Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Class of '08: Ten Essential Albums

Simon Bookish - Everything/Everything
A bold, cerebral jazz/pop record from the elusive post-classical post-everything diva. Science, knowledge and information overload are the backdrop for this startlingly ambitious album. One of the essential must-hear records of the year.
MP3: Dumb Terminal

Beach House - Devotion
A candlelit record of slow stories and sweet sentiments told via a sparse palette of guitar, organ, voice and drums, this tender record is a underrated gem. tells me I listened to 'Gila' 73 times in the last six months, and I've a feeling I'll listen to it as many again in the next six.
MP3: Gila

Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing
Mind-alteringly awesome melodic noise from the ubiquitous duo. Live, they can be transcendental, and the album doesn't disappoint. Their new more rhythmic material, played as part of their recent shows, will be one of the most eagerly anticipated follow-ups of 2009.
MP3: Bright Tomorrow

Cats In Paris - Courtcase 2000
Kaleidoscopic indie-pop from this genre-smashing band of sweethearted kool kids from the North. 'Courtcase 2000' is stuffed with imagination and ingenuity from start to finish.
MP3: Foxes

Atlas Sound - Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
Deerhunter's Bradford Cox is in a prolific phase at the moment. Atlas Sound is an outlet for his more ambient leanings, and this record is a beautifully warm glide into Cox's unique reinvention of the shoegaze genre, playfully termed 'ambient punk'. Cox was also a guest DJ at Brainlove's Club NME room this year - dig the tracklisting out in the blog archive...
MP3: Quarantined

Marnie Stern - This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That
She's most famous for her technically adept shredding technique, but more important is the manic upbeat spirit of Stern's second album. Every song explodes with energy, making this one of the most genuinely exciting records of the year.
MP3: Transformer

Hammock - Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow
An achingly beautiful hour-long record of ambient reverb soundscapes that became one of my most listened to records of 08. I initially thought this one was bit soppy, but ended up loving it after a trip to Iceland softened me up massively.
MP3: Mono No Aware

Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You
Three years in the making, and 'Parallax Error Beheads You' is a breath of fresh air. A dizzying whirlwind of beeps and beats make it a deceptively frenetic listen but 'Parallax Error' has a heart made of pop, bringing to mind The Jackson 5 and Germlin in equal measure.
MP3: Which Song

Parenthetical Girls - Entanglements
I know I've banged on about them a lot on this blog over the last few months, but Parenthetical Girls are a completely unique band with a brutally poetic lyrical canon and some grandly ambitious arrangements. There are shades of Xiu Xiu and Scott Walker, but Parenthetical Girls remain a true original.
MP3: A Song For Ellie Greenwich

The Acorn - Glory Hope Mountain
The Acorn are the kind of slow-burning band that Bella Union have a gift for unearthing. Their sound lies somewhere between the homely folk of their ubiquitous labelmates Fleet Foxes and the grand anthems of The Arcade Fire. Complex arrangements are are played on humble instrumentation, and they bounce between sparse ballads and heartfelt singalongs with ease.
ZIP: The Acorn Live in Session

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Parenthetical Girls - A Song For Ellie Greenwich

One of the singles of the year, taken from Parenthetical Girls' grand, elusive big-band album Entanglements.

The song is out via Tomlab on 7", and is available as a free download here. My interview with singer Zac Pennington is here.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Brainlove TV Update: Beach House, Parenthetical Girls, Olof Arnalds + more

Yup, big update over at Brainlove TV. Live videos, music videos, streaming film from Keyboard Choir's show... loads to look at:

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Telepathé – Dance Mother

Review for Artrocker

MP3: Chrome's On It

I first saw Telepathé at an Upset The Rhythm show, supporting Xiu Xiu, earlier in the year. UTR, for the uninitiated, are one of the very best promoters in London – not only for their headliners, who have recently included such luminaries as Deerhunter, No Age and Why? but also for their stellar support lineups. Everyone turns up early for UTR shows, and often they’re the first to pick up on great new bands such as High Places, Parenthetical Girls and, yes, Telepathé.

The show was an odd one – the two singers Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais singing in a plaintive, disaffected style over minimal beats and laptop backing. But there’s something intriguing and even compulsive about Telepathé’s songs. And on their debut album “Dance Mother”, produced by Dave Sitek of TV On The Radio, they have succeeded in pulling the very best out of their material.

Detached murmuring, echoing drums, heavy basslines and dark poetry sit alongside ambient whispers, tribal drum batterings and a pervasive sense of unease and emotional intensity. For something with so much echo and distance in the sounds and delivery, the twilit torch song ‘Can’t Stand It’ and the diazepam-sweet ‘Drugged’ ache with magic and wonder, and the initial feeling of detachment breaks into an unexpected wave of wistful empathy.

Dance Mother is an inventive, engrossing, slow-burning record with surprising depths to discover.

Beach House @ Cargo

Written for The Line Of Best Fit

MP3: Master Of None
MP3: Gila

Beach House suit London's Cargo. It's a cavernous space with speakers in the various bars and seating areas, filling the whole venue with the sound of whoever is playing. In the main room an enormous mirror ball coats the vaulted walls in flickering specks of light. On the right night, it's a very atmospheric place, and on this freezing London evening Cargo is the perfect setting for a packed out headline show from this recent Bella Union signing.

Beach House make warm, intimate, fairylit music. Their sound is a warm, embracing drift played on organ, guitar, drums and vocals. They open with the first two tracks from their recent stunningly beautiful album "Devotion", 'Wedding Bell' and 'You Came To Me'; two heart-stopping slow-motion poems that float along on muted drums and gentle slide guitar, droning organ and captivating voice of singer Victoria Legrand.

Legrand sways like a rag doll, her fright wig hair ever more extravagantly unkempt. Song after song rolls from the speakers, each every bit as beautiful as the last. The start of "Gila" draws a gasp from the crowd, and "Master Of None" sounds so perfect I want to breath in the sound just to hang on to it a little longer.

This dreamy pop music is a slow revelation. The only low point in the performance is that it ever has to end, leaving the audience warmed through, washed up and wanting more on the rainswept Shoreditch streets.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

ATP: The Nightmare Before Christmas 08

Review for The Fly

Butlins Minehead might not seem like the most obvious place for a Mike Patton curated festival of leftfield metal, hip-hop and electronica, but the mismatched collection of arcades, theme bars, fast food joints and terraced chalets proves an oddly fitting environment for this Christmas All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.

Detroit's Dirtbombs have an early evening slot in the vast main hall that doesn't quite suit their explosive, authentic garage-rock style, but they still proceed to belt out an accomplished show, complete with two drummers and some awesome guitar-humping solo heroics from their iconic frontman Mick Collins.

Stockhausen's Kontakte is a mammoth experimental piece that encompasses tape loops, gongs, piano, bells, percussion and countless other instruments and gizmos. Four sets of speakers surround the silent audience, sending sparse sounds skittering around the room; disorientating and brilliant.

The Melvins

The Locust have, if anything, mellowed out slightly – their seminal apoplectic grindcore outbursts now come with ace prog interludes too. The Melvins’ counterintuitive timing shifts, two drummers, and endless sludgy riffing reveals their full range across the course of their hour of virtuosic metal filth. Iceland’s Ghostigital fuse effects-laden drum patterns with oddball MCing from ex-Sugarcubes frontman Einar Örn and discordant trumpet blasts from his adolescent son Kaktus.

Dälek are a progressive hip-hop outfit on Mike Patton's Ipecac label, and the highlight of my weekend. They fuse languid beats with pulsing basslines and waves of atmospheric lap steel guitar, building slowly and purposefully until the atmosphere is electrified with swathes of sound. Dälek are a real original - unstoppable and intense. LISTEN

Mike Patton’s rogue supergroup Fantomas combine spazzy grindcore segments with creepy renditions of film soundtracks, weirdo funk and wonky pop. It’s a self consciously mind-bending musical concoction that bears more than a little resemblance to the construction of Patton’s challenging and unforgettable ATP bill.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Brainlove meets Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls

Zac @ Upset The Rhythm, The Dome, London / Photo: Ama Chana

MP3: Love Connection pt. 2

Parenthetical Girls are an elusive conundrum of a band. Their 2006 breakthrough album, "Safe As Houses", is a record packed with dense, emotionally charged passages telling tales of domestic strife and familial horrors over taut, minimal compositions. Their recent long player "Entanglements" is a sharp change of direction; an ornate big-band pop record that can be at times both devastating and absurd.

Live, and at full strength, Parenthetical Girls are an incredible spectacle. Their lynchpin and frontman Zac Pennington thrives in front of a crowd, stamping his feet and smashing cymbals to the ground, or invading the audience. His angelic, elfin features, feminine gait and refined, buttoned-down dress sense make him a thoroughly engaging performer.

I caught up up Zac on the last night of Parenthetical Girls' UK tour to talk about pop stardom, childhood memory loss, Anglophilia, and the female condition.

John Brainlove: I first found Safe As Houses via the thoroughly modern method of an eMusic recommendation - "people who listened to Xiu Xiu also listened to" - way before you'd released anything over here, and described it as an "almost concept album". The themes are very strong on the record, with the songs all linking in terms of subject matter - the twins theme, the alternating male/female perspectives, childbirth, pregnancy, childhood and adolescence, and this pervasive interest in intense passages of life...

Zac Pennington: With the exception of a few songs that are more tangental, it was originally conceived as sort non-linear narrative about individual characters. Ultimately what it was that I was trying to write a record that was related to actual events in my life, and tie them to this idea of this personal, bloated, narcissistic mythology I guess. The idea being that I had no recollection of my childhood hardly at all, so that record was me trying to put the pieces together into a cohesive narrative from these snapshot memories I have. But it's also almost entirely fictionalized. But I definitely think it was interesting to me, and continues to be, the idea of writing from different perspectives and from different characters. We made the pink album and I was generally happy with it, but one thing that I needed to do was make something that seemed like it was necessary to be made, not that it was a grand and important thing, but I was tired of making something that I thought was already represented. The idea of making a record that was in part about trying to challenge the romantic notions that most male songwriters have in writing about women, with the idea that they are idolized in pop songs, or a man is, y'know, left behind... there are these formulas that reoccur in pop love songs and I wanted to do something that was completely unromanticising the female condition. Yeah, so that's kind of an overview of what I was wanting to work on. It's kind of the same way now with the new album, but trying to do things slightly differently. Not as earnestly this time around.

JB: On Safe As Houses, lots of it is written from an autobiographical perspective, but it skips around a lot between characters... but the delivery is so emotive, you wonder whether it contains any actually autobiography... or if it's all fiction.

ZP: It's hard to quantify where it begins and ends. When that album came out I was very hesitant to talk about it being autobiographical but I think that there's quite a good deal, there are touchstones of reality, but through a skewed sense of a person's own lapses in memory, and not having a full memory of things that actually happened.

JB: So, do you have no memory at all of childhood? When do your memories start?

ZP: I remember... blips... there are so many gaps...

JB: Do you think you remember unusually little?

ZP: I really don't remember anything explicit aside from little blips, before the age of 13. I dunno, that sounds like it's one of those really self aggrandizing mythological statements or whatever. I mean, there are bits that I know as reality in retrospect, but not as memory...

JB: So you've had some of your own past told to you like stories?

ZP: I guess so, yeah. But my family doesn't talk about anything, so...

JB: I'm kind of tempted to insensitively grill you on specifics at this point.

ZP: Yeah? I'm not sure if it would be worth anything.

JB: Well, if you spend a bit of time with Safe As Houses, you do get curious about where it's all come from. I guess the big question with the recurring twins motif and the male/female perspectives and the dead kids songs... did you have a twin?

ZP: No, that's fictional. Also, my mother isn't a really dreadful human being, those are things that are projected... I talked to my mother at great length before the album was released to give her the sense that I don't have any contempt for her in any way, I think in a lot of ways there are people in my life, and the characters on the album... I was trying to imagine myself in their circumstances and how I would have reacted to their lives if it was me, and I feel like they handled it a lot better than I would have, and trying to understand their circumstances...

JB: That sounds like a very writerly way to go about lyrics...

ZP: I guess so, yeah. I've never written fiction outside of pop music. I like writing in the form of pop music... I feel like I'm not good at prose.

MP3: A Song For Ellie Greenwich

JB: Are the characters we get on the album the full extent of the character? Or do you work them up outside of that?

ZP: Well, I take a really long time to write, there's definitely concept there. But it's all elementally tied to real people, and imagined realities for real people. It's not like sketching out characters, but that's why I really like writing pop music. To be effective in it you have to write very small. A friend of mine who writes screenplays was saying how they find songs to be the easiest art, because in other art forms you have to flesh out theme and character but in pop songs the main objective is to convey and emotion, and that's all you have to do to have a successful pop song. The best songs are written very small and contained, and you don't have enough room to elaborate. It's hard to do that well, and I still struggle with that. But I think it's not the easy art, it's a real challenge to say something interesting and contain emotion. A lot of people look at pop music as a trifling thing.

JB: The subjects your music touch on is really dark and intense a lot of the time, which isn't something you really find in a lot of contemporary pop. I can't imagine songs about miscarriage being sung by Britney... it seems like difficult subject matter in pop is pretty rare.

ZP: Well, more than pop music, I find pop stardom incredibly interesting. For the most part I feel like I'm drawn to weirdly dark pop music from the past. For example, I'm a huge Scott Walker fan, he's a really iconic figure for me. The idea of that music being made when it was being made incredible, it's so dark, and then he had a TV show here. In the U.S. it wasn't popular at all.

JB: Yeah, I've heard that you're a bit of an Anglophile. Is this your first trip here?

ZP: Yeah, it's my first real trip, the first proper one. It's been bittersweet because it's been fleeting. It's been a massive treat for me, especially Manchester. It was pretty huge for me. I've been wanting to do this trip for a very long time. The vast majority of my musical and cultural interests are based here. It's an easy thing to fetishize living in America I think. I hope to come back really soon.

JB: You self released your first two record on Slender Means Society, but now you're on Tomlab... how has it been letting go of the details of releasing your stuff?

ZP: Not good at all! I'm so nitpicky about all the little things and details. But it's great to be on Tomlab, the association being on the same label as Final Fantasy and people that we love.

JB: So, Entanglements. It's a real departure. You must have made the decision on how it was going to sound really early.

ZP: Before we did Safe As Houses, I had conceived of Entanglements. It was just me and I was working with The Dead Science. They were pretty busy, and Entanglements was a pretty ambitious deal. It wasn't realistic, and I wasn't confident enough to make it. Finally they gave me a tough love moment and wrote me a note saying they couldn't do any more on it, and I don't have skills to do what I needed to do to finish it by myself. So I formed a new band and it's been the same for two years now pretty much. Matt has a degree in composition and went to school for that kind of thing, so it was serendipitous to start working with him. We scrapped everything and started Safe As Houses. But now we've been a stable band for a long time, so we salvaged it and pulled together my vague concepts and phrases. I wanted it to be like a 60s pop record, like Sinatra. I'm not great at music and I rely on other people to make it a reality for me. I'm not proficient at playing anything and it's taxing for me to try. So we were a real band for the first time, and we were able to try not to rush and make this record.

JB: Yeah, it's really ambitious, so many musicians involved...

ZP: Yeah. We weren't able to pay anyone, and we recorded with everybody individually so there was no big orchestra or anything. We went to people's living rooms to record the parts. But musically, we wrote the songs, Matt did the orchestration, and Jerich from the Dead Science helped out.

JB: It's such a grand gesture of a record, to make that decision on the type of sound you wanted. And there's a real dissonance between the bright and cheery 60's pop song sound and the dark, dense subject matter.

ZP: Yeah, Scott Walker's solo albums use some of those ideas, to match those really schmaltzy sonic ideas with occasionally grotesque subject matter. It was like taking what we did with Safe As Houses to the next extreme. But ultimately it's just pop music... we had this notion of making everything bigger and bigger and bigger. And from Entanglements, we can't go bigger. I don't think we'll make a record that sounds like Entanglements ever again. It seems like it's in the same trajectory as the earlier albums.

JB: And the new songs live sound very stripped back, like alternative versions.

ZP: Yeah, it's out of necessity. But we did do one album show where we played with a full orchestra and it was the first time any of us has heard how the songs sounded really. It was really cool, but I doubt it will ever happen again. I feel like I've been surprised by people's reactions to it. People don't know how to approach it, because it's such a different thing in some ways. We're very aware that our albums function as albums, and that playing them out, the songs, while we like them, don't translate as well as the albums. We make albums, and it's a funny time to be doing that.

JB: I guess so with the format as an entity being questioned... are you bringing albums back?

ZP: Ha, I don't want to be charged with that, but I guess so.

Entanglements is out now on Tomlab.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Songs In The Key Of Brainlove #1


Hello and welcome, dear readers, to the first in a new series of columns I'm gonna be writing for Drowned In Sound, on the most weird and wonderful sounds that come into my ears. I got more columns than the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was alleged to have. Believe!

So, there's a certain strand of mathy, crowded, syncopated, hi-speed avalanche-of-notes cross-genre stuff going around at the moment. This frenetic strand of music tickles the brain in mysterious ways, with the listener running to keep up behind coiling, looping polyrhythms, instinctively understanding the melodies before critical faculty can even get into gear, and generally being absorbed, surprised and outfoxed in an enjoyably adrenalizing way. Like the hyper-hyper breaks mashup of Glasgow's prodigious Germlin (example: his seminal collaboration with fellow Adaadat artist DJ Scotch Egg here), and the apoplectic, hysterical electronica of Kevin Blechdom, this accelerated ADHD-core functions as both a too-loud-too-fast aural overload and the most excitingly transgressive variant of melodic pop music you've ever heard.

Germlin has long rated Max Tundra (a.k.a. Ben Jacobs) as a powerful influence, and he's name checked the aforementioned Kevy B by track 2, so it's with Tundra's new record 'Parallax Error Beheads You' that we'll begin. Vacillating between Jackson 5-esque soulful pop music, bizarro Megadrive chiptunes, chopped-up vocoder glitchcore and countless other new sub-sub-sub-subgenres, Parallax Error is teeming with creativity. Setting out 6 years ago to make "the most original record ever", Jacobs has created a mind-bending synthesis of his madcap vision. This is truly next-level stuff, and not just in the shoot-'em'-up soundtrack sense.

Max Tundra - Will Get Fooled Again

The third Simon Bookish album 'Everything/Everything' sounds positively sedate after the brain chaos of Parallax Error, but offers it's own unique brand of mind-boggling sonic pointillism. You may have noticed it not exactly breaking down the door of the mainstream media, but for the keen-eyed music geeks among us, the steadily mounting critical applause has come from all the right places. In fact, Pitchfork are offering a free track here. Everything/Everything is a loosely woven concept album based around the themes of knowledge, science, media saturation, taxonomy, experience... and, by extension, all the stuff of modern life itself. Intelligent arrangements, whimsical humour, arch delivery, shards of autobiography and vivid poetry combine into a stunningly ambitious construction. One of the essential records of 2008.
MP3: Dumb Terminal

Simon Bookish photo by Lucy Jay for The Quietus

Marnie Stern manages to turn that most ubiquitous and often bluntest of all instruments, The Electric Guitar, into some kind of holy transmitter of all things ace. Following on where noteable but flawed bands like Deerhoof and Melt Banana tail off, her intimidatingly titled second album 'This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That' is a visceral and impassioned hi-NRG mathpop record. 'Prime' is a shrill battering ram of a song, tumbling into the almost classical shredding of 'Transformer' (video below). 'Ruler' is one of the most exciting and catchy songs of the year. I can't wait to see this shit live. All I can say is - <3.

Marnie Stern - Transformer

So-hot-right-now major label fledgling popstar FrankMusik might not be a natural fit next to these right-on pillars of the leftfield, being of an oddly schizophrenic musical disposition. You can hear A-ha's euphoric 80's teen heartache anthems stitched alongside bits of dancefloor-friendly 90's boyband schtick and Fischerspooner synth octaves. Right now, it's unclear whether FrankMusik wants to be Robbie Williams or Max Tundra - but with songs as creepily, efficiently catchy as 'Thee Little Words', who cares?

FrankMusik - Three Little Words

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


VOTE HERE for Fuck Buttons to win The Guardian's best debut album award!

Album review for The Line Of Best Fit in January '08

It’s dark tonight. Above my head in the clear sky, there are a million stars dusted across the inky blackness. Down here on the ground, blank rolls of mud-brown hills stretch out in front of me. Somewhere close by there is water, a huge amount of it, a crushing weight of water being pulled back and forth by the gravity of the moon. I can hear the crashing sound as it flagellates the shoreline. Somewhere far below my feet, I’ve been told there is a hot, molten core of fire in the heart of this planet, but up here above the earth’s mantle a cold breeze breathes onto my face, past me, through me. My attention moves to my own breathing, the air being consumed by my ravenous lungs, and I listen to my heart as it beats the blood around my body. My eyes stare outwards, and somewhere in the space behind, my consciousness realises itself once again.

Dark skies, inky blackness, soft mud, roaring oceans, fire, nature, blood, and selfhood in the face of an unknowably vast universe - quite a palette of evoked imagery and invoked subject matter. But entry into this grand exploration is just one of the things offered up by Fuck Buttons’ astonishing debut album, Street Horrrsing.

‘Sweet Love For Planet Earth’ begins with a tinkling electronic windchime that gradually gives way to a tidal flow of distorted keyboard, layered up into a gentle repetition, buffeted by waves of semi-comprehensible screamed vocals, and lifted further by crashing aural fronts and eddies. It summons up a sense of celestial wonder and draws out the spirit like a full moon. It’s an adrenalising experience, and it flows straight into the tribal percussion of ‘Ribs Out’, with preternatural vocals cawing and hooting and coming off like an alien bird of paradise. ‘OK, Let’s Talk About Magic’ introduces a rasping mechanical beat and pulsing synth; ‘Bright Tomorrow’ is the most anthemic track here, light-hearted and giddily emotional, and a fitting melodic counterpoint to some of the denser slabs of distortion. The album unfolds through different combinations, structures and sequences drawn from this sound palette, intelligently exploring and mapping out the transcendental possibilities contained therein.

Possibly the most notable aspect of Street Horrrsing is the breadth of subject matter it manages to evoke. For a largely instrumental album with an absolute minimum of coherent lyrics, it’s teeming with content. Whether or not the specific subjects are something that come from within the listener, or something presented as an intrinsic element of the music is a question from philosophers not humble music journalists, so I won’t go into specifics - but I found my mind wandering far and wide under it’s influence.

Fuck Buttons’ music explodes what is expected of it to fire the imagination, and the resultant album is the most fully realised debut of recent years. Their imminent success (including a sprawling tour of the US with Caribou) will hopefully bring them some richly deserved wider recognition.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

ATP: RELEASE THE BATS, Kentish Town Forum, 30/11/08

For Subba Cultcha

And so, friends, we go bravely into the breach once more. The booze 'n' blood splattered noise party that is All Tomorrows Parties' annual Release The Bats is upon us again like a still-warm technicolor zombie drug bastard lurching from a pukey Shoreditch doorway. The promise of a free ATP chalet for the best outfit is enough temptation for a good proportion of the assembled hipsters to make the effort, and the bands don't let the side down either. First stop on the highway to hell: NYC's Lightning Bolt.

Lightning Bolt: "Do You Don't Me Want Me To Love You?"

A masked man pummels the drums like they're trying to take his life. Another masked man wrestles his guitar, flipping out tangled distorto-riffs and chunky chords. Both are positioned on the venue floor, surrounded by the zombified audience. From the balcony, we're afforded a decent viewpoint of the action; the slightly polite moshing from the assembled noisenik sausagefest; the regularity with which the guitar's headstock nearly gives someone a facial gash they won't be able to peel off; the entertaining panic of the security guards as they realise the band have no protection from an increasingly active crowd. Every song sounds like a speeded-up, beaten-down, messy version of the Beatles' Helter Skelter. Good shit.

Pissed Jeans: "Do You Love Me?"

Pissed Jeans win the wooden spoon for fancy dress, but are saved by a frontman who's all twitching, seething awkward angles, knees and elbows and hips and shoulders. He's clearly graduated the Nick Cave school of showmanship with honours, and his band from The Birthday Party school of nasty old bastard fuzzrock. Heavy, sludgy riffs ripple outwards while he rants and wails and paces the stage. This is nasty, violent music: more good shit.

Wooden Shjips: "Dangerous Magical Noise"

Slowing things down a bit, Wooden Shjips run riot with a choice selection of bass-led grooves and hazy psychedelia, coming on like Spaceman 3 playing the blues. I can't remember if they dressed up, but there was at least one awesome beard on the stage, so they're let off the meathook on that front. I'm not massively into their set, but am very aware that they're occupying the "Deerhunter slot"... said band played here last year and quickly went from zero to hero when I heard their recordings, so Wooden Shjips are a band I plan to check out again soon.

Les Savy Fav

Les Savy Fav: "It's good to be alive, but it's better to have died.."

The rock 'n' roll spectacle of the night comes from Les Savy Fav, who proceed to tear it the fuck up with more gusto than anyone could reasonably expect from an aging, bearded, pot-bellied frontman. Within the first song he's in the crowd, then he's simula-boning a decorative zombie mannequin, then pogoing in his pants... song two and he's off around the vast Forum balcony, the mic lead taut above the rictus grinning heads of the audience. Before the gig is out, the air is full of flying toilet rolls, and he's doing a coordinated dance with a fan dressed in a paper mache Les Savy Fav head. I can't really remember what it sounded like, but this was fucking rad.


Shellac: "BITE!"

Steve Albini's Shellac win the costume prize, easily. Their drummer is a hissing dracula who stalks the stage between apoplectic explosions of rhythm; the bass player chugs along dressed as a green, bolt-necked Frankenstein, and method acts through the show, emitting no words except for a deadpan "RAAARRRRGGGHH". Albini is a lurching mummy, bandaged from head to toe, with his glasses operched on the end of his bandaged nose. The music spits and snarls despite the comedic get-up, misanthropic and endlessly, powerfully negative. The lyrics cancel themselves out regularly: "this song is for our sponsor / we don't have a sponsor / this song is for a special girl / there's no such thing as a special girl". Shellac is relentlessly, refreshing nasty, from the counter-intuitive rhythm changes to the scowling, menacing guitar lines. This music bites and leaves a mark.

Om close the night, but the room is emptying faster than a mass grave on Halloween, so we decide to catch them another time go pouring out into the night alight with excitement at the spectacle we've just seen. Roll on ATP, and roll on Halloween 09.

Top two photos courtesy of Nick Helderman.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Lambchop @ Union Chapel 04/011/08

For Music OMH

The Union Chapel is one of London's most beautiful venues. The flickering candles, wooden pews, glowing stained glass windows and arched vaulting combine to provide a venue as thick with expectant atmosphere as it is with dreamy natural reverb. It's a great setting for the borderline narcoleptic mellowness of Lambchop.

Lambchop (tonight a seven-piece on guitars, percussions, piano, bass and keyboards) play their new record, "Oh (Ohio)" in full, clearly relishing the chance to give the new material a spin. The new record is typical fare from a prolific band who never really change that much; and while this might sound like damning with faint praise, in this case the continuity is becoming. Lambchop don't make bad albums, and their ever-attentive fans continue to lap up their output.

Tonight, Kurt Wagner's paper-dry voice is softened by the sound of the room, to the point at which the echoing lyrics are hard to decipher. His voice is reduced to another instrument, a comforting drawl of echo that sits in the foreground of the sound. It's a slight shame - Lambchop's lyrics are great - but easily forgivable in the context of the evening. The still, echoey, pink-lit space of the Union Chapel provides a dreamy backdrop to Lambchop's subtle, domestic style.

Wagner is ever the charismatic performer, rocking in his seat with his knees clenched together, arching his back and running his fingers over the strings with a flourish. For the rousing finale of the "Oh (Ohio)" set, he ditches the guitar, pulling himself up with the mic stand and jabbing his finger towards the crowd, his deep, croaking old voice rising up to the back of the balcony. These few moments of movement are accentuated by the stillness of the performance; Lambchop can lift the roof off of any venue when they get into full swing.

They finish with a few fairly obscure older numbers - even though I own five albums I'm nowhere near familiar with everything they've done - and a rousing version of their signature song 'Up With People'. Lambchop are as assured, consistent and accomplished as ever, and with performances like this coming as naturally as breathing, they ain't going anywhere fast.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Brainlove Podcast / Iceland Mix

MP3: Hosted courtesy of The Line Of Best Fit

Download this mix of shimmering drone, ephemeral pop, Iceland field recordings and weirdo-disko by clicking below. Second podcast, a best-of-08 mix, will go live in December.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Brainlove meets Kevin Barnes...

For The Line Of Best Fit

MP3: ID Engager

John Brainlove met Kevin Barnes (right) after a packed out Rough Trade instore to talk about autobiography, inspiration, the differences between dreams and reality, and the fantastical world Of Montreal...

John Brainlove: So, I was googling Airwaves and I got really excited to see you were playing, but it turned out to be a lineup from last year... how was that?

Kevin Barnes: It was great. It's always a bit scary when you're playing a festival, and there's like so many bands and you never get time to set up your stuff, and you get thrown out onstage and it's chaos, and inevitably something sets on fire or breaks... in this instance my amp was making a horrible sound, so I kinda freaked out for the first four or five songs, then I kinda got into it and it was fun, and then the next thing I know I'm being pulled offstage...

JB: Have you been to Iceland before?

KB: No, that was a first...

JB: Do you find when touring that you get a chance to see places? Or is it just like, hotel, bus, plane, show...

KB: Every once in a while you do, yeah, if you get in early enough and the promoters are enthusiastic, a lot of times we'll be playing smaller stages in like Italy or Spain and the promoters feel like they have to fill this role of a cultural liason and show you a good time, and that's always great. But if you get into a place sometimes, you're just left on your own and wander around a little bit and find stuff out...

JB: Which I guess is never that nice, just a few alleyways and cafés around a venue...

KB: Yeah totally. To be honest, this is my first really really good experience of London. I've never had a bad experience, but I've never had a trip where I went to a whole bunch of different parts of the city and really got a good sense. It's always been in more run down parts of London, whereas this area is like super-hip and young, and where we're staying is kinda ritzy. I really like that the city has so much diversity, and I hadn't seen the good side of London before. And I was like "shit man, London's awesome".

JB: Yeah, in some parts it's like a different world, you go around in the day and all you see are decorators and nannies...

KB: ... and no artists live there, sure. What's this area like?

JB: Well I guess we're right in Shoreditch and Old Street, the first time I came here it was mostly just factories and closed up shops, but it's really buzzing now, the artists landed here like regeneration locusts and then got priced out...

KB: Yeah, it's like that in New York, and I guess everywhere. We were in Barcelona and we were like, we wanna move here, and they were like "no, don't do it! You'll raise the rent" and all the reporters will come...

JB: So tonight you're playing in Rough Trade in happening Brick Lane... I think the last time I saw you was ATP playing the Hissing Fauna show. That's obviously a very personal album. You've said that this one is a step away from the autobiographical approach, more fictionalized or written around characters...

KB: No, I didn't mean to say it like that. I don't want to propagate the idea that was writing from the point of view of a persona... I hope I didn't...

JB: (laughs) Maybe I missed some sarcasm or something...

KB: I better go back and read it! There was this character I created called Georgie Fruit, and now I wish I never did, because people are like, "is that a Kevin Barnes song, or a Georgie Fruit song?"... and really there's no difference. They're all Kevin Barnes songs, and I don't like that idea of people seeing a division. I think people would see that as less genuine, but it seems like it's not based in reality, like you're writing from the point of view of a fictional character. That's too much like a defense mechanism. I want all my songs to be like, really coming from the heart and maybe if they're not about something that's physically happened, like a physical experience that I've had, I don't really make a division between the physical and the dream state or the emotional state. I don't really make the division. If you fantasize about something that's just as real as if you really did it.

JB: I was interested in your ideas about identity, the idea of identity as a malleable construction, does that relate back to that fluid idea of characters and points of view... about your own self being a construction that you consciously work on changing or building. And in that sense having a character is presenting a front...

KB: I don't really think of it as a front... I don't think you can ever contradict yourself, even if you contradict what you said yesterday... it's just as real as it was yesterday. I don't think you have a really fixed identity. When people say "you're being phony" I don't agree with that because you can only be yourself. It's impossible to be phony. Whoever you feel you are at that moment... it's real. And whoever you want to be... I don't believe there's one true identity that's the fixed you. It's obviously fluid, and it's effected by your mood, your experiences, your dreams, what you ate... it's constantly changing. Nobody should believe that they only have one fixed persona or character or identity or whatever that's the real them.

JB: Do you think that's a scary thought, to have no sense of permanence? Everything as transitory..?

KB: I find it very liberating. You don't have to worry about being consistent. You just feel what you feel and act how you want to act, without having to worry "is this appropriate for who I am? Is this outfit appropriate for who I am?" ... it's more fun to have that malleable aspect to your character and be free to do whatever. And it's all real.

JB: Did you make a conscious decision about the change of musical direction? Skeletal Lamping seems like quite a deliberate swerve...

KB: I think I really wanted to make something that was constantly shifting, constantly changing, with no rules and no limitations, no structure really... it still has structure. Some songs have do have repeating parts, but repetition seems to me like laziness. A lot of people always repeat things...

JB: Do you think that's in contrast to Hissing Fauna, which had quite tight cycles repeating for a long time?

KB: Well, this time I was in the mindset that it's laziness to write a part, then do it again. It's a very common thing in pop music to verse / chorus / repeat. It's more creative that way.

JB: Yeah it's at the very heart of pop music... if you hear a song again and again and it has repeating parts, you just end up liking on some level through exposure...

KB: Yeah, that's something that's very powerful about pop music, and I think in a way I'm depriving them of that relationship with the songs. On this record it's hard to tell where one song ends and another begins, I wanted to make it flow, and it's kind of random where I placed the track markers. Tonight when we played, the stop and start parts are random without the context of the album...

JB: After Hissing Fauna, which was so intensely and nakedly personal, Skeletal Lamping does seem more stylized or cryptic, even though it's just as lyrically dense...

KB: I think it's just as autobiographical. I mean, Hissing Fauna was like pain. And pain is the great equalizer. Everyone can appreciate pain, confusion, anxiety... these things are universal and easily relatable. But when you talk about more abstract things... Skeletal Lamping is definitely more abstract. I don't think it's less emotional or less autobiographical. Maybe it's a bit less accessible, but it's all about sexuality, gender roles, the politics of sexuality... the complexity of society and finding your way through it... navigating through it... getting through your childhood, your teenage years, your twenties, and then finding yourself in this place where you're like... "what the fuck happened? what's going on?". But I do think it's still a very introspective record, and where something is introspective it has to be autobiographical. It's deeply rooted in my experience, my fantasy world, my dream world... it's everything.

Skeletal Lamping is out now on some exciting new formats, including t-shirt, wall sticker, badge and lampshade. Oh, and CD. Find out more here.


MP3: Dumb Terminal

Everything/Everything is the third studio album from London based composer and performer Leo Chadburn, under his nom-de-plume Simon Bookish. Famously evasive in his influences and techniques, Chadburn's output has skipped between dancefloor friendly electro-pop, ambient composition and abstract spoken-word infused electronica.

Everything/Everything is a watershed; a long awaited reconciliation with the many facets of his musical character. The complex backing arrangements are played on saxophones, brass, piano, harp and Farfisa organ and scored so tightly that when played live, the musicians visibly break out in sweat. They swirl in rapid syncopated eddies, mimicking the busy bleeping of Chadburn's previous work. This is electronic composition reinvented and reframed within a live context that relates to jazz as closely as contemporary classical and lounge crooning.

The lyrical content of Everything/Everything is also something of a departure from previous works such as Trainwreck/Raincheck. Emerging from the ramparts of arcane cultural reference points and surreal abstraction, this album feels altogether more personal, weaving encoded thoughts, ideas, sharp flashes of wit and autobiographical strands into an intoxicating whole. Ostensibly about living in the age of information overload, it's nonetheless a lyrical opening up for this most elusive of musicians. Chadburn has finally found a palette for expression he feels comfortable with, and this album feels immeasurably more assured as a result.

Channeled through Chadburn's sternly intellectual aesthetic, this "big band song cycle" is at times overwhelming, awash with timing changes, alive with discordant challenges at every turn, and chittering with the dissonant overlap of sounds colliding and shimmering with strict precision. It's a brave, ambitious, teetering construction of gravity-defying sonic pointillism that creates the disconcerting and exciting effect of an aural Bridget RIley.

This is one of the finest albums of the year, and another step in Simon Bookish realizing his potential as one of the most consistently creative, challenging and interesting contemporary UK solo artists working today.
Buy it on vinyl for SEVEN POUNDS from Norman Records

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Two Thousand & Ace

Hey all... this is the latest Brainlove release, a 27 track compilation featuring all of our main bands and all our friends & family bands too. So there are songs from Napoleon IIIrd, Pagan Wanderer Lu, Applicants & Keyboard Choir alongside Bearsuit, Cats In Paris, Capitol K, Ratface, Winston Echo, Friends Of The Bride and many more...

Lots of nice reviews have come in...
"Brainlove Records have put together a mind shrinking collection of underground sounds... so very up to moment but incredibly special too." - Manchester Music

"The outlet for underground hero John Brainlove, his compilation is one of the most eclectic imaginable... the desire to find the bands who match the sounds in his head is laudable." - Planet Sound, Teletext

"You're pretty much onto a winner whatever genre floats your boat... the people at Brainlove have done us proud once more." - Contact Music

"Basically, it's amazing." - Kruger Magazine

"You can tell - just on looks alone - that with 'Two Thousand and Ace' you are are in for a kaleidoscopic, messy journey through all the most loony tunes Brainlove has to offer. Whatever the weather outside, this album is sure to bring the sunshine indoors." - Amelia's Magazine

"A compilation with its finger on the pulse... you'd be hard pressed to justify NOT buying it." - Death To Music

"27 tracks from Modernaire to Capitol K to Friends of The Bride, Napoleon IIIrd, Pagan Wanderer Lu... a really good label." - Huw Stephens

"One of the most varied introductions to underground music in 2008... there's literally something for everyone... you'll each have your own stars of the show." - The Beat Surrender

"Experimentation is lacking in modern popular music but Two Thousand And Ace is essential summer listening. Tap your toes, twitch your wiggle, it's teasingly wonderful. It's also limited edition, so buy it quick." - Music OMH

"the depth and breadth of sounds on this sampler proves why others are so excited by the fledgling label... proof that for all the panic in the industry, some independent labels are flourishing." - New Noise

"Given their track record when Brainlove Records place a record of theirs on a high shelf and ask we jump we willingly enquire how high. 'As high as the shelf' is the response." - Sweeping The Nation

Buy it for £5 wih free UK P+P here

The most recent review is above, in The National Student Newspaper & Magazine.

You can order the CD here.

There's one box left, so be quick :)


Monday, 22 September 2008

Bradford Cox DJ Set, Brainlove Room, Club NME 12/09/08

S.E. Rogie - Dome Justice
Bernard Estardy - Asiatic Dream
Magazine - The Light Pours Out of Me
XTC - Beatdown
B-52's - 52 Girls
Animal Collective - Brother Sport (live bootleg)
Stereolab - Come and Play in th Milky Night
Db's - Dynamite
Gong - You Can't Kill Me
Foals - Like Swimming
Elton Motello - Jet Boy Jet Girl
Germs - Lexicon Devil
Faust - Party 2
Brian Eno - St Elmo's Fire
David Bowie - Repetition
Captain Beefheart - Tropical Hot Dog Night
Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes For You

Also, a new piece of art I made this weekend.
"Open Your Heart To Me", Animated GIF, 2008

Monday, 15 September 2008

Walking Tall: Deerhunter & Atlas Sound

MP3: Deerhunter - Heatherwood / Spring Hall Convert / Strange Lights
MP3: Atlas Sound - Quarantined

Bradford Cox, the mastermind behind Deerhunter & Atlas Sound, is a very striking individual. He's toweringly tall, maybe 6'4", and stick thin; he suffers from Marfan Syndrome, a skeletal and muscular disorder than gives him a stretched, elongated appearance. His eyes move as quickly as his mind, and he talks and thinks accordingly fast. He's clearly steeped in music to an all-encompassing degree - as guest DJ recently in our Brainlove room at Koko he produced 4 iPods from an orange pencil case, and every single song he played was both amazing and something I'd never heard before. He was running on 2 hours sleep in the last 48, but he DJed happily for hours after a packed headline show at Tufnell Park's Dome venue. "I love music so much," he said, "I live for it. I love to DJ any chance I get."

Deerhunter and Atlas Sound could be described as presenting two very different takes on Shoegaze, although Bradford describes Deerhunter as 'ambient punk'. Deerhunter veer between extended atmospheric sprawls of sweet, warm sound and a soupy, embracing kind of rocking out - their new album "Microcastle" is out now digitally and available soon on CD. Atlas Sound present gorgeous, shimmering pop soundscapes, as seen on their album-of-the-year contender "Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Can Not Feel".

Any way you slice it, Bradford Cox is reinterpreting and reinventing one of the richest passages in recent music history. But even better, he's eclipsing the gems of the genre as he goes. Like Sonic Youth's recent purple patch, his prolific output is of a singularly high quality. Bradford Cox seems certain to quickly become a lasting and deserved outsider icon.

I'm interviewing him for TLOBF this week, so I'll link to it from here when it's done.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Black Dice

No genre can be quite as transcendental or quite such an ordeal as noise music. In self indulgent hands, a noise gig can be an endurance test; an interminable, chronically limited spectacle of musicians blowing their load through a rack of effect pedals. But when creativity is applied, noise music can break through the glass ceiling of anger-channeling and sonic nihilism and blossom into something more.

NYC trio Black Dice play in front of an imposing wall of speakers, bathed in projected patterns that flex, flash and ripple in time with with their ever-evolving rhythms. Rasping sonic scratches punctuate elusive, catchy repetitions that congeal and dissolve between shuddering slabs of distorted racket. There notably isn't any reference to tradition song structures, build/release or loud-quiet-loud dynamics. This is a micro-landscape built from sounds both mechanical and organic, chaotic and systematic, played at ear-shattering, bone-shaking volume.

The three often play sections that are ostensibly at odds with each other, but overlap fluently, creating a multi-layered composition with several narratives working in unison. Vocals are employed as part of the sound collage, and like the live drums and occasional guitar, what playing is visible bears little resemblance to the sound coming from the speakers. Everything comes through an effects array that warps and bends every aspect into the tangling maths of the whole.

The effect is a set that seems both familiar and impenetrably alien, strictly ordered and yet organic in construction, like a process found in nature. Put a microphone to the ground and amplify the sounds of the earth to the thunderous volume of a meteor strike, and you can start to imagine the noise Black Dice are making.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


John & Alice dress like Sherlock Holmes and comb through the lame-ass band requests to bring you some rare and precious samples from the mantle of the underground.

1. Bastardgeist MySpace
Wonderful minimal glockenspiel (I think) music, with mournful vocals and a penchant for the Chapmans.

2. Salem MySpace
Slippery, spinny, disorientating warped record electronic STUFF.

3. Pseudo Nippon MySpace
Teleradd, playful and hopefully not a racist, Pseudo Nippon is an Engrish-speaking home baked gabba-pop superstar waiting to happen. Watch your back Scotch Egg, this guy has TUNES.

4. Lawrence Wasser MySpace
French weirdo-rockers with masks and manginas.

5. Music Video MySpace
Everyone in the world wants more Postal Service, right? And for Postal Service to not be quite so sickly. Well hunger no more, starving children, Music Video is here to save your empty ears.

6. Channels 3 & 4 / Twin Crystals MySpace
C3&4 are one of Alice's favouritest bands ever, they split up and reformed into a Twin Crystals and now she's hoovering up their last few pieces of vinyl into a jealously guarded collection.

7. Hot Pants Romance MySpace
Three awesome indie girls play no-fi surf "hits" in tiny hot pants. I bought their CD-R and it was a data CD with the songs in WMV format, wtf?

8. Kate Nash
No wait I meant Betty Curse. All the kids are listening to her when they're not busy organically spreading the word about Genuine Internet Sensations like Arctic Monkeys.

9. a.P.A.t.T. MySpace
Totally loveable and hugely uncool, I suspect this entire band may have dreds that smell of weed. They sound like Cardiacs playing Mr Bungle. Joyous skanky hyper-funk-rock for rolling around on the floor to.

10. YIP YIP MySpace
Vertigo-inducing electronic circus music with an epilepsy-inducing MySpace background.

11. Crystal Castles MySpace
You may have heard of this one. We were onto them 2 years ago, bitch.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Black Dice

Download: Manoman

ManOman! Load Blown has taken over my mind. Like the Beepers grafting their "heads" onto the bodies of the Shecks (become obsessed here, get it here), Black Dice have used their magical lattice of bleeps to hypnotise me into never wanting to stop listening.

In other news, I sprained my ankle today dancing in a field with my brand new, delicious headphones to Death of a Disco Dancer by The Smiths. I'd put up an mp3 of that too but I dont want to be responsible for any injuries.

And continuing the film diary..
06/01/08 The Bicycle Theives I'd watch Italian films even if I was blind, and this one had me doing that wonderful combination of sniffy, discrete crying and beaming with happiness. 9/10

Saturday, 5 January 2008

It's Not The End Of The World

Made this:

"It's Not The End Of The World", Animated GIF, 2007

Films Watched So Far In 2008

01/01/08 Volver Beautifully shot ghost story cum family drama by Pedro Almodovar. 9/10
03/01/08 Tears Of The Black Tiger Fluoro Oriental Western with an arresting look but a repetitive and slow moving storyline. 5/10
04/01/08 In A Lonely Place Bogart whodunnit classic. 9/10

My Brother Gave Me His Playstation 2 When He Moved To Australia so me & Alice get an excuse for a gaming revival. Have been playing Beyond Good & Evil, an excellent science fiction action-RPG type thing in which you play the role of an investigative photojournalist called Jade who becomes embroiled in a secret rebellion against a sinister government plot. It's great looking, addictive and fun, and you can probably get it for a couple of quid on eBay these days if you're that way inclined.

On The Music Front it's been all about playing old unlabelled cassette tapes in the kitchen. Which has led to more exciting rediscoveries. The Sights being the best one - their album from a few years ago, "Got What I Want" is amazing. It lays out a nice range of influences and styles from simple Beach Boys harmonies to rasping (old) Von Bondies Detroit-style rock. Also, "Modern Life Is Rubbish" by Blur. How did I forget what a thoroughbred indie classic it really is?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Dan Deacon

Download: Crystal Cat.mp3

Found. My hands are tingling! Found New Band. Turn it up, put it on repeat. Louder! LOUDER! I wanna jump out of my skin! Run to shops and part with money! ON VINYL! FFOOUUNNDD. Psyche splitting prismic progpop! EAT THIS, ANIMAL COLLECTIVE. It tastes better than your goddamn Strawberry Jam.

If you love this, go and find WHAM CITY too. And listen to it all the way through on full volume. You Too May Do A New Music Belly Flop Into Happy Jelly. My brain responds well to the small maths repetition. BRIGHT COLOURS AND E NUMBERS.

I will find Dan Deacon, and I will join the screaming happiness of his people and we will dance through the trees on fire!