Sunday, 29 March 2015

Live review: Ecstatic Music Festival with Kaki King, John King and Ethel

Originally posted on Free Williamsburg HERE

kaki king john king

I took a rare trip up to the Upper West Side on Saturday night for the Ecstatic Music Festival, which featured a collaborative performance from Kaki King, composer John King, and string quartet Ethel. The festival began in mid January and runs until April the 16th and has included the likes of Helado Negro  and Julia Holter.

This was my first time at the Merkin Concert Hall, and it's a lovely setting for a show like this, although the front row (where I ended up finding a space) was probably not the best view, with the monitors blocking some of the view, and the stage being fairly high.

ethel john king

Ethel kicked the show off with Hardwood, a piece written by John King and the reason why Ethel formed as a group. It was a bit hard hearing them talking about how long ago the piece was written, because I don't want to think that the 1995 was twenty years ago! The two original members of the group, Ralph Ferris on viola and Dorothy Lawson on cello, are joined by Kip Jones and Corin Lee on violin.

ethel kaki king

Before each piece, the composer had a chance to talk about it, and John King was up next to explain Huzam and Khan Younis from his latest work, Free Palestine. On these he played the oud, which I'm not sure I've seen played live before.

Kaki King took centre stage for a couple of pieces from her most recent release, The Neck is a Bridge to the Body, which I saw performed in full last year and was blown away. A large part of that show is the visual element so while that was missing we did have the advantage of seeing Ethel perform their parts live (they are on the record), a nice contrast. They also performed Great Round Burn, from Kaki's album Glow, here is a rehearsal recording from last year.

If anything, Kaki's role in the evening was fairly restrained compared to the rest of the players over the course of the night, switching instruments around where appropriate, including bass on one of her pieces with John King, Space Baby. In any case, seeing Kaki play is a thing of beauty, she has a natural feel and style that sets her apart from most.

A stage like this is really set for the bowed instruments to make their mark, though, and Ethel are not just great players, but they also know how to perform, and it was a joy to watch them play. What almost made the night even more enjoyable was the range of styles on offer, one tends to conjure up a certain sound and aesthetic when thinking of string quartets, but those were turned upside down here.

kaki king ethel

The performance was streamed live, and should also be available Q2 music in the near future.
Kaki is back in New York on the 21st of May, performing The Neck is a Bridge to the Body at Rough Trade. Tickets are still available and I highly recommend going, I have not seen a show like it. The visuals are stunning, the interaction is wonderful and Kaki's playing is a joy to behold.

Live review: Twerps and Ultimate Painting played Rough Trade

Originally posted on Free Williamsburg HERE.

I made the trek to Rough Trade for the second time this week, this time to catch Melbourne's Twerps. In terms of the dictionary definition, the only twerps were those not watching the band on Friday night.
King Cyst were originally on the bill but were replaced with Pale Lights, and having seen the former struggle through a set at Brooklyn Night Bazaar recently, I wasn't surprised (the guitarist/singer had broken his finger and couldn't really play). I've seen Pale Lights a few times, they have a pleasant sound that was appropriate with the overall bill; the guitars jangle with a notable Go-Betweens influence. However, their awkwardness on stage is to their detriment, as sympathetic as I am about such things. Bands like Teenage Fanclub, for example, can get away with being statues because they play brilliant pop tunes, Pales Lights have a bit of work to do in that regard to say the least, but their songs are nice, though Philip Sutton reading his lyrics off a sheet seems to bemuse some in the crowd.
Pale Lights

Ultimate Painting made the trip over from the UK and feature James Hoare of Veronica Falls, whose second album in particular, Waiting for Something to Happen, cannot be recommended enough. Ultimate Painting veer more towards The Velvet Underground with their sound, which you think sounds like a clever comparison until you find out everyone says the same thing. I saw the band back in October during CMJ and have to confess, found them terribly dull, but almost half-a-year longer of being a band has done them the world of good. They were tighter and played with much more vigour as they delivered a highly enjoyable set. Their final song, a 10-minute guitar workout, was a highlight.

Ultimate Painting

Australian bands always seem to draw a crowd, although given how bad New Yorkers seem to be at gauging accents between the two countries, I wondered if they might have thought Ultimate Painting were from Australia and Twerps were from England... but Rough Trade is possibly even sold out by the time the band take to the stage.
Formed in 2008, after releasing an album and EP, it was no surprise to see them land on Merge records in the US, given that they have bands like The Clean on their roster, whom one imagines are more than adored by tonight's headliners. Songs like Shoulders and Stranger serve as a reminder that spring is on the way, and while the band have left warmer climes behind (albeit en route to Texas), their infectious tunes feel like hard-won sunshine to these ears.


Whether playing guitar or keyboards, Julia McFarlane fleshes out the band's sound with aplomb, her playing is often understated but adds texture that elevates the band beyond just another jangle-pop group.

The band's second album, Range Anxietyis out on Merge Records now, and as Martin Frawley sings on Back To You; "Somebody out there is doin' better than me", but Twerps seem to be having an incredible time right now and it's hard not to see them reach even dizzier heights.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Live review: Moon Duo played Rough Trade

Moon Duo, or perhaps rather, Moon Trio as a live act these days, gave a space-rock masterclass at at jam-packed Rough Trade on Monday night, celebrating the release of new album Shadow of the Sun, which is out now on Sacred Bones.
Opening the show was Laced, a side-project of Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur, they don't stray too far from his day job with bright guitar tones very much to the fore.
Up next was Advaeta, a local trio with whom I wasn't previously familiar. Their first song ventured into Slits territory for a while but the majority of their songs blurred the lines of shoegaze and krautrock with fuzzy guitar sounds. It was refreshing to see a band who seemed to enjoy playing, most notably drummer Lani Combier-Kapel, with her penchant for tom-tom rhythms.

Things were starting to heat up in the venue as everyone was still getting used to slightly-above freezing temperatures, but the heat seemed appropriate as Moon Duo took to the stage a little after 10pm. The band were swamped in a red glow from a rear projector, switching up colours of horizontal lines for the rest of the show. The result was simple but effective, with your attention often drawn to the band's silhouette.
Whilst some acts could be criticised for being a bit one-paced, Moon Duo's almost one-dimensional outlook translates into a multi-dimensional vibe. Repeated rhythms lay the foundation for Ripley Johnson to go wild on his guitar in true space-rock fashion. It's best not to analyse the music too much but just let yourself be swept away by it. This is certainly how many attendees went about things, reactions range from zombie-like sways to more furious head nodding.

It's that straight-and-narrow rhythmic bedrock that pulls you in, as stubbornly hugging to a template actually frees the music, with any subtle change lighting up your senses. It's enough to make you think that music itself is the best mind-altering drug.

Live Review: Viet Cong played Mercury Lounge

Viet Cong
The term "post-punk" is almost as nauseatingly ubiquitous as saying "indie", but language is descriptive and lazy-usage aside, post-punk is going to land you smack bang into Viet Cong-territory. The Canadian 4-piece arrive on a wave of expectation due to their outstanding self-titled album that has just been released; Mercury Lounge is suitably packed to the rafters (as was Union Pool the previous night).
What Moon Things
Openers What Moon Things were an appropriate appetiser for the nights main course, they've made the trek from New Paltz in upstate NY and play a quiet-loud-quiet template that reminds me of Cymbals Eat Guitars, the tone is icy  and the band locked into slow grooves. I picked up the record after the show.
Viet Cong 2
The songs on Viet Cong are often described as bleak, wintery, dark, and other synonyms, personally I find the saddest songs often the most beautiful. Regardless, it's a meticulously crafted record. The band's onstage demeanour is in contrast downright playful with smiles all round; Bassist/singer Matt Flegel smirks as he proclaims "we're going to play another serious song now".
Viet Cong 4
Six of the seven tracks from the new record get an airing, with only opening song Newspaper Spoons omitted, we were also treated to Unconscious Melody and Oxygen Feed from 2013's Cassette release. A further highlight was a brand new song, which was possibly the fastest played in the evening, more along the lines of Silhouettes, they were still working out a few parts but it seemed pretty finished to these ears.

These Calgarians are accomplished musicians and the 6/4 pattern of Bunker Buster gives the nerds something to chew on. The set was closed out with the first song of 2015 to really blow me away; Death also closes the record and you can't imagine a place for it anywhere else because there's just nowhere left to go after 11-minutes of near perfection. We do get a false start for the song as drummer Mike Wallace accidentally trips one of the guitar pedals while he steals some of guitarist Scott Munro's beer, but it's the kind of thing that adds to the charm of the night and they're back on track after some more laughs.
Viet Cong 5
Mercury Lounge's pricey beer and occasional lack of atmosphere can be a hindrance at times, but what it does have is the best sounding room in the city, which handles the band perfectly. I could imagine some of their music turning into a bit of a mess on a substandard PA, what's also interesting about seeing Viet Cong is being able to see what they're actually playing. Some parts of the record I thought were played on synths or through a pedal ended up being the opposite. The call-and-response interplay between Daniel Christiansen and Scott Munro's guitars is also best experienced live.
Viet Cong 3
Viet Cong will be back in New York for the Northside festival, with a show at Music Hall Williamsburg on the 13th of June (that happens to be my birthday...). The hype machine chews bands up and spits them out at an alarming rate, but Viet Cong are the real deal on this evidence.
Purchase Viet Cong from Jagjaguwar and Cassette from Mexican Summer.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Live Review: The Vaselines played The Bell House

Vaselines Bell House1

Originally written for Free Williamsburg HERE.

One of Glasgow's finest, The Vaselines, had fans swaying during their songs and in stitches between at The Bell House on Friday night. The once fairly enigmatic band have been going more steady since 2008 and released their third full-length record, V For Vaslines, last year. The album is packed with their customarily catchy tunes and two-part vocal harmonies; unfairly flying under the radar of critics best-of lists.

The interplay is not just left to sharing vocal duties; Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee's hilarious and often ruthless banter with one another was almost worth the cost of admission alone. The art of between-song entertainment appears to on the wane in my gig-going experience so it's always a joy to have that side of a show on point. Vaselines Bell House 2 The band were last in New York in 2012, where they also played The Bell House, but this was the first time I'd managed to catch them. The closest I had gotten before was seeing Eugene Kelly perform a solo set supporting Teenage Fanclub in Oxford well over a decade ago. The Bell House is possibly New York's finest venue these days, and the only one I can think of that seems to give a damn about serving good beer, the sound is always good and the wide room means everyone gets a decent view. Vaselines Bell House 3 The show was opened by Philadelphians Amanda X, who were a more than suitable support act. The trio's 2014 record, Amnesia, continues the recent trend of '90s influenced guitar acts that have sprung up in the last couple of years. I enjoyed their set a lot although it did remind me with a pang of remorse that I don't have a ticket to see Sleater Kinney next month. amanda x bell house

While the loudest cheers are reserved for the songs Nirvana covered back in the day: Molly's LipsJesus Wants me for a Sunbeam and the set closing Son of a Gun, it's heartening that the majority of attendees seem genuine fans of the band rather than curious grungers.

Set List:
The Day I Was a Horse
High Tide Low Tide
Oliver Twisted
Sex with an X
One Lost Year
Molly's Lips
Lonely LP
Such a Fool
I Hate the 80s
Earth is Speeding
Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam
Sex Sux
No Hope
Devil Inside Me
Crazy Lady
Let's Get Ugly
Son of a Gun

 A couple of bonus videos I took... 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Kiwi legends The Clean played Rough Trade


It's hard to overstate The Clean's influence, in a career spanning over 30 years they are arguably the go-to band of New Zealand's "Dunedin" sound. That they sold out both Rough Trade and Glasslands last week is testament to their enduring popularity; I caught the show at Rough Trade on Thursday.

Their set leaned towards longer, guitar-driven jams, rather than the short and catchy jangle pop with which casual observers may be more familiar (even Tally Ho turned into an extended jaunt). The band have never been the tightest unit in the world, which is certainly part of their charm, but did seem a little under rehearsed with many songs coming to a sudden or unnatural end. Regardless, there were many highlights including the fabulous Getting Older.

Bassist Rob Scott (whose band The Bats are also highly recommended) is the steady hand  that keeps things from going too far off track, while current New York resident Hamish Kilgour's almost languid drumming style is hypnotic in its own right. As an aside, Hamish's new band, Roya, opened the show at Glasslands on Friday but I have yet to see them (Roya also features Rahill Jamalifard of Habibi).

I've had the pleasure of seeing The Clean four times in total over the years; twice in London and twice in New York (where, as a British person I can sympathise with the Kiwis for being mistaken as Australian). David Kilgour has been making noises recently about how this might be the beginning of the end for the band. From an interview with The Quietus:
...funnily enough this jaunt coming up in the US feels like some kind of last hurrah-style adventure, albeit on the road, but I've said that before. I haven't felt like making any new Clean music deliberately in a studio for a while...
While The Clean haven't produced anything since Mister Pop in 2009, David Kilgour has released a steady stream of equally good solo material over the last 20 years and has a new album on Merge Records  called End Times Undone. The record contains some finely crafted jangle-pop for which he is known, but it is the Crazy Horse-like guitar fuzz of Down the Tubes and Dropper where the album excels.

The show certainly didn't feel like they were saying goodbye, so hopefully if they do decide to call it a day we'll get another send off. With the re-emergence of the Flying Nun record label in New Zealand, coupled with their partnership of NYC label Captured Tracks, it's an exciting time for newcomers to acquaint themselves with a scene that can rival any other. Perhaps there is no better starting point than The Clean's newly re-issued Anthology

Interview: Peter Matthew Bauer - Liberation!


Peter Matthew Bauer has stepped into the spotlight after 13 years playing various instruments in The Walkmen, who are currently on "extreme hiatus". It's not often that the end of a band can be celebrated but judging by the strength of Bauer's solo debut, Liberation!, being part of a group may well have been holding back an extremely talented songwriter. Liberation! is a spellbinding album, and it is a real album; the sum of it's parts, the flow and vibe of the full 42-minutes are a joy to behold.

Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions we had regarding the album and you can catch him on tour opening for Delta Spirit at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on the 2nd of October. Liberation! is out now on Mexican Summer, which you purchase here.

Liberation! is one of those rare records that whenever I put it on, I can't do anything else but pay attention and listen. It sounds like it was a real labour of love, did you agonise over very second during recording?
First off, thank you for listening. I would say that it felt very intuitive to make and I was obsessed with trying to work as fast as I could without thinking too much about sound or detail. I think that always helps and that’s sort of been how I’m trying to go about what I do from here on out. This keeps the agony to a minimum.

The album is sequenced perfectly, did you have to cut any songs in favour of the overall flow?
After I'd written the first four or five songs I had this idea for the whole record- so the rest of it was written to fit the part. Anything that didn't work kind of fell apart before it was finished. It had a plot that I followed all the way through.

Had you been squirrelled these songs away for some time or did you start from scratch after The Walkmen called it a day?
I'd never sung anything myself so I had to figure out my own voice, how to sing, and then write music that could help that along. Maybe there were a few musical ideas from the old band that came back up but really that stuff feels very far away now, like it was something from a different place and time.

What was it like growing up in an ashram? I imagine most people don’t even know what one is. 
I think it was an important experience for me in terms of how I've ended up seeing the world. Most of what I remember about India, when I was very young are certain visceral images- the ashram gardens, this statue of the god hanuman on top of a mountain. Later, my family spent a lot of time in an ashram in upstate New York. I remember this much more clearly as we were there on and off until I was a teenager. So I sort of came of age there. But all this stuff- there was always a meditation center in my parents basement and still is- its very integrated into how it was until I left home. So it’s hard to say what it was like I guess? Some of the people were very strange, some were very needy or troubled, others were wonderful just like anywhere else. I would say I had a lot of trouble when I was younger. I was very bothered by the cultish aspects of the place, by the charlatanism. As I get older I find it all very interesting, and also pretty integral to how these organizations and worlds seem to arise.

I want to touch on some of the religious/spiritual aspects of the record. Sometimes you're taking swipes, sometimes you're sympathetic and other times there is ambiguity, I was particularly interested when you said "you can also arrive at some sort of strange, joyful experience right now without believing anything". As someone who pays close attention to where science and religions clash, I find that message to be very important, that people can have awe, wonder and mystery without having to resort to anything unbelievable. Is that something you wrestle with?
I think I started out with this idea of writing of about varieties of religious experience, mystical phenomena, my own upbringing in all that. So some of it was very angry, some of it was poking fun of things, some of it was using that negativity and absurdism to try to get at some real feeling of joy and expansion without feeling like I was lying to myself or others in any way. I don’t have time for true believers, I don’t mind going after people, trying to break down belief, trying to break down whatever remains of this stuff in myself but I’ve yet to be convinced that this kind of small minded rationalism of mainstream science is anything more than another religion, another kind of half assed construct that is easy to breakthrough. Maybe because of how I was raised, I think I’ve always come from the basic vantage point that anyone who is sure about what they believe is pretty much an asshole. I know I don’t know anything. I can’t imagine how anyone else can be so certain. Since making this record, I feel like I’ve become more and more comfortable just living in the phenomena present around me, making everything up as it happens. Wonder and mystery arise from our own perception and experience.

It didn't really sound like The Walkmen were having fun anymore, and despite some heavy themes in the lyrics, Liberation! ultimately sounds like a pretty positive record. Was that something you made a conscious decision about or did the songs just come out that way?
I’d say when I’ve tried to write something entirely dark and serious so far, it’s come out pretty damn maudlin. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. I would be so damn ecstatic if I could write something truly bleak and heartbreaking but for now, I think I’ve found all my entrances into what I want to write about through moments that seemed sort of over the top, theatrical, kind of funny really, at least at the time.

The Walkmen are known as a Brooklyn band, do you now identify as a Philadelphia artist? How has leaving the city affected you as a musician (if at all)?
I think of the Walkmen as a band I was in during my 20s in western Harlem. We had a studio at 132nd and Broadway and I lived on 138th street. Anything after that was a band that worked pretty individually, maybe as a group sometimes but never with a geographical center other than where the group traveled at the time. One record was in Oxford, Mississippi. One in Dallas. Two in Tribeca with Chris Zane. One in Washington State.

I think the record I just made was very Philadelphia centric, but I’m not sure I’ve really set down roots here. I’ve got a lot of friends here, a life, and the musicians on this thing are all Philly folk. I love it here. Having said that, I’m not sure you can make more than one of these things coming from the same place. I like to change everything. It’s useful and gives things a spark. My band is very Austin, Texas oriented right now. And on top of that, I’ve been very much California dreaming recently. I’d love to get out west someday. I think I’ve done my time on the east coast of America.

You're opening for Delta Spirit at the moment, including a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on the 2nd of October, what kind of set can people expect who haven't seen you before?
Everytime I do this these days, there’s different people, new life to the band but also the worry that we’re just gonna fall on our damn faces. So this tour, the band is a different line up than the last and we are all going to get together this week and figure it out. I’ve been singing with 2 or 3 female singers one of whom is my wife Marisa and that will continue. My friend Matt Oliver from Texas will do almost all the guitars, his old drummer Jordan Johns also from Texas will play with us too. Mickey Walker is my old pal from Philadelphia and he plays the bass.
So far, I feel like I’ve started to really stumble on to something with all these folks, a very different energy that is very crazy and chaotic and very joyful and I think it continues to grow. By the end of our last run, I thought we were a damn strange and loud as hell rock and roll band that felt like we had a reason to live and someplace to go. Hopefully, we can get to that again.