Artist: School of Seven Bells
Venue: Scala (King’s Cross, London)
Date: Tuesday 20th July, 2010
Dream pop architects School of Seven Bells are almost defiantly niche in their style. The casual listener must work hard to wade through the electro-Spector productions of new album Disconnect From Desire (and its slightly more lo-fi predecessor Alpinisms) to share in the adoration the band receive from its growing following. Those already on the inside could have been forgiven feelings of anxiousness while awaiting the band’s arrival on stage at London’s Scala last night. On record the band posses an enviable mix of cutting edge (subtle, guitar-infused electro) and mystique (alluring twin sister harmonies, abstract lyrics), and the uneasy mood in the audience concerned how successfully this mix could be recreated live. However, as opening track Half Asleep crashed in to being, the capacity crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief as it became clear that these elements were not purely the result of studio trickery. With the addition of a live drummer to the keyboard/drum machine/guitars combination of Benjamin Curtis and twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, the band reproduced selected tracks from both releases, often walking the fine line between static electronica ensemble and edgy indie guitar band while doing so. Movement and interaction was minimal, although they were clearly enjoying themselves, with smiles replacing the anticipated pretentious scowl. With a style regularly described as ethereal, and occasionally as a less-organic Stereolab, the band made their way through other favourites such as the livelier My Cabal, and the extended, building encore of Chain. Less established tracks from Disconnect From Desire blended in perfectly with previous material, almost to the point of monotony, and the freshness of the album’s release (just a week prior to this performance) didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm as they cheered the intro to new song Windstorm. Both Deheza sisters exuded a mesmerising and sultry presence, Claudia from behind keyboards backing up the lead vocals of Alejandra, both glued together by the sweeping guitar textures of former Secret Machines member Benjamin Curtis. The repetitive nature of the performance was evident; many songs were of similar tempo, with comparable floating vocal melodies and synthesiser pad layers. However this is in keeping with the concept of School of Seven Bells, a concept that was fully (and ethereally) realised on stage at Scala.
Artist: Four Tet
Title: There is Love in You
Released: 25th January, 2010
Kieran Hebden is back with another slice of ‘organic’ electronica. This time around however, the twisted samples are perched atop a more consistent dance rhythm, influenced by a recent residency at London club Plastic People. “[They] gave me a monthly thing…I was there throughout the whole making of the record,” Hebden explains in a recent Pitchfork interview, “I worked on the tracks so they sounded as good as possible in there.” Opener Angel Echoes combines sliced up vocal snippets with eastern guitars, while the lengthy Love Cry is the closest descendant of previous Four Tet work, a melee of note-repeat samples over a driving break beat. “Love Cry was the first track I did,” explains Hebden, “I wanted to make something that was for the night.” Standout track, Circling, is classic Four Tet, a hypnotic piece with harmonising guitars that build to a satisfying conclusion.
Overall a proficient and progressive effort that grows stronger with each listen.
Kieran Hebden interview taken from Pitchfork, 18/01/10:
Artist: Massive Attack
Released: 8th February 2010
After a typically long break, the Bristol collective are back with new album Heligoland. We think it was worth the wait…
So what do we already know about Massive Attack? They are notoriously slow workers, have a penchant for recreational drugs, made some of the most era-defining music of the ‘90s etc. Well now, after a long wait, there’s new material to discuss.
Stripped down to just two core members (producer/vocalists Robert “3D” Del Naja and Grant Marshall), Massive Attack once again employ a host of competent guest singers to voice Heligoland, the group’s first album since the paranoid dirge of 2003’s 100th Window. Frequent collaborator Neil Davidge (who worked with the band on Mezzanine) again handles co-production.
Opening track Pray For Rain sees TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe slide effortlessly over rolling drums and menacing piano, an understated vocal that doesn’t suffer from its exposed position in the mix. Adebimpe sets a standard that is well met by the guest vocalists that follow, a list that includes long-time collaborators Martina Topley Bird and Horace Andy, alongside Damon Albarn, Hope Sandoval, and Elbow’s Guy Garvey.
Reggae legend Andy is back on form, adding his spooky, wavering falsetto to Girl I Love You, a track driven by a rumbling bass line reminiscent of Mezzanine’s Angel. He also contributes to Splitting The Atom, which was made available as a download and EP of last year. The only time Del Naja and Marshall trade verses on the same track, the gloom-laden Splitting The Atom is a loping skank that both pleases and disturbs. Andy’s delicately sung chorus evokes the reassuring wisdom of the older man, imploring “it’s easy, don’t let it go, don’t lose it”. The paranoia often found dripping from the group’s lyrics is back (“it’s getting colder outside your rented space, they shadow box and they paper chase”), offset by a healthy dose of political observation (“the jobless return, the bankers have bailed”).
Of the new collaborators, Albarn’s voice is perhaps the most natural fit to the Massive Attack sound. Saturday Come Slow finds the ex-Blur man in an introspective mood; his voice sounding like it might shatter into a thousand fragments as he pleads the song’s title phrase over subtle guitar work from Portishead’s Adrian Utley. Albarn also claims keys and synth credits on the album, recorded during sessions referred to by the group as very structured and intense. Albarn allegedly did not want to be “dragged in to a Bristol time-warp for two years”.
Flat Of The Blade, with a decent performance from Guy Garvey, is a good example of the instigator becoming the inspired; the track would not have sounded out of place in an Amnesiac-era Radiohead set. Other highlights include the Topley Bird-vocalised Psyche, a hypnotic guitar riff supporting some of the album’s most obscure lyrics, and Paradise Circus with former Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval. The group’s affinity with this track in particular is obvious from the attention it receives on the Heligoland Remixes EP, also available with the Deluxe Edition of the album.
Heligoland is not a huge departure from the ‘classic’ Massive Attack sound of the ‘90s, with a sufficient amount of contemporary tweaks and touches to bring it up-to-date, and it is this that is the overriding factor of the album’s success.
A pleasing start to a promising year of releases.
Damon Albarn quote from interview with Robert Del Naja on BBC 6 Music News, 25/01/10:
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
The Jazz Café, Camden.
22nd January 2010.
Virgins to the live experience that is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry may have been expecting a competent, if slightly shaky, run through of a vast back catalogue. The Upsetter’s regular followers, however, will know better.
Perry’s backing band tonight is made up of tight yet expressive reggae performers, the eldest of which must be half the singer’s age. During an instrumental medley of reggae hits, the dub veteran appears, ambling his way to the stage. Upon arrival he leads what seems to be an exercise workout, encouraging the audience to “touch your toes”. As the set goes on he spouts similar ramblings (“I don't exercise any more, I just sexercise”), alongside comical toasting, joyful singing, and energetic movement that belies his 73 years. He plays no recognisable songs, but regularly digs in to a suitcase he has dragged onstage with him, producing a range of novelty hats. The varied crowd cheer adoringly as Perry makes his way back offstage, flashes of bright red hair the last we see of him tonight.
Tel: 0207 485 6834
The African Soul Rebels tour, 2010.
The Anvil Arts Centre, Basingtstoke.
24th February, 2010.
There is currently a healthy number of high-quality ‘world’ music events held annually in the UK, and many can be traced back to enthusiastic promoters Music Beyond The Mainstream…
Cold, Wednesday night rain was falling on Basingstoke, a town famous for its abundance of roundabouts (and little else). Inside the modest Anvil Arts Centre however, the temperature was rising as the stars of the 2010 African Soul Rebels tour took to the stage. Now in its 6th year, the tour is the brainchild of Music Beyond the Mainstream, an organization set up by a conglomerate of venues devoted to presenting innovative and exciting music from around the world. Previous Soul Rebels shows have seen such prestigious artists as Baaba Maal, Amadou & Mariam and Femi Kuti take to the stage before delighted audiences. This year’s tour includes a real gem in the form of Malian chanteuse Oumou Sangare, the true star of the night’s performance, and the main attraction for the 350-odd crowd of seasoned music fans.
That is to take nothing away from the night’s opening act, Benin’s evergreen Afro-funk masters Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, who took to the stage one after another amid a flurry of drums and applause. Then followed 45 minutes of near faultless rhythmic interplay between the 10-strong lineup, reminding everyone of why the band were feared by the great Fela Kuti in their ‘60s heyday. Bandleader Mélomé Clément strutted about the stage, taking control of the vocals, or blowing solos from his alto. The players behind him danced playfully in a manner belying their advancing years, especially during more raucous moments such as crowd favourite Gbeti Madjro. However, despite the energy it felt as if the band were uncomfortable in the formal setting of the theatre as opposed to the more interactive clubs and dances their music was born in to. This could be the reason behind a recent review in The Guardian of the tour’s Barbican show, in which the band was accused of lacking luster, a description that appeared invalid at the Anvil.
Certainly lacking in luster however, was the night’s second act, Warrick Sony’s Kalahari Surfers. During a short interval the various horns, percussion and guitars were replaced by FX units and a laptop, behind which stood Sony (with guitar attached) and Johannesburg-based reggae vocalist Teba Shumba. Sony’s anti-establishment stance as a white man in South Africa has been widely publicised in his homeland since his arrival on the music scene in the early ‘80s. His lyrics, performed over dub-infused electronica, are heavily political, such as with the attack on the South African bourgeoisie, Durban Poison. Here Sony and Shumba traded lines of vocal in a bilingual cal-and-response over a brooding beat, one that often drowned out some of the key lyrical moments. This track was a rare highlight in an otherwise disappointing performance, one that promised an electronica-tinged ‘world’ sound typified by acts such as Transglobal Underground, yet delivered a concept with unrealised potential. Sony’s guitar playing was loose, intrusive, and largely unnecessary, while Shumba’s vocals struggled to find a place amid the synthesisers and drum machines. The mood was considerably darkened after the upbeat Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo, and although the songs of Kalahari Surfers contained many thought-provoking messages, these were lost beneath the failings of their execution. Warrick Sony appears to have hit the age-old stumbling block of how to perform electronic-based music live on stage, falling half-heartedly between the two existing methods of fully live band and fully digital DJ.
Perhaps the thinking behind positioning the static and plodding Kalahari Surfers in the middle of the bill was to accentuate the sheer profundity and joy in witnessing headliner Oumou Sangare. The contrast between the two could hardly have been greater, and as her bare-footed backing singers followed the band on stage, rhythmically tossing up in to the air and catching some variety of bead-covered percussion instrument, the crowd seemed to be stirred back to life. An energetic djembe player led the crowd in a stadium-rock style handclap, as the band began to construct a building rhythm, with the percussion, drums and guitars, joined by the ever-delightful kora. As the rhythmic intro began to plateau in to the opening song, Sangare appeared. Dressed in a flowing yellow dress, the reigning Queen of African Soul proceeded in wasting no time in justifying that title, with songs such as Sounsoumba showing off her impressive yet naturally understated vocal abilities. On slower numbers, such as the emotional Sukunyali, Sangare prowled the stage majestically like a lioness, commanding every inch of space that her microphone cable would allow. Her particular Malian flavour of Afro-soul is similar to that of her compatriot, fellow Music Beyond the Mainstream favourite Rokia Traoré. But it is Sangare who has rightfully inherited the thrown following the death of previous ‘Mama Africa’, Miriam Makeba. As a young girl, Sangare followed her mother in to singing, performing at weddings and soon becoming fiercely in-demand. In 1989, after years of performing with the National Ensemble of Mali, she released her solo début, Moussoula, a personal record dealing with the mistreatment of women in her country. It was on this subject that Sangare decided, in halting English, to discuss with the Anvil audience. She described the pain of forced marriage and inequality, before performing the album’s title track to an appreciative reception. Aside from Moussoula, most of the set consisted of material from last year’s Seya, an album that sold 80,000 copies in Mali just 4 days after its release. Sangare enchanted the audience with her mastery of performance on songs such as Djigui, and served as a powerful matriarchal bandleader, chastising her musicians James Brown-style if they failed to begin a song immediately on her instruction. Aside from this, her band performed immaculately, and the audience was treated to a virtuosic display of explosive dancing from her backing singers during rhythmical breaks, each one drawing a rousing cheer. As the set flew towards its conclusion, Sangare informed the crowd that it wasn’t just Mali performing for them tonight, but the whole of Africa. On this cue, every member of the night’s previous bands appeared, picking up various percussion instruments and guitars, and joining in on an extended version of standout Seya track, Wele Wele Wintou. Sangare remained in control, instructing the singers, and occasionally bringing various members forward to solo. After a final building climax of the song’s chorus, the performance was over, and the musicians humbly bowed their way offstage to euphoric applause. Music Beyond the Mainstream continue to bring together exceptional talents from across the globe, and, as proved by the African Soul Rebels tour, an abundance of it can be found on the world’s poorest continent. More like this for 2011 please!
The Anvil Arts Centre,
Basingstoke RG21 7QR
Tel: 01256 844244
Music Beyond The Mainstream
Tel: 01845 574345
Artist: Julian Casablancas
Title: Phrazes for the Young
Label: Rough Trade
Released: 30th October 2009
The Strokes’ front man drops disappointing solo debut.
Proceedings begin positively on Phrazes for the Young, with opening track Out Of The Blue resembling The Strokes on synths. However, the album soon descends in to a faux ‘80s electropop dirge, with Casablancas’ vocals buried deep below drum machines and overblown production. First single 11th Dimension, an approximation of Human League at their most uninspiring, lacks depth. Ludlow St, a Pogues-esque alcohol-fuelled lament, is passable, while the Muse-style vocal and faster tempo of River Of Brakelights amuse only for a verse or two.
First glance at the cover, with Casablancas in classic songwriter pose (see Bringing It All Back Home) hints at what might be found inside. Upon pressing play however, it is clear that this is not to be the case.
Those looking for The Strokes’ garage-rock guitar interplay, delivered with a nonchalant air of cool, will be sorely disappointed.