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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Review: Lemonparty Presents at The White Horse in Sudbury.

Lemonparty, apparently Sudbury’s premier lunatic party band, have been given a regular Thursday slot (‘every middle-ish Thursday of the month’) to showcase the original bands they think need showcasing, and sometimes (as on this inaugural night) to join in and play a set of their own.
Opening proceedings were Two Steps Twice. This is a deluxe model ska band which. although having a keyboard stand in for a brass section, boasts a brace of female backing singers, as well as two male lead singers (or did one of them just do percussion? I’m a little hazy on the early part of the evening).
Two steps twice seem to be aiming at 2Tone, but what came out was more like punk, for a number of reasons: firstly the keyboard couldn’t quite manage to substitute for a brass section (although it played the right lines, and sounded good); second, the guitar sound was way too loud and thrashy; and thirdly, well, they just had a punk aesthetic. To be honest, they were a little bit shy of properly rehearsed to play a style of music that’s so groove based and rhythmically exacting, but their enthusiasm was infectious and their set was a lot of fun.
Following them were the always intense Luvdump, the only band of the night that I’d seen before. Luvdump’s bag is old school hardcore, with bits of reggae and ska breaking out like a rash, as it tends to around punk music. This is a band with all the commitment and passion their style demands, and the playing skills to nail it to the floor (although they had some serious timing issues in the first couple of numbers, they got it sorted after that). It’s all about the music, and they’ve got that down, with some great songs, and good arrangements, but let’s face it, attitude and visuals have a strong effect on audience response as well. The singer bounces like a nutter, in a way that’s impossible to ignore (unless maybe you’re dead), while the guitarists sling their axes so low they could play with their feet, and one of them has that same kind of prowling, skinny menace once purveyed by Wilko Johnson. Luvdump are the real deal, and they played a blinder.
Lemonparty were quite an eye opener for me: they play a frantic, skittering brand of funk rock, and their tall, insectile singer is one of the most charismatic front-men I’ve seen in a while, in an entirely offbeat, freaky way. His jerky movements and oddball vocal delivery had a little of David Byrne about them, but his low body mass and hollow cheeks make him look equally like a man on the comedown from one too many northern soul weekenders. This is not a band anyone will forget in a hurry. They have some good chops as well, keeping it tight while making sure they stay focussed on entertaining, which they are very good at, almost coercing the audience into movement! Short on artistic pretensions, and long on uncompromising, unselfconscious good times.
I had been listening to the The Junk on the web before the gig, so I was looking forward to them. And was I disappointed? No, boys and girls, I was not. What they play is not ska as such, although there are elements of it in their music, but basically hardcore with some arse kicking brass riffs. I’m calling it brasscore, because I’m the kind of idiot that wants to pretend he’s hip by bandying about genres that no-one’s heard of. Although it might be time for some such label, because The Junk are not the only band doing this: the excellent Beat The Red Light take a similar (if more metal tinged) approach, for example, and there are others about.
The Junk’s brass section for the night was a BRASS section: no poxy saxophones here (although a quick listen to their MySpace reveals an alto reed playing a leading role too). Just a trumpet and a trombone playing tightly scored riffs that give the guitars a run for their money in terms of edgy, high energy propulsiveness. The band sometimes breaks it down into a slow reggae jam, but mostly they maintain a pretty mental pace, keeping themselves and the audience pumped.
The whole band performs to the audience: you don’t have to sell out to be an entertainer, and this is an outfit that sticks to its artistic principles without compromising on the fun factor. Heavy duty, mental, moshable, musical mayhem is their stock in trade and you should get some of this if you get the chance.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Pixelpussy - ‘This Is Meower Noise’

‘This is Meower Noise’ (2010), Moonslave Radio MOON001D, digital download, 67m 29s, $8
Diaper Bot Overload, the track from this album that happens to be playing as I sit down to review it, is a crazy soundscape of chopped up samples and confusing layers of distortion, devoid of any clear beat, and distinctly closer to ‘meower electronics’ than to ‘meower noise’. The rest of the album is very much power noise however, distorted beats aimed squarely at the dancefloor.
While it is less blatantly comedic than Caustic, for example, this is a very funny record, with a lot of humour in every track. The evil genius behind Pixelpussy pays a lot of attention to politics in his native USA, particularly the burgeoning tea party movement, and this album is full of jaw dropping audio samples of christian right lunacy: if Michael Moore made a power noise album, it would most likely sound like this.
There is more space and clarity in the production on ‘TIMN’ than is usual in power noise releases: at first it felt a little light, but I’ve liked it more and more with each listen. Pixelpussy has a liking for distortions that are harmonically unsaturated and very digital sounding, and he does not always layer them obsessively into terrifying juggernauts of sonic violence (as is common in his genre): instead he makes them fit into the soundstage with the other elements, perhaps in order to avoid drowning out his samples, which as I’ve said, are particularly choice. Sometimes he could have used a heavier kick to my ear, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
In the main the beats are straightforward stomp (no criticism implied, it’s what they’re meant to be), but there are a couple with little syncopated hooks that lift them into a zone of irresistible danceability: ‘The Ass Justifies The Means’ and ‘Toxic Testicle Nectar’ are two tracks that grabbed me in particular. As far as musical content goes, that’s it: this is a genre that’s about rhythm, and about production, but melody and harmony don’t really figure. ‘TIMN’ doesn’t have any singing either, but it’s the samples that are the stars of the show. I have no clue as to the source of most of them, although I’ve heard the insane politician talking about billy goats from ‘God and Pussy’ somewhere before: I’d really like to know who it is exhorting us not to ‘get any of that green shit in my hair, on my face, on my nipples or in my pussy’ at the start of ‘Toxic Testicle Nectar’ too (or more to the point I’d like to know where and why he found it)!
There’s a fistful of remixes to close out the album: my favourite is code 000’s ‘Just Gimme The Pussy’ remix of ‘God and Pussy’, which is exactly the kind of richly distorted, thick, full noize that most of the album eschews, and funky as hell to boot.
Power noise is one of those genres that you either like, or you don’t understand why anyone would want to do that to you when you’ve never even met them before, let alone hurt them in any way. Clearly I’m in the former camp: I know some of my readers will listen to a few seconds of this and run screaming, but there may be a handful out there who will thank me for introducing them to this style, and I know there’s a few who love it already. If you’re in the last category, this album is definitely for you: it’s a lovingly assembled slab of crunchingly heavy beats, with a distinctive production sound of its own, and some wicked comedy value.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Review: Wytchazle and Justin Tracy at PJ McGinty’s in Ipswich

In stark contrast to the venue at which I last reviewed a gig, PJ McGinty’s has an excellent upstairs space set aside for music: there is no reason for anyone to be there except to listen to the performers, and it is just the right size and acoustic, with its high wood paneled ceiling (although I suspect a noisy rock band might come a cropper sonically). The two acts I saw on this occasion were served perfectly by the space.
Justin Tracy is a performer with whom I was unfamiliar before I saw he was on the bill for this evening, and did a bit of listening on the intarwebz. The night was actually put on for him by his father (although he generously took the opening slot) as he is based in New York and temporarily on manoeuvres in the UK (I think ‘tour’ would be too strong a word: his website says he is ‘planning an extensive tour for 2011’, but I imagine that will be in support of his forthcoming album Simple Things.)
Justin writes songs that seem to convey a sense of positivity in the face of challenging circumstances, which is to say it’s pretty uplifting stuff, although I have to admit it’s hard to get into detailed literary analysis on the basis of watching one gig. Musically, the material takes some interesting harmonic twists and turns, with successive voicings often relating modally, and has melodies that, while accessible, are not obvious. Not being obvious seems to be his stock in trade, in fact: his guitar playing employs a percussive, rhythmically intricate fingerstyle, very much in the John Martyn school, which decorates and implies the groundbeat as much as laying it down explicitly. His vocal delivery, similarly, is highly melismatic with complex, syncopated phrasing.
This is an approach which requires an exacting degree of technical precision: there was the odd moment when Justin Tracy could be heard to waver on the edge of rhythmic incoherence, but he always pulled it back from the brink. Also impressive were his readings of John Martyn songs (of which he performed a brace). The challenge with that material is to match the incredible dynamic control of the well known recordings, and it’s impossible for the listener not to compare the performance to that very tall yardstick. So, did he play them as well as Martyn recorded them? No, but he played them excellently, and it was a joy to listen to.
In fact, his entire set was a joy to listen to. His voice moved easily between a throaty but gentle natural register and a husky falsetto, and his body language was always that of a man totally engaged in performance. He had a relaxed, but reserved and self-effacing manner that engaged the audience, and a few interesting tales to tell, which he conveyed without rambling, pitching it just right for the crowd.
Wytchazle, on the other hand, I know well, but only in its component parts. Robert Foster I had seen perform once, briefly, as a solo lutenist, while I’ve seen Daisy Windsor performing on many occasions with her previous band The Floozies. Some of their material tonight dated from The Floozies era, with (I guess, I can’t pretend to be an expert) a fair bit of new original material, and a few standards thrown into the mix.
Daisy has been performing an awful lot over the last ten years, and it really shows. I know her voice pretty well, as I’ve recorded her for a track of my own, and since I last heard her sing she’s continued to build on some already solid foundations. She has a smooth, open contralto (actually I’m guessing, but she can go pretty deep) and a notably unaffected delivery with a light vibrato, which can be moving, or just involving, as the material demands. This was always the case, but in timbre, control and phrasing she’s continued to develop, and is singing now better than I’ve ever heard her.
The real eye opener was her reading of the standards that peppered their set. To be a jazz singer requires a particular set of skills. Singers that think it’s just a question of learning a style are easily spotted: they sound as clich├ęd as hell. Singing a standard well requires the performer to inhabit the lyrics, and to bring out their nuances through the controlled application of a wide range of expressive devices; it also requires a great precision of intonation, hitting notes that are sometimes very odd to the ear of someone used to a more diatonic harmonic palette. Daisy’s delivery on standards is noticeably different than on her own material, with a very well judged approach to the use of terminal vibrato in particular. I have to say, she nailed it, and I was surprised, not because I doubted her abilities, but because most decent jazz singers start learning their craft early.
So what does Robert Foster bring to the party? Well, pretty much everything and the kitchen sink! On the night in question he played acoustic and electric guitar, bazouki, banjo and piano. I should start by saying that he’s a proper class act: in terms of technique and musical knowledge he’s a consummate professional, with all the bases covered. Mostly what he does with stringed instruments is to accompany Daisy melodically, while she provides a bedrock of strummed acoustic guitar, although he used his jazz electric to accompany her on one standard, while the piano was principally employed on the standards, while Daisy put her guitar aside to concentrate on singing.
Rob’s guitar playing is fluid and melodically inventive, and he utilises it to produce a cascade of shimmering obbligatos to Daisy’s vocal parts. There were occasions when I felt he could have held back a little, not because he was noodling, but more for the opposite reason: at times there was so much melodic content in his playing that it became the main feature. In the main however, his accompaniment was the epitome of tasteful, supportive embellishment; his right hand tremolo on tenor banjo and bouzouki was employed to great effect.
Daisy’s own material is mainly upbeat in theme, although it ranges from the movingly melancholy to the whimsical, and is very well directed towards the sort of audience that singer songwriters get: people who want to be entertained, but who are willing to do some work themselves, and will listen closely. Her unaffected and totally genuine stage persona is similarly well suited, setting the audience at their ease and getting them on her side before she sings a note.
Between them these two acts provided an evening of very high quality listening, entertaining, engaging, amusing and moving their audience in equal measure. I recommend you grab any chance you get to see them (Justin Tracy in particular, as the opportunities to see him play may be pretty rare).

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Review: Kamikaze Test Pilots - ‘Diaspora’ and ‘Into The Sun’

Into The Sun (2008) self released, 22.4 minutes, £4.74
Diaspora (2010) self released, 23 minutes, £4.74

both available on iTunes
It’s not often I encounter a band that grabs me as immediately as Kamikaze Test Pilots: soul, groove, passion, creativity, imagination and musicianship are just oozing out of both these releases and making a mess of my floor.
This is heavy rock, but it’s a rare brand of rock music that is as eclectic in its reach as I am in my tastes. There’s a lot of funky, bluesy, heavy rock riffing, but there are so many other stylistic elements it’s hard to keep count. On Diaspora ‘The Inmates Have Taken Over The Asylum’ has a death metal chorus, complete with blast beat, tremolo picking, and growl vocals, but the solo is a perfectly crafted, inventive twin-lead melody that reminds me of Brian May. ‘Kenny Rogers (With A Shotgun)’, which follows immediately afterwards is built on a rolling, hammered-on country rock riff, with a jew’s harp twanging away contentedly as though it was featured in metal songs all the time. ‘Chikken’ has funky riffs that would sound at home in a RATM song, and a sneering, angry, funny lyric (which I didn’t quite get, but then I rarely do ‘get’ lyrics). ‘Betterway’ is a deeply moving acoustic number that closes the release, an exile’s lament, whose lyrical intent is unmistakeable when you know that two of the four band members are young migrants from Zimbabwe.
The earlier Into The Sun has an opener (‘Abattoir Jazz’) put together with parts cannibalized from a straightahead swinger, while the amazing ‘Kumusha’ mixes its rock riffery with chimurenga style guitar, and several tracks have strongly punk flavoured moments. So how can all this stylistic diversity be tied together into something that sounds like a band? In theory this should all add up to an unlistenable mess; in practice it sounds entirely coherent, because this is a group of musicians simply letting their enthusiasms guide them, and not letting generic labels stand in the way of a good sound. In other words, it’s not at all contrived: if you artificially hatched a plan to put all those sounds together the result would probably be rubbish, but these two releases sound as though they have come about in a very natural, organic way.
Another reason that it all hangs together so convincingly (and so engagingly) is the consistent guitar sound, which while sometimes pretty damn heavy, sticks to a warm, clear, natural overdrive that is capable of responding beautifully to the demands of the band’s smorgasbord of compositional devices, and is very recognisable across both these releases. The same can be said for the deep grooving bass and drums: funky and propulsive, but with the lightness of touch that’s required to cop some of the wide variety of feels they tackle, the band’s engine room has a locked in sound that is very recognisable as its own.
Perhaps the most distinctive element in the sound is the vocal delivery: warm, throaty, powerful and heartfelt, often (along with the lyrical content) sounding angry, but only in the same way we all get pissed off about shit. That doesn’t tell you what’s distinctive about it, I know, but some things just have to be heard. It’s something in the combination of accent, rhythmic phrasing and modulation of timbre, and you should just follow the link to their page and listen (or better yet, go straight to iTunes and buy it).
Despite the melancholy or anger in some of the tracks, (and let’s face it, where would punk and metal be without a good dose of angry?) the overall feel of this music is totally joyful: you can tell from listening that every gig will be a party, and I’m going to see these boys play live the first chance I get.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Review: The Jim Jims at Twisters Bar in Colchester

I like that special feeling you get sometimes, that a band is playing just for you: The Jim Jims are good at creating an intimate atmosphere, although the impression was aided by the fact that there were only five of us listening for most of their two sets! A heroic struggle through trying circumstances is probably the best way to sum up the evening…
Twisters Bar put their bands on in a small area of floorspace, separated from the bar only by the route to the men’s toilet, and facing onto the main thoroughfare to the garden: I imagine it felt a bit like busking in a shopping centre. To add insult to injury, there’s a good bit of corner space the bands could play from, which is occupied by a ludicrously grandiose DJ booth. The band were using the house PA, which could charitably be described as a complete heap of shit: the sound was boxy and horribly feedback prone, and the supplied mic stand had to be stopped from spinning uncontrollably through the judicious application of blu-tak and masking tape! (In fact, someone had to go home and get another mic stand because the bar only supplied one: it was an act of great selflessness to come back, rather than pretending to have been taken suddenly ill.)
So how did The Jim Jims respond to the situation? They stood up (about three feet away from their audience, who were backed up against the wall to let smokers go to and from the garden), and did what they do, with their customary good humour and mellow, happy vibes. They play a mixture of bossa, chanson, standards and originals, singing in French and English, with a light but firm groove and sweet harmony. High points for me were ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, and a swinging original in waltz time, titled ‘In The Middle Of The Sea’, but the material was outstanding throughout. Beccy sings with a lovely, smooth timbre and nuanced phrasing, while Vince’s guitar work is a model of restrained, tasteful melodicism, and I enjoyed every minute (even when the ignorant wanker at the bar was trying to steal the show with some shit he was playing on his phone). A very enjoyable and entertaining night out.