Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 82 / the alternative music tabloid
+ Albums of the Year London Oâ€™Connor Jehnny Beth Totally Noga Erez Virginia Wing
the top 40 Albums of the year – 12 totally – 16 noga erez – 20 London O’connor – 24 virginia wing – 28 brian eno – 32 jehnny beth – 38
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 82 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
+ Albums of the Year London O’Connor Jehnny Beth Totally Noga Erez Virginia Wing
c o v er ph o t o g r aph y ph i l s h a r p
Say what you want about 2016, but at least it had the manners to serve up its shit sandwiches in incremental size order. The multitude of celebrity deaths were put into perspective by Brexit before Trump’s election made us feel at least a little bit better about our own fuck up. Perhaps it’s been the hyperbolic small talk that’s been the real low point of the year, though – the compulsion to break awkward silences with “2016, aye? What a nasty bugger. Worst year in history!” But it’s over now. Or it’s very close, if you’re reading this double issue of Loud And Quiet in the closing weeks of December. We’ve made it. And while there’s nothing to suggest that world events have the decency to turn over a new leaf simply because it’s January, let’s at least pretend that 2017 is going to be… different. Brian Eno symbolises such optimism best of all. As a close friend and collaborator of David Bowie, he experienced a great and personal loss at the beginning of 2016. But Eno has always chosen not to dwell on the past. He’s a man who’s refused to live off his former glories (he simply won’t discuss Bowie or Roxy Music); who concentrates on the project he’s working on next. From January 1st (so with not a single day to consider the crap-fest of 2016) that will be ‘Reflection’ – a ‘year-long’ album of ambient music, which you can buy in all the usual formats, but also as an app, on which the music will change with the passing seasons change in temperature. If you listen to ‘Reflection’ at 3am, it’ll also sound different to how it does at 3pm. If one musician was going to make such an album, it was Brian Eno – a pioneer in sound who curiously tiptoes a line between science and art. He crops up in two of our other features this month, too. Savages singer Jehnny Beth recalls meeting him recently for an interview for her radio show on Beats 1, while California’s London O’Connor told David Zammitt: “Brian Eno helps me sleep at night. His music is a tool.” It’s probably the biggest compliment he could receive. Stuart Stubbs
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The instrumental bond between Warpaint’s EMILY KOKAL and Theresa Wayman was already in full effect by 1996
mily Kokal: “Theresa [Wayman, Warpaint guitarist] actually took this picture of me when I was 16, which is so cute. We were at high school, in Eugene, Oregon, and we had photography class together, and this was one of her graded photos. I don’t remember what grade she got for it, but the print made it into this glass case that was outside the class, so that’s something – it was mounted in the hallway. Eugene is a really amazing city. There’s a really good university there; a really good architecture school. Nike was started there, and it’s a very liberal and progressive city. My mum moved me there when I was 10 to have a better education. Before that I went to five different elementary schools and I was a real gypsy kid, always moving, from Chino, California, where I was born, to all over the state and the Bay Area. But 16 was a really pivotal point for me. I was really involved in community theatre. I loved to perform and sing, and I was getting into choreographing dances. I also started smoking pot, and that took me more into music, which was when I started playing guitar – I was transitioning into songwriting, and I was definitely lashing out for some independence at that point in my life. I was feeling a little restricted in my house, because that’s that point where you can start battling with your parents. It was 1996 and I started listening to Wu-Tang and Outkast and Portishead and trip-hop. Music
As tol d to s t u a r t s t ubbs started to blow my mind. It kind of felt like the end of my childhood. At that time in my school, because it was really progressive in the arts, there were kids who’d write their own musicals. I remember I got together with a girl who played violin and a girl who played piano and we put together a three-part harmony of a Cat Stevens song. South Eugene is like that – yuppiehippie, where parents are really involved in their kids’ lives and artists themselves or professors at the university. Even some of the jocks, who you’d think would be the antithesis of that world, would get involved with performances. A big thing that happened then was that I was in a play and I got in trouble for cutting class, so as a punishment my mum took me out of the play. That play was a really big deal to me, and she fucked me over. I actually really appreciate that now, because due to being grounded I got more into doing things she really didn’t want me to do, and those things have helped me get to where I am today. I rebelled, and I put all of my angst into playing the guitar and developing my own voice. Theresa and I listened to a lot of Bjork back then, and Portishead, and amazing women singers who made me think these people are really saying something; this is what I want to do; I want to be me, I don’t want to play a character; and if I dance I want to dance in a video that I make, to my song. Most of the time I was with Theresa… and some
of my friends. We’d be at her house or mine, and there were some really nice nature spots nearby, so we’d drive and listen to music. And there was Ginny’s house, which was the house that anybody could go to at any time – her parents would just be chilling out downstairs, and they didn’t care. Ginny had three CDs – Van Morrison, Pharcyde and Liquid Swords by GZA. We’d listen to those and jump on a trampoline. Theresa and I were always walking around philosophising together. We walked home and to school together since we were eleven, and that friendship was a really big part of what was happening when I was 16. We were so aligned in the things that we wanted to do and the things we were interested in. We loved the same books, the same movies, the same music. We starting playing guitar at the same time, and then started playing a little bit together. So now that we’re in Warpaint together and tour the world… it’s someone who knows you so well, through puberty. And now she has an 11-year-old! That is a really wild journey. The other day we spent the day off in Paris together, and we were walking around, and it’s so sweet sometimes to stop and appreciate that we’re having a day off together, alone. We both have chaotic home lives, but here we are having a day off in Paris, by ourselves. We designed it this way from that time in our lives. I think that our bond pushed us to really try for something.
books + ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR
Jeff Daniels Reef Younis catalogues the curious music careers of mega celebrities. Illustrated by Josie Sommer. / country fete headliner or a free CD with a Sunday supplement. Part singer, part stand-up, he walks a delicate line between semi-serious lyricism, comic timing and unexpectedly solid musical ability. “I’m not the first celebrity who thinks he can sing and get away with it,” he admits on ‘Jeff Daniels Live and Unplugged to Benefit the Purple Rose Theatre’ before picking his way into the tongue-in-cheek wit of ‘If William Shatner Can, I CanToo’ and ‘You Can Drink An Ugly Girl Pretty’. Elsewhere, monologues about lyrical inspiration shift from Harley-riding preachers (‘Wicked World’) and production assistants (‘The Newsroom’) to that time he played the villain in Clint Eastwood’s ‘Blood Work’ (‘The Dirty Harry Blues’). Daniels’ amiable takes on blues, folk and bluegrass might feel like a fishing weekend with dad – him pulling out a battered acoustic after a few beers and riffing on Bobby Day’s ‘Rockin’ Robin’ to some campfire jokes he’d never say in front of mum – but in a world where Jennifer LoveHewitt can release four albums, it’s cold comfort knowing that he can at least play guitar in his musical punch line.
To many of us, Jeff Daniels will forever be an idiot. He was the dunce who spent his life savings turning his van into a dog, shit his soul into a toilet bowl, and turned down the chance to oil up a women’s volleyball team. But away from his role as Harry Dunne in the classic film Dumb & Dumber – and turns in the brilliant Good Night, and Good Luck, indie hit The Squid and the Whale, and Hollywood blockbuster, The Martian – Daniels takes his music seriously. Sort of. Jeffdaniels.com introduces you to the music man with a typically elaborate introduction to the sounds within. “Welcome to the musical side of myself,” it coaxes, “Through this little portal into the digital universe and with a singular focus on the songs that continue to pour out of my pores, take my hand as I valiantly meander my way towards something yet to be defined and, more than likely, never will be.” Deep. When he’s not acting, writing plays or involved with his non-profit Purple Rose Theatre Company, Jeff Daniels, it turns out, has his guitar in his lap and a Western twang on his tongue. With four fulllength records and two live albums released over the last 12 years, Daniels’ folk- and comedyinspired tracks have the accomplished appeal of a
b y j anine & L ee b ullman
Becoming Elektra by Mick Houghton
Amy: A life through the Lens by Darren and Elliott Bloom
Lonely Boy by steve jones
According to Iggy Pop, Jac Holzman, the man responsible for bringing The Doors, The Stooges, Tim Buckley and Love to the attention of the world, treated his bands gently and dressed like a mod. He also built Elektra, one of the most original and influential record labels to come out of the 1960s. Becoming Elektra tells the story of the extraordinary label against the broad backdrop of an extraordinary time. As well as drawing on interviews with the movers and shakers who played key roles in helping Holzman build his label, Mick Houghton’s book has been revised and expanded to include contributions from Holzman himself and the Doors’ drummer John Densmore. Houghton’s comprehensive research is quite something.
Amy Winehouse was the b-movie bad girl with the voice that stopped us all in our tracks, who left us behind just as we were beginning to realise quite how good she was. Amy: A Life Through the Lens is a no holds barred look at a short life lived under unrelenting scrutiny. The heroin, the cocaine and the honest to goodness rock bottom blues are all captured in the desperate snaps of Winehouse falling in and out of cabs in Camden and Soho, but so too are her fresh face, dirty smile and the gamechanging style that, for a short while, changed the way everyone looked. Featuring material you may have seen in the recent documentary about the singer, this book serves as a bittersweet reminder of a great lost talent, of course.
Before he became the Sex Pistols’ guitarist and the man responsible for some of punk’s most killer riffs, a teenage Steve Jones emerged from the streets of West London armed with a Roxy Music obsession and a penchant for petty larceny. His timing and geography were perfect. He found his way to a shop on the corner ofThe King’s Road and was soon surrounded by Chrissie Hynde, Johnny Rotten, Malcolm McLaren and a slew of others who would soon became household names – and public enemy number one – by selling their souls to punk. In Lonely Boy, Jones’ tells his story with all of the humour and honesty you’d expect, covering not only his service as a Sex Pistol but the occasionally bumpy path he followed once the band imploded.
getting to know you
Marianne Faithfull Over a 50-year career, Marianne Faithfull has doggedly shaken off the decade that looked certain to define her – 1960s London, of which she invented the female archetype. Having just released a new live album and DVD called ‘No Exit’, the singer songwriter completed our GTKY questionnaire. /
The best piece of advice you’ve been given Forgiveness, compassion, love.
Your biggest disappointment That I wasn’t kinder to my mother.
Your favourite word ‘Truth’.
The celebrity that pisses you off the most even though you’ve never met them [Unanswered].
Your pet-hate I try very hard not to hate.
Your biggest fear I am wracked with fear all the time!
If you could only eat one food forever, it would be… Clear crystal water. The worst job you’ve had Showbiz. The film you can quote the most of Some Like it Hot. Your favourite place in the world At home with my friends.
People’s biggest misconception about yourself I really couldn’t give a flying fuck. Let them think what they want. Who would play you in a film of your life? [Unanswered].
Your style icon Anita Pallenberg. The one song you wished you’d written ‘Into My Arms’ by Nick Cave. The most famous person you’ve met Fame kills. The thing you’d rescue from a burning building Another human being. The worst date you’ve been on I don’t go on dates. Your guilty pleasure The odd cigarette.
What is success to you? It is the same as failure. What talent do you wish you had? I wish I could draw and paint. How would you choose to die? I would prefer not to die! But I will have to. What is the most overrated thing in the world? Money. What, if anything, would you change about your physical appearance? [Unanswered]. What is you biggest turn-off? [Unanswered].
Your first big extravagance I don’t remember. The characteristic you most like about yourself My wit. Your hidden talent Sorry they’re all out there. Your favourite item of clothing My stick.
The best book in the world The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, of course, and Salman Rushdie’s new book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, and Chronicles by Bob Dylan.
What would you tell your 15-year-old self? Run. Your best piece of advice for others I don’t give advice.
Albums of the Year 2016 01
Anna Meredith Varmints
Danny Brown Atrocity Exhibition
Kate Tempest Let Them Eat Chaos
( Mo shi Mo shi)
( Wa r p)
(F ict io n)
( Ro ug h T ra d e)
The sobering collaboration between Anohni, Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never that takes on ecocide, war
The experimental electronic debut from a British composer usually found writing commissions for the BBC Proms.
Fender Rhodes-led 1970s lounge rock from Angel Olsen’s guitarist and drummer, Stewart Bronaugh and Joshua Jaeger.
The Detroit rapper’s first record for Warp, named after a Joy Division song, prog in approach and nihilistic in feel to fit the mood of 2016.
A very British hip-hop soap opera that follows seven different characters, all awake at 4:18am on the same stormy night.
Show Me The Body Body War
Let’s Eat Grandma I, Gemini
David Bowie Blackstar
Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial
( C o rp u s )
( I nnovati ve L e isu r e )
( Tr a n s g r e ssi v e )
( C o lu mb i a )
( M atad o r )
The debut album from a New York hardcore trio disenfranchised by gentrification and inspired by drone rock as much as the Beastie Boys.
The Toronto quartet’s fourth album of progressive jazz for a post-Kendrick age, with guests including Samuel T. Herring and Kaytranada.
The debut album from the Norwich-based teenage duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, mixing pat-acake singsong with other music box obsessions.
The 25th and, sadly, last album from a genius.
The prolific Will Toledo’s second album for Matador, taking its alt. rock cues from Pixies, Guided By Voices and The Strokes.
Savages Adore Life
Cullen Omori New Misery
Bat For Lashes The Bride
Cat’s Eyes Treasure House
( M atado r)
( S ub P op)
Virginia Wing Forward Constant Motion
(Pa r lo p h o n e)
( R AF )
The London band’s second album, where monochrome ’80s British punk meets the operatic range and theatrics of singer Jehnny Beth.
The debut solo album from the former Smith Westerns frontman, still in the Lennon-ish vein of the band of his adolescence.
(F ir e )
Natasha Khan’s ballad-heavy concept album about a wedding that never happens, because the groom dies on his way to the church.
The third album from Horrors frontman Faris Badwan and Italian-Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira, with added strings for a John Cale vibe.
Joey Purp iiiDrops
Angel Olsen My Woman
Jessy Lanza Oh No
( S el f re l e ased )
(J agjag uwa r )
(H y pe r d u b )
( B e caus e)
Beyond The Wizards Sleeve The Soft Bounce
Given away for free but more than a mixtape, the Chicago rapper’s debut collection that has his vocal tone set to ‘Jay-Z’.
The indie-folk singer’s album of two halves – something more rough and punk to start with, followed by her trademark delicate minimalism.
A step up in tempo for the Toronto singer’s second album of slick RnB disco, with electronics again from Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan.
Jack Colleran’s debut album of nocturnal, isolated soundscapes, full of building electronics that rarely rely on beats to propel them.
The second album from a UK DIY duo who were a trio before, and have traded a guitar-led sound for ambient electronics reminiscent of Telepathe.
( P h a n ta sy )
The long awaited debut ‘band’ album from DJs Erol Alkan and Richard Norris.
As voted for by the contributors of Loud And Quiet, our top 40 records released this year, and a reminder of exactly what they are
The Avalanches Wildflower
Oliver Coates Upstepping
Whitney Light Upon The Lake
Julia Jacklin Don’t Let The Kids Win
Swet Shop Boys Cashmere
( X L)
( Se c r e tly C a nad ia n )
( Tr a n sg r ess i v e)
( Cu stom s)
The long awaited follow up to 2000’s cult classic ‘Since I Left You’. It can take a long time to clear Beatles samples.
The second minimalist dance record from the classical cellist and pirate radio enthusiast – a little two-step and a little Arthur Russell.
That Neil Young ‘Harvest’ sound from Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, formerly of Chicago’s the Smith Westerns.
A quarter life crisis turned into a country pop debut from an Australian musician playing with kitsch imagery.
Pakistani- and Indian-influenced hip-hop from London actor and rapper Riz Ahmed and New York’s former Das Racist member Heems.
Gold Panda Good Luck And Do Your Best
Mitski Puberty 2
Bon Iver 22, A Million
Clipping Splendor & Misery
(De ad Oc e ans )
( J agjag uwa r )
( C i ty S la n g)
New Yorker Mitski Miyawaki’s fourth album and ode to that confusing, happy/sad time in all our lives, expressed through post-grunge, MTV2 rock.
Justin Vernon’s less accessible/ more experimental follow up to his hugely successful 2011 album ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’.
Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Jenny Hval Blood Bitch
Jackie Lynn Jackie Lynn
Solange A Seat At The Table
( Sacre d B o nes)
(J agjag uwa r )
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Skeleton Key
( T h r i ll J o ck ey )
( Co lum b i a )
The sixth album from the Norwegian artist and musician – an avant-garde concept record about female vampires and menstruation.
The second album from a band previously known as Viet Cong, with a few added synth lines in their otherwise frantic-sounding post-punk.
( B ad Se e d Ltd)
A concept album from Haley Fohr (aka Circuit de Yeux), in the guise of country alter ego Jackie Lynn, currently ‘at large’ and hunting a man who fucked her.
The other Knowles sister’s delicate collection of not-quiteRnB tracks that are overtly political in representing the race issues of America and the world.
Poliça United Crushers
Warpaint Heads Up
Stephen Steinbrink Anagrams
( C o lu mbia)
( M emph i sh In du st r ie s )
(Rou gh Tr ade )
(Rock e t )
( M e lod i c )
The singer’s sixth solo album, and second ‘visual’ record, accompanied by an hour-long film broadcast on HBO.
Social injustice, war, celebrity and what it’s like to live in trigger-happy, modern America go into the RnB dub band’s less auto-tuned third album.
The LA band’s third album of slinky indie and growing electronic elements, following their more difficult self-titled record of 2014.
The third album from the Swedish, clandestine psych band. As cosmic as ever, with slightly less static and beefed up melodies.
The nomadic singer’s first studio-recorded album of bittersweet indie after a decade of touring the West Coast’s DIY underground.
Derwin Panda’s third (and possibly final) album of minimal techno, inspired by a trip to Japan that also spawned a photography book of the same name.
The sixteenth, less polished album from Cave’s main project, featuring a few amended lyrics following the sad death of the singer’s 15-year-old son.
( G lass n ot e)
The first album-long collaboration between the Walkmen frontman and ex-Vampire Weekend member.
A dystopian hip-hop space opera from the LA noise-rap trio whose Daveed Diggs found fame on Broadway this year in black history musical Hamilton.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Something of a Gap Year 2016 was the year that composer Anna Meredith parked her classical commissions to release her first album and our Album Of The Year – ‘Varmints’ Photogr ap hy: ge m h a rris / writer: stu art stubbs
In January 2016, I drove Sam Walton and Gem Harris into the Suffolk countryside to interview and shoot Anna Meredith for the first Loud And Quiet cover story of the year. Anna was based at Snape Maltings, the rural head quarters of Aldeburgh Music, an organisation that nurtures the development of composers and classical musicians who you’ll find dotted around in barns converted into orchestra rooms and theatres. Anna – a jobbing composer since graduating from the prestigious Royal College of Music – was working on a commission based on Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, but was about to put her classical career on hold for the year, in order to release her debut solo album, the experimental, electronic ‘Varmints’. Until then, she’d only created music when somebody asked her to, for a concert or recital or arts program, but never for herself. She had no idea how it would be received, or if anyone would even hear it, and if they didn’t, she’d think twice about making another record. Almost 12 months on, ‘Varmints’ is our Album Of The Year – a constant source of surprise, which we’ve come to understand could only have come from her: a young composer whose decision to not listen to popular music has allowed her to make such a lawless debut, where a twee indie track can butt against an instrumental of outrageously bombastic tuba and the odd piece resembling stuttering techno, but played on distorted Grade 8 clarinet. “There’s a real delight when you’re listening to a piece of music and it completely pulls the rug from under you,” she told Sam in January. It still feels that way as 2016 comes to its bumpy end, regardless of how many times you’ve already listened to ‘Varmints’. Stuart Stubbs:When we did our cover feature with you in January, can you remember how you felt about the fact that you were about to release your debut album, and how you envisaged 2016 playing out?
Anna Meredith: Yeah. You guys coming out there was an amazing thing because up until then all the work I had been doing had been just me and the band. It had been very much led by me and I’d started to get very panicky about this idea that it could just disappear, because I’d been looking at other people being like, ‘I’ve got an album out!’ And then it’s just gone. That lack of impact started to freak me out, because I’d been working on it for a couple of years. And then when you guys came out it was all ready to go, but no one had really heard it, and it just felt lovely, because I sat and had a lovely, long chat with Sam about it, and he asked all these really interesting questions. He was so positive about it, and it felt a little bit like the first sense of ‘here we go!’. Sometimes I’d listen to [the record] and I’d think who is actually going to listen to this? SS: Did you feel like that because it’s not a record that comfortably fits in the classical world you know, nor is it instantly recognisable as an electronic pop record? AM: I’ve never really thought like that. I suppose I know that other people do, but when I’m writing I’m not trying to think about where my stuff fits. I just knew the musical ideas that I wanted to put in it – it’s built out of musical building blocks, but I know that other people can easily get freaked out by the simplest things. “Oh my god! There’s a clarinet?! I HATE IT!” Or, equally, for classical people, “Urgh there’s a drum beat?! IT’S NOT FOR ME!” I hoped that people wouldn’t be hung up on the fact that there are a lot of instrumental tracks, and that a lot of it isn’t in 4/4. To me, who cares? SS: You set aside 2016 to put classical composing on the backburner and see how this project developed. What have you most enjoyed about entering into this contemporary world of album releases and gig venues and tours and press interviews?
AM: I’ve loved the busyness of it. Normally, up until this year, my life has been very isolated. I’d be writing these big pieces essentially on my own, doing maybe two gigs a year, and the music I was writing was being heard sometimes by a huge amount of people, but sometimes only heard once. So it’s been satisfying making music that people know, and that’s ok. It sounds really obvious, but it really threw me for a while that it’s ok to play a gig full of material that people know: I’m used to making entirely new stuff for every single show – now it would be weird to play a gig where I didn’t play the tunes that people know, and I love seeing people singing the words. So there’s that, and the change I’ve made to my lifestyle. We’ve played 30odd shows and I’ve done loads of press, chatting to people about myself, which it turns out I can narcissistically do all day long. I think I even melodramatically said that I hope it changes my life in some way, and it really has… God, is that too cheesy? It is, isn’t it. SS: I saw on your Instagram that you got turned away from Berghain after your Berlin show. How dare they, Anna!? AM: Well, we were playing in the venue that’s attached to it, and actually, someone did sort out guest list for me, but the guys in my band were so determined to go that I gave that to one of them, and then I just said: ‘don’t worry, I’m going to queue up like a normal punter and if I get in, I’ll see you in there.’ I queued for 45 minutes, because we were there quite early for Berlin time – about 1am. The whole thing just felt so funny to me. You get there, to the very front, and this guy just casts his eyes over you and then, with no words, just shakes his head. And you just see people peeling off, on this walk of shame, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I’d say it was about 70% of people who weren’t getting in, so I wasn’t on my own being told no. And there’s this other etiquette, where people were saying,
‘don’t look at your phone, don’t speak, just look down’, because if you look at your phone you don’t want it enough. What the fuck!? SS: On a happier note, ‘Varmints’ won the Scottish Album Of The Year Award. AM: That was completely unexpected. I’ve done a lot of judging of classical stuff, and I know that you’re basically looking for reasons to exclude people, because everything’s great by the time you’re on a shortlist, and I thought there were so many reasons that people could think that ‘Varmints’ wasn’t for them. Then I did a really embarrassing acceptance speech. I just kept saying: “Shit! Jesus! Shit! Jesus!” It was live on the radio and they had to apologise. SS: I know that you don’t listen to pop music, but has that changed this year? AM: Oh god. Are you asking me for tips? I have this whole dickish thing of not listening to music because I can’t write if I’m listening to other people’s music. That’s not really changed, but I have heard more bands if we’ve been playing with them, which has been nice. There’s a brilliant Glasgow band called Bossy Love. I’ve been really proud to see Oliver Coates put out his record [‘Upstepping’] because we’ve been talking about putting our own records out for a long time. And he’s so much cooler than me. SS:What’s been your low point? AM: Alan Rickman. That was the one for me. SS: It’s not been a happy year in that regard, but to finish on something a little more upbeat, in January you weren’t sure how ‘Varmints’ would go, or if there’d be a second record. How about now? AM: I am going to make another record, yes. If you’d asked me that 6 months ago I would have punched you in the gonads, but I’ve decided to made another record at the end of next year, which will probably then come out in early 2018.
T o ta l l y L-R: Su s a n Mil a n o v ic, Ja d e Leo n a rd La ur el Sil ls, Fl iss Hamm o n d , Fra n n y Per kin s
Totally The London DIY band with humble ambitions and influences from Mariah to Blondie Photography: heather mccutcheon / writer: james F. Thompson
ack in the 1970s the concept of punk was codified into a strict set of music, fashion and lifestyle parameters that were inherently limited. According to these parameters, you were either a punk – a white teenage boy in a safety-pinned denim jacket thrashing about on a guitar with three chords – or you weren’t. Today though, punk is something else. It’s about doing it yourself. It’s about casting notional rules aside. Totally – for that is their wholly SEO-unfriendly, nineties Valleyspeak moniker – might not be the loudest or most aggressive band you’ll ever hear but make no mistake, they’re about as punk as it gets. A group of five girls in their late twenties and early thirties from disparate parts of the country (or in their drummer’s case, the world), the quintet came together in August of last year. This despite the fact that their vocalist had never sung before and their bassist had never previously played either. The band’s origins also lie within the heart of the London DIY scene. Jade – said rookie singer – had been a part of the community at least on a supportive basis for quite some time prior to getting started with Totally, cheering on her favourite bands and generally getting involved. She and guitarist Laurel had lived with Lindsay Corstorphine, a member of Sauna Youth along with innumerable other punk acts. Yet it’s fair to say that Totally have a sound distinct from all of that. “Most of my friends are in lo-fi punk bands but my vocals don’t suit that at all,” Jade says, her voice barely rising over the bustle of the East London arts café we’re sat in. “I’ve tried to shouty-sing and I think that sounds amazing and I’d have loved to have done it but it just didn’t work. They were always, ‘Aw it sounds too nice. Can you shout a bit more?’”
Jade and Laurel linked up with lead guitarist Fliss before recruiting Australian import Susan after watching her play with singer-songwriter Pete Astor at an in-store appearance. Novice bassist Franny rounded out the lineup. The group more or less coalesced around a former music venue called Power Lunches over in Dalston, followed by DIY Space in Peckham, south London, but they were sure they wanted to distinguish themselves. “We knew we wanted to sound different to punk,” says Jade. “We’re a punk band in the sense some of us had never picked up instruments before, but I was just really sick of being told my voice wasn’t right for bands.” Fliss remembers feeling slightly removed from the old Power Lunches scene. “It kind of forces you to think about where your music is situated, which [for us] was outside of that.” If Totally were clear about their direction from the outset, early rehearsals were still tough, especially given the varying levels of proficiency within the band. Equally though, the more experienced Laurel and Susan gave the band the encouragement they needed to keep going. “It helps having more experienced people in the band because when you first start practicing, you sound terrible,” laughs Jade. “It doesn’t matter how good you are. It takes a while to figure out how you’re going to sound, what everyone’s going to do. They have the confidence to stick with it.” Within six months of forming, the group recorded four songs with Corstorphine, which then found their way on to 100 CDRs thanks to some thriftiness from Susan. A couple of them are on Soundcloud. The tracks are a promising glimpse of the band’s lush, melodic take on lo-fi punk and also capture some painfully honest lyrics from Jade about a recent breakup. “You’re just a moonlit memory,” she sings
on one. “Oh God, I love him,” she wearily admits on another. Both Jade and Laurel were deeply heartbroken from respective relationship failures around the time Totally got together. “At the time I didn’t have a proper job and I couldn’t afford my rent – my rent’s really cheap – and this person had broken up with me. They’re still very much in my life but it was kind of trying to work through that,” Jade recalls. “We were bonding,” laughs Laurel. The band say they were worried when Laurel got a boyfriend and I think they’re only half-joking – the best art is borne of pain and all that. One of the demos was called ‘Falling Apart’, which the band have now re-recorded and released as their new single. Like the others, the song chronicles Jade’s relationship woes but the new version is a far more polished affair, with the singer’s lovelorn vocals backed by lush harmonies, jangly guitar and sweeping organ. “So if you’re going to sail away from me / Come back and set me free,” pleads Jade. “This is probably the first time I’ve talked about it,” she tells me, “but the song is about someone I was with and it was really toxic and just not very nice. It was actually the first song I had written about anyone and I was just really depressed and heartbroken. We’ve got a joke that all of my songs are really sad!” Indeed, if a lot of punk music comes from a place of white-hot anger and frustration, Totally are unabashedly romantic, recalling doomed romances, longing and loss. A recent Loud And Quiet profile even referred to their new single’s ‘R&B harmonies’. At least part of that comes from the band’s stylistic reference points; Jade holds Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and Mariah Carey in very high regard – atypical influences for your average punk band. “I love both of them so much,” she gushes.
On the other hand, the group opted for a prudent, punk-inspired approach to releasing ‘Falling Apart’, putting it out as part of the ‘Pin Pals’ club on indie label Art is Hard – you buy a pin for your jacket and there’s a download code on the back. It’s a neat idea and also offers a satisfying sense of progression for the band. “To produce seven-inches is super expensive and economically it doesn’t necessarily work out that well,” Fliss says. “Whereas this is quite a lo-fi thing to do but you still get a physical thing. We saved up from all the shows we played last year to produce a single, which is a really nice way of doing it.” Speaking of which, the band have only been playing properly for the past 10 months but they’ve already graced pre-eminent London venues like MOTH Club, the Shacklewell Arms and the Lock Tavern with supporting slots. I ask about any favourite shows – the answer is instant and unanimous: “Goon Sax!”The teenage indie-poppers were already a firm favourite of fellow Aussie Susan, who’s from Brisbane. “They’re so adorable and their music’s incredible,” she says with a big smile. “That was a really fun one!” Laurel chips in with another: “Weaves were fun to play with, we really like them too.”
here’s a whole lot to admire about the get-up-and-go mantra that seems to drive Totally. Less than a year after starting to play live – with some of the band having literally never picked up an instrument before – here they are playing some of London’s best venues, releasing a great single and on the cusp of getting an album out of the door. The group have already well exceeded their own expectations, Fliss says. “We didn’t expect the sound to all just gel together.When we heard the recording
“It’s not like we’re 21, this is everything and if it doesn’t happen we’ll be devastated” of the single it was like oh, wow, how did we make that happen?! If we can make the album sound like that, then that will be really nice.” The band members also have an assortment of jobs, ranging from book publishing and PhD art production, through to charity advertising, speech and language therapy and working in a library.Yet they’re still squeezing in one or two gigs a month, albeit also trying to avoid some of the pitfalls that might derail other new acts – the experience of people like Laurel helps in this regard. “People will get in touch and be like, ‘We want you to play at these shows, you have to bring 50 people’, and it’s like, hmmm, no,” she says. Fliss adds: “In my career as an artist as well, I’ve kind of been able to apply that to this. There are always people trying to take advantage of your creativity. Always! I think you can be naïve sometimes and think something’s a good opportunity and it’s not, so you’ve just got to be really careful.”
To that end, the five have teamed up with indie gig promoters Bird on the Wire (“I think they should be held up as a good example,” Laurel notes). Perhaps another advantage that the band have over other acts is their relative maturity: with each of the girls already having established their careers and lives outside the group, the pressure to succeed – and the sense of desperation – is less intense. “I’m really glad that I waited,” Jade says. “This is my first ever band and my first experience doing this, although it was really nice to come into this with people who have that experience and have the combination of people being completely new or having done this before.” Susan agrees but Fliss protests: “I don’t feel older, for the record!” Everyone laughs but Jade was always conscious of the age thing. “I was super into indie music when I was growing up and I remember reading that the guitarist from Bloc
Party was 18 and he’d been playing guitar since he was 14. I was like 15 and I thought, oh well that’s it then.” “Then you remember Debbie Harry was 32 when Blondie started!” says Laurel. Franny points out that she probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to get involved in the band until now. Plus, says Susan, “It’s not like we’re 21, this is everything and if it doesn’t happen we’ll be devastated. We’ve got stuff going on and we’re comfortable in our own skin.” To that end, the quintet has already entertained discussions with a sizeable indie label but they’ve got the confidence to move on without them, for now at least. Next year there’ll be more shows. Hopefully the album is on the way, too; decisions are yet to be made on production values, or indeed a label, but the time is right, says Fliss. “It feels like it’s time to get it out. It’s that weird thing where you don’t
want to compromise on quality and we want this great recording and for everything to sound the same, but you can let things drag and drag, so I think it’s time to do it.The songs are there, so they should just be out.” As for that name, it might be right down there with the Music in terms of search effectiveness but it sounds like it’s here to stay. “I’ve got two housemates, neither of whom play any instruments,” says Laurel, “so we were going to start a kind of electro band with one of them playing the coconuts and the other one playing the ukulele, and we were going to be called Totally. Obviously we were never going to do this – it was a joke band – and then on the night when we met Susan, I was like, how about Totally, would that be the worst thing ever? People said ‘Actually, that would be great!’” Susan gives a rueful laugh. “Terrible SEO.”
Noga Erez In the bubble of Tel Aviv, it’s impossible to ignore the political situation outside, and the media rule across the globe Photography: timothy cochrane / writer: gemma samways
f you haven’t seen the video for Noga Erez’s debut single, ‘Dance While You Shoot’, seek it out. Directed by Zhang + Knight, and inspired by Richard Mosse’s award-winning infrared photography series, it stitches together a series of ominous images and interactions in eerilydeserted concrete vistas, its greyscale cinematography interrupted by the erratic pop of fuchsia pink to signify “violence, corruption and desperation.” Interspersed are shots of Erez, variously stationary and dancing, but always regarding the camera with a cool, defiant demeanour. The effect is enthralling, disorientating and disquieting, and consequently the perfect match for the Tel Aviv-based singer-songwriter’s incendiary and idiosyncrasy-rich electronic-pop. Simply in terms of fulfilling the brief to deliver an enduring first impression, the combination of music and visuals is close to unbeatable. “It was exactly what I wanted because it showed a very intense reality in a very spectacular way,” Erez agrees when we catch up in her East London Airbnb rental, the day after her first UK headline show. That “intense reality” was further amplified by their decision to shoot the video in Ukraine, following Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, though the original plan was to film in the ghost town of Pripyat, which has been deserted since the Chernobyl disaster. “That was the first reason we wanted to do it in Ukraine, but we ended up finding even more interesting locations in Kiev. It’s an interesting place; it has a very dark side to it. And going there would just be me approaching the subject from a more global perspective.” The song itself examines the protagonist’s reliance on a government that, in Erez’s own words, “takes your money, keeps you in the dark about the real, important matters that affect your
life directly, while drowning you in manipulative media, ignorance and bureaucracy.” Erez’s vocals are variously layered, pitch-shifted or distorted with autotune, as she taunts the listener, growling lines like, “I can chop you with no knife, with no gun in my hand, I can hit you, keep you down.” Interestingly, when I suggest that the song’s anti-establishment sentiment is overtly political, she’s quick to challenge me: “I mean, can you say ‘political’, just talking about how you feel about your government? Is that political? I don’t know. That’s what I think, what I feel.” Erez’s reticence to be drawn into specific detail, or to nail her colours to any particular political mast, isn’t the result of media training, however; it’s the natural outcome of 26 years spent navigating the complex realities of life in Israel.
orn just outside of Tel Aviv a few months prior to the beginning of the Gulf War, Erez can’t recall a time when she wasn’t conscious of the political climate. “It’s not like Israel is a war zone; it’s calm most of the time,” she clarifies, “but from time to time it gets heated, and I was born into that. I remember being a child in a shelter. But I was never in that situation as much as the people that live around the borders [of Israel], not to mention people that live on the other sides of the borders.” Despite its proximity to the West Bank, Erez describesTel Aviv as a “bubble inside of Israel,” largely insulated from the surrounding conflict. “Tel Aviv is where you find all the very, very liberal people, and it’s all about music and culture,” she explains, adding, “It’s like somewhere else in the world.” “So I’m always in-between trying to completely ignore [the situation]
on one side of the scale and, on the other side, I can get kind of obsessed with it, because it’s so intense, because I’m a sensitive human being, and because it’s presented in such an interesting way. Watching the news can be like watching a TV show, and I get really, really interested – and sometimes obsessed – with those issues. And when I get too obsessed, I want to forget about it completely. So my way of staying balanced in-between is music. Music is music for me, first and foremost, but it has become a way for me to not become super-involved with what’s happening, but still be attached to it emotionally.” That Erez is able to maintain equilibrium via her creativity is doubtless due to the dominant role music has always played in her life. Though neither of her “very open and liberal” parents are professional musicians, Erez fondly speaks of her father as being able to play any instrument he picks up, and credits inheriting her own “very, very low” singing voice from her mother. Encouraged to pursue whatever interested her, she took singing and piano lessons before progressing on to study composition and arranging. It wasn’t until high school that she found “the confidence to cooperate with other musicians,” but from thereon in she immersed herself in collaboration, joining and forming a string of bands. She downplays her eventual decision to pursue music professionally with a shrug: “I never had a plan B.” Her big break came providing backing vocals and percussion for acclaimed, Tel Aviv-based indie-folk project The Secret Sea, spearheaded by cult hero Amit Erez (no relation). Running in tandem to this, she kept her composition skills sharp by forming a jazz trio, with whom she recorded an album that was
subsequently discarded. “It came out like some exercise that a student does,” she explains, when I express surprise. “I looked back at the whole thing and said, ‘Ok, it shows that I know some things about music, but this is not the musician I want to be.’ And then I started exploring combining computers and music.” It was in this early phase of her experimentation with electronics that Erez was commissioned for a commercial project, and subsequently introduced her to creative partner, cowriter and producer Ori Rousso. We’re briefly introduced at the apartment today – before he disappears into another room for the duration of the interview – and he lingered in the shadows, performing sound engineer duties for Erez and her prodigiously talented percussionist Ran Jacobovitz, during last night’s show at a thrift store-cum-music venue in Hackney. Though Rousso patently displays zero interest in sharing the limelight, Erez is at pains to emphasise the importance of his creative contribution. “The current songs sound the way they are because of him,” she enthuses. “He’s a sound master; very, very strong in the technical matters of music and sound, and an amazing composer. You can say that the lyrics come from me but that wouldn’t actually be very accurate because I start something and he makes it sound and mean something completely different. We just throw ideas at each other and that atmosphere creates the music that we make.” Three years into their creative partnership, they’ve hit their stride.
Rig ht : No g a erez in sho red it ch, ea st l o n d o n .
On ‘Dance While You Shoot’ the combination of intricately-layered electronics and teeth-rattling beats bring to mind the work of Fatima Al Qadiri or recent Warp-signing Lafawndah, while Erez’s commanding spoken-word vocals boast all the combative swagger and insouciant self-possession of M.I.A. Catchier still is ‘Off The Radar’, its irresistible groove driven by typewriter-effect percussion, doomy sub bass and a Sylvan Esso-ish vocal loop that scans, “Hear me? No-one sees me, I’m off the radar”, all topped off with a fantastic, oboe-effect riff. Lyrically, it tackles “technology and what it does to the individual”, specifically, “How confused we are as a generation because of social media,” and, “How we build our identity online and how much control we have.” Erez’s next single, ‘Pity’, is even more unsettling, thanks to lyrics inspired by a 2015 court case concerning an alleged gang rape at a Tel Aviv nightclub, which was mediated to the world in real time via smartphones. Deeply disturbed by the incident, Erez used it as a jumping off point to explore the idea of “being a woman in the world”, specifically, “How I use that or how I’m used because of it.” The song’s dark subject matter is reflected in an unsettling and starkly minimalist arrangement, underpinned by abrasive electronics and militaristic drum rolls. They’re about to shoot the video for it with Zhang + Knight here in London, and the rough premise is a performancebased video featuring a giant bank of old television sets, each screen displaying Erez from a different, albeit uncomfortably-intimate angle. It’s going to be “intense and fun at the same time” she explains excitedly, unwittingly nailing her personal brand in the process.
t’s this unique perspective that attracted the attention of Berlin-based independent label City Slang, home to Caribou, Gold Panda and Lambchop, amongst others. I wonder if there’s any resentment towards Erez back home due to her scoring a record deal outside of Israel, but she’s quick to emphasise how tight-knit the music scene is: “It is very vibrant, and because Tel Aviv is a super-small city, everyone knows everyone, [so] being a part of this scene is like being part of the community.” She speaks warmly of the city’s nightlife and alludes to an abundance of musical talent – including “several good, female, electronic acts, each of us doing something very different” – praising a positive atmosphere, centred around “helping each other, as opposed to being in competition.”
“It’s not like Israel is a war zone; it’s calm most of the time”
Even so, Erez’s standing amongst the country’s current crop of talent is reflected in the decision of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send her to the Rio Olympics as part of a limited musical delegation. She still seems slightly bemused by their decision (“When they approached me, I was like, “What the fuck?!”), citing the government’s track record of promoting “more formal, more traditional” musicians. “[This time] they wanted to show another side of Israel, I would say,” she reflects with a shrug, adding, “Something fresh and young.” For the time being, Erez seems happy to seize the manifold opportunities presented to her, admitting with a grin, “I’m so energetic, and I like being busy.” It’s just as well really, because her schedule for 2017 seems destined to
fill up fast. Already confirmed are appearances at SXSW and Primavera Sound in Barcelona, plus there’s the small matter of her debut album. With a label representative looking on today, Erez is cagey about the specific details, but she does confirm that the as-yet untitled record was written over the past two years, that it’s in the final stages of mixing and should be due out sometime in Spring. “We never recorded it thinking it was gonna be an album; we just recorded stuff,” she reveals. “Then, when City Slang came, it was like, ok: we need to collect the songs and make them into one. But I always felt like there was some kind of freedom in not trying to think about the context at all, but just making songs separately. But now, because I have this mission that I
need to put them together and contextualise them, it’s a whole different forum of art and a whole different level of music. “It’s not a conceptual album at all. And when you hear it you will also hear that it was written, composed and arranged in different times in my life and Ouri’s life. You will hear a lot of difference between the songs, but something does combine them together: the sound and the vibe of it. But we had that dilemma, like, do we want to maintain a vocal sound throughout the album to glue it together? And we decided, no. We wanted to be very, very diverse and very crazy. Because that’s the thing about this album: it’s messed up, and that’s who I am right now as an artist. I’m just exploring whatever I can.”
Le ft : London O ’C onno r in the highland p ar k ne ighbou rho o d o f L o s ange le s, Cal if or nia.
London O’Connor The nowhere boy with a recording studio in his backpack Photography: nathanael turner / writer: david zammitt
ondon O’Connor is reclining in a friend’s backyard, soaking up the morning Californian sunshine as his body stretches into life. It’s much balmier than the east coast he now calls home and he isn’t looking forward to his impending return to New York’s cold and dark November as he cradles his mug of tea in cupped hands and lifts his shoulders into a shiver at the thought of it. It’s just another day in the peripatetic life of a 25-year-old San Marcos, CA native who seems to have been on the move from day one. Since leaving home aged 18, he’s lived perpetually out of a suitcase. Well, a backpack to be precise, to the point where it’s become his calling card. “All records written, produced and performed by London O’Connor,” read the liner notes accompanying his debut album, “From my backpack.” It’s something he’s become used to and he’s come to find the idea of a fixed address hard to imagine. “I haven’t had a permanent spot for, like, two years. I’ve just been travelling and living on people’s couches and being wherever. Since I left San Marcos I’ve been pretty much living in New York, but I’ve been moving around and shit.” This itinerant lifestyle has become a deeply ingrained part of O’Connor’s personality and of the art he produces from the small collection of mobile hardware he manages to drag around. “You write songs differently when you get to sit on the floor of a kitchen as opposed to being in a studio that’s all vacuum-sealed,” he muses. “It’s different when you can be that transparent with your environment. And I’ll always want to be that transparent.” That desire for authenticity was a central driving force in producing the
awkwardly-named-but-wonderfullyexecuted O∆ (it’s pronounced ‘Circle Triangle’), a stunner of a debut album that will finally get a proper release in February, nearly two years after it first caused waves through Soundcloud and old-fashioned word of mouth. It seems apt that the spawn of a man who is yet to find a permanent residence took some time to find a home of its own. And yet it doesn’t phase him. When I ask if he would like to have been afforded the chance to live and record in a space of his own, he takes the first of many long pauses, which are to become a feature of our conversation, before explaining how it all fits in on the road to the end goal. “Whether or not it’s an advantage or a disadvantage in some ways, that’s just what I have. Artists have to start out with whatever they have. I had a laptop, I had Internet, I had plug-ins, I had whatever mic I could fit in my backpack, I had my cell phone,” he reasons. “So you just work with whatever you have.” That’s not to say O’Connor isn’t envious of the resources behind the slick pop you hear on the radio, just that he’s waiting patiently to access them. And when he does, he wants to make music that’s real. “You grow up in supermarkets and grocery stores and malls.They’re always playing this really well-produced pop music. And you look at the tools they have. Some of that I would like, but a lot of it I just thought, ‘This is just shit – they’re just lying to me. This whole place is lying to me and it’s playing music through its speakers that are lying to me.’ But it’ll fucking sound good!” He crumples up in laughter as he exclaims his frustrations. “And I always wanted that level of infrastructure for everything I did. I always wanted to do it in the biggest, cleanest possible way.” And
the backpack recording studio is a means to an end, on that point he is crystal clear. “I never thought, ‘It’s cool that I’m making stuff with these resources.’ It’s more like, well, this is level one for me. This is how it starts.” And will he settle down? Cue another deep breath. “It would be cool to really have a bedroom. To put a piano in it and just make the best stuff I can and look out at the same nice view every day.” He stares into the distance as though imagining what that view might look like before snapping himself back into the here and now. “It would be cool at some point.” In a way it will be a shame when that day finally rolls around. It’s easy to over-egg the poetry of the DIY ethic, but a large part of O∆’s joy is its unashamed rawness. It’s rough around the edges, shorn of overproduction, and it feels all the lighter and more engaging for it. The melodies are up front, strobing lines of synth, the percussion foregrounded. The grooves are there but this is a modern Quincy Jones with a single MIDI controller, forced to make what he can from what he has. And his voice – a strange and fascinating gift – somehow hovers, from verse to chorus, between rapping and falsetto. It breaks from time to time and it goes out of tune, but voices do, don’t they? Yet while the music draws from a palette of primary colours, O’Connor’s lyrical narratives deal with a much more nuanced set of greys. Ranging from life’s mundanities and the need to escape them (‘Oatmeal’) to technological scepticism (‘Nobody Hangs Out Anymore’) to love (‘Love Song’) and out-and-out hatred (‘Guts’), O∆ covers an impressive spectrum of emotions across a collection of
cinematic scenes dexterously built from the simplest of language. “That’s the way I see life and the world,” he explains of his visual approach. “I saw this movie, Moonlight, recently and it fucked me up. And there’s this scene where this mother is saying some wild shit. This is why kids grow up fucked up,” he smirks. “It’s a traumatic moment. But the colours in this moment – emanating from behind that mom – are mesmerising. If you pay attention to your surroundings, life is fucking gorgeous.” The highs and the lows, for him, are intertwined, and they’re all there to be experienced. “Even when you’re angry. It’s just a colour. So I want to not be onedimensional, I want to be fair to life.”
rarity among musicians, O’Connor has a laissez-faire approach to social media, treating it with a healthy suspicion. When he talks about the decision, his rationale demonstrates wisdom beyond his years. “The thing I wanna say about the Internet,” he starts before trailing off as he gets his words in order. “The Internet is clearly the most important thing that’s happened to humanity while I’ve been alive,” he states forthrightly. “I’m just a kid growing up in it. I’m just going through all of the same shit that every human goes through, trying to find connections with people but not knowing if I can trust people, trying to get a girlfriend, but I’m growing up in the Internet.” As he talks I begin to reevaluate my own relationship with the web, and start to feel like a very, very small dot in a very large timeline. He’s right, of course. “Sometimes I think about how surreal that is, and how much better people will understand
“I wanted to make vulnerable pop music that mattered, for every kid like me”
how surreal that is in the future. So I’m just trying to make art about my experiences, and growing up in that is part of it. I just want a real life – I want everything I do here to be real!” And yet O’Connor isn’t shunning technology. This isn’t some Luddite; it’s the echo chamber that it can create which he struggles with on a daily basis. “It’s just saying shit to be retweeted,” he opines. “So that our sentiments can be voted for their popularity.” Instead, he prefers 1-to-1 communication. And it’s that want to reach out and to have genuine, bona fide human connections that propels him. Rather than tweeting regularly, he has given his phone number out to fans, opening up a world of connection in less than 140 characters: “If you’re from nowhere I’m here till my phone explodes 858 232 9290.” It has led to hours of fruitful conversation with his followers as O’Connor takes it upon himself to lead a movement of people, as he puts it, “from nowhere.” Nowhere – a word that crops up again and again, is the faceless suburbs like the ones he grew up in,
where days are spent in shopping centres and in bedrooms, wondering how to get out of them and break the cycle. “Kids will show up from nowhere on my phone and we’ll talk – and we’ll really talk. It’s not just a line. That’s been cool to see that, to see people who felt exactly the same way that I felt growing up.” In the late ’90s and early 2000s he didn’t have anyone to show him the way out, and he clearly feels lucky to have opportunity to do so in however small a way. “If I go back to the mall and you listen to the radio and there’s this person who acts nothing like you, who looks nothing like you, who cares about all this shit that is not your life, who is getting to process their life experiences and then put them out in crystal clear sound, with perfect instrumentation… they do that and the resounding response of that is that you just feel left out.” That, he says, is why he started making music at the age of just ten. “I wanted to break that. I wanted to make vulnerable pop music that mattered, for every kid that was like me. To take those experiences and turn it into
beautiful art.” His music, then is for the daydreamers, for the not-quitepopular, and crucially for the vulnerable. I suggest that it’s a lot of pressure to put on just one set of shoulders but again the response is circumspect. London O’Connor, it seems, has thought through his response to everything. “I already put so much pressure on myself just to get my ideas out with the clarity that they have in my mind. There’s a lot of space in me that I’m trying to get out. If I do that, that’s all that matters to me.” His youthful exuberance bubbles up as he asserts his determination to stay true to the values that shaped O∆ and his work thus far. “I don’t care if I had a million fans and half the world was waiting on my album. If it’s me making an album I already know that I’m approaching it with so much care and intensity that whatever pressure they would have there would be more pressure that I would be putting on myself.” And so I wonder where that pressure will lead him over the next year, over the next two years and over the next decade. Again, it all seems
mapped out. “I want to do some shit for humanity that’s not conventional,” he counters. “I want to make tools that help people do that. Music is a tool. Music got me out of the suburbs, because it gave me an idea when I was young enough. Brian Eno helps me sleep at night. His music is a tool.” His voice quickens as the string of ‘I wants’ come tumbling forth. “I want to take all of the experiences that I have felt since first leaving home and I want to put them together in the most honest album I can. That’s just the next 12 months,” he says firmly, lest I think he might be done. “I want to tour Circle Triangle and I want to play that shit to kids in every nowhere on earth that’s like the nowhere that I’m from. I want to create space for people.” He looks down sheepishly, grinning to himself before he raises his stare once again. “And I want a bedroom with a piano and a yellow flag on my wall!”
Virginia Wing The forward motion of Sam Pillay and Alice Merida Richards Photogra phy: richard kelly / writer: joe goggins
n a Manchester cafe, Sam Pillay of Virginia Wing is picking apart his band, their new record and the public reaction to it. “I’ve been thinking a lot about this, especially last night – I couldn’t sleep.The band’s gone through a lot of incarnations, and it seems like nowadays – and I’m not saying people are closed-minded, or anything – but if something doesn’t present itself with a clear idea of what it is from the get go, people have a hard time understanding it. I’ve read a few reviews of the record, and some of them have suggested that we’re making knowingly difficult music. That’s not what we intended.” It often feels like that’s the accusation that critics fall back on when they’re having to write about something that eludes easy categorisation, and that’s certainly true of ‘Forward Constant Motion’, the second full-length from the once-London-, now-Manchester duo-based. Pillay talks of making the sort of music you’d want to hear yourself, which suggests serious eclecticism of tastes on his part and that of his bandmate, Alice Merida Richards. This latest batch of songs doesn’t lend itself well to genre definition, with the sonic landscape constantly shifting. The psych influence is heavy, but it can’t be a psych record when there’s this much electronica running under the surface. Plus, Richards’ vocals are melodic enough to lend themselves to alt-pop hooks here and there – opener ‘Lily of Youth’ is a case in point. This is a complex patchwork quilt of an album, and one that demands that the listener pay close attention. As Pillay points out, though, the group’s evolution has been an organic one. “We started the way a lot of bands do nowadays,” he says, “just with me fucking around in my bedroom. It was a lot more guitar-based; I was really into ‘soft psych’, as they called it at the time. It was the classic thing of the weird guy in his room, looping vocals hundreds of times. That was the aesthetic, and everything was very record-based, so when we started playing live, the only way to produce it was with guitars. I’d never sung and played guitar in a band before, and I felt like a fraud. That was when we started moving towards Alice singing.” Richards interjects. “It’s important to point out that it’s not Sam’s personal project any more,” she says, “it’s very much a collaborative thing.” “We’ve had some problems with people framing the band completely as
Be low: Virgi nia wing in ale xandr r a p ar k, Whalle y Ran ge , M anc h e s te r .
my thing,” explains Pillay, “which is ridiculous because there’s so much of what we do that I have absolutely no input into. It’s one of those things that was never a consideration I had to have before I started making music with a woman, which is unfortunate. Men can automatically assume they’ll take the credit for something they’ve made. That doesn’t always happen for women.”
irginia Wing certainly come across as a unit. Having lived together in London for a while, the pair made the move to Manchester this past summer, where they’ve settled just south of the city in a house owned by Bernie Phillips, a mythical local figure who’s spent nearly fifteen years putting up bands to give back to musicians. “Stephin Merritt’s dad, Scott Fagan, just made a record in the attic,” they tell me, along with how there were myriad reasons for the move north, but financial considerations and London’s pressure-cooker environment were chief among them “I think, away from London, your base level anxiety diminishes,” says Richards. “It’s a harder existence there; everything seems amplified, and everything’s competitive – even just getting on a train or trying to get into a place to get breakfast at the weekend. You end up doing everything you can to disconnect from that, and that puts you in your own little bubble a lot of the time. You end up more insular.” “And the other thing is,” presses Pillay, “in places like Manchester and Glasgow, people who are into different things group together – there’s like a wider, more general subculture. In London, because it’s so vast, every tiny niche becomes its own group. You can be into a specific type of electronic music and it’ll feel like a big, vast scene of its own, because when there’s so many people around, you can afford to be that exclusive. I just think that’s a really narrow world to live in, when you just hang around with people who are into the exact same stuff.” With the move only taking place four months ago, ‘Forward Constant Motion’ was written and recorded in London. The beginning of the latter process came at around the same time the pair let go of the flat in the capital. Misha Hering, the album’s producer, came to the rescue. “It was a weird
“Away from London your base level anxiety diminishes - It’s a harder existence there” time,” recalls Richards, “because we were immediately out of a home, and he very kindly put us up for six weeks, while we were recording at his studio, Holy Mountain.” “You’ve also got this timetable in your head when you make a record,” adds Pillay add, “and you think it’s going to be finished by a certain point, and it never is. So we had to do more recording, after taking a month off, and there was so much going on – we were moving about quite a lot, house sitting for friends and that kind of thing. We felt quite displaced for a while.” With the band feeling adrift, the grounding influence provided by Hering was key, and not just in the immediate, practical sense of providing them with a place to live and work. He’s already an established presence in this particular corner of the music world, having worked on records by the likes of Echo Lake and A Grave with No Name, and as Pillay has it, he went above and beyond the call of duty for Virginia Wing. “He really bent over backwards. Music can be such an inherently egotistical thing, so it takes a very special kind of person to be able to be selfless enough to help somebody make the record they want to make. I really don’t think many bands at our level have that, honestly.” On the face of it, there was another element to the group’s upheaval, too; previously, they’d officially been viewed as a three-piece, with drummer Sebastian Truskolaski rounding out the lineup. “To be completely honest with you, we’d actually been a two-piece for years,” explains Pillay. “Our drummer, he’s a really close friend – he lived with us and we love him to bits – but his thing’s always been academia, really. He’s a post-war German philosophy guy – that’s what he gets excited about.” Richards had already mentioned that whatever Virginia Wing were aiming for – it wasn’t to be a genre piece or a nostalgia band – and Truskolaski’s lack of creative input made sense in that respect. “I think the only thing I’ve heard him get excited about musically, in years, was Factory Floor,” laughs Pillay. “Otherwise, it’s just old music. I think he just needed an excuse to hang out with us; he’s a really focused guy, and he spent a lot time really entrenched in his PhD.” The point that Pillay and Richards seem to keep circling back to is that, in a lot of ways, it’s a miracle that they ever managed to make a first record, let
alone a second. Both had chequered histories when it came to committing, with projects left half-finished and releases restricted to the short-form. “I’d been in bands since I was thirteen, so by the time we made our first album, it’d taken me ten years to get there,” Pillay reflects. “It was a case of proving to ourselves we could actually do it.” “You feel like you’ve got something to prove and that it has to be really strong, a statement of intent,” concurs Richards. “Especially because I had a bit of a track record of not finishing things. I was in another band where we recorded half an album, and then left it at that.” What LP2 represented to Virginia Wing, then, was the opportunity to broaden their horizons in terms of where they were taking their stylistic cues from, and which influences they were allowing to permeate the songwriting process. It’s for that reason that there’s so much variety on the album, especially by way of comparison to its predecessor, which they readily admit was much more limited in scope. “We were quite inexperienced back then, especially as Virginia Wing,” remembers Pillay, “and I don’t think we would’ve been able to pull off what we did here convincingly. I was just thinking the other day; we had this one song for the first album that sounded like we were trying to be Silver Apples, and I’m so fucking glad that we didn’t put that on the record, because we just would’ve sounded like we were ripping them off – we didn’t have the confidence to rip that kind of thing off. I think now, we’re a little more relaxed and confident, knowing we can make a record and the arse won’t fall out of it.” “You can take some risks and not worry about, is this tasteful? Is it right? Is it you?” continues Richards. “I watched this interview the other day with Laurie Anderson, and she was saying that people are always telling you what ‘you’ is, and that you don’t always have to be ‘you’. The point she was making was that you can be as big as you want to be; not in the fame sense, but in terms of the net you cast and the ideas you have. You can get carried away, but better to be carried away than feel limited.”
s focus turns to 2017, work on their third album is apparently already underway along with a collaboration
planned early in the year with XAM Duo, the side-project of MB from Hookworms, which is now a two-man show. “It’s very spacey, very droney. They’re two very non-spiritual white lads trying to make spiritual jazz,” according to Pillay. Touring plans are beginning to fall into place, too. From the band’s perspective, the challenge in bringing Virginia Wing – and ‘Forward Constant Motion’ in particular – to the stage will lie less in trying to faithfully recreate the songs and more in making sure that whatever happens, there’s an authenticity to it. “I’ve been enjoying performing live a lot more since it’s just been the two of us,” says Pillay wryly, “which is kind of ironic because there’re some songs I do fuck all on. I might just be
pressing a button or something, but I don’t see the point in trying to play something for the sake of it, just to look as if you’re doing something up there. Some of these songs, you’re not going to be able to replicate them live as they are on the record.” “I don’t think you should be held back by rockist constraints,” offers Richards. “You shouldn’t worry about people wanting to see the bass player playing the bassline. It’d essentially be that thing of when you were watching pop bands as a kid, and they’d be playing to a backing track, but one of them would have a guitar, which was supposed to give the whole thing an air of legitimacy, but was really just bullshit.A performance can be anything you want it to be, we think.”
Reflect and Advance On the first day of 2017 BRIAN ENO will release ‘Reflection’, a new album of ambient music that, in its app format, will change in sound as the year progresses. It’s the perfect metaphor for a pioneer in sound and art who has always refused to revel in past glories.
Photography: phil sharp / writer: daniel d ylan wray
arrive 6 minutes early for my interview with Brian Eno but I am told he favours absolute precision when it comes to time and so I wait outside his Notting Hill studio on a crisp autumn day until I am called in. However, he’s not quite ready for me. He’s excited as he and his assistant are opening coffin-sized boxes with electric screwdrivers to gently lift out giant light box installations he has designed. There are currently several propped up around his studio already and they gently switch colours, exulting a warm and glowing hue, changing the entire tone of the room in soft turns. A new, yet unreleased, piece of Eno’s ambient music plays prominently from the speakers and fills the room, the subtle shifts in the music seem to interlock with the colours, creating a soft, welcoming and gently pulsating essence making the room – filled with records, books and various other items that feel as much living room as they do office – into a womb-like hole. “Are you recording?” he says after we sit down over a pot of tea and I nod to say yes. “Good. I only answer questions if I’m being recorded. I mean fucking hell, life’s too short you don’t want to have to say it twice.” He follows up with a bit of a chuckle. The immediate swearing throws me somewhat. Maybe it’s the gentle pulse of the ever-shifting room and the reassuring sonic cradle that rocks me back and forth or the fact this is a man known for pioneering sonic wizardry of the most placid variety, but this immediate curse that powerfully cuts through the quiet hum of the room is just one of many contradictions that Brian Eno exhibits with seeming glee. Eno, after all, is riddled with glorious contradictions. He is a man who loves to sing but rarely records his own voice, who flourishes in the beauty and ambiguity of art but adores the evidence and outcome nature of science, who explores pop music and avant garde music with little-to-no distinction, a person who had a job many people stuck doing the mundane activities of day-to-day life would dream of doing yet whilst on stage with Roxy Music he found himself daydreaming about his own laundry so decided to quit the band. He’s a self-
proclaimed “non-musician” who has painted and then shifted the landscape of contemporary music more than almost any other British artist. Brian Eno is both the question mark and the answer locked in a constant battle. To condense Eno’s achievements and projects over his life (he’s now nearing 70) into something digestible feels both arduous and somewhat futile. His musical life has been somewhat episodic. In just a five year stretch in the 1970s he went from his synth-playing days in Roxy Music to his art-pop solo career, to his ground breaking production work with David Bowie on the Berlin Trilogy, as well as the likes of Devo and Talking Heads to the ostensible invention – or at least popularisation – of ambient music. It’s the latter we’re here to talk about today.
a b o v e: B r i a n en o o u t sid e h i s n o t t i n g h i l l s t ud io . r i g h t : t h e l i g h t b ox es t h a t i n f l u en c e mu ch o f en o ’ s a mb i en t mu s ic.
I am informed up front that past glories don’t much interest Eno and so talk of Roxy Music, nor his recently departed friend and collaborator, David Bowie, will not be permitted. He’s a man with his eyes locked firmly onto the horizon in a time when many are looking over their shoulders.
n January 1st Eno will release a brand new ambient record via Warp, although the release date is not handily planned to coincide with the soothing of splintered heads from the previous night’s partying, rather because the album is essentially a year-long piece. ‘Reflection’ is a single album release as per any usual record but it will also be released as an app, in collaboration with Peter Chilvers. It’s a generative
piece of music that has a lot of statistical probability functions in the design, so that it’s evolving and ever-changing, most prominently in line with the temperature as the year goes on. “So, this piece, just like these lights,” Eno says as a rich red radiance transforms the room to a deep, rich warmth akin to stepping into a Rothko painting, “they will keep changing all the time. It’ll have the same identity but it won’t be the same from moment to moment and from day-to-day.” It’s not only the seasons that will change with the music too. If you listen to this piece at 3am it will be less dense to reflect the stillness of the night. It’s a record set with a certain amount of rules so even after it’s done a year’s cycle and begins to repeat again it will not do so in exactly the same way again. “Maybe three per cent of the time you’ll get some special exotic results,” he says, his ears constantly pricked for changes and such exotic flavours in the piece we’re currently listening to. Like we are now, Eno will sit here for days listening to such pieces
working out their role, function and viability as a project. The name ‘Reflection’ comes from the piece’s ability to instil such a process, with Eno telling me he’d sit at the end of a day reflecting on thoughts and things he had read, with this piece creating the breathing room to do that. He begins to jot down a diagram on a piece of paper to explain the maths of it all and begins to go into detail of the generative process but soon cuts himself off. “It sounds much more boring than it actually is, it’s very thrilling,” he says with an air of excitement in his voice. I ask if the essentially infinite possibilities that generative music can create is where the thrill lies. “Yes. It’s this very nice combination of making something...” he stops himself and sparks up an analogy, which I soon find out he does quite frequently. “It’s a little bit like gardening – I always say the difference between classical and contemporary music is the difference between architecture and gardening. With architecture you know in advance what you’re going to get, you specify
it all, it’s all written down and drawn out and it is brought into existence. With gardening it’s not really like that. What you have to do is put together some elements that you are kind of familiar with and watch what happens to them and how this garden turns out compared to that garden is dependent on a whole lot of factors and it needs observation; you have to pay attention to it… Another thing I would say is that you don’t finish a piece of music like this, you start it. You bring it into the world and then it has its own life.” We plunge deeper into the details but Eno almost seems to be boring himself talking about the specifics of it. “It’s fun but dull,” he says. “I always say music is a bit like sausages, you never want to see it being made.” The beauty of ‘Reflection’, however, and again the rub of the contrast in what Eno’s doing, is that this doesn’t feel like a mathematical formula put to record. It’s one of Eno’s quietist, deepest and most thoughtful ambient pieces – occasionally resembling moments from 1992’s ‘The Shutov Assembly’ or a more withdrawn and
invisible take on 1978’s ‘Music for Airports’ – and is in essence a beautiful record that, like so many of his ambient works, questions whether it is of itself an emotive piece of art or one that allows the space and time for one to think and feel emotively. “Working with the sounds that you choose and create is crucial,” he says of the album’s palate. “If I were to use ugly sounds then it would be an ugly piece, nothing would save it from being an ugly piece. It’s like Italian cooking. I remember taking a band I was working with once to an Italian restaurant and I took them into the kitchen and they were cooking at light speed, making these fantastic dishes and I said, ‘look at that: good ingredients, not fucked about with’”. Although given Eno’s role as something of a mega producer for groups such as Coldplay and U2, does he not occasionally need to fuck about with the ingredients to make them taste better? “The temptation in studios now is to think ‘hmm, it’s not very good but we can make something with it’, saucing it up and processing it and I’m a great master of that, but I don’t recommend it as a working technique if you can avoid it.” As you may expect from Eno, there is something deeper and more profound to be extracted from the creative process of working on these projects. “Simple algorithms produce very unexpected, very unpredictable results,” he tells me. “One of the reasons I like them is because they tell you why the world is so complex.” He continues as he becomes more animated and excited and a quick flash of his gold tooth cracks through his smiling mouth. “When you see a few simple rules operating together to produce these amazingly elaborate worlds of things, you think ‘bloody hell, that’s only three simple rules’ you could write this down in a paragraph and yet all this stuff comes out of it.” He then continues without pause into another world of conversation altogether. “There’s a whole group of people in the world – many of them in America – who can’t believe that the complexity of the universe is possible without postulating a god, but I can pretty much prove that it is. You don’t have to be involved with this thing for very long to see how complexity arises out of simplicity – that was the big perception of Darwin. The most important thing to come from Darwin, that great scientist, was that he showed the history of evolution is the progression from simplicity to complexity and this is quite the opposite of what religious people think – they think God is the most
“Music is a bit like sausages, complex thing and therefore God can create less complex things. This is not true. This is provably not true. I think in eight and a half minutes I could convince any creationist that they have got the wrong end of the stick.” It’s a little tangent that gives an insight into Eno’s clear love of all things scientific and provable and one also suspects that when he says “eight and a half minutes” it’s not some arbitrary figure plucked from obscurity and more a recorded time of his very precise argument made.
rian Eno’s discovery of ambient music is a relatively well-known one. When recovering from being hit by a taxi and bedridden, a friend of his brought him an album of 18th century harp music to listen to. He hobbled to the record player and put it on but once back in bed Eno quickly realised the volume was irritatingly low and he couldn’t hear it properly. Unable to get up again due to the pain he kept it on but this soon led to an epiphany. “This presented what was for me a new way of hearing music, as part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of the rain were parts of that ambience,” he said in 1975 when he released ‘Discreet Music’, his first step into ambient. In a startlingly prolific year he also managed to create his pop masterpiece in ‘Another Green World’, release the collaboration album with Robert Fripp, ‘Evening Star’, and produce Gavin Bryars’ ‘The Sinking of the Titanic’, as well as other production credits. In 1978 his ambient leaning had gone full tilt with the releases of ‘Music for Airports’ and ‘Music for Films’. In the linear notes to ‘Music for Airports’ Eno described ambient music as “intended to induce calm and a space to think. Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” I ask him if his own definition of the genre has changed over the years? “I’m quite happy for it to have expanded,” he says. “It now seems to cover all sorts of things, many which I wouldn’t recognise as ambient.” He laughs, and continues. “But I don’t mind. I don’t think I own the definition. I was trying to describe what I was doing, what other people choose to do is different and surprising and very wonderful if they choose to use that name. I’m not proprietorial about it at all.” Given his role as the appointed godfather of the genre, I ask whether
he ever feels any sense of pressure or even duty when operating in this area? “No, no...” he stops himself for a minute and strains to think, asking himself, “Do I feel pressure?” before reaching a conclusion swiftly afterwards, “No, I don’t actually. This is a very nice area of music for me because it very much feels like my field and I can plant whatever I like in it, I don’t really care whether it doesn’t sound dramatically different from anything else that I’ve done before. I just want to keep finding these new colours – mood colours if you like – and seeing what you can do with them.” Similarly, Eno set out what was something of a mission statement early on in his career that he was a non-musician, unable to play instruments properly and unable to read and write music. Has he had to forcibly stop himself from becoming accomplished in this area? “I think it’s a little bit like that but rather than actively avoiding something, what I’ve been doing is wanting to find a way of defeating my own habits. What happens with anyone who plays anything is that you get into a certain habit, your taste is a habit, it’s a habit of things you like as opposed to things you don’t. So what these processes do [in generative music] is they start doing things that are beyond the envelope of your taste. You think ‘oh this is horrible’ or you think ‘oh that’s very unusual, I wouldn’t have done that but I like it’, so it sort of keeps extending the envelope of what you’re operating in. That’s what I like about them. I like to be put into a situation where I am surprised by the music.” Eno’s fascination with new terrain is clear but in the world of reforming bands, group’s playing classic albums in full and a general air of nostalgia hovering over a great deal of the music industry like a murky rain cloud, is he approached about such things himself? Is he nostalgic in anyway whatsoever? “I don’t think back that much really,” He says clearly and exactly. “I hardly ever listen to my old work and when I do I always think ‘I don’t even know who did that’, I don’t recognise the person who did it very often, I don’t know how I got to it. So to remake it would be as difficult as remaking a Snoop Dogg song – it’s as unfamiliar to me, really. I would go back to it and think, ‘how do you even play this?’ I have no idea. I’m not tempted by that. It doesn’t mean I never will be but at the moment I see no point in doing it and I have so many new things I want to do – this sort of thing [music playing] I’m fascinated by.”
He tells me that he’s already talking and thinking about his next new project. “I just did a piece last week that is entirely different to anything I’ve done before and I really want to explore it,” he says. “It’s a 13-minute long piece and it sounds like an orchestral piece and I’m going to talk to a friend of mine about potentially scoring it for an orchestra. It sounds like an orchestral piece played on a synthesiser.”
iven Eno’s role in so many moments of universally agreed upon cultural landmarks in British music scattered across numerous decades, I wonder if he buys into the notion of the golden age? That music has peaked and all we’re left with is x-rayed overspill? “Yeah, it’s bollocks,” he says firmly. “Complete bollocks.” He then goes onto shutdown any such false belief in an irreplaceable musical past. “I think there is so much fantastic music around now. It’s a historical mistake that people make. When Roxy Music started pop music was about thirteen or fourteen years old – the whole history from doo-wop and rock and roll to us, and it wasn’t really that many people because it wasn’t a big business yet. So everybody knew what the Beatles’ next record was, what the Rolling Stones’ next record was and everybody had an opinion about it – there was a cannon and everybody knew what the cannon was. When that happens people all then agree that Jimi Hendrix was great because they’ve all heard him, so there’s a conferral of greatness on the few people who were doing it but it doesn’t mean that people who are doing it later weren’t as good – or often I think a lot better – it’s simply that they are never going to get that same level of attention because there are so many people, the field is so broad.” At this stage he pulls out a piece of paper again and begins to illustrate the history of music, which starts to resemble a sort of spontaneous matrix diagram. It’s the scientist and the artist in him wrestling it out in real time. He continues speaking about his love of new music: “Julia Holter I was listening to again the other day… just fantastic. There was nobody as good as her when I was making music back in the day. If Julia Holter had existed in the 1970s she would be a goddess, it’s just because she’s doing it now and that there are a lot of people doing things that it sort of dilutes it a little bit.” We’re given a five minute heads up by Eno’s PR and he responds, “aww, we’d just got onto goddesses.”
As it goes Eno himself was once spoken about in similar canonized ways. If you’d have walked the streets of Greenwich Village in New York in 1980, you would have come across graffiti that read: Eno is God, a sentiment perhaps cemented from 1978 when he compiled and released the genredefining No Wave compilation ‘No New York’, releasing the mutant art rock and jazz punk of James Chance, Mars, D.N.A and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks into the world. If Eno were to be a god he would be a benevolent one, it seems, as we move onto talking about politics and the future of art and its role and impact on society. It’s something he touched upon in his 2015 John Peel Lecture as he criticised the then Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan. “It’s just exactly the wrong time to be taking art out of the mix, isn’t it?” he says in reference to the recent proposals of removing Art History A-Level from schools. “Because we’re now looking towards a future where there will be less and less employment, inevitably automation is going to make it so there simply aren’t jobs. But that’s alright as long as we accept the productivity that the automations are producing feeds back to people, so we don’t end up in this situation where we’re heading to at the moment where you have this huge underclass and a few really really wealthy individuals because they own all the robots and control all the systems. So we have to change that so people are simply paid. I believe in universal basic income, which is basically saying we pay people to be alive – it makes perfect sense to me. We don’t object to the idea that people don’t pay to go into parks or to experience the sea.There’s lot of things we’re happy to accept as being givens, but of course what are people going to be doing? People don’t want to feel irrelevant; that is the worst feeling. Have you seen the new Ken Loach film [I, Daniel Blake]? Oh Christ, what an amazing film. Absolutely heartbreaking. You have to take a man-sized box of tissues, it really is, oh my god, it’s harrowing, but so to the point. What you see is it’s people that have become irrelevant and it’s the most painful thing that can happen, to suddenly be meaningless, to be of no value to anybody. There can be no bigger source of depression, so what do you want art for? So that people can start to make things. It works. “For instance, in prisons, if you give people the chance to actually make something instead of just sitting in a cell watching fucking shit on television all day – you say to them ‘make a
you never want to see it being made.” picture, try it out, do whatever’ – and the thrill that somebody gets to find that they can actually do something autonomously, not do something that somebody else told them to do, well, in the future we’re all going to be able to need those kind of skills. Apart from the fact that simply rehearsing yourself in creativity is a good idea, remaining creative and being able to go to a situation where you’re not told what to do and to find out how to deal with it, this should be the basic human skill that we are educating people towards and what we’re doing is constantly stopping them from learning. It makes me so angry. Sorry. I get in a bad mood when I start to think about it.” Before I leave, Eno will take me into his separate music studio in a side room – filled with computers, keyboards, percussive instruments etc.– and show me, with great pride, paintings he has on the wall from some prisoners. On a closing note I remind him of a conversation he had with the comic book writer Alan Moore back in 2009, in which he stated that he feels like he’s been having a mid-life crisis since he was 18, constantly questioning the importance and relevance of what he does. It was a stark and striking revelation that an artist as universally accepted pioneering, often genius, could have such crippling doubts about his output and its function in the world. I want to know if he has found any comfort or respite from this fifty-year mid-life crisis? “No, it’s never stopped,” he says, although with a smile. “It’s a question I’m always asking and it’s partly because a lot of my friends are scientists and it’s very easy to see what scientists are doing. They look at things in the world, find out how they work and by doing so give us better control of the world. That’s what science and technology is. Apart from the pleasure of understanding how things work, there is a quantifiable result to what they do. So my question has always been: ‘What is the result of art?’ It’s fine to say we like it but why do we like it? What is it that makes us like that selection of notes rather than that other selection of notes? What makes us even interested in notes? Why would we bother? You can’t eat them, they don’t make your hair grow longer, they don’t do anything obvious for us. It’s amazing to me that that whole topic is so unexplored. So this has been the question that has kept me alive and reading for the last fifty years”. He finishes before the inevitable comes: “Although I think I have some answers to this question now”.
Jehnny Beth Savages’ singer does all the talking, about the power of live music, her burgeoning career in radio and why we should meet our idols Photography: jonangelo molinari / writer: greg cochrane
There’s a light frost on the steps of Jehnny Beth’s north London home, but inside, the living room fire is roaring. A microphone, laptop and sampler are scattered on the soft carpet. A couple of chairs and an inviting sofa look almost too nice to sit in. There’s a colourful bunch of flowers on the table. It’s a stylish, classic, compact room full of elegant flare. Jehnny clasps a mug of steaming green tea and quietly takes a seat by the front bay window. It’s the morning after Savages’ penultimate show of 2016, and the day before the band perform their “last show in a while” by playing their largest headline show at Brixton Academy. It’s 10 years since Camille Berthomier left her native France and moved to London with her partner Johnny Hostile (Nicolas Congé). Together they performed with their stage names as John & Jehn and released two albums (2008’s ‘John & Jehn’ and 2010’s ‘Time for the Devil’). In autumn 2011 she formed Savages with a group of friends from different bands – Fay Milton, Gemma Thompson and Ay e Hussan. Their first show was supporting British Sea Power in Brighton. When Savages materialised they felt like the real deal. Real in that they had conviction, deal in that, from the outset, they seemed like a band it was clear would be around for a while. Live they were arresting, and in interviews they responded to lines of questioning about their gender, the current health of rock and roll and lifestyle choices (three of the four now choose not to drink alcohol) with the forthrightness they often deserved. Debut LP ‘Silence Yourself’, delivered in May 2013 and subsequently nominated for the Mercury Prize, was an album served with a manifesto. “Savages’ songs aim to remind us that human beings haven’t evolved so much,” it said. “That music can still be straight to the point, efficient and exciting.” Their arrival felt like an exhilarating blast of cold air. It was just a month’s break before they began working on the follow-up. ‘Adore Life’ came together in front of people’s eyes – literally – during a run of work-in-progress live shows
in New York where they used crowd’s reaction to evolve the material. A more positive, harder, heavier album about, of all things, the theme of love emerged. The band began this year by unveiling those songs at a breakfasttime show at The 100 Club in central London, before playing a gig almost every day through to September. Combative performances at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, in June, where they stole Radiohead’s thunder, and End of the Road in September, performing aptly underneath a bulging apocalyptic-looking black rain-cloud were personal highlights. Their shows, formerly talked about as austere, didactic and almost Joy Division-like in their standoffishness were now tension-filled, brutal communal gatherings, inclusive, escapist and fun. The vision of Jehnny Beth walking across the hands of the audience night after night has become an indelible image of 2016. Away from those visceral punk shows, Savages’ members have always been active outside of their band. Hassan performs with dual-bass duo Kite Base, Milton has created an informative online video series called Very Important Things, which breaks down some impenetrable topics like Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnerships. They’re all involved in different art forms, all frequent collaborators with other artists. Since April Jehnny Beth has been making a weekly radio show, the evidence of which is found in the lounge today. It’s been put together in hotel lobbies, dressing rooms, any space she can use. The series, Start Making Sense for Beats 1, viewed collectively, makes up a who’s who of alternative icons and many emerging ones. For it, she’s broadcast conversations with David Byrne, Ian Mackaye, Shirley Manson, Mike Patton, Romy from The xx, Johnny Marr, Karl Hyde, Massive Attack, Henry Rollins and Nancy Whang. People who don’t regularly do interviews. “It feels strange being on this side [of the mic],” she says settling down, the winter sun streaming into the room. “I haven’t been interviewed for a while.”
“I love the nerdy side of radio”
It’s been a great opportunity for me to discover loads of new music. It’s produced by Johnny Hostile; we’ve worked together on it. An hour each week is quite a lot of work and preparation. I love it. When I do my solo shows, when I don’t have a guest, it’s really about talking about the music. But through it I can meet a lot of great people. I was thankful they agreed to be on the show and that they’re interested in talking with me. I’m not a journalist. I have a special position with artists, I think. Because I’m an artist myself I know what it’s like to write a song – we sometimes make the same mistakes. It’s an easier conversation in a way. I’m interested in ideas and I like the exchange of ideas. It’s not a secret, but I interviewed Brian Eno this week. This is going to come out at the beginning of January. We were only supposed to speak for twenty-five minutes and then it went on and on and on. I was feeling really sorry for the next journalist. His manager was like, ‘we need to move on’ and he was like ‘no this is fun’. “2016? I don’t really think of things in terms of years”
I don’t try to summarise things that way. I see everything more like a movement more than just every year like it’s something you pile up in a box after it’s done. It’s hard for me to think that way. It’s been full circle because we released ‘Adore Life’ in January and then we were playing all our shows. It’s been a full circle thing. It was great. We’ve toured all around the world – a very extensive tour. If I had to summarise maybe I would say it was exhausting, but not in a bad way. Like, very, very full on. “We have lost some music heroes”
Whether it’s David Bowie, Alan Vega or Leonard Cohen, It’s hard to imagine a world without them. You never want
to imagine a world without them but you’re living through it. I guess… It’s just getting older as well, you know? It feels like it’s a new generation moving up. New things are coming. We’re the last generation that have seen both worlds. “It’s important for children to be bored”
Now everything is computerised. And I think it’s fine to adopt that, but we’ve come from the analogue side of things. When I see kids in the street with phones it really shocks me sometimes. I feel like, if I’d have had a phone, then I would have had a very different childhood. You know Louis CK’s thing about his children not having phones? I think it’s very clever. It’s a bit like stealing your childhood because when you’re a kid, it’s very important to be bored. To have those moments where you don’t know what to do and you make up your own world. You create new worlds with your mind. Your imagination is running free. Maybe I’m wrong because I don’t have children, I don’t know. When I see that I always think, I wonder what type of people they’re going to turn out to be? Maybe it enhances imagination. Music sometimes takes that place, in that void and it takes you to an important place. Then you can think of starting a band, you can play music with people. I’m not saying phones are blocking that at all. Maybe it helps, I don’t know. It just looks like an adult thing to be doing for a child. “We would probably leave more gaps in between tours in the future”
Discipline is important but if you put too much emphasis on discipline you forget the playful aspect of your job – you’re missing the point. If I had to do it again, I think we would chose to do it another way; I think we would probably leave more gaps in between. It was a difficult time because we had to change management all the way through as well. It’s a big thing, and it isn’t. I remember when Savages had to
tell me about it
change management at the very beginning there was a whole load of stress about it and journalists kept asking us about it, ‘Why? What happened?’ Who gives a fuck what happened! You know what I mean. I realise when you go outside of the UK people don’t really put so much emphasis on that. This is just normal, you change your team, it’s fine. Everyone is pretty much replaceable if you think about it. That was heavy work because we had to suddenly do everything ourselves. From a week or two before going on tour in February we had to make all the payments ourselves, manage everything ourselves. It has brought the band really close together, which is really good. We managed. We made some mistakes. Sadly, my regret is that we couldn’t go to Australia because we had… there was misinformation about budgets and things like that and
we couldn’t financially make it work so we had to cancel it and I was really sad because our fans there were mad because all the shows were sold out. But it also came at a time when we were doing so much more than just touring that if we’d have gone to Australia then we would have probably collapsed. So, it’s been interesting. “It’s important that you leave a Savages show feeling something”
It’s funny. I was talking about exactly that with David Byrne in the interview. People think that if you repeat the same things over and over again they get boring but actually if you’re interested in the interpretation and the details of what you’re doing it never gets boring, even if it looks the same to someone who would see it several
times. Inside you live it differently. It never feels boring because the surroundings are different; the people are different. This ‘Adore Life’ tour there’s quite an emphasis on the crowd, it needs a communal sensation, it needs to have this interaction, which is what we wanted to do with this record with the lyrics and everything, we couldn’t be the same band. We wanted to try different things. So, this tour it was really important that people walked out with the feeling of having met someone or something. You do different things to do that. They would change every night. Sometimes it’s full on aggression that people need. You decide what they need. It would be a shame if people walked out the door as if nothing happened. Music does most of the work hopefully, and then your presence.efully, and then your presence.
“When you’re on edge and you don’t really know what you’re doing, you’re better.”
You do better things, then. If you’re unsure you give your full energy your full concentration to that moment. That’s when you can be really good.
“We’re stuck in that cemetery of indie rock music – I never understood why were a part of that”
It was at the beginning of Savages when I really started to think I want mosh pits at the shows. I really want to have a physical reaction from the audience, and it was a whole process of thoughts and things because ‘How
tell me about it
do we get that?’ We’re stuck in that cemetery of indie rock music, which I never understood why we’re a part of that. Maybe because we played our first headline show at The Shacklewell Arms, but we had that thing where we were stamped as indie rock whereas I think we’re more verging on metal music and sometimes hardcore. We pushed these influences into our music voluntarily because indie rock music has always felt like a cemetery. It was obvious that in London that scene was dead in terms of interaction. You go to a hip-hop show and everyone’s arms are in the air. Why is that? Probably because they’re not really trying to push that, I don’t know. Maybe shoe-gazing killed that all for us [laughs]. Somehow it’s ok to go to a show, see a band, drink a beer and walk home and that’s it – I don’t understand that. That makes me feel sad. It’s sad for live music. And it’s so much effort to go on tour, to go on stage, to repeat this thing. It needs to be for something. If it’s for nothing I’d rather stay at home and write more music.
came to see Savages three or four times in Washington. And he comes backstage. I think he likes what most people probably remember from Savages – the message and the attitude. I think the fact that when we started we were very different from our peers for being able to say no to certain things and maybe reset the rules a little more to fit us instead of fitting a system. I think that’s probably what people like Ian Mackaye appreciate. He’s the king of that. We’re not the queens, but he’s the king of that, and he probably saw this punk attitude. This idea of trying to tell the truth. “There’s still someone I really want on the show…”
That’s Johnny Rotten. Next season we should do it. For me he’s one of the people who’ve said the truth and keeps saying the truth. I’m really amazed. In this week’s episode I play ‘God Save The Queen’ and – you know when the BBC played it recently at the end of Newsnight – people are still shocked by it! That really amazed me. It’s really incredible. He’s really written the perfect song.
“Savages is like a machine we need to feed in order to move on”
For the band to keep going and be inspiring you need to have people who are able to propose new ideas to each other in a safe environment. Sometimes in order to be able to do that it’s important to understand what kind of person you are outside of this group of people. It’s like an art project. It sounds pretentious to say that, but really this is how I see it. It’s just four people writing music together. It’s almost like we’re coming together to do an exhibition or something. Or write a book with four hands. “I’ve met a lot of my heroes through the radio show”
I think it’s safe to say that you should meet your heroes. We’re all part of a big family and all these people that I’ve talked to have been through the same things as I have. We can talk on the same ground about what we’ve been through. There’s a generosity from all those people, which is why I’ve wanted to speak to them. There are some people I wouldn’t want to speak to who’re equally as successful. The people who I choose… they need to have something to say about what they’re doing. I love when people work with intention. Someone like David Byrne. When someone has created something new as well, which is not the case with every musician, they all want to nurture the next generation. I
“We’re going to take a break from Savages”
think that’s why most people I never thought I’d talk to said yes. They want to perpetuate this generosity and give the good. Because all these conversations lead to other friendships and sometimes side conversations about things. I think creative people can get terribly lost and feel terribly alone, not knowing if what they’re doing is right because sometimes you think you’re on the right path but you never really know. Sometimes you can feel you’re really lost and you don’t know what to do next. “Johnny Marr is the nicest man you’ll meet”
I’ve met him several times and he’s a fan of Savages and he’s always been around to come and see us play. What I admire in Johnny Marr is that he’s the nicest man in the business. He’s incredible. When I say that it sounds stupid, but it’s so true. I don’t even know how to describe it. Some people in the arts, you know, or in the business in general, sometimes they don’t seem to be present when they’re talking to you or they don’t seem to be listening. Whether it’s just that they’re listening
to themselves talking or they’re just absent minded because they’re worried about something else but Johnny Marr never gives you that impression – he’s always present. The first time he meets you he asks you your name, and he remembers it, which I admire, because I’ve got the memory of a fish. “I don’t feel out of place”
I’m very thankful for the time and the fact that they [radio guests] accept to do it, but at the same time I don’t see it as so odd. In the sense, of, I don’t feel out of my place when I’m sitting across from these people talking about this because I really understand what they’re talking about. It’s not like they’re talking a language I don’t understand. I don’t feel right in my place but I feel fine. I find it really hard to talk with some people because I don’t understand most of the things they’re talking about – I don’t know why they’re saying these things or what they want from me or whatever, but when I’m in the situation of doing these interviews I never have that feeling. What they see in me, I don’t know? Ian Mackaye, for example, he
I’m carrying on doing the radio show. That’s been talked about. We’re going for another season from January so that will be a year of Start Making Sense in April. I really enjoy radio; I really love the medium. I’ve always loved radio. We’re going to take a break from Savages because we haven’t taken a break between the two records at all – we took a month, I remember. Now is a good time for us to break apart and do other projects. I have collaborations I have lined up, really cool stuff, which I can’t talk about now but some are going to be revealed in January. So I think it’s going to be for me, collaborating with new people. I’ve kept writing a lot so I’ve got a lot of songs right now that I don’t know what I’m going to do with yet. They’re for something else, not Savages. Pursuing the collaborations where people have reached out and want to work with me, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m very excited.
Reviews / Albums
Sampha Process Y oun g T ur k s B y davi d zammi tt. In sto re s feb 3
It all started with a bleepy, deconstructed remix of The xx’s ‘Basic Space’ back in 2009. Since then, despite hinting at a talent touching on prodigious, Sampha Sisay has seemed to perpetually play a supporting role. After finding underground fame as SBTRKT’s chief co-conspirator he’s spent the last six years as the go-to for high profile artists looking to inject some cool when a project was found wanting. From Jessie Ware and Katy B to Drake and Kanye West, his vocal melodies have elevated a clutch of other people’s songs from the everyday to the sublime. Indeed, search for Sampha’s name onTwitter and you’ll find a queue of American teens gasping at the “new” artist on the outro to West’s ‘Saint Pablo,’ but very little hype around his own compositions. He’s bided his time, and Sisay has
surely now outgrown cameo outros. 2013’s ‘Dual’ EP proved that he was very much capable of constructing his own. And his own intros. And verses. And choruses. Stitching them together to create a wistful, delicate concoction of UK electronica, soul and R&B. That collection lived up to its name by placing unplugged pianos next to 808s and juxtaposing blurry, pulsing synths with the most human of instruments, Sisay’s voice. And what a voice. Soothing and yet intensely arresting, sugary but never saccharine, he is conscious not to over-produce it, preserving the cracks and the hoarseness – the rough edges that remind you that behind it all exists a person. Like ‘Dual,’ ‘Process’ is a more complex affair than the work he’s lent his hand to of late, and opener ‘Plastic 100°C’ sets out the stall from
the off, growing from a simple plucked guitar to an intricately layered wall of pianos, synths, fitful percussion and a choir of his own vocals as he laments the effects of artistic pressure. The poetry is free of ornament, the production beautifully warm. It could be the best thing he’s ever done. ‘Blood On Me’ then channels early ’90s Massive Attack with its menacing piano chords and offbeats, while ‘Kora Sings’ is the sound you get when you stick Stevie Wonder and Art of Noise in the food processor (which is really good, just to be clear). Elsewhere, ‘Incomplete Kisses’ – a shimmering post-dubstep love song that recalls a previous Ware collaboration, ‘Valentine’ – is superb, and the impossibly ambitious techno-soul number ‘Under’ welds about seven songs into one while managing to remain articulate. It’s
the largely acoustic middle pairing of ‘(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano’ and ‘Take Me Inside’, however, which propels the album towards something approaching genius. The soft centre around which the rest of this restless record is built, they are solid songs in their own right. More important than that, they offer room to breathe before Sampha and ‘Process’ marches on. By ensuring attention isn’t lost at the halfway point, the intermission is a masterstroke of restraint. You know it’s been obsessed over, you know tracks have been tried in all manner of different orders, and you know a fair share of music has been left on the cutting room floor. Shorn of flab and clocking in at that magic ten-track, 40-minute mark, ‘Process’ is a triumph not only of feeling and melody, but also of patience and efficiency.
Reviews 0 7/ 1 0
Sacred Paws Strike A Match Ro c k Ac t ion By hay l ey sc ot t . I n stor e s jan 27
Musically, London/Glasgow duo Sacred Paws deal in a kind of optimism that could perhaps sound misplaced in a time when people are still reeling from post-Brexit despondency, and of course, that US election result. But in a world where everything feels like it’s going backwards, the likes of Sacred Paws are a joyous, much needed anomaly. Counteracting the all-too-easy tendency to remain pessimistic during times of crisis, this group’s uplifting hybrid of afrobeat and disjointed post-punk on their debut LP draws from the parentage of bands like PYLON et al; adding essential colour to the darkness. It’s a sound not too dissimilar to singer
and guitarist Rachel Aggs’ other bands Shopping and Trash Kit, although there’s a more obvious propensity for pop structures here, alongside a heightened use of afrobeat percussion and melodies. This conflicts with the general consensus that art works best when it reflects the mood of its consumers. Sure, music has always been a triumphant platform for addressing societal woes, but there’s also catharsis in escapism. Despite Sacred Paws’ musical exuberance, that doesn’t mean they are averse to depicting the negative aspects of everyday life. Lyrically, then, ‘Strike a Match’ focuses on the grievances of love and loss, particularly on the
deceivingly upbeat ‘Ride’, as well as identity and the often neglected subject of getting older on the aptly titled, comparatively downbeat closer ‘Getting Old’. This album negates the more minimal approach of Sacred Paws’ 2015’s EP ‘Six Songs’ – while still showcasing the band’s innate pop sensibility, that collection didn’t quite elicit the duo’s full potential. Here, they add further depth to their sound with the addition of layered guitars, vocal harmonies, and of course Rachel Aggs’ prolific use of off-kilter rhythms. Enlisting a brass section, courtesy of Tom Walsh on trumpet, Michael Owers onTrombone and PaulTowndrow on sax, is an even
more rewarding development. It comes as no surprise that drummer Eilidh Rodgers and guitarist Aggs had played together in Scottish DIY band Golden Grrrls, previously. And while Sacred Paws’ sound eschews the more tame indie pop of Golden Grrrls in favour of something more diverse and inspired, the two’s musical alignment is still palpable: the way in which Rodgers fittingly and effortlessly works with Aggs’ wiry guitar parts is an indication of a musical compatibility that’s not always easy to find. ‘Strike a Match’ succeeds in its vibrancy and genre defiance, but there is a feeling Sacred Paws still have a lot more to give.
Christopher Taylor’s second album as SOHN arrives after reports of writer’s block, intercontinental relocations, scrapped recording sessions and personal upheavals, all contributing to pretty much a full house on the Difficult Second Album bingo card. With that in mind, it’s a tribute toTaylor that ‘Rennen’ is such a tidy, cohesive product: each of the ten tracks here are concise (none stretch beyond four minutes thirty), and the musical palette is strictly confined to voice, synth and drum
programming, leaving the album’s variety to manifest itself through Taylor’s stylistic inventiveness. Accordingly, the head-bobbing neo-soul of ‘Conrad’ and ‘Dead Wrong’ nestles alongside both the title track’s gorgeously inky torch song aesthetic and ‘Proof’’s digitally fractured blubstep with impressive grace, and while there are minor missteps – ‘Falling’’s chattering percussion distracts when it aims to hypnotise, and the wig-out that closes the album feels tacked on –
‘Rennen’’s tight overall artistic control rescues these from being fatal. SOHN’s nearest sonic neighbour is James Blake, but for all their similarities in song construction, ‘Rennen’ sits in contrast to Blake’s rambling album from earlier this year: leaner and more focussed (it’s almost half the length of ‘The Colour In Everything’), Taylor thankfully recognises that music as stylishly confessional as this has its greatest impact in tempered doses: ‘Rennen’’s restraint is also its saviour.
SOHN Rennen 4ad By sam wal t on. In stor e s jan 13
London O’Connor O∆
Rose Elinor Dougall Stellular
Thom Hell Happy Rabbit
Menace Beach Lemon Memory
t r u e pan t h er s ound s
Re pu bl i c of M us i c
Lo s t bo y
M em p h is in du s t r ies
By davi d zammi tt. In store s feb 3
B y c hri s watk e ys . I n s to re s j an 2 0
By gui a co rtas s a. I n s t ores de c 1 6
B y j a m es f . t ho m p so n . I n s t o r es j a n 2 0
London O’Connor is his own man. He’s decided, for example, to wear a yellow sweatshirt every day until he makes more money than his parents. His pinned tweet is his phone number, telling fans that he’s here, “till my phone explodes”. But while it might seem like gimmickry, it’s clear that O’Connor doesn’t take the social structures of the world he’s inherited as something he necessarily has to accept. Nor does he fit easily into a neat musical pigeonhole. Switching between spoken word and falsetto at will, he creates melodic pop music that shoots for the charts while dealing with some of life’s grubbier moments. The tunes are in your face, the drums and synth lines are blocks of Technicolor. It is disarmingly tender but, above all else, ‘O∆’’s narratives are stunningly accurate. A long-time Internet sceptic, he lampoons the modern preference for digital communication on ‘Nobody Hangs Out Anymore’, while on ‘Oatmeal’ he skilfully dissects an uncle’s passive, boring sofa life and worries that it may become his own. ‘O∆’, then, is a glorious pop album. But it’s a pop album with brains.
The indie-pop stars of the noughties are all growing up, and their music with them. Rose Elinor Dougall’s debut solo album was released several years ago now, and contained some beautifully heartfelt songs, but with ‘Stellular’ it feels like the ex-Pipette has really found her niche.This is fifty minutes of slick electropop, mostly fastpaced, and with a sophisticated, arty feel. Opener ‘Colour of Water’ is very slightly psychedelic with a highly polished pop sheen, while the Gary Numan-esque ‘Closer’ features the brilliantly dismissive line “I don’t care about your band, it’s 3.45am”. Elsewhere, ‘All At Once’ is mesmerising, simultaneously robotic and funky, with sharp stabs of synth, and ‘Take Yourself With You’ is drifting, road trip music. It’s an album that exudes intelligence and class, both in its songwriting and its production. Every now and then, as with ‘Dive’, that shiny veneer breaks slightly and we’re allowed deeper into the record’s warmly beating human heart, before Dougall drags us back to its brilliantly synthetic exterior.
At 40, and on his 8th studio album, Thom Hell wanted to write a compendium of his life, directly inspired by his all-time favourite musicians and accompanied by lyrics drawn from his own biography. The result is 16 tracks for an hourlong, all-encompassing trip down Hell’s memory lane. If the orchestral, opening ‘Grow Up’ – with its symphonic flutes and string arrangement – perfectly introduces to the mood of the album, it’s ‘In The Night’ that sums up all ofThom Hell’s intentions. A composite track, it starts as a piano ballad reminiscent of Elton John, immediately exploding with Hell’s voice in falsetto, and includes a choir and a Brian Mayesque guitar part. It evolves in an interlude, which is reminiscent of both Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and The Beatles’ ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ (‘Abbey Road’ is one of the heaviest influences in the album), and finishes with a spacey coda inspired by Pink Floyd. Unfortunately, this maximalist, pastiched approach is shared with all the tracks, making ‘Happy Rabbit’ far too derivative, despite its worthy touchstones.
Any band with a name as cool as Menace Beach is always going to be liable to over-promise and underdeliver. So it proves with Leedsbased duo Liza Violet and Ryan Needham and their second LP, which kicks off as an exciting collision of early-Nineties alternative rock and Hooksworms-aping psych, but quickly runs out of steam. ‘Give Blood’ represents an excellent opener, with Needham yelping his way around ‘Dirty’-era Sonic Youth skronk. New single ‘Maybe We’ll Drown’ then immediately brings the energy levels down – rarely a good sequencing move for an album’s second song – and never really seems to get going. From then on, it’s a hit-and-miss affair; ‘Sentimental’ isn’t sharp enough to get away with thrashing through two chords even for two-and-a-half minutes, but Violet’s ‘Suck It Out’ and ‘Owl’ show some promise. Ultimately though, the problems with ‘Lemon Memory’ are two-fold: first, the songs aren’t distinctive enough but secondly – and much more damagingly – they rarely resolve into anything particularly exciting.
My friends keep calling me to say, ‘I’m really anxious.’ I don’t know what to do about it, but I am right there with them. These are anxious times. Scrolling through my Twitter feed a moment ago the wall of news predicting dire Donald Trump policies and reporting terrible human rights violations was broken only by a tweet from some author I follow promoting a lecture titled ‘Will Asteroids Wipe Out the Earth?’ Help! My palms are sweaty and I’m finding it difficult to swallow. I am
scared and strung out and my brain hurts because of all the badness. Enter Julie Byrne, whose second album, ‘Not Even Happiness’, is like a soothing drag on an opium pipe, only with less potential to escalate into an addiction that might ruin your life. This beautiful, meandering record documents Byrne’s transient wanderings across America in search of a home. Its gentle, melting quality is restorative. From the soft folkish melodies of the opening track, ‘Follow my Voice,’
to the soothing ocean sounds of ‘The Sea as it Glides’, this is music that offers an antidote to the contemporary collective madness. I love ‘Morning Dove’ and especially love ‘I Live Now as a Singer’, with its twinkly whining soundscape, like the crackle of shattered stars. I recommend listening in a warm, quiet room, with a cup of tea and rain spattering against the windowpanes to experience the record’s full calming effects. Twitter has no place here.
Julie Byrne Not Even Happiness Bas i n r oc k By kati e bes wi ck. In store s ja n 13
0 5 /10
Austra Future Politics
Toothless The Pace of Passing
The Proper Ornaments Foxhole
Invisible Boy Invisible Boy
d om i n o
is la nd
to ugh lo ve
To t a ll y g r o s s n a t i o n al p ro du c t
By kat i e bes wi c k. In store s ja n 20
By sam wal t o n. In s t o re s j an 2 0
B y Euge ni e j o hns on. In s t o r es j a n 2 0
B y der ek r o b er t s o n . I n s t o r es j a n 6
Austra’s third album dances on the spine of creator Katie Stelmanis’ voice. In other words: that signature, captivating, hypnotic warble (and oh! those glass shattering high notes!) makes a conceptually mediocre record far more listenable than might otherwise be the case. I’m unconvinced by the on-the nose message, which the lyrics of the title track (“the system won’t help you when your money runs out”) hammer home, and the electronic ’80s sound gets a little jarring halfway in. Technically, though, ‘Future Politics’ can be excellent. Stelmanis’ vocal dexterity, and the clever, haunting compositions (especially on ‘Angel in Your Eye’ and ‘I’m a Monster’) remind you that you’re dealing with a serious talent, here, even if there are some bum-notes, too (I wasn’t totally enamoured with the lengthy, rhythmic clicking during the intro on ‘43’).This record is part of a larger, ambitious project, which includes photography and videos I haven’t yet seen. Perhaps they add some conceptual clarity that elevates this mixed offering from good to great, but simply as an album, it’s tough to love.
Toothless is the side-project of Bombay Bicycle Club bassist Ed Nash, who appears not to have struck out alone because of a yearning to explore differing musical ambitions to his parent band. Indeed, so much here is from the BBC blueprint – polite, melodic indie with splashes of bombast – that one wonders whether the other three members of the Club might think to instruct lawyers. However, while Nash is not reinventing the wheel, his solo interpretation of polite, melodic indie with splashes of bombast is perfectly listenable: ‘The Sun’s Midlife Crisis’ is a pretty pastoral worthy of Fleet Foxes, the driving 4/4 that fills the second half of ‘The Sirens’ would be perfect in a summer festival’s late-afternoon sun, and ‘Charon’, the album’s best moment, has an earthy, honeyed texture that offers a seductive melancholia not found elsewhere. That said, though, little here sticks out, suggesting that Nash’s assumed name is perhaps unintentionally apt: ‘The Pace Of The Passing’ is harmless enough but, ultimately, a little gummy and lacking in bite.
James Hoare’s (of Ultimate Painting and previously Veronica Falls) and Max Oscarnold’s (Toy) debut record, ‘Wooden Head’, under the name The Proper Ornaments, sat somewhere between The Byrds and The Velvet Underground – the band they first bonded over. It also swathed itself in more than a few layers of distortion. This follow-up sees the Londonbased duo almost literally burrowing into a more insular sound, all but doing away with the fuzziness that characterised their debut and replacing it with a few more pianoled melodies. The stripped back sound gives them more of an air of Neil Young than Lou Reed, and when it comes to the warm tones of opener ‘Back Pages 2’ and ‘Memories’, that’s a welcome change of pace. But often it’s all a bit too laid back. ‘When We Were Young’ takes this sentiment to the extreme as it tells a very brief narrative and then unceremoniously ends just as it appears to be getting into its stride; it comes across more like a demo, and a missed opportunity. As such, digging into ‘Foxhole’ can sometimes be more frustrating than magical.
Poliça bassist Chris Bierden is certainly prolific. Aside from rhythm duties with Minneapolis’ finest future RnB group, he’s played bass and provided vocals for Har Mar Superstar and is involved in at least three other musical projects. None of that alternative, ‘edgy’ indie has found its way onto ‘Invisible Boy’, though – the first album proper from his solo project that’s been ten years in the making. From the twinkling opening of ‘All The Kids’ through to the lazy shimmer of ‘Strangers’, it’s clear that the Golden age of the ’70s and AM radio has provided the main inspiration here. The music is undeniably pretty, and perhaps such a light, carefree listen is precisely what we all need after a strange old year. But while letting it drift through your mind is pleasant enough, it lacks any ballast to really stick; songs floating into each other like a long, meandering daydream, in that half world you enter as you fall asleep in the sun. That sounds pretty nice, and as escapism this works perfectly. With just a little more meat on the bone, though, Bierden would really have made the wait worthwhile.
Understated is not a word readily associated with The Flaming Lips. Let’s look at their recent endeavours: after 2013’s ‘The Terror’, a vibrant exercise in stereoscopic psychedelia, their last full-length release was ‘With a Little Help from My Fwends’ a year later, on which they covered ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in typically ridiculous and mainly misguided fashion, with everybody from Miley Cyrus to Chuck Inglish chipping in with contributions. None of the Lips’ recent record,
then, has suggested they’re mellowing on the weirdness front with age, which is perhaps what makes the subdued nature of ‘Oczy Mlody’ so striking. It’s also their prettiest effort in a good long while, relying primarily on soft synthesizers and consistently sleepy vocal turns from Wayne Coyne. Underpinning it all is an array of off-kilter beats that keep the songs feeling freeform; take the slow swirl of ‘The Castle’, for instance, which constantly threatens to meander off
in another direction. The twinkly menace of ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ and ‘Do Glowy’ provide highlights, here – the former sounds like it could feasibly pop up on the soundtrack to next year’s Blade Runner sequel – but it’s the nuanced change in direction that’s most pleasing about ‘Oczy Mlody’, which translates from Polish as ‘eyes of the young’. It’s fitting – this is the most vital Lips record in a while and, true to their paradoxical style, is one of their subtlest, too.
Flaming Lips Oczy Mlody be lla u n i on By j oe g oggi n s . I n store s ja n 13
Bic Runga Close Your Eyes
Cloud Nothings Life Without Sound
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Feed The Rats
Irma Vep No Handshake Blues
Wi ld com bi nat i on s
wi ch i ta
By eu geni e j ohnson. In sto re s jan 13
B y guia c o rta s s a. In s t o re s jan 2 7
C o m f o r tabl e o n a T ig ht r o p e / Fa u x D is c x B y jam es F. Th o mp s o n . In s t o r es jan 1 3
ro c k e t By ale x w i s g ard . In s t o re s jan 2 0
Nearly twenty years into a highly successful career, New Zealand singer-songwriter and multiinstrumentalist Bic Runga is in a reflective mood. Conscious of the amount of songs she always wanted to cover, this latest album is a collection of tracks which Runga tasked herself with reimagining, as well as two original compositions. The two problems are that Matthew E. White and Flo Morrissy have a similar, better record coming, and that a lot of the interpretations here are hardly challenging at all. They’re often just slightly stripped back versions of the original, adding little that would help the listener see these tracks in a new light. Runga even tackles ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, and while its jazzy spin is undoubtedly pretty, it lacks Roberta Flack’s raw emotional power. It’s only really her ’90s R&B take on Kanye West’s ‘Wolves’ and the languid echoes she lends to The Beach Boys’ ‘The Lonely Sea’ that really stand out as being vividly imaginative. ‘CloseYour Eyes’ invites you to do just that; sit back, relax, and let the whole thing wash over you.
Dylan Baldi is a grown man. At 25, the Cloud Nothings singer and songwriter learned how to search for answers and ponder over life’s big questions, beyond the immediate and instinctive feelings that music making usually allows. Sticking literally to its title, ‘Life Without Sound’ explores the existence of a musician outside of his art and artmaking. We are in classic indie-rock sound territory, taking directly from the ’90s, as the closing ‘Realize My Fate’ proves, with an eye blinking towards British-rock, especially in tracks like the polished opener ‘Up To The Surface’ and ‘Modern Act’. Maybe introspection and slow work killed some of the freshness and crunchiness of the previous, more spontaneous sound that put Cloud Nothings among the most interesting guitar acts around, but Baldi’s urgency still packs a punch on ‘Things Are Right With You’. ‘Internal World’ meanwhile, with its repeated mantra “I’m not the one who’s always right” is the most likely track here to become a generational anthem, and one of the best songs to come from this band yet.
If you name your band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (hereby referred to as Pigs x7), you’re immediately opening yourself up for a certain amount of mockery. The Newcastle five-piece are all too aware of that, and their blistering three-song debut album (released via the always cosmic Rocket label) revels in its ridiculousness. I mean, surely no one can scream “I AM THE DEMON! I AM THE NIGHT! I AM ADONIS!” and mean it, let alone on a song called ‘Psychopomp’, right? Bookended by two tracks that brazenly pass the fifteen-minute mark, it’s an album marked by Matt Baty’s primordial invocations – which sound like they were recorded from the top of a mountain – and bludgeoning detuned guitars, designed to blow your speakers. There are shades of Sabbath and Sleep, while Baty’s vocal on ‘Sweet Relief’ echoes Lemmy’s sorely missed emphysemic rasp. The slow burns, bone-on-cavewall drums and sludgy riffs aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of blood, but as howls into the void go, the Pigs are all right.
Anybody who says they haven’t got time to be in a band only needs to look towards Edwin Stevens to blow that conclusion out of the water. Experimental dirge project Irma Vep is the fifth (and counting) concurrent musical endeavour for Manchesterbased Stevens. Hearing ‘No Handshake Blues’ though – the fourth album under the Irma Vep moniker – one wonders whether all this band-hopping might have bred a slight lack of focus, as the LP flips between the sublime and the superfluous. Opener ‘A Woman’s Work is Never Done’ is an example of the former, recalling vintage Six Organs of Admittance; thunderous drums, a droning riff and rusted metal guitar that collapses into a scrapyard heap by its end. On the other hand, tracks like ‘Plod’, ‘Hey You’, and the title track add little in the way of substance, and kill the mood at a little. Delicate closer ‘Still Sorry’ is then a winner, though; the strings soaring as Stevens confesses: “I’m still sorry, I don’t know what I want.” He’s talking about his relationship, I’m sure, but it could easily be his music.
In the immediate aftermath of ‘PostNothing’ in 2009, it felt like Japandroids would only be content with hurtling forward in a blaze of scorched-earth indie rock. 2012’s second album, ‘Celebration Rock’, fleshed out that intent with the Canadian band digging deeper into what they wanted to say, but even that was done at 100mph. ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ slows and softens that shellacking with the duo determined to prove they’re capable of adding depth and
blowing out their freewheeling anthems. Take the 7 minutes of ‘Arc of Bar’ where that blazing intent goes stadium-sized with big, echoing ’80s dynamics and swathes of electro that cut through noise – it’s unexpected but is still definably Japandroids. Elsewhere, title track ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ and ‘I’m Sorry for Not FindingYou Sooner’ retain all the tumultuous rumble and unremitting momentum, but it’s on ‘No Known Drink or Drug’ that Brian King and
David Prowse find the balance. Driven by breakneck guitar and snapping drums, dreamy shoegaze backing vocals add a sense of sweetness that feels a long way from the desperation and raw necessity of their debut. On ‘The HouseThat Heaven Built’, they once sang: “And if they try to slow me down/I’ll tell them all to go to hell.” Japandroids aren’t going 100mph anymore but that’s ok, because for the first time, it feels like they know where they want to go.
0 7/ 1 0
Japandroids Near To The Wild Heart of Life Ant i By r eef y ouni s . In sto re s jan 27
Alison Crutchfield Tourist In This Town
Brandon Can’t Dance Graveyeard of Goodtimes
Moon Duo Occult Architecture
Lu ck y nu mb e r
Raf Rundell The Adventures of Selfie Boy Pt. 1
By ch ris watkeys. In sto re s feb 3
B y j o e go ggins . I n s t o re s j a ne 1 3
s ac r e d b o n es B y dav id zammitt. In s t o r es F eb 3
1965 By R e e f yo uni s . I n s t o re s n o w
The opening sixty seconds of Allison Crutchfield’s debut album are a thing of real beauty – a cappella harmonies and hints of gospel morph into the beginnings of a song that chimes with faint echoes of Tracy Chapman. Then it all, somehow, goes spectacularly wrong, exploding into what feels like a heavy dose of teen angst by numbers. Indeed, the spectre of Alanis Morisette’s poprock monster haunts large parts of ‘Tourist In This Town’, adding a shopping mall flimsiness to what otherwise might have been a decent collection of songs. There are exceptions; the bombastic, machinelike ‘Dean’s Room’ has a relentless bassline set against a synth backdrop, while the subtle, piano-led ‘Sightseeing’ features easily the album’s best lyric: “I’m so narcissistic I thought you would be obsessed with me.” The song is beautifully engaging, and feels like a midnight walk with a broken heart. But the paper-thin ‘Secret Lives and Deaths’ feels like an afterthought, and in many ways the album is just far too conventional to have any real impact.
On recent evidence, there’s apparently plenty to be said for bombarding your audience with a heap of music online before committing to a traditional label model and a record that people have to pay for. Car Seat Headrest andThe 1975 are two success stories of late on that front, having crafted a fanbase through myriad Internet releases before putting out a debut album proper. That’s the path that Philadelphia’s Brandon Ayres has followed, too, with ‘Graveyard of Good Times’ arriving on the heels of a slew of underground LPs. There’s no question he has a well-defined idea of his approach both lyrically and sonically, by now; on the likes of ‘Smoke and Drive Around’ and ‘Fuck Off and We’ll Get Along’ he’s by turn acidic and vulnerable. The sound of the album – by a distance the crispest he’s put out to date – lands somewhere between post-punk claustrophobia and electro-pop scuzz, and ends up feeling spread a little thin across a sprawling sixteen tracks. The sharpness of Ayres’ wit, though, largely makes up for it on a promising first real outing.
As one half of The 2 Bears Raf Rundell’s spent the last few years playing out the kind of lush, welcoming house tracks that bely both his and Joe Goddard’s cuddly personalities. And where those warm, happy songs glide across the genres, Rundell’s new solo turn as Selfie Boy similarly delivers a mixed bag of styles. Where the oddly affirming ‘Llama Farmer’ feels like a homage to the ‘Human Traffic’ comedown sermon, the minimal sass of ‘Poor Bitch’ pulls this mini-album into biting, Vogue-inspired territory; where the easy-going ‘Shopping for a Shaman’ evokes the spirit of Air’s ‘Moon Safari’, Rundell’s vocal is the glue that binds the ever-shifting sound of album opener, ‘Carried Away’. It’s a playful collection of tracks, pinned together by the mellow builds and easy rhythms of ‘RightTime’.The standout track here, it’s every summer requisite melted into one fluid melody of shuffling percussion, bright piano and tight basslines – the signature moment for a release full of the colourful ideas we’ve come to expect.
Never ones to conform, Moon Duo are set to release their latest serving of fuzzy psych in two portions: ‘Occult Architecture Vol. 1’ (“the Yin; the dark energy; the winter”), and ‘... Vol. 2’, a presumably lighter, brighter offering, which will arrive some time late in 2017. Taking the cycle of the seasons as its muse, the first instalment of the work sees Ripley Johnson and SanaeYamada continue to draw on the same touchstones that have shaped their sound to date – Suicide and Silver Apples are still in there, of course – but they have tightened things up and sprinkled some added dissonance for good, foreboding measure. Debut single ‘Cold Fear’ crystallises the album’s sound, channelling WIXIW-era Liars as it builds from a solitary tinny snare to become a wailing, distortion pedal-driven behemoth. It rocks, but it does so within a very exact framework. Elsewhere, ‘Creepin’ is perhaps Moon Duo’s first real anthem, while ‘White Rose’ is an epic ten-minuter that feels touched by the hypnotic hands of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. All good so far; I’ll get back to you on Vol. 2.
Listening to Foxygen can be a confusing experience. Over two sprawling albums and an underrated EP Sam France and Jonathan Rado appropriated just about every trope in their cooler-than-thou record collection; Memphis Soul, ’60s era Stones, Merseybeat, and shades of Bowie and Reed were all put to use. Whether they figured that fans wouldn’t be aware of the provenance of their inspiration, or just didn’t care about their copy paste approach, seemed like a moot
point; they were happily camped out in retro-rock land, and to hell with the naysayers. New album ‘Hang’ at least makes a sharp left turn, although the music they explore here – big band swing and orchestral pop – is equally as derivative. Recorded to tape with a full, 40-piece symphony orchestra, it certainly sounds lush, with plenty of brass and baroque flourishes. They also brought in Matthew E. White of Spacebomb Records fame, and you
can hear his easy charm and glossy loveliness at work in the arrangements. Sadly, none of this is enough to mask the tired clichés employed throughout; rinky dink pianos, cheesy sax solos, and songs – particularly ‘Avalon’ and ‘Upon A Hill’ – that tip over into pure cabaret, vaudeville, and musical theatre. It all adds up to the feeling that Foxgen’s main talent is repurposing the past, and fun though that is, perhaps they lack any original voice of their own.
Foxygen Hang ja gj a guwar By der ek r o ber tso n. In sto re s Jan 20
Ty Segall Ty Segall dr ag c i t y B y al ex wi s gar d . I n sto re s jan 27
After the cosmic misery wreaked upon the universe by 2016, the surprising arrival of January 2017 means another new Ty Segall album. Where Segall is concerned, though, the presence of new material is as predictable as he allows himself to be. The chaotic onslaught of ‘Emotional Mugger’ has vanished, the disturbing baby mask ripped from the singer’s head to reveal... well... can you truly call any new release of his a presentation of the “real” Ty Segall? Look at that blurred portrait on the record sleeve, his gaze averted from the camera lens, and you tell me. Still,Ty is an artist I’ve tried in vain
to enjoy through the years. As a slavish Robert Pollard fan, the idea of Segall – a walking encyclopaedia of rock and roll, able to produce new material at a moment’s notice – has always appealed. Yet his records always come up short for me, and there’s only been one song of his that I can truly say I love: 2014’s ‘The Singer’. Still, it remained the lone highlight on the overstuffed double LP ‘Manipulator’. ‘Ty Segall’ – his tenth album – may not even be his first self-titled effort, but it’s his first in five years to be recorded with a consistent band. Five seconds into the extremely satisfying glam riffery of ‘Break a Guitar’, which sounds so dumb it
could only have been written by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing, it’s apparent that this is the best decision he could have made. The well-drilled musicians, including Mikal Cronin and Emmett Kelly of The Cairo Gang, aren’t quite reining in his excesses, simply putting them into better focus. The five-piece band don’t overwhelm the Kinksy folk of ‘Talkin’’ and ‘Take Care (To Comb Your Hair)’, while ‘Thank You Mr. K’ hops hyperactively between a Ramonesesque sock hop riff and some nimble descending guitar lines in the chorus. At least, until it’s interrupted by the sound of a toilet being sledgehammered to smithereens
halfway through the song... and even then it sounds essential. Even the meandering ten-minute Sabbathplays-Skip-Spence style epic wedged in at track three, entitled ‘Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)’, seems more focussed than the previous freewheeling sprawls of Segall’s past albums, without a second or note wasted. After nine years of making albums under his own name, and countless others with countless others, this second eponymous effort will be a welcome addition to a bulging catalogue. Speaking from experience, it could just be the easiest entry point for a beginner, too.
The opening track on Loyle Carner’s debut album, the previously released ‘The Isle of Arran’, fades in with the sway and swing of gospel singers, the volume ever rising like they are walking over mountain hills ever closer until they fade and Carner’s restrained, half-spoken flow cuts through the voices, sparking an immediate intimacy that is soon further matched by the revealing and sincere subject of loss found in the Londoner’s lyrics. It sets the tone for a record that feels sonically vast and
ambitious as frequently as it does sparse, tender and reflective. Carner, whose previously collaborated with Kate Tempest (something of a lyrical idol of his), succeeds in feeling naturalistic and familiar in his approach, happy to talk of love and loss and family, but he does so without becoming cloyingly earnest. The album is a smooth ride, where mild currents of g-funk nestle up next to jazz tinges and RnB grooves. Although it’s a record that feels fundamentally
un-American, the snippets of dialogue, home life and Carner’s family that feature throughout giving it a sense of place and Carner’s neat and unique lyricisms, alliterations and flow – “freckle faced fidgeter” – also feel quintessentially British. ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ is an album that’s more interested in humility than egotism and ultimately feels like an ode to the foundations of family and the love, nurturing and creative spirit they foster.
Loyle Carner Yesterday’s Gone AMF By da n i el dyla n wray . I n sto re s Jan 20
Reviews / Live
Danny Brown Leeds Uni Sylus Leeds 15/ 11/ 20 16 wr i ter : Dan i el D yla n Wra y Ph otogr a ph er : Ta sh B rig ht
Ian Curtis is not your typical hype man. Usually when a rapper takes to the stage they have support in the form of pumping music and a flurry of enthusiasm to build their arrival. Not Danny Brown. He plays Joy Division’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, which he has named his new album after. It’s six minutes of wavering, queasy guitars that build with a lurking and menacing dread, filling the room with an edge and oddness rarely encountered at such a show. But even a cursory listen to Brown’s latest (and best) LP is enough to know he’s someone who operates far beyond the limits of just one genre. The album is a startling collection of tracks that explore the world of avant-garde and electronic music,
just as often as party bangers and big name collaborations. The opening lyrics to ‘Downward Spiral’ create an intensely vivid scene. Like walking into the gruesome guts of a party that’s gone beyond what was thought possible. A twisted and demented world of drug use pushed to its limits, unprotected sex and a sweaty coating of paranoia. We’re not plunged directly into this world when Brown arrives on stage with a huge striking grin; instead we’re thrown deep into something of a parallel universe via the hedonistic consumption of ‘Die Like a Rockstar’. There’s a heavy thud of bass that rattles the room and Brown’s unique squawking voice pierces above it. He’s accompanied by DJ and
producer Skywlkr and on occasion the music calls for more than just backing tracks. During the first half of the show it can feel a little plodding at times and struggles to shift out of a template and a pace. The set is heavy on old material, too, including tracks like ‘Blunt After Blunt, ‘Smokin and Drinkin’ and ‘25 Bucks’, the latter of which benefits from the backing track set-up, as the pristine and perfect recording of the female vocal (Purity Ring’s Megan James) allows Brown’s vocal to run wild over the top. But the evening is sadly light on new material until the last four songs and when he informs people new stuff is on the way he says, “you don’t sound too enthused” before the Kendrick Lamar- and Earl
Sweatshirt-featuring ‘Really Doe’ explodes to life and leads to the wildest reception of the night. He plays only the first part of the song, cutting it short before his guests would normally enter. He then bursts straight into ‘Make it Rain’ and the momentum carries furiously. It’s at these moments when Brown is locked into a backing of spitting electronics and propulsive bite that he feels most alive and potent. The run continues spectacularly with ‘Dance in the Water’ and ‘Pneumonia’. The exclusion of ‘Ain’t it Funny’ feels slightly at odds with the show but it’s still an intoxicating closing from a man who knows the merits of intoxication better than most.
The Julie Ruin Gorilla Manchester
William Tyler Bush Hall, London 2 0/ 1 1 / 2 01 6 w r it er : S a m Wa lto n
0 4/ 12/ 20 16
P hotogra ph e r : S am Wa l ton
writer: Pa tri c k G le n
While William Tyler’s most recent album of pastoral instrumentals for electric guitar could feel occasionally airless and muzak-like, on stage his project comes alive with considerable zeal. Accompanied by bass and drums, the trio let Tyler’s knotty compositions expand into swells of warm feedback, elegant cadences and, on set closer ‘Area Code 601’, impressively vehement thrash. Tyler grew up in southern Mississippi, now Trump heartland but, at the time of Tyler writing ‘Modern Country’, a place of rundown, homespun beauty and quiet inspiration. “I was romanticising it but I should’ve been terrified of it,” he admits at one point between songs. However, America’s recent upheaval only serves to reframe Tyler’s elegiac pieces even more poignantly; amid all the rawness, here are 90 minutes of soothing Southern balm.
Kathleen Hanna told a revealing story in the gaps between two consecutive songs tonigh. When she was a child, her father was an abusive alcoholic and her mother a psychiatric nurse. Her father’s abuse atomised her family. Her mother initiated a suggestions box to improve communication. But Hanna and her sister were unwilling to bring up their Dad’s drinking, the obvious problem. When Hanna later suggested that her sister was engaging in risky behaviour – drink driving – she was called a ‘drama queen.’ No one listened to Kathleen Hanna as a child, but tonight we do, overdressed for the winter evening, sweating without caring, inspired by the infectious music and the band’s personalities, from the material of The Julie Ruin’s two albums to the encore of ‘Rebel Girl,’ Bikini Kill’s call to arms.
Preoccupations Oval Space London, Hackney 0 7/ 11/ 20 16 writer: Ja mes F. Thompson
This year, the Canadian post-punk quartet formerly known as Viet Cong were re-born as Preoccupations and their “second” debut LP was one of 2016’s best. As if to underscore their re-birth, tonight’s performance is one of the most impressive I have witnessed in years. Kicking off with rumbling slow-burner ‘Anxiety’ as smoke billows around gravel-voiced front man Matt Flegel and his band, the crowd practically get whiplash as Viet Cong favourite ‘Silhouettes’ starts with a ferocious wallop. Next track, ‘March of Progress’, explodes into life halfway through and rarity ‘Select Your Drone’ does the same. ‘Continental Shelf’ gets the expected cheer but the Preoccupations tracks work even better: ‘Degraded’ and ‘Stimulation’ are both phenomenal and ‘Memory’ is downright euphoric. Appropriately, ‘Death’ arrives last – with no encore. Which we don’t need.
Foxygen Oslo, Hackney, London 09/1 1 / 2 0 1 6 wri t e r : J Am es F. T hompso n P hotogr aph e r : Rac h e l L ips it z
Escapism might not solve anybody’s problems, but a dose of fantastical 1970s baroque pop feels like a pretty fucking welcome way to take refuge from Donald JohnTrump’s glowering face, plastered as it is across every TV in the entire world. Thankfully this L.A. duo are in no mood to talk politics tonight. On stage, new, orchestra-heavy album ‘Hang’ translates into a nine-strong band (replete with backing dancers) that’s big on bombast, camp affectations and retro-chic stylings. Perhaps more than ever before, Foxygen seem like a band out of time and place, France coming off likeTodd Rundgren at the height of his powers throughout bittersweet opener ‘How Can You Really’ and the rest of a set that offsets melancholy paeans to lost lovers with bright tunes full of hope. A joyous amalgam of AOR and bigticket singer-songwriter fare.
Bands buy records A Loud And Quiet video series
Nilüfer Yanya The Slaughter Lamb Clerkenwell, London
The Lemon Twigs MOTH Club, London 2 9/ 1 1 / 2 01 6 w r it er : J a m es F. T h o mp s o n
17/ 11/ 20 16
P h o to g r a p h er : M a x P h yth ia n
wr iter : r ach el re d fe rn
“Hello Twiglets!” hollers Brian D’Addario. Michael D’Addario jumps behind the drum kit and the four-piece band get cracking with ‘I Wanna Prove to You’. The wiry brothers own the starry crowd – including the likes of Alex Turner and Bowie producer Tony Visconti – right out of the gates.The LemonTwigs are anachronistic in all the obvious ways people have written about. They sound like Big Star crossed with the Beach Boys and the Beatles. They have a penchant for over-tight 1970s t-shirts and flares. They have crazy hair. But what really places them out of time is their self-confident revelry in joyous song craft and virtuoso musical chops. Theatrics like the boys’ high-kicks and jumps aren’t delivered ironically; there’s simply an abundance of fun in the way they play. The message is clear: this is music to be enjoyed.
You get the feeling that things will go one of two ways for West London’s Nilüfer Yanya – both ending up somewhere pretty big. Tonight the 22-year-old is equal parts The xx (the clean guitar lines, coy backing band of chaos pad and bass guitar, the SW3 fanclub who seem familiar with these unheard songs, probably from house ‘gatherings’ (the right word for this type of down-tempo bedroom pop) earlier in the year) and Lianne La Havas (the jazzy overtones of a crouching room listening with its eyes closed, and Yanya’s ability to fully relax once any song has started). There’s saxophone too. The half of the basement room that aren’t friend’s of Yanya’s, here to celebrate the release of her brilliant ‘Small Crimes’ EP, appear to be A&Rs, and while all this means it feels a little bit Jools Holland,Yanya’s skeletal songs pierce the cynicism with personality.
Weyes Blood Castle Hotel Manchester 23 / 11/ 20 16 wr iter : joe gogg i ns
It’s testament to what a little bit of good press can do for your profile that the back room of one of Manchester’s finest hostelries suddenly seems like an absurdly small venue for this Weyes Blood show. Natalie Mering’s fourth LP under the moniker, ‘Front Row Seat to Earth’, which took its cues from 1970s Laurel Canyon folk, met with universal acclaim in October and this gig sold out soon afterwards. Accordingly, it is uncomfortably packed. Mering’s songs work as a neat antidote, though, by turns arresting and unsettling; over the course of a sub-one hour set that leans heavily on her latest album, her backing band’s stripped-back approach to the arrangements on the likes of ‘Seven Words’ and ‘Away Above’ leave her haunting vocals to cut through the noise and act as the sonic anchor.
The Raincoats Soup Kitchen, Manchester 11/1 1 / 2 0 1 6 wri t e r: P a t ri ck Gl e n Phot o graphe r: C hri s Wo o d
The Raincoats’ approach to music making was always complimented by their message and, frankly, their continued existence in a music industry that is unfriendly towards women and, particularly, older women. Tonight they remain free thinkers, righteous and full of integrity. They draw honestly from experience, a role feminist women from their generation tend to take pride in fulfilling, but they do it with the humour and wisdom that you get from graduating from being a watchful but weird youth let loose in a city to a radical adult. This is no better shown than when they play ‘Fairytale in the Supermarket’ and ‘No Side to Fall In’.The classics from their first LP are sardonic, true to life and perceptive, in a way that shows their appreciation of the relationship between noises and rhythms that others would be scared to even try.
W R I TE R : A N D RE W A N D ERS ON
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Prince might have passed on to that big sex palace in the sky but he remains the reigning sultan of pop testosterone. Not only is his music awash with more spunk than the seas around a sperm whale during mating season, he also made some ballsy career moves while he was with us. Take his first feature film Purple Rain. Now, if you or I were a musician with just a couple of hits behind us and zero acting experience we probably wouldn’t make it a condition of our new record contract that we get to star in our own film. But that’s what the little did. In spite of its obvious flaws (Prince can’t act and the plot is stupid), Purple Rain was a huge success. That was partly because of the soundtrack, which includes songs like ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and of course ‘Purple Rain’, but also because it was very much in tune with the times – the film screams 1980s. After Purple Rain Prince kept making films with diminishing returns. First came Under The Cherry Moon (1986), which isn’t very good (Prince directs, no one watched it). Then a concert film Sign o’ The Times (Prince on stage, no one watched it). Warner Bros were clearly unable to spot the pattern, because even after two flops they still allowed Prince to make a fourth film. Titled Graffiti Bridge, this one would pick up the
story where Purple Rain left off. What could go wrong? Worryingly, Prince was allowed to come up with the concept and write the script himself. But at least we can look forward to lots of sexy bits, right? I’m afraid not. This film was released in 1990, several years after Prince’s infamous ‘Black Album’ melt down which saw him “find God”. He explained his position in an interview with Rolling Stone: ‘When I talk about God I don’t mean some dude in a cape and beard coming down to Earth.’ So, that’s that cleared up. The outcome was that Prince decided to stop being so damn sexy in order to avoid damnation. In the press for Graffiti Bridge he described the film as ‘not violent’ and added that ‘nobody gets laid’, which is rather like making a Harry Potter film without the wizardry or a Christian Bale vehicle without painful overacting. Let’s face it: the violence and the sex were pretty much all Purple Rain had going for it (aside from the badass tunes, of course). Let me sum up Graffiti Bridge so far: no sex (the one thing Prince is good at), no violence (the one thing that would have made it interesting), a Prince-penned script (which is bound to be terrible) and the whole thing is directed by Prince (who already proved he can’t direct). It’s not looking good, is it?
So, imagine my surprise when I popped in the DVD and discovered that it was actually amazing! No, I’m joking, this film is very shit. Even the DVD title screen somehow made me angry – that’s how bad it is. But we’ve come this far, so let’s talk about what happens in Graffiti Bridge. The film follows on from Purple Rain insofar as Prince is still competing with Morris Day to see who is the king of night time entertainment in Minneapolis. It’s a dubious title – rather like being the most interesting person to work in the accountancy department – but there you go. Only now Prince and Day don’t just play in bands: they each own a club, and are in direct financial competition with one another. Day hatches a plan to get rid of Prince and take over his club (which is called the Glam Slam, of course). Prince, though, isn’t too fussed; he’s more interested in getting all philosophical and spends most of the film poncing about with his poet girlfriend Aura. Of course, Prince can’t show any actual sex because God hates sex, so instead we get endless intellectual foreplay where Aura reads her poetry and Prince looks all doe-eyed (it really is unbearable). Occasionally the whole thing stops so a song can be shoehorned in (these are the good bits). To settle the matter Prince
challenges Day to a winner-takes-all battle of the bands. At first it looks like Prince will lose because Day and his bandTheTime are so unstoppably hot. But then he realises he can win by singing a hymn (I shit you not). So, the film ends with Prince belting out an ode to God before he and Day decide to put aside their rivalry and be best buddies forever. Oh, and then Aura gets run over and killed for no reason (I guess he couldn’t resist having a least one moment of violence). It is the sort of film that simply doesn’t get made anymore. Major artists of the day like Beyoncé are simply too self aware, and have too many artistic advisors, to ever make something so shockingly awful. Instead, they’d probably turn out something with tons of high-concept shots and production tricks to cover up the fact it was ultimately bland and banal. So let’s be fair to Prince: the man took risks. He tried to make something that was arty, interesting and that made a statement (although god knows what that statement was). Sure, he failed – heck, he failed miserably – but that’s okay, because failures have to happen if you’re going to make anything meaningful. I for one admire him for that... but I’m also glad I’ll never have to watch another one of his films ever again. Rest in peace, sweet Prince.
Loud And Quiet 2016 Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 74 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 75 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Let's Eat Grandma
Christine & The Queens Thomas Cohen Lontalius
Not weird, just... different
Whitney This Heat Sam Simmons
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 76 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Anohni Hoping for a miracle + Cullen Omori / Pantha Du Prince / John Carpenter Olga Bell / SassyBlack / Julien Baker
Plus Bobby Gillespie Lionlimb Allan Kingdom Mothers
The Range The Goon Sax J Dilla
Composer in the wild
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 77 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 78 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Show Me The Body New York, I love you but you’re bringing me down
lEVElZ Community in Action
Plus Jackie lynn shock Machine Alex Cameron Mitski Oliver Coates Cat’s Eyes
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 79 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Car Seat Headrest Will Toledo’s 12-album overnight success
Jessy Lanza Shame BADBADNOTGOOD Exploded View An L&Q guide to End of The Road
Regina Spektor / Julia Jacklin / Sneaks / Angel Olsen / The Lemon Twigs / Pillow Person
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 80 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 81 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Zero pounds / Volume 03 / Issue 82 / the alternatIVe musIc tabloId
Albums of the Year London O’Connor Jehnny Beth Totally Noga Erez Virginia Wing
I Joey Purp Katie Gately Calvin Johnson Rising Sun Collective Alex Izenberg Acid Arab La Femme
Compulsion of a poet
+ Marc Almond Soft Hair Patience Nilüfer Yanya Pylon Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
Thank you for reading
Party wolf HOW TO SURVIVE saviour’s day: Choose your Christmas Day wisely
Their mum’s Christmas
space & time: A minimum of 5 days ‘back home’ being disproportionately asked “are you warm enough?”
space & time: Your partner has a mum, too. I know – but you’ll be fine. It turns out all mums are identical.
space & time: Your mum probably stopped going home for Christmas when she was 24. You’re 35. Stay in your own house!
space & time: 2 weeks in South America or India, because Christmas really is the time of year to flee from friends and family.
Guest of honour: Nan. When she wakes up halfway through Dr. Who and declares, ‘This is a load of rubbish, isn’t it?’ DON’T shout ‘You are!’ and stomp upstairs.
Guest of honour: Check this out – it’s you! Don’t be a Nan about it, though. Politely refuse everything offered to you and then wash up. God, you’re good!
Guest of honour: There will be no guests, which is the true beauty of this Christmas. Do pop some trousers on, but for you and you alone.
Guest of honour: ‘Guest of Honour’ is a bit strong, but the barman kinda recognises you now – see what he’s up to. Not there. Strange, where could he be today?
holiday catchphrase: “Aren’t we lucky to have all these presents, when you think of people who are homeless.” And... “Are you warm enough?”
holiday catchphrase: “It’s been so nice having you here.” Don’t be alarmed that you’ll first hear this 2 hours after arriving. It hardly ever means “now off you go.”
holiday catchphrase: “Why didn’t we do this earlier?” Note: If you’re not with your partner and this is still your holiday catchphrase, you’re drunk.
holiday catchphrase: “I bet it’s freezing back home.” And... “I wonder what they’re doing at home.” They’re complete mugs, back home, aren’t they... Let’s Skype them.
the present situation: At home you can act like a complete child by ripping through your mountain of presents and not thanking anyone. It’s fucking great.
the present situation: On the off chance that your hosts haven’t asked your partner to buy a present for you, get ready to say, “no, I’ll definitely use that. Thank you.”
the present situation: Oh, you still get all the presents like before. Your mum would have given to them to you a last week’s ‘fake Christmas’. Did I not mention that?
the present situation: Ha! Brilliant! Your mate surprised you with a present he bought on the beach – a floaty pen with a naked lady in it. Happy Christmas.
Need a break? Take yourself upstairs to listen to your favourite present, ‘Now 26’.
Need a break? Take yourself upstairs to ‘ring your mum’, you sweet, soppy sod. Then hide in the toilet.
Need a break? Simply close your eyes and pretend you’re asleep – your partner was probably thinking the same thing.
Need a break? Hey, come on, now.You’re ON a break. Still, if you need some time to yourself, have an underwater swim in the pool. Absolutely bliss.
nostalgia rating: 7. It’s hardly a culture shock, but the roast potatoes were too different.
nostalgia rating: 3.This is a brave new world. Hey, let’s MAKE this nostalgic?!
nostalgia rating: 10. And not just because your mum has kept your room how it was in 1989, like you’re a missing person.
nostalgia rating: 0. This was a bad idea, wasn’t it?
Disclaimer: The representations of the persons herein are purely fictitious
Photo casebook: The inappropriate world of Ian Beale
I now declare the square’s Christmas lights ON!
A beautiful candle, to symbolise all that is right in the world. Happy Christmas.
Brian Eno / Jehnny Beth / London O'Connor / Virginia Wing / Albums of The Year 2016 / Noga Erez / Totally