Saturday, 25 April 2015

2014

A bit late but my favourite albums of 2014 were

Swans - To Be Kind
Thalia Zedek Band - Six
Shellac - Dude Incredible
Bob Mould - Beauty and Ruin
Fennsesz - Becs

Red Wire Object Send Change

Whilst reviewing the Wire album they call Wire, I considered my preferences for their 21st century albums and so here it is:

1. Send
2. Change Becomes Us
3. Red Barked Trees
4. Wire
5. Object 47

In the eighties/nineties this is my order of preference:

1. A Bell is a Cup until it is Struck
2. The Ideal Copy
3. Its Beginning to And Back Again
4. Manscape
5. The Drill
6. The First Letter (by Wir)

In the seventies:

1. 154
2. Chairs Missing
3. Pink Flag
4. Document and Eyewitness

Compilations of songs/versions not on albums:

1. Behind the Curtain
2. The Peel Sessions
3. Coatings
4. Turns and Strokes

Wire In Hebden Bridge

I went to Hebden Bridge. I had a nice walk along a beautiful canal but the geese are much nastier than the geese In Manchester. After that I went to hear Wire drill in a blessed state. I wrote a review of the concert and will type it up soon. Colin Newman kindly let me take Matthew Simms' setlist after they got used to it so if you don't mind spoiling any surprises In Manchester here it is...

Blogging
Joust and Jostle
Silk Skin Paws
Drill
Mekon Headman
Burning Bridges
High
In Manchester
Sleep-Walking to Todmorden
Stealth of a Stork (not a goose)
Split Your Ends
Octopus
Blessed State
Swallow
Harpooned

Encore:
Brazil
Adore Your Island
Used To

At soundcheck they played:
Colin Alone on Guitar
Instrumental Jam
Split Your Ends
Shifting
Mekon Headman
Burning Bridges

Friday, 24 April 2015

godspeed one fighter

A review of godspeed you! black emperor at Manchester Albert Hall on April 17th 2015, written for Optical Sounds.


A noise drone rose slowly from a metal box on a table. Behind the open box sat a man intent on his gadgets within. The man called himself Total Life, so in order to avoid confusion, I will too. I presume the gradually increasing pink-grey noise approaching whiteout was the kind of music he likes. I think I'm pretty much done with the noise thing as nothing is ever going to top Daniel Menche's "Invoker," however as an opening warm up for the godspeedy hope drone it was perfect. It was a shame the volume wasn't twice as loud, as then it might've drowned out the incessant gabbling students. Even three people back from the barrier in front of the high stage their tedious small talk cut through the buzzing ambience of Total Life. Some seemed more impressed by the searchlight beams sweeping high up on the ceiling and past the stained glass windows. Afterwards I heard one loudmouth drunk shouting at his friend, "I like a bit of post-rock as much as the next man, and you are the next man, but that was just an intro." He had a point. It was an intro of sorts, and would have been more elegant if godspeed could have set up whilst he failed to break the sound barrier, and started playing as soon as he finished. Instead we watched ghost shadows pass the big screens behind the stage as Mauro fiddled with his bass and the two loudmouths made assinine sexist comments about the female roadie setting up godspeed gear. Luckily there wasn't too much talking whilst godpseed played, at least not ten feet from the great divide, but one big boy couldn't stop whooping like a little girl at a Take That concert every time godspeed played something he enjoyed. This was not nearly as annoying as the stupid girl who started whooping in my ear when Slint played and unlike her I didn't feel the need to ask him to shut up. Somehow his whoops blended into godspeed's heavenly apocalypse without causing further calamity. Slint were basically a precision honed museum piece, and extraneous excited screaming detracted drastically from their immaculate reception. With godspeed, it seemed such a response was not something to marr the listening experience but rather gave a sense of community as if somehow godspeed were screaming for all of us. What were they screaming? The easy answer would be one word flashing down at us from the cinema size screens on which Karl Lemieux cast his projections: HOPE. The first godspeeders to take the stage were violinist Sophie Trudeau, contre-bassist Thierry Amar and drummer / droner Timothy Herzog. They set up a low level drone that slowly gathered mass as bassist Mauro and drummer Aidan Girt joined them for some skittery almost jazzy percussion, in an almost Tortoise-like opening gambit. As Efrim Menuck picked up his guitar the revelation that they were beginning their set with a new piece of music hit. As the other two guitarists Michael Moya and David Bryant sat down to play and Thierry switched to bass, the power of HOPE hammered as Karl shot us all along railtracks. Tower blocks loomed. Silver, copper, corn, hogs and pork bellies crashed the stock market, and by the time they launched into their most exhilarating piece "Their Helicopters Sing" I felt like I was flying. Of course some drunken fool had to bring me down by stupidly leaning on me and another guy in front of him when there was plenty of room for him to stand on his own feet. When I asked him to stop doing it he denied any knowledge of his irksome behaviour and I had to shove him a few times which must have looked a bit odd as most everyone else was stood still enraptured by the magnificent music blessing their ears and mindbrains. More new music had a pastoral almost chamber beginning, highlighting Sophie's violin, accompanied by film of flowers and gardens. There was pretty much enough music for a whole new album already, and their ninety minute set ended with the entirety of their recent fifth album "Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress," music that already feels as if I've known it for all eternity. There was no encore and I hurried out to catch the latter part of Cantaloupe's set at the Eagle, whereupon I spied Efrim smoking outside. It was nice to meet him again after over a decade. Along with Thierry and former godspeed cellist Norsola, he stayed at my flat after they played their first ever Manchester gig, which I think was also their first in the UK and the last time I spoke to him was after A Silver Mount Zion played the now defunct Planet K. He looked hardly a day older. Maybe he's almost as timeless as the music blesses the world with?

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

White Hills at the Mill

No sooner had I written off Gnod ever picking up guitars again, when three of them did exactly that! Alex Macarte played drums, co-founders Paddy Shine and Chris Haslam played guitars and Marlene Ribeiro bass. Starting with a low volume ambient drone, Chris slowly built up a gathering storm of effects around Marlene's insistent one note bass attack anchor. Paddy walked onto the very low stage after the other three children of Gnod, looking well out of it, and stood before the gathering as if in a trance, intoning mantras about infinity. The noise levels slowly rose reaching an ear-splitting crescendo as Paddy accused, "They have made themselves the lackeys of the rich." Dave Maclean joined them on saxophone for the second psyche-out, and later Paddy dueted with him, switching from guitar to sax. The way Chris was hitting all six guitar strings open fretted suggested he was using an open tuning, and the whole set imploded around few notes wrenched as violently as possible from the guitars, using them for full on rhythmic action. Gnod always change the way they Gnod, so who knows what they'll be playing next time? Maybe they'll wheel the Mill piano in for a little boogie-woogie...?
Despite having listened to "Walks for Motorists" many times before the gig, it was still a bit surprising to see Dave W take the mike with no guitar for the first song in White Hills' set "No Will." The bass line is so forceful and heavy that it seems as if there is a guitar there too, which could explain why they felt there was no need for guitar. Dave was also sans six strigs for "£SD or USB," playing a little synth pad keyboard. He's always born a resemblance to Alice Cooper, but it seemed all the more apparent as he rocked out without a guitar. For most of the set Dave was playing guitar, thankfully not having followed his past collaborators Gnod into a void of guitar avoidance. They played a fair bit of the new album, and with the exception of an incendiary "Condition of Nothing" and "H-p1" the rest of the set was comprised of songs I hadn't heard them play before which was good to hear. Two songs new to me, so I assume they are quite likely new songs, were extremely guitar heavy. Dave expounded on his love of Manchester and luckily Mark E Smith wasn't there to give him corporal punishment for the heinous crime of not doing his geography homework and refering to Salford as Manchester. No one listening gave a shit about that though, and the fact that White Hills had titled the fifty run reissue of "Oddity II" their tour CDR "Night Scene on Mill Mountain" could well have been another Gnod of approval for Islington Mill. Before the gig I'd asked bassist Ego Sensation if there was any chance they could play "Winter," the last track from "So You Are... So You'll Be" but with a new drummer who had yet to learn that drum part it was not to be. "Maybe next tour," she said. I'll look forward to it as its a track I can listen to on 'repeat' for an hour. Nevermind, what they did play sounded as great as ever and it was nice to see that they could free themselves from a reliance on certain mainstays that they'd played every time I'd seen them before this. All anyone could really ask for was a longer set, but for a mere seven quid on the door thanks to promoters Fat Witch (an amalgamation of Beauty Witch and Fat Out 'til you Pass Out) what we got was a bargain. The only gig I'd seen in 2015 that was as good as this was Enblers and Rattle at Gullivers, also for the magick number £7.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

White Hills "Walks for Motorists" (Thrill Jockey)

"Do we dare to call ourselves creators?" ask creators White Hills, dreaming "in defiance of god" on the musical mutation that motors up an unexpected change in direction: "No Will" threw me at first as it doesn't sound like any other White Hills song at all. A friend mentioned a similarity to Bauhaus, but White Hills sound more angry and natural. But what is natural? Although nebulous, the "worst fears in flesh and blood" expressed on "No Will" make me think of genetic modification, cloning, artificial intelligence, the very probable evolution of a group mind as the human race replaces flesh with machine, neurons with wire and circuitry and animal mutates first into machine then pure information. There's a break from such philosophical pondering with the propulsive chug of "£SD or USB" but the title implies the increasing hallucinogenic potency of the internet. White Hills' heavy psychedelic rock of old takes up the battle for freedom from authoritarian control on "Wanderlust," almost a manifesto for the relentless touring that takes them far from New York. "Lead the Way" gets temporally cosmic with a riff that sounds like Loop's "Collision" dragged through a swamp of dark splatter, and Ron Asheton style wah-wah splurge. The big shift in sound is due to songs born of Ego Sensation's bass lines and keyboard melodies rather than Dave W's formerly dominant guitar. Instrumental "I Nomad" typifies this move, all glacial descent and burbling ice melt. The use of keyboards and synthesisers is nothing new for White Hills, as their masterpiece "H-p1" was awash with them, but there guitar still dominated. Maybe the less guitar heavy direction has been influenced by their friends and collaborators Gnod who have themselves completely abandoned guitars. "We Are What You Are" is more redolent of their previous album, and not just in title, opening with apocalyptic guitar menace. Its anthemic build seems to give a more positive spin to the gothic doom of "No Will." "We are the light that sets you free?" Then again maybe its just another ego sensation? "Automated City" hums on a motorik pulse, corrupting Kraftwerk's "Neon Lights" into a dystopia watched over by "big black shining eyes." Note the similarity if the word 'motorik' to the word 'motorists.' The title track "Walks for Motorists" walks similar new terrain but is more Star Wars than Blade Runner. Penultimate tune "Life is Upon You" breathes rotating bass line oxygen and is fed by discordant chunks of distorted keyboard drone, with Ego's almost pop backing vocals adding a questioning counterpoint. Whilst this doesn't surpass their previous album "So You Are... So You'll Be" it is still a great album. Just be prepared for less guitars!


This review was written for Optical Sounds zine.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Wire by Wire (a band and an album called "Wire")

I'm worried, there's cause for concern. I lit the touch paper and it started to burn. Oh no no no! Is it too late to change my mind? A total eclipse arrives now and something snapped. His last mortal remains reflect; that's how many came to grief. The road ahead looks quite uncertain. Rethinking strategies to free your mind and break your neck: HArpooned!
The last song on a Wire album often has an apocalyptic aspect, and this tradition, only completely rescinded by "Red Barked Trees," continues here. The last song "Harpooned" is the one to mention first as it's better than all the other songs on Wire's fifth studio album since their second rebirth put together. It made a monstrous set closer for the last few gigs I saw them play prior to recording. Musically it recalls the brooding ominous doom of "Reuters" from their debut album "Pink Flag" and the relentless percussive onslaught of "Over Theirs" from "The Ideal Copy." Lyrically it seems to be cut from the same cookie  as "Ally in Exile / Doubles and Trebles." The protagonist is worried and hears voices echoing down in his shell, waiting some imminent catastrophe. In both songs the paranoid atmosphere is well justified as certain doom is just around the corner, just out of reach? "Harpooned" also gives the first vague hint that the deranged technoid circles of mania inscribed by their masterpiece "99.9" might not have been completely abandoned upon the exit of former guitar-artist Bruce Gilbert. "99.9" did suggest an alternative to the 'beat combo' set up that currently serves Wire's purposes very well, a parallel universe that they have yet to navigate further. Maybe it wasn't a dead end after all?  More than any other album this sounds like primary melodicist Colin Newman has taken the reigns. There is much less of Graham Lewis' voice, and this is the first Wire album since "Pink Flag" with no lead vocals from him, maybe because he'd used them all up for his recent album on Mego, "All Over?" His most prominent vocal is the repetition of a single word, "Delay" on the snappy "Octopus," however the best songs are the ones I'm guessing had more of his cryptic lyrical word play, especially the intriguing "Joust and Jostle" and the flying Dutchman chasing "Swallow." It is these songs plus the upbeat hymn to the pervasive consuming religion of the internet "Blogging" which opens the album and the ponderous ode to unity "Sleep-Walking" that form the backbone of an album over-powered by the "Harpooned" brain. "Sleep-Walking"  actually comes across as the less brutal little brother of "Harpooned" and these five key songs are also the ones extensively road tested on tour before recording began in Wales. The rest of the album is lighter and mostly lyrically more direct. "Shifting" and "Burning Bridges" are rare things for Wire, love songs, but pulled off without the corny cliche that so often marrs such endeavours. "Burning Bridges" could possibly be a tribute to Colin's father who died recently. Matthew Simms' guitar effects on "Split Your Ends" recall Mike Thorne's keyboards on Wire's third and best album "154"  and reviewed, it seems about half the songs sound as if they were born in the shadow of "Map Ref" and "The Fifteenth." "In Manchester" gives a possible clue as to the next location of Wire's Drillfest, wherein they curate a week or so of gigs in a particular city. Although this is far from their greatest album it does include one future classic track and does nothing to detract from their formidable legacy. The one major cause for criticism is the unimaginative eponymous title: the narrowest vision often has the widest appeal?


This review was written for "Optical Sounds" zine.
Now look at www.pinkflag.com for the lowdown.