A Window and A Mirror – Bob Mould LP review

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The plan for this post had been to round up some recent LPs in fairly short order but on reflection I think this one at least stands on its own.

‘Beauty & Ruin’ is the new LP from Bob Mould and the second that he has recorded with his regular live band of Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster.

With 12 songs in 36 minutes ‘Beauty & Ruin’ features some of Bob’s shortest songs in ages and, as a solo artist, he has never sounded as much like Hüsker Dü as he does on the likes of the ‘Little Glass Pill’ or ‘Hey Mr. Grey’.

So unquestionably ‘Beauty & Ruin’ delivers the joy of hearing Bob going at it at electric full tilt with none of the electronic distractions that many of his 21st century LPs have included.

But there’s something familiar about the record, which frankly is all but inevitable after such a long career.

There’s been some debate in Bob fandom as to the relative merits of ‘Beauty & Ruin’ and previous LP ‘Silver Age’ with opinion seemingly split. For my money, I appreciate the direct approach of B&R a bit more but feel that the songs on ‘Silver Age’ were just a little bit better.

Still when there’s songs as good as ‘Fire In The City’, the very Sugar sounding ‘I Don’t Know You Any More’ and the aforementioned ‘Little Glass Pill’, then I’ve got nothing to complain about.

Bob and the band have just announced a short European tour for November. Although there’s only 4 UK dates, there is a Glasgow date not long after my birthday (celebrate!). And the Leeds date looks pretty darn tempting as well…

Full dates

November 6 – Berlin, GER @ Bi-Nuu Tickets

November 7 – Cologne, GER @ Gebaüde 9 Tickets

November 8 – Weissenhäuser Strand, GER @ Rolling Stone Weekender Tickets

November 10 – Amsterdam, NLD @ Paradiso North Tickets

November 11 – Luxembourg, LUX @ Rockhal Tickets

November 12 – Leuven, BEL @ Het Depot Tickets

November 14 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Tickets

November 15 – Glasgow, UK @ Oran Mor Tickets

November 17 – Bristol, UK @ The Fleece Tickets

November 18 – London, UK @ Village Underground Tickets

‘Beauty & Ruin’ is available now on Merge Records.

Peak Performance – Wozniak live

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Wozniak

Wozniak / Our Smallest Adventures / Gigantic Leaves – Opium, Edinburgh – 28th June 2014

I’ve had loads to do today so I’ve only had time for a brief report on last night’s Wozniak E.P. launch.

It was my first time at Opium but I was impressed with it as a space for seeing bands. Good sound, good sight lines and a decent sized stage make it an excellent micro venue.

Wozniak were the obvious attraction but it turned out to be a varied and enjoyable bill.

First off the headliners, though. It’s remarkable how far they’ve come since their first gig just a year ago with a single and the brilliant new E.P. ‘Pikes Peak’. But until they get round to releasing an album the way to experience Wozniak at their best is unquestionably  in the flesh.

First off all you are confronted by the sheer physicality of their live sound. Wozniak can be quite epic and, just as often, pummeling.

Most importantly the live sets display the breadth of their repertoire not all of which has made it to record yet. At their most accessible there’s ‘Ground Echo’ which is at heart a dance number with its perky guitar lead and shiny electronics. At the other end of the scale there’s the brooding magnificence of ‘El Maresme’ and the hard riffing of the penultimate number.

Wozniak pretty much cover every point in between but neatly avoid both simple categorisation and the problem that some instrumental bands have in differentiating between the tunes. Woznziak’s tunes not only all have their own characters but are also pretty much all great even if a special mention has to go the explosive ‘Kreuzberg’, the lynchpin of this particular set.

This was the third time I’ve seen them live and it was undoubtedly the best. Wozniak are without doubt a cracking live proposition.

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Our Smallest Adventures

Our Smallest Adventures hail from Fife and deal in epic post rock very much in the vein of Godspeed. It’s the first time that I’ve seen them but I enjoyed their four song set a lot. A six piece, there’s a lot going on with cello, violin, two guitars and the occasional keyboard. The only disappointment was that, at times, the cello and second guitar got a little lost in the mix but I’d certainly like to see them again.

Gigantic Leaves

Gigantic Leaves

The show had been opened by Gigantic Leaves who rocked like it was 1993. They certainly weren’t a bad way to spend half an hour but the vocals seemed to be mixed ridiculously low and that did make it harder to distinguish between the tunes.

 

The Winds That Sing – The Phantom Band LP review

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As much as I love the Phantom Band their two LPs to date haven’t quite delivered everything that I’d hoped for.

Debut ‘Checkmate Savage’ certainly has some of their very best tunes but it’s also a little uneven at times. Sophomore LP ‘The Wants’ is a more consistent record but the second side of that record perhaps doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first half .

It gives me great pleasure therefore to be able to report that third LP ‘Strange Friend’ is the one where it all comes together.

In a way, rather strangely, ‘SF’ is something of an understated record. The odd flourish aside (for example the crashing guitars midway through ‘Doom Patrol’) it’s rarely attention grabbing. Indeed initially I wondered if it really lived up to the rave reviews it was receiving.

Often the easiest way into a record for me is through a handful of stand-out tracks which draw you in to the rest of the record. But ‘Strange Friend’ doesn’t offer that option – there are no stand-out tracks. More often than not that means that an album’s just not up to scratch. But not in this case because ‘Strange Friend’ is that rare record on which pretty much everything is as great as everything else.

For that reason I think it’s a record that you need to invest a little time in initially. But, boy, that pays rich rewards.

Because once you’ve scratched the surface not only do the differences between the songs get drawn out but the strength (and durability) of the melodies become clear. These are songs that not only bear, but insist on, repeated listens.

‘The Wind That Cried The World’ with its soaring, wordless chorus is probably the obvious single choice thanks its clarity of purpose. But there’s nothing quite like it elsewhere on the album.

But then that can be said too of the insistent electro dance stylings of ‘Women of  Ghent’ or the rhythmic clatter of ‘Galagapos’ or the lively lead guitar on ‘Sweatbox’ or … Well, you get my point.

The slower tracks deserve a mention too. ‘No Shoes Blues’ is lovely building from a downbeat intro before , whilst ‘(Invisible) Friends’ is every bit as good.

The largely acoustic ‘Atacama’ does stand a little apart from the rest of the record. But even if it sounds almost more like something from the Rick Redbeard solo album ultimately it belongs to an established Phantoms tradition of stripped back tunes such as ‘Island’ and ‘Come Away In The Dark’.

More than any Phantoms album to date, the keyboards are critical to the songs. There’s an 80s feel to some of these sounds which recall early 80s Simple Minds on he likes of ‘Sweatbox’ and, most notably, on the melody which accounts for half of the chorus on ‘Doom Patrol’.

There’s plenty of other reasons to love this record. ‘Strange Friend’ probably features Rick’s best vocal performances for the band with each and every one pitched perfectly for the songs and it’s those performances which invest the record with its emotional resonance. But there’s also the subtle little touches throughout, such as the brass towards the end of  ‘No Shoe Blues’ or the Prince-esque solo towards the end of ‘Sweatbox’ ,which confirm the band’s reputation for invention.

But perhaps what says it best for me is that it’s the first album in ages that’s been on repeat – again and again – even when there’s other excellent new stuff to be heard.

To the point then – ‘Strange Friend’ is a record that will keep rewarding you with every play and, even at this relatively early stage, I’m certain that anything that beats it for album of the year is going to have to be very special indeed.

‘Strange Friend’ is available from all good record shops or online from Chemikal Underground.

Can’t Live Without It – Bob Mould video

To buy me a little time to make sure that my Phantom Band review pays the record appropriate respects, but also to mark the arrival of the new LP ‘Beauty & Ruin’ (and t-shirt) in the post today, above is the video for Bob Mould’s ‘I Don’t Know You Anymore’ from the new album.

Volume, Distortion and Reverb – Wozniak interview

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Last week Edinburgh’s Wozniak released their debut E.P. ‘Pikes Peak’ on Morningside Young Team Records and for my money it’s right up there with the best records of the year to date.

Whilst the band describe themselves as shoegaze there’s a lot more to their repertoire than the original 90s concept. Which is, perhaps, to these ears a good thing as. whisper it, I don’t have an awful lot of shoegaze in the collection.

For me shoegzae at its purest was about dreamy vocals breathing amongst a wash of guitars. Wozniak do a bit of that, certainly, but there’s an awful lot more going on than that and ‘Pikes Peak’ is proof of that.

Lead track ‘El Maresme’ (exclusively previewed on MPT a few weeks back) is the only song on the E.P.  to follow that traditional template. In fact it’s the only tune with vocals in the record at all. Even at that though Sarah’s singing is almost subliminal against a brooding giant of a song.

‘Paper Hat’ is altogether a lighter prospect- its guitar lead bringing to mind the jauntier side of Mogwai’s recent albums, infused at the same time with something of a dance sensibility.

‘Kreuzberg’ returns to the band’s moodier side, the insistent guitars aiming this time for tension through repetition whilst background feedback lends the song a disturbing air.

‘Colombo’s Car’ demonstrates the band’s heavier size with its fuzz laden bass providing the impetus for the more melodic lead. E.P. closer ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ is something different again – a feedback symphony the pitch of which is modulated to unsettling effect.

Ahead of two launch gigs in Glasgow (Friday 20th) and Edinburgh (Saturday 28th),guitar maestro and effects pedal fetishist Simon Cuthbert-Kerr talked to MPT about …

MPT: How do you approach the band – do you have any particular aims you’d like to achieve? And what sort of dreams do you have about what might, just might, happen to/for the band?

SCK: “Well, Wozniak’s first and foremost about getting together to make a huge racket and play with pedals, so we try to make sure that happens.

“Beyond that though, we do want to feel like we’re moving forward, so we went from rehearsing, to playing some gigs, to putting out a single and now the EP’s out. We’re working on a few new songs at the moment which is always good for keeping things fresh.

“I think we’re all alive to how rare it is to make a living at music now so we don’t have ridiculous dreams of champagne and stadium tours, but certainly 50 per cent of us are dreaming of a support slot with Slowdive. Make it happen, people!

“Failing that, it would be good to play a few festivals, so that’s one of our plans for next summer – it’s long-term planning!”

How hard is it to get a band noticed these days? And how do you manage it?

“I’m sure it a bit of a truism, but the internet has made it so much easier. Blogs, social media and internet radio stations are all legitimate ways to connect and promote music and to build both an audience and a connection with other like-minded people, and I think we’ve really made use of those routes. We’ve had lots of really positive support from blogs across the globe (although Manic Pop Thrills was there first!), and have had lots of exposure on internet radio stations. Although ‘Pikes Peak’ is only our second release, I feel that Wozniak is part of a community of people who are into shoegaze, psych and post-rock.

“That said, band promotion is still hard work. Most of Wozniak’s PR stuff is done by Sarah, who is a communications professional and so seems to know what she’s doing! We’ve worked really hard to get the word out about ‘Pikes Peak’, and it’s not something that has just happened by accident.

“Whenever we get some coverage by a blog or a station plays us, we’re always grateful – there are loads of bands out there, and everyone has the same routes to make contact, so it’s still very gratifying for someone to take the time to write about us or play us or ask us for our views on stuff.

“So we take it seriously and also try to pay it back by sharing stuff and doing our bit to support other people.

“We also ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise some funds for recording the EP, and it was really amazing to make the target. That also helped us to make some connections to people, and for people to have been willing to pay up front to help us out was absolutely incredible.”

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How much of a challenge is to get gigs outside of Edinburgh?

“It varies. I suppose the more traditional way of doing gigs (eg, sending your music off to big name promoters and asking for support slots) is still pretty hit-or-miss: especially if you’re a fairly small band, it’s tricky to get picked up.

“On the other hand, there are loads of people putting on their own gigs these days, and so that has made it easier to get out to other places – in particular, people like Andy at the Cool Cat Club in Dundee and Kenny at Goop Shop in Glasgow are playing a really important role in making sure that bands get opportunities to play that don’t require them to beg to be bottom of the bill on a Monday night supporting a band who the NME might have mentioned once in passing.

“Since starting, we’ve made lots of connections with other bands and promoters and that’s led to invitations to play in various places, which is always fun. In return, we promote gigs through Morningside Young Team and like to bring bands to Edinburgh who we like but who might otherwise not get the chance to play there.”

Describe in one sentence (ish) what it’s like to be on stage with Wozniak.

“In my case, sweaty (sorry everyone…). Here’s a proper answer: loud, intense, exciting, a bit nerve-wracking (particularly in case of technical malfunctions) and good fun.”

If there was one frustration about MFMB/New Hampshire it was that it only told a fraction of the Wozniak story. How far do you think that the new E.P. fills in (some of) the blanks?

“The two songs on the single were some of the earliest tracks we did together as a band, and I think they’re a fair statement of where we were then.

“We’ve developed since they were recorded, and I think that shows on the tracks on ‘Pikes Peak’, where the songwriting is maybe a bit more complex and we did some more playing about with what you can do in the studio. I think the underlying approach is still the same, and we’re drawing on the same kinds of influences and trying to make the same sort of music, but it’s definitely a more developed sound.

“Of all the songs on the EP, I’m most surprised by how ‘Paper Hat’ turned out – that’s a song that we played at our first ever gig, but the recorded version is pretty different, with a bit more of a laid-back feel than the live version. I’m also very happy with ‘El Maresme’ – it’s amazing what you can achieve with two chords, some effects pedals and a fantastic rhythm section! We’ve also developed in that the EP features piano, played pretty much on the spot by James.”

Did you have anything specific musically you were aiming for with the new E.P.?

“Not really – we wanted to make sure that we represented the songs as well as we could. We were also keen to record some of our longer songs after the single, which was (for us, at least) fairly accessible and straightforward. There were a couple of musical touchstones that we used consistently throughout the sessions – volume, distortion and reverb!

“Listening back to the EP now, I think there is a consistent mood, and while that wasn’t necessarily deliberate it does seem to have been an undercurrent.”

What have you planned to mark the release of the E.P.?

“As well as a media barrage, co-ordinated by Sarah, our very own Director of Communications, we’ve a couple of launch gigs organised. We’re playing the 13th Note in Glasgow on 20 June with We Came From The North and Inuit, and then on 28 June we’re back in Edinburgh to play Opium with Gigantic Leaves and Our Smallest Adventures.”

And once that’s out of the way what next for Wozniak?

“We’ve got a few ideas for getting back into the studio, with a bit of a plan forming for how we might release the next songs. We’d also like to get more gigs arranged, particularly out of Scotland. We’ve all been so busy recently that we’ve had to turn down a couple of opportunities, so hopefully we can get a few things organised. We’re also just about to start planning our Christmas gig, too!”

You’re just back from Primavera in Barcelona – what were the highlights of that? And how many other Scottish indie bands did you trip over? ;-)

“Yeah, we bumped into one or two faces from the scene!

“The highlight for me was seeing Slowdive – I didn’t manage to see them at all the first time round, so I was super-excited to see them, and they absolutely lived up to my expectations. Godspeed You Black Emperor were also reliably immense, and a band from Chile called Follakzoid were also great.

“Lots to, ahem, borrow from those three bands. We also managed to meet Kim Gordon, Mick Harvey and Warpaint, so it was pretty good fun.”

You can buy the E.P. here. And to help persuade you that you should here’s the video for ‘El Maresme':

 

Watch Where You Tread – Roy Moller LP review

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Roy Moller was pretty much a new name to me when a promo CD arrived from Stereogram for his new L.P. ‘One Domino’. However his past credits include a number of  solo LPs as well as collaborations with the likes of Edinburgh legend Davy Henderson and Stevie Jackson of Belle & Sebastian.

It’s fair to say that the Henderson link throws more light on the contents of ‘One Domino’ than B&S. But for my money the only other Stereogram act that I’m aware of, the Cathode Ray, are a much better starting point because ‘One Domino’ isn’t that far removed the Cathode Ray’s avowed manifesto of melding the rock and dance music of late 1970’s New York.

As a consequence there’s ample pleasures to be found within the album’s 11 songs.

Some of the links to late` 70s NYC are more obvious than others. There’s the scuffed magnificence of the guitars on ‘Street Oblique’ and the pounding disco of ‘Edinburgh City Control’. But the album also wanders down some less well travelled back streets in particular the new wave C&W of the title track which closes the album. Or for that matter the peculiar cut-up instrumental ‘A Glorious Sunset Mistaken For Dawn’. It’s fair to say that ‘One Domino’ covers a lot of ground.

One constant throughout is the nagging melodies exemplified on the likes of the opening ‘Honey Berlin’ and ‘Where I Am Is Here’.

‘One Domino’ may not (thankfully!) boast a polished sound but it’s unquestionably an accomplished  record.