Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Efterklang Perform Parades at the Barbican


It's nice when you accidentally stumble into a show that carries a heightened significance for the performers.

I remember seeing Terrorvision in my teens at a sold-out Wolverhampton Civic, and watching their beaming faces as they revealed they'd never played a real 'hall' venue with a balcony before. And Los Campesinos! at ATP were so overcome with pride to be involved that their singer Gareth visibly broke down from the excitement. It adds to a sense of occasion to see a show mean something special to the players.

There might not be any tears and drama on the stage for Efterklang, but the band are visibly thrilled throughout. And fairly so - they are playing with the full Britten Sinfonia, performing huge, impressive arrangements of the songs from their album 'Parades' and it's live counterpart 'Performing Parades'.

The band seemed to have multiplied or the occasion, with what seems like eleven or twelve members in distinctive harlequin-colour sashes, including a three-part choir and the conductor. Some of them shift between instruments, jogging from one side of the stage to the other to switch between drums and organ, trombone and guitar. The arrangements often encompass two or three sections in each song, from subtle string-plucking and organ work to expansive, emotional orchestra swells, to lonesome brass outros. There's never a shortage of exciting sounds and things to lack at with so many performers involved.

Reference points come to mind in droves. Sometimes the lingering arrangements are like the artier moments on Björk's seminal chamber-pop record Vespertine, but without that central show-stopping voice and persona; Casper Clausen's lead vocal is understated by comparison, and allows the ensemble performance to take the limelight.

At other times, I'm reminded of Nico Muhly's avant-garde string arrangements, or the subtle electronic textures of Valgier Sigurðsson's solo work; the militaristic percussion lends a sense of historic grandeur also found in Matmos's 'The Civil War', or in Sons Of Noel & Adrian, who opened the evening's bill in the foyer space.

Efterklang tonight dispel any coffee-table-music stigma that may have come from their earlier recordings. This is an ambitious and talented ensemble giving it their all, and it's a sight and sound to behold. In full flow, they create an epic, utterly absorbing sound that's nothing short of magical.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Gus Gus Keep It Going

MP3: Add This Song (Lopazz and Zarook Remix)
BUY: Boomkat

Remember Gus Gus? The breakthrough Icelandic 90s electronic pop collective famous for, amongst other things, having the band's extended retinue (including their accountant and costume designer) in photoshoots and their talismanic jumpsuit-wearing shaven-headed singer Daniel Agust. Their debut album "Polyesterday" was an epic, hazy, genre-straddling electronica opus; "This Is Normal" was the follow-up, taking a more pop direction. It's been ten years since that last release, and 24/7 represents a welcome return.

Reinvented as a tastefully besuited three-piece, Gus Gus have refined their previous exploratory tendencies into a focussed presentation of sensual, glamorous techno. 24/7 is album built from languid beats and Agust's silky crooning. The synths loop tightly, occasionally flowering into pulsing, undulating arpeggios; "The Thinnest ice" builds a simmering tension over it's eight and a half minutes, slowly easing in new elements. "Hateful" explores it's own space as if caged for the first few minutes, before a questionably revenge-minded (but utterly seductive) vocal tirade from Agust, this time delivered in a soul-inflected style.

"Add This Song" is the anthemic finale, with a rising synth line and a slightly faster pace. For something so minimal, it's compulsively catchy and oddly timeless, bringing to mind everything from 80s minimal techno and 90s trance to the booming stadium-dance of Faithless and the recent shimmering electro of The Knife.

24/7 is by far the the most coherent album Gus Gus have produced, and the most one-dimensional as a result; but what's lost in open-hearted experimentalism is made up for with a relentless, hypnotic and diamond-sharp sound.

Gus Gus are gonna conquer Europe with this shit. It's about time.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Aeronauts Ahoy

Watch the amazing We Aeronauts healing hearts with their beautiful songs over at BBC Oxford... and watch this space for future release & tour details...