Thursday, 4 December 2014

Live Review: Cloud Nothings (Line of Best Fit)


Cloud Nothings
Electric Ballroom, Camden
1st December, 2014

The surge of mainstream electronic music this year with its more immediate, flash in the pan nature of has created icons overnight. Producers have moved from the dance floor to the top of the charts in one swoop, as the trajectory of a hit pop song and its creator becomes steeper. Guitar music on the other hand, looks a little different. By moving slightly out of the spotlight, it has become a much more fertile landscape for the hidden gems, for the slow burners and for the best kept secrets. Cloud Nothings deservedly end 2014 with their largest ever UK show tonight, as their critical and commercial arcs finally align.

‘Here and Nowhere Else’ is a breakthrough album. Cloud Nothings’ three previous records are good, largely, but with the inconsistencies of a band still struggling for any sort of clear, conceptual identity. They could have easily been accused ‘polishing up’, after the jangly, in-my-parents’-garage aesthetic of their previous body of work, and it’s true that ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ has clearer cadences, sharper mastering and an altogether stronger backbone that makes them easier to digest. This conviction though, this idea that saying something more clearly doesn’t have to diminish its effect, has allowed them to land on a sound that is fully formed and create one of the best albums this year.

‘Now Here In’ almost explodes on impact, where the drums are impossibly loud and the vocals coarse and frantic with almost no space at all between them. There is an urgency about the band tonight that nods back to the days of punk or early grunge, rattling through each tune too quickly as if it will only make sense once you hear the beginning of the next. Their ability to turn tension into aggression, even within the boundaries of a three minute song, is even more prevalent on a performance level. ‘Pattern Walks’ accelerates towards a terminal velocity of screaming lead guitar and crashing cymbals, whilst ‘Psychic Trauma’s’ change of pace feels so frenzied that Dylan Baldi’s vocals are rendered into an obscure growl. These are choruses to scream with a beer in the air, drum fills to bash out on your steering wheel and guitar solos that make you clench your fists. It’s clear that if Cloud Nothings were struggling to capture any sort of pure sound before, ‘Here and Nowhere Else’ is them completely nailing it.

The newest LP also sees them messing around with tempo more than they, or many other of their contemporaries have done before. Tonight they bend and stretch time signatures, capturing that same restlessness and inability to keep still supported by Baldi’s weary, anxious lyrics. This lends itself well to their live show, where each pull back is a chance to breathe, every dramatic upturn in speed an excuse to completely lose your shit. There are times where this haze of spontaneous aggression swallows the hooks that make these truly memorable songs, like I’m Not Part Of Me’, which has such a great chorus that it deserves to be played simply and unaltered rather than thrashed out and rushed. Cloud Nothings' quest to create the most visceral charge of energy and sustain it for a full ninety minutes performance is undeniably impressive, but it can have you longing for a bit of subtlety or some tiny nuances to cling onto. This is subjective criticism of course, and would no doubt be heartily rebuffed by the pocket of fans seemingly recreating the siege of troy at the front.  

Cloud Nothings have grown louder, more confident and more compositionally assured, so if tonight feels like a victory lap of sorts then you can allow them a moment of indulgence. You get the feeling that Baldi and his band still consider themselves music fans before professional musicians, creating the sort of raw, no-thrills rock show that they will have grown up with. Their growing stature and success might force them into considering their live show beyond just a series of song renditions at some point in the near future. Until then though, party on.

Mike Townsend

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Live Review: Christopher Owens (Line of Best Fit)

Christopher Owens
Islington Assembly Hall, London
19th November, 2014

Upon leaving Girls, Christopher Owens was accused of the kind of well documented, front-man narcissism that has precipitated the end for many before him. And it’s true, this narrative worked well with the kind of blithe, effortless self-confidence the band chose to present themselves with both aesthetically and musically. ‘
The easiest thing in the world for me to do would have been to make another Girls album’, he explained to Pitchfork in 2012. ‘It's just not what I wanted. I wanted a real band. I wanted the Rolling Stones, The Beatles’. It’s telling that even with two brilliant, classic albums, Owens never saw Girls as truly great. Despite appearances though, there was always a vulnerability to Girls’ music that makes his move into a calmer, more sensitive singer-songwriter landscape seem very natural. Take the slow, lighters up bridge section in the otherwise charging surf-rock anthem ‘Honey Bunny’, or the desperate refrain of ‘I don't want to cry my whole life through / I want to do some laughing too’ on ‘Hellhole Ratrace’. The press shots accompanying ‘Lysandre’ and ‘A New Testament’ might look like stills from a budget American western movie, but this is an artist where the ‘I’ in his songs and in his image, both as a solo artist and front man, has always been himself.

Owens has always been good at exploring simple emotional concepts in unusual and complicated ways, masking the core of his song writing within these webs and layers of context and red herrings. It’s certainly what allowed Girls to climb above their California, guitar-pop contemporaries, whilst letting him move beyond his new singer-songwriter template. And tonight, wearing a snake skin jacket and striking, pointed shoes, he disguises personal feelings of introversion with flamboyance, offering these mostly touching songs of love unrequited, love unfulfilled or love realised with all the complexities and contradictions that we’ve all experienced and can all recognise, putting you right up there with him. Some deal with personal trauma by shutting themselves away or with some form of mental self-flagellation, and others like to put on their best outfit and surround themselves with their favourite things, in this case a shredding guitar solo (‘Laura), a noodling organ riff (‘Love Like A River’) or, indeed, a giant revolving disco ball (‘It Comes Back To You’). It’s theatrical but never insincere, as Owens lives inside his performance and his songs like a movie character narrating tales of his own shortcomings.

The frequent exertions into Girls’ back catalogue are, inevitably, greeted with elation, and it’s hard to believe that some of these songs are barely three years old, as if the premature break up has crystallised them in the modern music canon like old, adored relics. ‘Forgiveness’ begins with Owens alone, whispering that gut-wrenching line ‘Nothing’s gonna get any better’ before being swallowed by a tearing guitar breakdown that teases at a resolution which almost never arrives. ‘Vomit’ still sounds remarkable, collapsing into a sprawling coda with wailing gospel vocals, a howling organ and crashing cymbals surrounding Owen’s wounded plea of ‘Come into my heart’ like waves beating against an old, crumbling lighthouse.

Tonight is a reminder that Girls could have turned into one of the best guitar bands in the world, had they chose to stick it out. Christopher Owens isn’t going anywhere though, and his attempts to occupy and own his personal flaws and inadequacies in a way that’s both beautiful and comforting to him will continue to produce great music and performance over the years. Whether it’s in the form of an insular, sensitive singer-songwriter or a bratty west coast guitar band - I’m not sure it even matters.

Mike Townsend

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Live Review: MØ (Line of Best Fit)

Photo Credit: Dan Harris

Shepherds Bush empire
Saturday, 1st November 2014

Pop music has moved on since the turn of the decade. Arguments of authenticity and ‘proper music’ now sound dated and petulant, whilst the artistic merit of writing a good a catchy, melody propelled song, whether it surfaces on Tumblr or Saturday Night Live can be appreciated on face value alone. Female artists like Sky Ferreira, Charli XCX and Tove Lo are bridging the gap between critical acclaim and wide-reaching accessibility, finding a beauty and a craft in the creation of music that’s instantly gratifying and memorable.

With so many examples now scattered across the popular music landscape, it’s easy to forget that MØ was once at the forefront of this modern renaissance. Since debut single ‘Pilgrim’, though, Icona Pop’s ‘I love It’ powered to number one and Charli XCX broke America, all while Karen Marie Ørsted’s debut album ‘No Mythologies To Follow’ hit neither the critical nor commercial heights to match it’s lofty expectations.

The level of fandom tonight is almost unnerving. Devoted disciples can be seen across all corners of a near sold out Shepherds Bush Empire, with girls elatedly swinging their plaited topknots, lads donning full scale, eighties tinged adidas tracksuits without a hint of irony and mums and dads greeting even the more arbitrary album tracks like old favourites. Pop music has always commanded an obsession with its listeners, and this almost feels like a throwback to the days where it was practiced like a healthy, constructive hobby, like your big sister buying Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack mini-dress or your weird cousin drawing heartagrams on his school pencil case.

What’s most striking about tonight’s show is how much more complete these songs sound. The album, arguably to its detriment, wanders through a diverse collection of styles and influences without expanding enough to really lock them down, reaching for the rhythmic dynamism of funk or the widescreen euphoria of pure-pop but just pulling up before the end. The band, that includes a four-piece horn section tonight, provide that extra weight - that shot of adrenaline - to get them over the line. The heavier percussion on the once woozy ‘Maiden’ edges it closer to the dance floor, whilst the aforementioned horns of the insolent ‘Pilgrim’ are more explosive and more deliberate. Circumstance can absolutely affect the way we perceive and experience music, and people will return home with a new set of favourite tunes from an album that they’ve heard one hundred times before. It might be because they were winked at during a disarming, lights-down rendition of ‘Freedom (#1)’, or because they were high-fived as she wandered through the upper tier of the crowd during the excellent ‘Never Wanna Know’.

MØ completely embodies the emotional properties of her songs, whether she’s swaggering on the back of her heels as she sings ‘I’ve got money’ on ‘I Got’, or punching the air and snarling defiantly during the empowering and aggressive ‘Waste Of Time’. That ability to understand and then capture the reason people connect with your music as recordings, and then translate it into a live show almost overwrought with emotion and intensity is something that has eluded many a great pop artist. There are times tonight where MØ sings directly to the front row, crouching on her knees and reaching gratefully towards their outstretched arms as if she’s clinging onto a final moment of intimacy before her platform gets too big and her audience too far away. A stage dive during the closing moments of her rendition of Spice Girls’ ‘Say You’ll Be There’ seems a fitting finale, as she finishes 2014 in the arms of the elated and the adoring masses, ready for her ascension into superstardom.

Mike Townsend

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Live Review: The Horrors (lineofbestfit)

Photo Credit: Jason Williamson
The Horrors
Troxy, London
4th October 2014

Eight years ago, five weird, unhealthy looking lads from Southend On Sea appeared on the cover of NME. Their eyes popped out like the Camden synthetic drug addicts they presumably borrowed their outfits from, accompanied without even a hint of irony by the caption ‘They’re Freaky, They Rock, They’re Taking Over’. Their debut LP Strange House was similarly as polarising, prompting ridicule among those just touching the surface and tentative acclaim from anyone willing to dig a little deeper. 
Between a strikingly self aware appearance on The Mighty Boosh and an album of the year, The Horrors have stopped traversing UK music’s undulating cool spectrum, shedding their layers of histrionics and settling as one of XL’s strongest, most consistent guitar bands. Their latest LP Luminous is the first time they’ve built on a framework already laid out, rather than undertaking a stylistic overhaul. And in the context of their progressive, transmogrifying body of work, it’s telling that this alone manages to blight what is still, at times, a breathtaking array of songs.
Tonight’s show at East London’s Troxy feels fitting, with the old, gothic art-decor just about permeating through the building’s modern renovations. “Chasing Shadows” could quite easily have been purpose built as a set opener, with its cloudy layers of feedback and electronics making way for the bands mysterious, cloak-and-dagger introduction. Faris Badwan remains almost rooted to his stage mark throughout, delivering each lyric with a self-reliant indifference that keeps the whole thing almost intensely stylised. And it would be easy to accuse them of detachment, keeping their influences and audience at arm’s length in a way that never truly exposes the musicians behind them. But backed by the thumping sound system and acoustics of the building, the parts and layers that make up these songs - however deliberate and contrived - are deployed in a way that serves but never overshadows. That piercing hook from “Who Can Say” is so colossal that it acts as the rhythmic driving force of the song, rather than a decorative flourish, and those atonal, instrumental bellows on “Scarlet Fields” almost feel like we’re watching Gesaffelstein in a festival tent waiting for ‘the drop’. Tonight, the similarities to their noise-mongering, shoegazing contemporaries feels less like a throwback and more like a defining feature that they’ve fully and truly immersed themselves in.                      
The towering “Still Life” is an inevitable highlight – it’s the type of song that would have kept John Hughes awake at night. It lingers in the back of your mind when you worry if the best days of your life are behind you, capable of creating melancholy during quiet moments of introspection and rapture out of muted celebrations. In the context of this performance and their body of work it feels like a moment of indulgence, even absolution, from a group of guys who have spent a long time being taken more seriously than they might have liked. “We’re not the sort of band that can sit around with acoustic guitars on the tour bus, playing new songs to each other. We much prefer to go into a studio, with everything set up” - bassist Rhys ‘Spider’ Webb explained in a 2009 interview with Clash, suggesting that the emotional backbone of their songs is channelled through studio precision rather than the act of writing it. There’s no right or wrong way to be a good band, and it’s true that as many people love music for its technical mastery as they do because they connect with the people behind it. An encore of “So Now You Know” and “Moving Further Away” further emphasises their ability to explore the emotional properties of sound and texture, creating centerpieces out of psych-rock breakdowns or sprawling My Bloody Valentine-eseque codas in a way that bridges the challenging with the popular in a way that few other mainstream UK Guitar band is doing right now.
As they negotiate their way through their catalogue, you get the impression that The Horrors will always create music that you have to feel, rather than understand. The euphoria of “Still Life” might seem like a brief moment of abandon in what is a deftly serious and clinical performance, but this is still a mightily impressive showing from a band who know their strengths well enough to be able to rely on them alone.


Chasing Shadows
In And Out Of Sight
Who Can Say
Sea Within A Sea
Scarlet Fields
Endless Blue
Change Your Mind
Still Life
I See You
So Now You Know
Moving Further Away

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Introducing: TEKLA (GetIntoThis)

You get the feeling that for most producers, the concept of genre and the categorisation that comes with it is something to be snarled at, not celebrated. It’s why you could comprise a Psychology dissertation out of the millions of Soundcloud tags, or why you could write a novel using only words from the Beatport genre section. Liverpool DJ and producer Tekla has referred to himself as a HXUSE producer, a label that presumably signifies that this might be house music, but not necessarily as we know it.

Marvin’s Basement, the new EP from Tekla was released on London’s Houseology label last Monday, giving us the first chance to experience the enigmatic producer within the boundaries of a considered and contextualized body of work. And despite the seemingly out-of-nowhere nature of its conception, it would be selling it short to deem Marvin’s Basement as anything but a fully realised EP release. It builds on a classically minded house groove with small, but impeccably executed sonic tics. Detached vocal samples punctuate throughout, teasing at this kind of infectious, all out release without overselling it. House Music has always moved forward slower than other sub-cultures of Dance Music, infusing the idea of retro and classic with the notion that you can wear your influences on your sleeve without having to hide behind them. Marvin’s Basement is an exciting and professional realization of this, introducing Tekla as one of the most intriguing producers this city has seen for some time.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Live Review: Circus, with Green Velvet, Dixon and Tom Trago

Tom Trago
Cirucs, East Village Arts Club

26th July 2014

Tonight’s lineup for the latest installment if Yousef’s CIRCUS is enormous. Innervisions boss DIXON makes his first appearance in Liverpool since topping Resident Advisor’s much lauded DJ Of The Year poll in 2013, and GREEN VELVET, the man behind the behemoth that is Bigger Than Prince, completes a knockout one two of headliners. Dutch future house champion TOM TRAGO and One Records honcho SUB-ANN aren’t to be snarled at either, with Yousef and his team flexing their clout as the most forward thinking and balanced bookers in town.   

The redevelopment of The East Village Arts Club is still a polarizing topic among Liverpool’s clubnight crowd, with arguments that the shiny new walls and crowded, expensive bars detracts from that gritty, DIY aesthetic that once made it great. With its enormous stage and concave, forward facing dance floor though, it feels purpose built for nights like this. It certainly marks a contrast to the increasingly dominant warehouse scene, where its easy to spend your whole evening getting fucked up, trying to get off with a bird, or just generally ruining your chances of getting that American Visa without ever knowing who the person behind the decks is. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, but there is something immeasurably powerful about a room full of people dancing towards the same beat, the same purpose, as the sounds permeating from the speakers create a tangible sense of being part of something bigger than yourself.

Tom Trago is an icon among his house-leaning Dutch motherland and like his recorded output to date; rhythm is central to his set tonight, concealing more immediate dancefloor anthems inside beats almost overwrought with intensity. The top-shelf productions of his own Use Me Again and Steppin’ Out and their instantaneous euphoria are usurped in favour of a deeper sound that looks to slowly nudge its audience towards that level of sonic bliss.

DIXON steps in after an obligatory cool-set-bro hug with Trago, with a slow burning, progressive leaning set more akin to the likes of Digweed, rather than fellow Berliner Ben Klock and his Panorama Bar contemporaries. Holding back on the kickdrums and those widescreen, techno downpours, Dixon instead offers slow, gentle swells of gratification in a way that builds and builds but never quite releases. This exercise in restraint clearly has one eye on the clock, which with over two hours remaining is evidence of a DJ with an appreciation for the bigger picture of the clubnight experience in its entirety, rather than the short window of his own set. There is a reason he was named the best DJ in the world just several months ago, it’s a testament to his own versatility that if he was on last tonight we would likely be treated to something almost entirely different.

The eccentric Green Velvet approaches bearing a fittingly green Mohawk, smiling serenely behind his spherical glasses as if he has just stepped into a wedding reception. Employing his trademark, snarled vocals over the likes of Lazer Beams, Flash and the aforementioned Bigger Than Prince, he provides those moments of rapture the rest of the evening had been teasing at throughout a blistering two hour performance. It seems staggering that these songs came out in the mid 90s, sounding every bit like electronic music does in 2014 and holding their own alongside the likes Paul Woolford’s Erotic Discourse as if we are listening to one of those end of year podcasts. It’s telling that a recent Hot Since 82 remix has brought Bigger Than Prince back into a new generation of listeners so seamlessly, as Green Velvet proves that as timeless as he is as a producer, he can absolutely keep up with the relentless forward momentum of electronic music and maintain his position as a truly world class DJ.  

Mike Townsend

Friday, 1 August 2014

Introducing: V E E D (GetIntoThis)


Small town mentality is something that has always lent itself well to electronic music. I mean, from someone who attempted to teach himself Pro Tools with the almost complete and almost absolute failure, you don’t get good at that sort of thing without shutting yourself away in your bedroom, practicing and learning until you’ve forgotten how to speak to humans. And where better to hide yourself away from the world than the small, vapid town that you’ve always hated and that has never understood you anyway. No disrespect to Southport of course, the home of production project V E E D, I’ve actually never been. But UK electronic music has always thrived from having the sounds and claustrophobia of urban and small town living permeating through it. 

Sleep Shape, released half a year ago via Liverpool’s versatile La Montagne Records, builds on the much-maligned sub-genre Witch House with funeral synths smothering a moody, slow moving baseline. Goodbye Cool World, which is available for free download on his Soundcloud, sees V E E D operating in warmer territories, lacking the conviction of Sleep Shape but drawing from a much wider range of ideas so that it sounds much less austere, and much more adventurous. It proudly presents itself as incomplete but not unfinished, as the beat almost suspends in midair to leave just enough space for the finer components to breathe. Ody and 10 Kick, two more new tracks, are equally as restrained, as rhythms and textures slip out of line with each other in a way that invites you in, but never allows you to settle. V E E D’s brief body of work so far is certainly scattered, and with each song you can hear him discovering and fine-tuning new ways of expressing what electronic music means to him. At the moment though, V E E D is slowly taking aim at that niche, scene-summarizing statement that will eventually form a debut release, picking away at his influences until it all eventually comes into focus.

Mike Townsend

Friday, 25 July 2014

Live Review: The Twilight Sad (GetIntoThis)

The Twilight Sad
East Village Arts Club
12th July, 2014

With the notion of an album and its importance within this modern, content starved digital music scene still up for debate, there is something quite comforting about a band touring one of their records in full. It speaks volumes for the quality of an album that a band like The Twilight Sad feel confident enough in themselves, and in their audience, to be able to do so with a collection of songs from a single body of work written just seven years ago. I mean, usually when a band or artists decides to tour an album, the set list will still be punctuated by hits from other records and the track list might not even run in the correct order. There’s an argument for guitar bands that an album should always be able to translate it into a full live performance, with a coherency and understanding running from the closing chords of each song to the opening clash of the next. I mean, if this his is what makes a great album, why shouldn’t it be the defining feature for a great live set? So with tonight’s show and the rest of this ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ Tour, The Twilight Sad are reverting back to touring in its simplest, its most basic, but perhaps its purest form.

In the aggressively Scottish James Graham, The Twilight Sad are blessed with a great, powerful front man. And the intensity of their music would settle for nothing less, with the growl of guitar feedback and the crash of rolling cymbals all culminating in Graham’s deep, penetrating stare from behind the microphone. The roll of the R as he screams ‘…Red sky at night’ on opener Cold Days From The Birdhouse could almost be graceful, if he wasn’t convulsing and gyrating between vocal passages like Ian Curtis having an exorcist. Staring into a corner of the room and not directly at the crowd, Graham creates the illusion that he is singing these songs directly at a singular character. It deeply personalizes them, something that is often lost in a live show, and makes the delivery of every lyric feel like a powerful moment of catharsis for him and the band.

None of the exhaustive levels of guitar feedback or the wall of sound textures are lost tonight. The contrast in dynamic between the verse and chorus of Talking With Fireworks / Here It Never Snowed provides an obvious peak, and distills everything that makes tonight’s show and the album great. Graham’s ability to suck every bit of emotion out of non-specific phrases such as ‘With a knife in your chest’, works with the bands knack for making even the most ludicrous level of noise and timbre still feel like a moment of vulnerability, to create a performance almost overwrought with passion.

Despite their shoegazing qualities, with a few of clicks on the guitar pedal these songs could almost fit on a U2 album, never shying away from the dramatic or histrionic like many of their noise mongering contemporaries. This is what makes The Twilight Sad so enduringly popular and able to tour an album in full as if they were veterans rinsing a final payday out of an old masterpiece. Tonight’s performance absolutely justifies its position as a modern classic, with every moment feeling like a deserved celebration for anyone who has ever spent time and been moved by it. This is a band carving diamonds out of the rough, searching for the significance and the profound in the more mundane areas of life in a way that never tries to offer a solution because they know that the most important part is the journey towards it.

Mike Townsend