Small Tales – Accents

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Some very kind people send me links to various bands and artists looking for a mention, a few words, a retweet or whatever it takes in this age of global corporate shebang to get some exposure.

Oft times these ‘indie’ labels are just affiliates of some crushing international label but sometimes they are from the real deal, like the poke I got from the wonderful Deep Elm (more of them later) about Albany, NY funsters, Accents.

Small Tales is a five track follow up to their full album Tall Tales building on their theme of insecurities and how, no matter how old you get, they still bug the life out of you (I think might have left the PR-script trail here, hope I am on the right lines!). But worry not, this is not some collection of angst-ridden, bedroom-doom nonsense for, Lo! here’s a band that can play and sing (TJ Foster has a fine pair of lungs indeed), and feel as though they have their own distinct path; huzzah for a bit of authenticity!

photo_561The five tracks here all have that same combination of americana, a whiff of old skool English folk (despite being determinedly US), a healthy bit of indie-style punch (especially in the guitar department) some spot on harmonies staying firmly the right side of cloying and some lovely Decemberist-esqe story telling. So a bit American, a bit British and more than a bit good…

Now Deep Elm. Hurry you along to their web site to browse their rather eclectic portfolio of bands – here is a proper indie label par excellence, and whats more right now you can grab any of their albums on a name-your-price basis. A label of passion and conviction, relying on the quality of its artists and their music and not a bunch of over-hyped puff, this is the stuff we all should support. If there is nothing here that excites you then presumably you have already passed to the other side….why not start the exploration with Accents and their fabby new Ep and rather splendid back catalogue?

 

 

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Adam Holmes at the Convent Club

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It had been a heck of a week but as the Convent Club is but a hop skip and a jump away and there were two tickets with our names on, off we went despite our lethargy, and how glad we were that we did.

Scotch in hand and propped up in the side pews of the stunning Chapel venue at the Convent we had an evening of two remarkable voices – the main talent Adam Holmes and his band the Embers, and to open the proceedings, a short set from Paul Gilbody (more of him anon).

Mr Holmes has quite a voice for one still so stubbornly young. It of course has the Caledonian twang I find so irresistible, a bit of gravel in there that suggests more disappointments than he can have yet experienced, and a little whiff of soul for good measure.

The set had a good smattering of tracks from his debut album from earlier this year, Heirs and Graces, but one or two penned by others, such as the beautifully delivered Loretta written by Townes van Zandt, both an influence and a hero one suspects.

The Embers are no slouches either, including fine work by Paul Gilbody on guitar and Alex Hunter on bass. But live, as on the album (produced by the inestimable John Wood of John Martyn and  Nick Drake fame) it is the voice that is the star and rightly takes centre stage.

IMG_1931It was another equally impressive voice that kicked the evening off. Paul Gilbody, who’s pedigree working with other such as Alex Cornish, is impressive, but tonight we had four songs from him: Untwined, Sisyphus, Best Friend and Magnets Have Souls. I would have enjoyed a longer set but hey ho another name to add to the ‘watch’ list and hope an EP pops out sooner rather than later.

It is only right to mention the Chapel at The Convent as an outstanding venue; not just the gothic surroundings but the exceptional sound and care used in producing evenings like this and their streamed counterparts. Hats off to Matt and Charlotte for providing us such (as yet slightly under-recognised) opportunities.

But it was an evening for the voice, that most emotional of instruments and two fine exponents, here’s hoping they remember where to find us now and come back again soon

 

 

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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

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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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