reviews september 2007

Deliberate, Basic Demographics EP (Signatura) 12”
Thought I’d gone off electronica, being a trendist and a Luddite who hates and fears computers.  This four-song debut from duo Deliberate has, in its elegant chilliness, recharged my inner robot.  Schematic and metronomic; sparse but lush of sound (tricky, that); spare but melodically rich, it’s an effortless meld of precision laptop shimmer and old skool synth sounds.  Old skool as in pre-rave Kraftwerk vintage – eg. those hissing syndrums: it’s like suddenly meeting an old friend.        

Actually I’d gone off electronica because it seemed to be polarising between glitchy obscurantism and horrible Shoreditch-centric amyl nitrate noise: a cruddy bass loop, a weedy guitar and a few inane slogans.  This is deeper, richer – features clever, intricate lyrics that tell stories – witness the creepy Gavin Has Some Problems, a tale of mental disintegration delivered with dispassionate spoken-word clarity by Chris over a John Carpenter backdrop. (Neatly, the music also disintegrates at the end, washing into a metallic purr like the sound of paranoia.)  Alternate vocalist Esther guides you through two bracingly cynical mini-epics of loveless romance with soulful restraint; there’s a pre-dawn gloom in the air and it’s great.  Their lighter side emerges with an instrumental dedicated to Bomb The Bass – as if in impudent reminder of what’s missing, not needed, there’s even a brief burst of… weedy guitar (sampled of course).  Still, the cold glittering allure lingers. (Greville Wizzard)

The Sailplanes, A Second, Or Ten Years Later (Redheaded Stepchild) CD
The Sailplanes – two tangled guitars, monstrous drums, no bass, male/female vocals – make the jump here from art band with potential to real contenders.  With this album, they've evolved from being "interesting" (a double-edged word that) to something genuinely arresting.  Pristine but intricate: a difficult balance, yet here it is, fuzzy/lucid, baroque/austere, harsh/pretty.  They blast out non-conventional chords and guitar figures less like riffs than flowing thoughts.  Still, they never bludgeon; even at its most brutal everything's balanced, sinuous.  An unshowy mastery of empathetic guitar-lines lends depth and variety to the rawness: shattering echoes, sinister decayed sputterings, plaintive refrains.  Standout track Photograph The Past trades boy-girl vocals, impassioned but deadpan and spitting complex lyrics.  It builds, seethes with activity, a viola arcs across the sooty murk; then it all goes BANG.  Imagine a more luminous, less drippy version of Loveless...  Actually don't, it's nothing like that at all.  Every song's succinct, potently concentrated, and the whole brief explosion leaves you wondering what just hit you.  A hit of the Real Stuff, in fact.  (Greville Wizzard)

Indietracks Festival, 28th & 29th July @ The Midland Railway, Butterley 

So I managed to wangle a weekend pass from the old folks home where I reside, and jauntily towing my zimmer frame in case the hip started playing merry hell again I made way to Darkest Derbyshire where something was stirring. That something was the Indietracks festival; two days of three dozen bands in a railway heritage site hidden away in the countryside somewhere.

There were two stages, one in a cavernous locomotive shed and the other in a corrugated metal church with interior wood panelling. In addition, throughout the weekend there were bands playing acoustic sets on steam-drawn carriages that chugged gently through trees and fields of green.

Naturally being a miserable old git I resolved to avoid anything that smacked of being just too much fun and gave the train sing-a-longs a wide berth. Likewise I was horrified to note the presence of a bouncy castle which seemed to be in almost constant use by cavorting types with wide grins. Forsooth! A quick aside concerning “sound men” might be in order here, they can make or break any gig can’t they? The chaps doing the sound in the church venue were spot-on throughout the weekend, whilst the bloke doing the sound in the larger locomotive shed was obviously fresh from a stint at the Monsters of Rock shindig at Donnington – at least that’s how it seemed on Saturday, on Sunday the mix and levels were just right. So that’s a “well done” to the soundmen, by and large.

Shall we talk about bands now? Yes, let’s. So there’s two stages with bands playing pretty much simultaneously as well as four train trips a day with different bands playing. What to do? Obviously one couldn’t catch everything, does one stay in one place or rush about like an idiot trying to catch a flavour of everything? I find myself more often than not in the more intimate venue that’s provided by the little church. It has seats too, an important consideration when the old knee replacement starts twinging.

First band up are the Felt Tips, I knew it was going to be a good weekend when I heard them - Glaswegian jangle guitar boys who’ve mislaid their drummer but are in possession of a few good tunes. They also have a guitar player who wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Sun studios of Memphis back in the 50’s, high praise from this old codger. I stick around for Pete Green and am rewarded with wry songs and witty observations as well as the gentlest and slowest version of Blitzkreig Bop that I’ll ever hear, always worth catching is Pete.

Now I commit the grave error of wandering off for a bit of lunch and miss the San Marinos and for the rest of the weekend am constantly reminded by those who do catch their little set how I would have just loved them. A bit like By Coastal Café and Riders I’m told, I spend some time musing on the frustrating impossibility of time travel. One of the chaps in The Chemistry Experiment announces at the commencement of their set that they’re about to give us some prog-rock, after five minutes it begins to dawn upon your dim-witted reviewer that he really wasn’t joking. They build their set up carefully and finish on a high with a bit of a flourish, eliciting an enthusiastic response from those present. Arthur and Martha are new to me but I’m very glad that I’ve heard them now. In a weekend heavy with guitar bands here is an elecro-pop duo, and a rather excellent one at that. I’m really rather impressed with them actually, layered boffinry and ingenuity producing shiny, bubbly musical energy.

Roy Moller is apparently “the godfather of Scottish indie”, or so somebody in Belle and Sebastian has decided. Roy himself seems slightly bemused by such a grand title and briskly runs through a set of superbly crafted songs with minimal fuss. He’s supported by a quite talented side-man who plays a mean bass and a rather hot harmonica. Now we come to The Bobby McGees, easily the most innovative band/act of the weekend. Ukeles and bass, garish face paint and boas, twee vulgarity, aggression and vulnerability. I can’t quite believe I’m going to write the next line but here goes …amongst the foul-mouthed buffoonery they offer a fleeting and genuinely beautiful insight into the human condition. There, damn me if you please but this lot are brilliant. They’ll never ever be big but in twenty years time you’ll remember if you saw them, unlike the countless lauded mediocrities who somehow get the plaudits and the record deals but are easily forgotten. They’re a true hidden rough diamond and you should go and see them if you get the chance, simple as that.

Rose McDowall wanders imperiously to the microphone like a middle-aged dominatrix, black leather and red leather. She also appears to have had a few drinks perhaps and doesn’t bother acknowledging the audience at first. Whilst displaying a stage presence of almost zero, she still entrances the crowd with a heart achingly beautiful voice. Apparently she was in Strawberry Switchblade, a cute/goth band who had a top ten hit in the 90’s. Her backing band is smooth and slick, after the the fourth or fifth song she smiles and mumbles a “thank you” to the audience as they yell their approval. She brings the house down in the end.

The Orchids are on the main stage, with three deftly wielded guitars you might expect a bit of jangle or something; but no, the soundman has apparently decided that they sound better with crashing drums and booming bass overwhelming everything else. A big pity.

Sunday morning dawns, it’s another lovely summer’s day. A few unkempt souls wander around looking a little hung-over. A late call up sees La Famile Catastrophe stepping in at short notice to kick proceedings off, one man with guitar and his missus and kids in attendance. The children don’t pay too much attention to Dad. His charming songs about the family pets hit the spot more than his worthier songs on weighty matters such as the pollution from Dungeness power station. Disappointingly a rather thin crowd melts quickly away to catch A Smile And A Ribbon on the main stage, the guy gamely finishes his set off in the face of this cruel and undeserved indifference.

A Smile And A Ribbon are just cuteness itself, three blokes throw cool poses as they play whilst two pleasant girls sing rather cutely. Everything about them is cute. Original? Not particularly. Cute? Oh yes, decidedly. They actually do what they do so well that even a curmudgeonly old shit like me finds himself being won over in the end, however reluctantly. I have to declare an interest in Horowitz, perhaps objectivity might be a little lacking where they’re concerned. I will say that they turn in as good a set as I’ve seen from them, and people leave afterwards humming tunes that they’ve only just heard for the first time. You just can’t buy that.

The School take up the whole stage in the big shed, there’s quite a few of them. They’re led by Liz who (over)plays the bashful belle but can’t conceal the self assured talent that is at the heart of this band. There’s a big 60’s influence in their sound as well as a commitment to such timeless virtues as good tunes and good songs. They’re going to do some releases on Elefant I hear, I suspect they’ll sell quite a lot of records.

The Parallelograms are ace, I already knew this but it’s nice seeing others fall under their spell for the first time. Sloppy and shambolic and brilliant with it, they’re fun. Hopefully they’ll take great care to avoid any instrumental proficiency for as long as possible, they’ll lose their magic should this happen. The Cut Outs contain members from other bands such as Airport Girls and The Lucksmiths, an indie-supergroup one might say – with an international range of accents. A super group would be my assessment, simple guitar pop and garage rock’n’roll that achieves the elusive trick of being much more than the sum of their parts. I sincerely hope that they turn out to be more than just a temporary side project, they’ve got an x-factor that even Simon Cowell might appreciate.

Next, The Electric Pop Group turn out to be a guitar band, three guitars in fact, which are weaved together into gentle shimmering textures. Nice and pleasant. Wake The President do the old school Glasgow guitar jangle with a bit of added edge, coolly arrogant they display plenty of ambition and might well be determined enough to climb atop the greasy pole of success.

Unfortunately I have to give Darren Hayman a miss as it’s a long way home and I’ve got to get going, a shame. So after two days there’s bound to be just a little bit of band fatigue but there was plenty enough on offer to keep this elderly correspondent from nodding off too often.

A few stray reflections. Indie – what does that mean? The word doesn’t seem to mean much anymore. Guitars – whatever “indie” is it seems to be dominated by guitar bands. It all started with the guitar and it always keeps going back to the guitar. Perhaps. Drums – why? How much good music from bands is destroyed by the artillery barrage behind? It’s not as though any real rhythmic contribution is ever made as the stick wielders appear quire content to bash along interminably at 4/4 time – bang, bang, bang. Glockenspiels and Melodiums – okay, they’re cute but does everybody have to use them these days? Most of the crowd seemed to be in bands playing at the festival, even then I recognise a few faces from other bands that aren’t playing at this festival. During the weekend a few random rail enthusiasts occasionally wandered by mistake into the church whilst bands were playing, quite often they showed more appreciation than the uber-cool music fans - for some reason I found this very cheering.

So that was Indietracks, I’m glad I went. Plenty of good bands, the main thing really. I’m already squirreling a little bit of my pension away each week in the tin under my bed for next year. (Laurence)

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