Life Without Love – The Vestals

tumblr_ndqlnvwNVY1rszsrko1_1280I have rather missed that odd combination of happy misery that I used to find in some bands, but here, in this shimmering short set of indie pop gems from The Vestals,  it’s a pleasure renewed (thanks to @TheNightCountry for the alert here)

I know that some have flagged references to The Cure, The Smiths and the like in talking about The Vestals and thats all well and good but the band I rushed back to was the incomparable and sadly much over-looked Kitchens of Distinction circa Strange Free World and in particular Drive That Fast – should you have missed them twenty odd years or so ago, go look them up.

The four tracks don’t exactly outstay their welcome, running in at a scant thirteen minutes, and to tell the truth the lyrics make you want to give them a man-hug and remind them that its not so bad really. But I guess thats the point, the downcast narratives chime perfectly with the counter point that is the hook laden, perversely uplifting, melodies strung out like a little row of twinkling crystals.

The swirling syth landscape that is the first minute and a half could have been a wasted track but it actually acts as a perfect lead in to the title track, Life Without Love. I know the lead track is supposed to be the main deal, but the thing which grabbed me first was the guitar from I Mean the World to No-one with its redolence of Kitchens stylee guitar. Fourth and final track, Happiness, sounds a lot more upbeat that its lyrics intend, and a fine way to end this short set.

The Vestals prove annoyingly hard to find out much about. Apparently a five piece (or maybe three?) from the environs of Newport in South Wales, rumour has it that they are comprised of Adam on lead vocals and guitar; Sam as lead guitar, Rich on drums; Rohan on bass; and Gethin with guitar and backing vocals. But some or all of that may be untrue, who knows. You can of course discover very little about them on a myriad of social media and the like such as FB, their Tumblr, via Twitter and Soundcloud and catch their vids on Youtube and the EP can be got from iTunes of course.

But hey ho, it matters little, a very fine little packet of music the EP is, worth more than its mere £1.99. Rumour has it that they might be a good thing live, so here’s looking forward to that someday soon, eh @TheNightCountry?


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Who Do Yo Love – Hats

10687212_294282214107550_8996806642190773916_nA little over a year ago a couple of young whippersnappers from Ayrshire dropped me a line including a link to some tracks they had put down and I scribbled a few lines about Hide Away at the time.

Time rolls by and the same rascals (John and Garry by name) move to Manchester and here we are again with a teaser for another track, Who Do you Love, a (tantalisingly short) preview of which is available through Soundcloud and below. Apparently they are aiming to release it as an EP later this autumn alongside a couple of other ideas as well, perhaps via their association with We Are The Future.

The song writing, always a strength, has developed even in twelve short months, and emulates their range of musical references. Fellow Scots, The Blue Nile, are perhaps the most immediate sonic connection – the vocals (no mean comparison by the way), the chiming guitars, lush ‘string’ arrangements and the general arc and curve of the tracks.

Having listened several times to the whole track (go on chaps, put the whole thing up for everyone to listen to!) I am still surprised at how mature and rounded the sound now is, how soaring it can be, how fully formed.

If the other ‘ideas’ they have for the putative EP are as good as this, it will be a thing well worth looking out for. OK I’m off now, I’ll get my Hats…(sorry)

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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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