ATOMOS – A Winged Victory for the Sullen at the Barbican

photoA year ago last summer a friend and I stole a sunny afternoon from work and went swimming in a deliciously cold lake. Under the thick, cool, green and blue waters the colours changed with the sunlight from above, shapes of plants and branches appeared and receded again before you could divine them clearly. The enveloping water in turns cold and then warm without reason, the whole was a shape-shifting world of the known and unknown, the familiar and the strange, an illicit few hours etched into the memory.

Weary from a torrid day at work, this evening’s show with A Winged Victory in the Milton Court Concert Hall at London’s Barbican, shared many parallels with that day at the lake. The music of Messrs’ Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran is a thing of rare beauty and emotion, with that extraordinary capacity to transport you from the here and now and let you be lost in remarkable soundscapes.

ATOMOS was written as an original score for contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor’s (London Royal Ballet) newest dance piece. Mr P, my companion for tonight, and I first heard this at a small venue in Reading well before it had been committed to tape in the studio and it was beautiful. Tonight it had developed into an astonishing piece, played without pause with the attendant string quartet.

At once so simple but complex, the treated guitar, keyboards and strings swirl around each other, rising and falling, merging and re-emerging like the shapes and colours in my lake. Fragments of half remembered melodies rise like figures from the mist only to retreat again before they outstay their welcome.

I know my prose has turned somewhat purple, but it is so seldom you experience such profound, affecting and emotional music, performed by such self-effacing musicians. Even more than on the previous occasions I have heard them play, tonight was indeed special, another example of a couple of hours ever to be etched on the memory. Transcendent.

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Anyway – Immigrant Union


Love at first sight (or in this case, listen) is a dangerous thing; sometimes just a fleeting infatuation, like eating too many chocolate buttons too quickly, leaving you a bit queasy.

But that’s not going to be the case here with Anyway, the second outing from Immigrant Union featuring (as they say) the hipster hairy Brent DeBoer from Dandy Warhols.

Their witty agency blurb describes them as ‘a psychedelic folk band from Melbourne Australia … like Spiritualized being baptised in a river of Creedence Clearwater’ and that pretty much covers it from my point of view. Made up of Brent DeBoer (guitar/vocals), Bob Harrow (guitar/vocals), Peter Lubulwa (keys/vocals), Ben Street (bass) and Paddy McGrath-Lester (drums) the album is a beguiling, trippy affair with a lovely spacey production, chiming guitars and a devil-may-care vibe with hooks aplenty.

It would have been ideal fare for those Californian roads of the summer past, now receding into memory, but in its own way this pulls a summery laid-back remnant from the encroaching autumn chills. The low sun through the window and these warming tracks help me pretend for a while that everything is Ok and its not just the central heating keeping me toasty.

Although their imminent US tour may be scant benefit to us here in old Blighty, the whole album can be streamed and enjoyed from their Soundcloud pages so give it a listen and bask in the trippy glow of a disappearing summer.


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Judie Tzuke at St George’s Bristol

photoAs a fan you, of course, want to rock up to a show and for it to be flawless, the embodiment of all you love about that artist. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t,  because the venue’s a bit rubbish, the sound is flaky or the band just can quite turn it on live. But occasionally something else happens, like tonight (although this was a couple of weeks ago now…) with Judie Tzuke; no-ones fault, you can’t help catching a cold which is a bit of a bummer for a singer. Now some would cancel but not our Judie, at the splendid (if rather uncomfortable) St George’s she came on armed with cups of children’s Benylin  and later a more efficacious vodka, to coax her voice through the show.

I know she felt she wasn’t giving of her best and was super apologetic, but really there are many who can only dreaming of singing this well on a good night let alone when you’re feeling well below parr. For her grown up audience (and disturbingly some of us were indeed rather ‘grown up’) it mattered not, and if anything her suffering brought both the band and audience together and a palpable wave of supportive love was in the room.

Listening back now to that first album with the crystal clear voice and fine tuning, all that has happened is a maturing of the voice, a rounding out, but the essence is still there loud and clear. The newer songs also show the maturity gained after the years of work. For instance the title track, Woman Overboard, from the new album  is a finely balanced, deftly written and haunting song.

I hate to think that an artist needs to retread the ‘greatest hits’ and so hearing new and recent material reminds you both of the qualities of the musician but also that they aren’t stuck way back when. But, guiltily, it’s is good to hear some of the old stuff and better still to hear them with a new twist – the Tzuke sisters adding their own dimensions, getting the band to do the a cappella version of For You, and of course the perennial Stay With Me Til Dawn. To boot a rather lovely version of the John Martyn song May You Never – as the lady said, really a show of her favourite tunes – good job she has so many to chose from!

And a word for the excellent band. Great. So good to see Ben Mark on guitar (I can only find his twitter, @benmark7) both for the main set and also with Bailey Tzuke in the second support slot. I often find myself focussing on one band member for a show and tonight it was bass player Jimmy Sim with his fierce beard, 3 inch deep turn ups and shiny red bass; sounded great (especially the uke on a couple of songs) and a cheeky chappy demeanour at the back of the band.

A final word for the opener, Jamie Lawson, with a brief but rather lovely set – sounds a little bit like Robin Warren-Adamson, he of Wise Children,  not just in the vocal but the turn of phrase – anyway definitely worth checking out on wax and in person if you get the chance.

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Best of Times – My Sad Captains

MSCWell if the chance to see Shearwater in Bristol wasn’t enough, I noticed that support was from none other than My Sad Captains.

Now I burbled on about these chaps back in 2008 and 2009 but then they rather slipped off my radar and I missed the second album and other fancies took their place. It seems they had a little interregnum of sorts too but here they are now signed to the peerless Bella Union roster.

So stupid us turned up just for the later part of their set at The Fleece and so got just a tantalising taste of what they had become. I nabbed a copy of Best of Times from bass player Dan Davis from the rickety table that acted as the merch stand and promised to give it some time.

The chaps have been busy honing their skills and Best of Times is just that, all the qualities that drew me to them all that time ago but with added ‘sposh’. The echoes of Pavement are still there a little, but more now the flavours of Sea and Cake, a sort of less is more approach. A cleaner sound, more space, a sense that great care has been taken with all aspects of the album, that it has been given time to grow and emerge. Indeed it demands a little time to open up despite its clear hooks and catches.

Everything seems to happen at the right time and place, a quality that displays a confidence and sureness which means the album will last and repay repeated plays. ‘Gentle’ is the word that comes to mind in describing it, but never limp or insubstantial, My Sad Captains have produced the album I rather hoped they would all those years ago – there are all sorts of themes in here, the futility of social media-type communication, the difficulty of saying the right things to the right people, oh all sorts, but all delivered beautifully, enticingly and charmingly. Wonderful stuff indeed, I have missed them, so glad they are back.


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Patterns – Lifecycle

artworks-000062741885-u0ny27-t500x500 Lifecycle, apparently a London based trio made up of Geoff Dent on guitar and vocals Tish Austin, bass and Nick Holder on drums, popped out a single, Patterns at the end of November, as a precursor to their debut album slated for later this year. Despite a FB page and their own website/tumblr etc, plus what seems to be their own label, Ricochet Records, they feel a little hard to gather info about, still no matter.

They tag themselves as Alternative/Tribal which I guess is as good a tag set as any if you need one. In truth, based on this single and its ‘B’ side Lose Control (doesn’t ‘B side’ sound quaint…) they are a rather pleasing confection of slightly psychedelic/trippy guitar and vocals over jazzy beats and base lines – sort of Black Market era Weather Report colliding with the echoes of Gong and whiffs of early Hawkwind. Neither jazz nor rock nor electro but somehow a bit of all of that.

Tish’s email to me flags them as an independent band trying to do it for themselves, and as such of course deserve to be encouraged and supported. I can see a slew of dates last year and rather assume that there may be more this year to support the planned debut album. The Youtube clip shows them banging out Patterns in Hoxton last year, so their live capabilities are clear.

On a drear and dismal first of the year Patterns brightens up the day, reminiscent of sunnier and cheerier times, for which I can only be grateful. If Tish is as good as her word, she will keep me updated with news and progress in Lifecycle which I will be only too pleased to pass on and share – keep an eye out.

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Albums of 2013

Always in two minds about the end of year list, it does never the less prove a useful reminder of what I was listening to when new fancies steal my attention away over the next year. Based purely on the amount I have played them – which I assume means they have that certain ‘something’ that makes them special – my top ten albums of 2013 are, in no particular order (cue ludicrous and dramatic music and overlong wait)….

Local Natives – Humming Bird

Due to my laziness and pre-occupations, scandalously no scribbles on either this brilliant album nor the entirely lovely gig at the nasty Bristol O2…..

Nils Frahm – Spaces

A combination of not always technically perfect recordings from various shows, Spaces does indeed capture some of the wonder of a live Nils Frahm show – mesmerising

James Blake – Overgrown

Very nearly my album of the year before others seduced me, and most definitely one of the better gigs of the year, Mr Blake et al make some wonderful sounds

Shearwater – Travelers

Never disappointing, Shearwater put together some unexpected and glorious cover tracks in Travelers rather helpfully introducing me to bands I knew little of

Mountaineater – Mountaineater -

At last, at last, a thunderous and joyous debut from Mountaineater, taken a while but so worth it

There Will Be Fireworks – Dark Dark Bright

Late in the year before we saw the second album from TWBF – full of fabulous Caledonian vocals, evocative lyrics and sparkling playing

Message to Bears – Maps

Jerome Alexander aka Message to Bears seems unable to make anything other than rather wonderful music, and on Maps he adds more electronica to sparkling effect

Villagers – {Awayland}

Almost last year and so easy to overlook, {Awayland} proved a brave and progressive step, and the live shows!….

Turin Brakes – We Were Here

We Were Here saw TB resurgent and resplendent, like all their best bits made a bit better and as always joyful live performances

Halves – Boa Howl

Then truly remarkable Halves issued the wonderful Boa Howl along with a few dates this side of the Irish Sea carefully timed so I couldn’t see them (again)


But not to be forgotten and only not there because Top Twelve doesn’t scan as well as Top Ten, the mighty…

Tesselators – Harvest of Sorrows

Whose Harvest of Sorrows provided the opportunity for an inspired collision of the concept album and tales of super-heros – top work chaps, top work

Tom Mitchell – Ruthless Thing

The irrepressible Tom Mitchell released EP Ruthless Thing, alongside countless shows and unending enthusiasm bringing his own twist on Elliott Smith/Mark Knopfler stylee, and as a reward may see a track used in the New Year to support TV and cinema adverts – wil you talk to me when you’re famous?

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Fellow Travelers – Shearwater

Shearwater-Fellow-Travelers1Shearwaters music lights up my life in so many ways, I can hardly think of a track they have done that doesn’t find a place with me. Always exquisitely played, with immaculate production, through it all shines the extraordinary voice of Jonathan Meiberg – swooping and soaring, operatic, clean as glass, distinctive and defining.

Live they are a wonder, bringing yet more facets to their music. And they tour a fair amount, sometimes supporting, sometimes supported. From this experience has come a range of artists and their music that has connected with the band, and this latest (short) album, is a sort of recognition of some they have worked with, hence the Fellow Travelers title. A title with even greater resonance when you consider the Trotsky use of the phrase and its implications: ‘someone who does not accept all your aims but has enough in common with you to accompany you in a comradely fashion part of the way.’

So a collection of covers ranging from Xiu Xiu, to Coldplay (yes really), from Wye Oak to Clinic. So perhaps a little of a ‘my, look at the artists I know and like’ but at least you get to hear a few out-of-the-way songs as a result.

The album is booked-ended with two of the best tracks, a fragile and lovely take on Jessca Hoops, Our Only Sun and the closer and personal favourite, Fucked Up Life originally from the Baptist Generals. In between are other gems, among them the Xiu Xiu track I Luv the Valley OH and the only new song, the Sharon van Etten duet A Wake for the Minotaur.

This is an album of gentle and insidious charms, understandably without the punch of new Shearwater material but with honest and affectionate renditions of music the band loves. All delivered in an authentic and genuine fashion with the masterly musicianship and that inspiration voice.

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