Thursday, 19 September 2013

Live Review: No Ceremony (BidoLito)

East Village Arts Club
Friday, 13th September 2013

No Ceremony, or NO CEREMONY /// as their mother’s know them, are an odd bunch. The promo for their debut self-titled album wasn’t so much an exercise in anti-hype as it was an all out fucking horrorshow, filled with 20 YouTube clips of dying babies and short audio mixes of white noise. I imagine this was to create some sort of mystique, although it appeared to serve little purpose other than to creep you the fuck out.

I half expect an exorcist style growl as Victoria Hamblett softly introduces her band; consisting of two lads who look like they have been kicked out of their high-school prom and a nervous looking teenager hunched over an electric drum kit. Hardly the sort of mysterious and hedonistic ghouls you might have expected three months ago. They have an album out now though, and whilst that whole mysterious shit might work when you are trying to generate hype it probably doesn’t when you are trying to sustain it.

On their excellent debut album, No Ceremony create music that relies heavily on atmosphere, using timbres and textures to build walls around their listeners. This is achieved largely at the mixing desk, with production that smothers Hamblett’s vocals almost beyond recognition. The result is a set of pop songs that are just out of reach, delivering these very organic, human melodies in extraterrestrial packages with the sort of juxtaposition that has you pressing repeat as you attempt understand them.

With this in mind, it is interesting to see how they will try and replicate this on a live level. I mean, with album number one only just upon us, their live set up is hardly going to have any sound technicians drooling. The inclusion of a live drummer for the tour certainly is a wise one though, if only for the fact that it allows other members to focus on the finer intricacies of their sound without worrying about keeping the beat.

The Loft at the EVAC feels vacuous, as the twenty or so people in attendance follow that weird empty-gig science of standing only at the back. FEELSOLOW is arguably their most complete song to date, utilizing those sort of dramatic, four to the floor synths that the likes of Tiesto deploys at your least favourite European holiday resorts. The likes of HURTLOVE and HEARTBREAKER build on this, harnessing that synth lead aggression that Crystal Castles formulated but with added levels of, you guessed it, trance? Now I never went to Ibiza in the 90s, but I can say with some confidence that trance was never cool. What it did do though is distill that fist-pumping euphoria; that huge sense of grandiosity that was capable of making clubbers feel like just for that moment, life wasn’t just a series of overdrafts and thirteen hour shifts and that it actually meant something. Think of it like of like a Westlife key change for the MDMA generation. Tonight though, No Ceremony turn that on its head, using that throbbing base and visceral, pulsating synths to frame and heighten Hamblett’s mournful cry of ‘Is it wrong to make you love me’ in something equally as grand, yet inherently more tragic.

No Ceremony’s appeal lies in their many contradictions. Slower pieces, like the aching WARSONGS and the fragile AWAYFROMHERE are, with their rustic acoustic guitar and twinkling piano, campfire folk songs. What they manage to do though, with a hint of autotune or a downpour of static, is make them just inaccessible enough to keep us engaged. The whole thing really is a masterclass in restraint, not quite letting you feel connected or not quite letting you dance to the point where you just have to accept that this is a group of musicians in complete control of how they want their listeners to feel. Now I know that could be construed as one-dimensional, but when the modern day pop culture icon is Marcus Mumford sobbing in a fucking trilby hat then it is comforting to see a band present their emotions with such conviction. It is a risky move, and many will certainly find it detached, but tonight, even with a sparse and largely disinterested crowd, their performance captures that uncertainty and isolation that their album conveys in abundance. It is an impressive effort for a band clearly still finding their feet, and is evidence that despite their new found openness, No Ceremony aren’t ready to let their guard down just yet.

Mike Townsend

New Music: Of Montreal – Belle Glade Missionaires

Lousy With Sylvianbriar is album number twelve for Kevin Barnes and co, as the band from Athens, Georgia show a prolificacy maintained with impressive consistency over their fifteen-year career.

The new album from was recorded on a 24-track tape machine at the bands home studio as they delve further into 1960s nostalgia and away from the complexities and stress of the modern recording industry. Lyrical overstatement is as always, what drives Bell Glade Missionaries, as Barnes paints this fucking nightmare filled with the exploding schools, paranoid schizophrenics and cocaine steeling soldiers onto a playful canvas of hanging guitars and whimsical ooh’s and ahh’s.

The psych-folk Sgt. Peppers aesthetic from last months Fugitive Air is maintained in volumes here, and it will be interesting to see how they run with it on a full body of work. 

Lousy With Sylvianbriar is out via Polyvinyl on October 8.

New Music: Phantogram - Black Out Days

Phantogram are back. Finally. For anyone who got lost in last year’s Nightlife mini-album; it’s been a very long wait, especially if a year and a half with Don’t Move as your only go-to after party tune has left you banished from anywhere ten feet of a laptop.

The all out groove of Don’t Move is replaced with some upfront menace, as a dark web of synths and electronics underpin Sarah Barthel’s typically sensual vocals to create a sexual tension akin to watching Cruel Intentions with your parents in the room.

That is creepy as fuck, but Black Out Days is certainly a sign that Phantogram are moving away from the trip-hop, electro-pop of old and into a more psychedelic soundscape. A collaboration with The Flaming Lips earlier this year would hardly have helped, and with more new material seemingly on its way; I’m ready to get lost again.

New Music: Gold Panda - If U Knew (Reprise Long Live Take)

About to embark on a victory lap UK tour in support of the excellent Half of Where You Live, Gold Panda has offered this generously extended version of album highlight Reprise.

Earnest synths and a trickle of static quietly usher along that spliced, mournful vocal loop, as the Berlin based producer creates a soundscape that sounds like curtains opening on a particularly bright summer morning. It certainly is a brave gesture; closing such an abrasive and coarse album with a track this warm and this human. It is a welcome one though, and this extended version does indeed suggest a deep affection with it.

An EP supporting the single is due out next month, and will feature remixes from Manchester beat-machine Star Slinger as well as Getintothis favourite Fort Romeau. 

Catch Gold Panda at the East Village Arts Club on the 23rd November.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Feature: GhostChant Cover Feature (BidoLito!)

“I’m in London preparing for a show at Fashion week, so I’m sort of homeless at the moment, just crashing on couches and wherever I can”. Maybe I’ve spent too long on that DJs Complaining Tumblr, but Joe Cornwell seems to be reveling in his current residentially challenged state with a buoyancy of an artist who knows he’s on the cusp of something big. Joe Cornwell is the one-man beat maker GHOSTCHANT. Four months ago, I interviewed an enthusiastic young producer who after a debut live show and his first residency, was just tiptoeing into the Liverpool music scene. Four months is a long time. Returning from Croatia’s Outlook Festival, GhostChant is now on the promo trail as he prepares for his debut single Laid To Rest to drop on the 31st October, under the prestigious Barely Breaking Even imprint. With an album expected early next year, his career certainly appears to have taken a remarkably steep trajectory. I mean, when we first met, the term ‘bedroom producer’ seemed to apply a little too literally, presenting his idea of what electronic music meant to him from the safety of a few low key live shows and online mixes. Now though, he cuts an impressive figure here in Liverpool, name-dropped by media outlets all over the North East and playing acclaimed live sets at the GIT awards and more recently; the Liverpool Music Awards at St Georges Hall. I repeat - four months is a long time.

Joe’s relationship with BBE came about through a mutual contact of his manager, Joe explains gratefully: “My manager Andy works with WordySoulSpeak who are also signed to them. So when the label asked him if he had anyone else worth checking out he sent over the new single. The guy came straight back and said ‘yeah, we have to meet up’”. The rest writes itself, with Joe now calling the likes of Phantogram, Henrik Schwarz and DJ Jazzy Jeff label mates as he prepares that as of yet, unnamed full length. “At the moment I’m stacking up about 18-20 tracks”, he says confidently, “narrowing it down to around 11-12 for the album, three of which will be singles with heavy vocal tracks on them. I’m really interested to make it work as a collection though, rather than standalone songs. That’s all going to be an extended part of the song writing process though; taking a step back and seeing how they merge together. Almost as if it’s a 70 minute set”.

In May’s issue, Joe willingly placed his music within the context of UK Garage or more specifically, ‘Future Garage’, as we discussed the influence the resurgent 90s genre had on his early recordings. Whilst I wouldn’t say that he’s distancing himself, the term certainly resonates a lot less. “I do sit down now and just think right, do I want this track to be more two-step, more half time, a more house-y feel” he outlines eagerly as he describes the songwriting process for the album. “Then I work with my arsenal of sounds and get the beat from there. It’s only as I go along that I start to hear the influences come in. Like I might listen to it back and go ‘oh yeah - that sounds like Mj Cole or Bonobo. I’m trying to stay open minded when it comes to the general feel of the record though, starting with that deeper, more dubby sound, and then just experimenting from there”. This whole ‘future-garage’ thing is more of an idea really, rather than an actual genre, as producers are take very small and marginally defining characteristics of UK Garage – like the shuffling hi-hats, the beat-skipping kick drums or pitch shifting – and appropriate them with the basic principles of current tastes and trends. Joe speaks as an artist who carving his own way now though, and with a full length out soon he has the opportunity to focus his wide pallet of sounds into a body of work that can be defining for him as an artist and not just a genre from which he operates in.

GhostChant is at his most disarming and affecting when you are reminded that, despite the technical prowess and shadowy abstraction on show, Joe Cornwell is human after all. His brief catalogue of work has a striking ability to condense vast, evocative backdrops into just three short minutes, hiding all the finer details of the vocals or melody under a murky surface and creating immersive layers of depth. He is making music that rejects human interference for something much more calculated, moving into a more cerebral place and aiming for the more personal aspect of the way we experience sounds, rather than those primal urges that much of house and techno targets. This is evident on Laid To Rest, where the recurring vocal line of ‘You don’t know the way’ and its inherent rhythmic qualities help anchor what are almost chaotic scenes around it, keeping the dramatic away from the grandiloquent and creating a piece of music that is devastatingly affecting. And despite a rolling, metal on metal drum and bass beat underlying the track, it certainly isn’t aiming for the dance floor, instead creating a profound sense of subtlety and grace - you know, that kind of introvert, headphone bliss that you would experience with your hood up on a bus journey instead of at 5am when you’re playing God with your brain chemistry.

“Technology has made music accessible in a philosophically interesting way”, said Thomas Bangalter in a recent interview with Pitchfork, suggesting that producers have a responsibility to connect with listeners on a more personal level than the more derivative and commercial side of dance music would have you believe. Whilst I’m not suggesting there isn’t an art to crowd pleasing, electronic music is often oversimplified into two main components; melody and rhythm. GhostChant is fighting to ensure that texture and tone are never overlooked. And at the moment, none of these tracks feel like they have to be any one thing. You could imagine the album being littered with pieces of pure, ambient soundscapes as easily as it could fully-fledged, verse-chorus songs. What is certain though is that, whenever the album does come out, it will be an evocative and immersive soundtrack, written for a sustained and rewarding look within.

Mike Townsend


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Live Review: SKATERS (BidoLito!)


The Shipping Forecast - Liverpool
27th August 2013

It’s hot down here. Really hot. I tried to wear a jumper because I thought it would make me look young but now I’m sweating so furiously that it could just as easily be my tears. Elvis Presley would feel self-conscious down here tonight though, as three lads who’ve probably spent the afternoon play-fighting in the Urban Outfitters fitting rooms otherwise referring to themselves as SKATERS, trudge onto a cramped stage in The Shipping Forecast’s ‘Hold’.  

Hailing from New York (of course), this trio has tentatively ebbed their way onto the blogosphere with a handful of punchy singles. A Barney Sumner guitar rift confidently introduces the excellent I Wanna Dance [But I Don’t Know How], which proves to be less ironic than you’d imagine until they eventually manage a synchronized head bob between them. It’s a song that revels in its simplicity, stripping away any complexities and aiming straight for those primal instincts you spend your whole life trying to fight off. It isn’t a regression though; these songs are just finding beauty in different places, like the explosive change in energy between it’s verse and chorus, or the hypnotizing, rumbling drone of b-side single Armed. There certainly isn’t anything original about the conventional hooks and recognisable melodies on show tonight. But down here in The Hold they are dispensed with Rubin’s self-reliant indifference and conversational delivery, making them instantly approachable and capable of turning a cynical introvert like me into a skanking, twerking fanboy. The Brazen, angsty Schemers is their most complete song to date, and tonight it fills the room nicely as Noah Rubin yells ‘I’ve got to let you know’ with Strummer-like force that threatens to resemble defiance. There is a palpable energy among this snugly filled venue, and the affable personality of their stage manor and music they are playing runs a thread through every song, creating a performance that runs with a structure and coherency far beyond their years. And despite that inexperience, this doesn’t feel like we are stepping in on a band practice in their garage (regardless of the venue looks like). They have honed in on how they want to present themselves and how they want to present these songs. And even more impressively, they sound tight as fuck.

This performance certainly seems to serve some sort of cathartic purpose for these guys, as their lack of self-awareness proves to be surprisingly believable. Whether Skaters are capable of translating these buzz-friendly singles into an album that’s well stocked with instantly gratifying pop songs is a more complicated question. Tonight though, it probably feels like it did when The Strokes performed at Spiral in 2001, as this trio of cooler-than-cool New Yorkers play with the knowledge that their music holds no inherent meaning, which is exactly why it means so much. 

Mike Townsend