, rabble-rousing songs and a superb frontman in Eddie Argos, whose throwaway ‘n’ carefree attitude is outrageously refreshing. This gig was them at their absolute best and the audience responded by going bananas.

4) My Bloody Valentine, Manchester Apollo, June-ish

The band I’d always hoped would get back together, but thought never would, actually did, and it was a quasi-religious experience. Yes, they were stupidly loud. Yes, you had to wear earplugs. Yes, their songs sounded like you standing next to an passenger jet at take-off.

It was brilliant, jaw-dropping and overwhelming. It sounded like this: WWWWSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHH ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGRRRRRRR RRRRRRRRRFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF and left normally sane people to say humiliatingly quaint things like, “that was like being reborn” (me).

3) Lethal Bizzle, Bestival, September-ish

Expected nothing. Got everything. Incredible. Loud, brash and brazen. Hyped the audience to the point of explosion, and then pushed harder. Fact: Lethal Bizzle are tougher, smarter and better than 99% of all live bands today. Almost Gig Of the Year, but not quite.

2) Hot Chip, Manchester Academy (& Bestival)

The band that were faintly nerdy electro-rock curios when I first saw them a few years ago finally mutated into the acid house-rock monster that they always hinted at becoming. Their live act is in turns charming, banging and air-punchingly fabulous.

Hot Chip are without pretence (see their fancy-dress costume-wearing performance at Bestival for proof) but are also full of humour and sincerity, and their gigs are electric. They’re pretty much the New New Order, and that’s high praise.

1) GIG O’ THE YEAR – PUBLIC ENEMY – Manchester Academy, May-ish

This was an easy choice. Public Enemy gigging the whole of It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back was either going to be awesome or terrible. It was the former, durrr. The best gig this writer’s ever seen, easily. Here’s what I said at the time:

A truly brilliant gig: angry, brutal, and winningly political, inevitably, but the actually important stuff – the songs – were astonishing to hear live. Poundingly brilliant, terrifyingly funky and thrillingly loud – the crowd went berserk as they rolled out each grandstanding song. Flava Flav proved he was much more than his appearances as latter-day reality TV bizarro-fodder, geeing up the crowd until the sweat ran down the walls. Chuck D charged between his twin assaults of his brilliant lyrical polemic and delivering his powerful political beliefs, insistent and sincere.

It was hard to have left without feeling that the world needs Public Enemy today more than it ever has before. Shockingly, brain-rattlingly good.”

And I stand by every overwrought, garbled word.

>Today’s New Band – Ex Lovers PLUS! Credit Crunch Revenge!

>In these recession-ridden times, hidden value – getting more than your bargained for – is about as good as it gets. This is especially true if you think that you’ve been diddled out of too much money in the first place. An example: when I went to see Pete and The Pirates last night, they had to prize the £9.50 out of my clammy hand. I paid it with half reluctance and half comfort – on one hand, nine pounds bloody fifty is a lot of money to see a band that hardly dents the Top 40, but then on the other hand, if that band is as good as P&TP, who cares?

They were, indeed, great. Lovely, charming, inventive tunes with lovely, charming, inventive lyrics. They reminded me a bit of James – not in their sound, but in their arty contrariness. But what made me totally forget all about the cost was the fact that their support band, Ex Lovers, were superb too. And so, in a fit of inevitable cunning, they are Today’s New Band.

Ex Lovers just work. There are so many bands that aren’t quite there – a good singer with a clunky band, or a great guitarist in a band that writes sub-Travis dirge. But Ex Lovers all fit together perfectly, like Stickle Bricks. And like Stickle Bricks, each bit of the band is different, and contributes something good to the whole. (No more dreadful toddler’s toy analogies, I promise.)

Their gentle songs have that great indie coyness that has been hitherto trampled over in the rush for ‘dancefloor’ staccato beats and choppy too-cool guitars. Listen to Just A Silhouette, and swoon to the dreamy vocals, snappy hooks and the way it drifts into the chorus. Then – more hidden value – bathe yourself in the total absence of pretentiousness.

There’s something softly defiant about Ex Lovers – all the songs sound like they are just about to dissolve nihilistically into warm fuzz. When I saw them last night, they were smart enough to only let that happen once or twice.

Ex Lovers play songs that do exactly what you were hoping they’d do, just when you were hoping it would happen. Thanks, Ex Lovers, for making that £9.50 seem like a bargain. Their songs are like soft electricity, a descripiton which I freely accept is the most pretentious phrase I have ever typed. But it fits. Listen to them here.

>Today’s New Band – Kaiton

>I started a Spanish class yesterday. I already knew a bit of Spanish, or so I thought. This is what I learnt:

  1. That the word for ‘handcuffs’ in Spanish is the same as the word for ‘wife’
  2. The word to describe a cute child is the same as ‘monkey’
  3. That I knew how to ask whether a hotel has a room for two people, for three nights, (preferably with a bathroom), but was stumped when I had to explain what my age and name is.

This minor idiotic trait of my brain – to forget the basics and cling onto the less useful – is actually probably shared by many of you reading this. You want to listen to something new, flighty and inventive that might be either great or awful, not just to plump for the safe dirge of the new Oasis album. This is the musical equivalent of my brain’s linguistic forgetfulness.

This all probably makes Today’s New Band, Kaiton, Spanish for “I need you to to discombobulate my goat”, though the music itself isn’t quite that leftfield. Tingle pulses with the electronic bleeps you’d expect to hear in the monitoring room of a nuclear power plant, all the while building into a driving, wide-open song. Field Study 24 slides slowly by like a big container boat, and making similarly oceanic, large ‘n’ quiet noises.

Kaiton‘s music is exploratory, pushing outwards, here and there, and finding new alleyways to creep down. To call electronic music ‘organic’ is both a cliché and disingenuous, but it kind of fits with Kaiton. Music to watch time-lapse films of plants growing to. Listen here!

>Today’s New Band – Efterklang

>What room is there in today’s ZAP-POW society for calmness? If you’ve not achieved exactly what you wanted by yesterday, you’ve failed. We rush forward frenetically, and the music we listen to while doing it reflects the ultra-economic, all-surface-no-feeling, instant-impact world around it. Stopping and reflecting is for WIMPS!

It turns out that this might not be so smart. Anxiety reigns supreme and worry is pushed at everyone, from everyone. Relaxing and observing might have benefits after all.

Today’s New Band is the Danish septuplet Efterklang, and, if we’re resorting to our old favourite, the Glib Comparison, they’re somewhere between The Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros.

Towards the Bare Hill manages to blend choral voices, orchestral sounds and glitchy-clicking noises and make it work. It sounds like a male voice choir and a brass band let loose in a room full of hateful laptop “IDM” nerds and then setting about them, but recording the calming results. Step Aside takes a similar approach, squashing traditional, folk-y instruments into slightly warped shapes and scuffing in some non-intrusive electronic-y sounds. It’s what standing on a hill in the middle of nowhere whilst watching the sunset and reflecting that, on balance, life is good would sound like.

Efterklang’s music is all very serene, with the touch of the bizarre you’d expect from Northern European band, and also strangely, comfortingly, warm. Perhaps that’s what’s needed in a country as chilly as Denmark. Perhaps it’s needed everywhere else too. Let their music envelop you here!