Joanna Newsom, London Eventim Apollo

JOANNA NEWSOM
London Eventim Apollo 09/11/15
The elfin American dazzles and wins hearts.

To see Joanna Newsom live is to experience a complex cornucopia of shifting sounds and sudden tempo changes that to the unconverted could seem bewilderingly elaborate.  However, judging by the hushed reverence that greets every song tonight, this is an audience of very intentional listeners.

Starting the final concert of her mini European tour with ‘Bridges & Balloons’ from her debut album  (also featured on the seminal psych/freak folk compilation Golden Apples Of The Sun from way back in 2004) Newsom appears confident and comfortable. The volume at the venue is low, which draws the listener’s ears ever closer to what’s going on and heightens the sense of fragility and sparseness of the overall sound; this in contrast with the intricacies of the music itself.  Moving to piano to play the delicate opening of  ‘Anecdotes’, Newsom is ably assisted by Miribai Peart on violin before changing mid-song to the harp and back again to piano for the closing part.  This dizzying performance is only the first song of many this evening that remain as spellbinding as their studio counterparts. An accomplishment all the more striking given the pared-down band -alongside Peart is one of Newsom’s skilled arrangers, Ryan Francesconi on a variety of stringed instruments, and her brother Pete on percussion and keyboards.

There is little in the way of changes to the lights or backdrop – neither the music nor Newsom’s performance requires it – but her remark to “Put a little more light on the strings” of her harp illustrate the complexity of what she undertakes.  In all, it’s hard to pick out highlights or make criticisms when the level of musicianship and sheer originality of Newsom’s work dazzles throughout. Audience reactions to new songs such as ‘Time, As A Symptom’ and ‘A Pin-Light Bent’ are as enthusiastic as for fan favourites like ‘Have One On Me’ (now much faster and almost jaunty compared to the slower-paced original) and the epic ‘Emily’.

Closing the evening with an encore including ‘Baby Birch’ and ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’, Newsom remains a revered figure to her fans and seems to gain new admirers with every tour and album.  Joanna Newsom inspires what can only be called worship from those that love her unique sound and marvel at the fact that such music exists.  Despite her growing popularity this is one artist who will never be mainstream.

Marc Le Breton
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The Buried Treasure label presents “The Delaware Road”

Radiophonic-esque fun from the ’60s through to ’80s reimagined in sunny Reading


 

The Buried Treasure label presents The Delaware Road
South Street Arts Centre, Reading
November 14th 2015

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Departing South London on a rainy Saturday evening we travelled to Reading for the launch of Buried Treasure’s new compilation, The Delaware Road, at The South Street Arts Centre. Bumping into Jonny Trunk at the parking metre was fortunate as we’d run out of change and, after a battle with an unruly £1 coin which refused to stay inside the machine, we entered the packed room. Promised a night of radiophonics, tape loops, vintage synths and spoken word we braced ourselves for an eight band line up held together by a narrative from Dolly Dolly. Seated at a table under angle poise lamp to one side of the stage for the entirety of the gig and looking for all the world like a broadcast announcer of old he was a revelation, holding the audience captive between acts as the night and story unfolded. Written by Dolly aka David Yates and label manager Alan Gubby, the tale of The Delaware Road is loosely based on two members (“the man” and “the woman”) of a sound studio reminiscent of The Radiophonic Workshop. The clues are all there, the BBC being referred to as “the corporation”, and the tale includes shades of The Stone Tape Theory, the occult, the swinging ’60s, orgies and demonic powers released through sound recorded on copper wire.

The evening was an ambitious production including visuals, smoke and lighting to compliment the soundscapes for the three hour duration. Proceeding chronologically from the late ’60s through to the ’80s, each act soundtracked the period in time perfectly, kicking off with Robin The Fog’s Howlround project of tape loops strung around mic stands, mirroring the early tape experiments of the Workshop. The Twelve Hour Foundation duo tickled us with synth-heavy ditties redolent of the many radio and TV themes produced for the BBC and repopularised by the likes of The Advisory Circle today. Ian Helliwell’s set up consisted of a small pub table crammed with small boxes (I’m sure I saw an alarm clock too) which throbbed and pulsed with all manner of devilish tones as he bent sine waves out of shape, accompanied by his own amazing animations. As the narrative moved into The Swinging ’60s it was the perfect moment for The Dandelion Set’s first public performance, oil wheels revolving and Op-art shirts waving. Despite a technical hitch with the Moog during the first track, a setback which had the crowd cheering once fixed, they didn’t let it phase them and ran through several tracks from their forthcoming album, ‘A Thousand Strands’.

Alan Gubby’s own band, the unpronounceable Revbjelde, produced a stunning set with bow scraped cymbal, metal percussion and lute, unleashing a Wickerman-esque medieval suite for the releasing of spirits. Loose Capacitor paid thrilling homage to the golden age of TV, climaxing with the joyous ‘Theme From Robin’s Nest’ which had part of the crowd clapping along whilst Tim Hill’s sax and FX pedal set up changed musical tack again. Each performer bought a new dimension to the story as images of vintage synths, solarised landscapes, ’70s Britain, Morris dances and electronic components were projected overhead. A compilation of ’70s celebrities flashed by to the glam beat of ‘The Shag’ by Trouble & Strife – Basil Brush, David Essex, Keith Chegwin – ending in Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville to the collective gasp of the audience. As the night and narrative wound to a close we entered the ’80s of “suits”, buttons replacing dials and microchips on the ends of fingers with Robin Lee’s synths perfectly capturing the cheesy “business funk” of many library albums of the era. Finishing with a second set from Revbjelde, this time accompanied by Tim Hill, the band closed with a storming rendition of ‘Tidworth Drum’ from the new compilation to huge applause and a heartfelt thanks from Alan, surprised at such a turnout for such an esoteric event. It was presented with such love and care that it felt like a family occasion where the label had found a common ground amongst its roster – so far a mix of reissues and original material – that pointed the way forward. All in all a genuinely unique night with many unknown names now firmly lodged in the subconscious, seek out the compilation and keep an eye on the Buried Treasure label, still not even up to their tenth release.

Kevin Foakes

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Dungen, Rough Trade East

Dungen
London Rough Trade East
03/11/15


 

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Stockholm’s Dungen have quietly been making some of the best psych-influenced albums of modern times (no word of a lie). Despite a recent and well-received US tour, it’s somewhat shocking to see that their only UK date in almost five years is an in-store promotion event for their latest opus Allas Sak.  Appearing on stage they spend a little time setting up, joking with the audience “meanwhile you can shop for records in the dark” before launching into ‘Åkt Dit’. The remarkable elements of their recordings are preserved here: the wonderful harmonies, lolloping bassline and groovesome drumming giving everything a hazy sheen.

It’s clear from the off that although lead vocalist and all-round instrumentalist Gustav Ejstes has been the driving force in the past, the band now sound more solid and their individual influences intermingle effectively.  Long-term Bassist Mattias Gustavsson and drummer Johan Holmegard are, to coin a phrase, tight but loose but tight. Also, did I mention that guitarist Reine Fiske is probably one of the greatest lead guitarists on the circuit right now?  If you want to hear the power and inventiveness of Hendrix crossed with the precision and virtuosity of Jeff Beck, or you just want to hear a guitarist with great tone and the chops to match – Fiske’s yer man.

The almost acoustic ‘Sister Festen’ is followed up by the serene ‘Sista Gästen’, each one seemingly formulated to put a smile on the face of even the most cynical of punters.  Ejstes switches flawlessly between keyboard, acoustic guitar and a variety of flute and woodwind instruments.  Even an abandoned cover of an Aphex Twin tune can’t lessen the sense of musical euphoria Dungen produce; nor are they afraid to keep things merely instrumental as an airing of ‘Franks Kaktus’ lush soundscape proves – check out the hilarious video for this one online!

The finale of the short set includes a sublime reading of ‘Sova’, before hurtling headlong into a fiery ‘Gör Det Nu’, dispelling the notion that they’re only masters of the mellow.  However, just as the house lights go on, they huddle together and decide to finish with a stunning rendition of ‘Du E För Fin För Mig’ from their majestic third LP Ta Det Lugnt.  Fiske’s guitar work on the outro is even reminiscent of fellow psychedelic Stockholmers’ Baby Grandmothers at their most ferocious. It’s a wonderfully crunchy end to the proceedings and leaves the crowd with baited breath for the next visit to these shores.  Hopefully it won’t be another five years wait!

Marc Le Breton

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SEXWITCH – London, XOYO

Bat For Lashes’ Natasha Khan and Toy join forces to tackle Persian psych-funk and Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence


SEXWITCH
London XOYO 29/09/15

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It’s a full house tonight in this fashionably dingy basement venue, the crowd awaiting a show from the unique collaboration that is Bat For Lashes driving force, Natasha Khan, record label owner/producer Dan Carey and psych-musical polymaths Toy.  With only one live appearance to date as surprise guests at the Green Man Festival, it’s intriguing to hear what is essentially a carefully curated set of covers (albeit given an illuminating transfiguration in the studio environs) given the live treatment.

The band start with album opener ‘Ghoroobaa Ghashangan’ and the sense of dark forboding that underpins the recorded material is immediately present  – “Our love has passed away, too disentangled to exist…”. The slinkiness of the bass-centric groove works to provide a solid rhythmic platform for Khan to tune into the occasion.  The stage is bathed in a crepuscular blue, red and purple light and gives the impression that this is more of a gothic twilight ceremony than just a gig going on here.

‘Ha Howa Ha Howa’ takes the music further down the rabbit hole into a musical chasm of the band’s making.  A key factor in this being Dan Carey’s use of the Swarmathon, a strange wooden encased electronic instrument that Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) once described as “a spider web of cables, soldering and madness”.  It seems to be the backbone for most of their tunes with a trademark “dual notes interweaving” sound.  This alongside the band’s capability to supply a motoriklike drive, provides Khan with the perfect backdrop to let loose with her voice, often restrained within her more famous material.  Khan has described the process of recording vocals for the SEXWITCH project as “like a voodoo exorcism” and it certainly seems that some kind of possession of her body and soul has taken place.  In contrast, between songs, Khan is all smiles laughing to herself and telling the audience “I need to calm down!” 

‘Helelyos’ continues to entrance both singer and crowd; the stage lights  fusing with the performance and Khan’s evoking of the incantational aspects of the lyrics, transforming Zia’s original (as found on Finders Keepers’ Persian psych-funk compilation Pomegranates) into a journey through the heart of darkness, ambiguous and all the more unsettling for it. A cover of Skip Spence’s ‘War In Peace’ followed by an airing of the pre-album collaboration that started it all ‘Aroos Khanom’ (The Bride) and the vocals continue to become impassioned and tumultuous  – “Now my heart is beating in my chest, no one to confide in!” – the Swarmathon swells and the band keep their heads whilst the sonics continue to whirl through the night.

‘Kassidat El Hakka’ (roughly translated from the Moroccan source as ‘the Poem Of The Truth’) is central to the SEXWITCH sound and it’s no surprise that they finish the set with it. It’s a pulsing, relentless spine-chiller that leads Khan to shake and scream before appearing to be overpowered by the sledgehammer nature of the cacophony being created behind her. Overall, it’s an incredibly interesting diversion for all involved  – here’s hoping that there’s more to come.

Marc Le Breton

You can stream the album here

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Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz

You what? Miley in Shindig! Well, yes. The one time Hannah Montana has been getting very “off it” with The Flaming Lips and a host of fried guests including Ariel Pink. This is the result. 


MILEY CYRUS & HER DEAD PETZ
Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz
Smily Miley Inc.

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It’d be easy to write off Miley Cyrus. She’s a former child star known primarily for scandalous behavior. How could anyone possibly take her music seriously? Admittedly, I didn’t until Cyrus and a friend visited the shop where I work. I watched as they spent 45 minutes pouring over every record in the place. In the end, Miley walked away with an impressive stack of vinyl, including copies of White Light/White Heat, Unknown Pleasures and The Madcap Laughs. I wondered at the time, will these records rub off on her music? Now that I’ve heard Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz I’m certain they have. Actually, I believe Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips has probably had the biggest influence on Cyrus’ new music. His freaky presence is all over the new album.

The very idea of Miley and Wayne working together entices me. Both seem so adventurous and freaky, what could they possibly achieve together? I’m pleased to say, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is a powerful declaration of personal independence and artistic ambition. At 23 years of age there hasn’t been enough time for Cyrus to grasp or assimilate much of rock’s rich tapestry, yet by aligning herself with Coyne she’s tapped directly into The Flaming Lips’ sense of limitless musical possibilities. On the album there’s a feeling the songs are being created spontaneously, yet once they sink in its obvious craft is involved. The lyrics often seem like random streams of thought, but they add up to something meaningful, or at least it feels that way, which is important. Stylistically, there are no boundaries, and of course, this makes it difficult to characterize the music. “Psychedelic” is the word that keeps coming to my mind, but I’m not sure some Shindiggers will hear it that way. For many of you (but not all) it won’t be possible to transcend the retrogressive aesthetic. That’s too bad, really, because Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz is definitely a trip worth taking.

Ric Menck

Stream the album here

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