Back For Good

So, usually this blog is broadly reserved for the purpose of championing the unheard and overlooked delights in our modern, musical melting pot. The birth of broadband and the falling costs of technology have led to an explosion of output as artists, freed from the necessity of distributing their products through labels, have wallowed in glorious creative freedom.

Even my borderline obsessive compulsive behaviour cannot cover everything and I never aim to be comprehensive,  more wildly biased and occasionally entertaining – like Fox news but without the narrow-minded, fear-mongering, hate-filled bile.

As such, I occasionally become distracted by music that I like that isn’t made by some brand new wunderkind. This tends to affect the output of the fortnightly playlists (free to all reasonably-minded people here) but in a break with tradition I’ve decided to celebrate some returning heroes.

The Low Anthem is really two guys, Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky, and a bunch of varying but excellent cast members. They make music that sounds like the dying embers of a campfire: warm and grizzled and broken but alive, and haven’t been seen in the UK in four years. In the interim they did produce a film soundtrack but the announcements of new UK tour dates (over the next two days) caused much excitement in my household – and then much disappointment when it was once again irrefutably proved that I’m lazier and less organised than most. Since then, I’ve sought solace in the dreamy, lo-fi somnambulance that is The Pepsi Moon:

It’d be completely remiss of me to not mention Anais Mitchell’s frankly astonishing record Hadestown, which all of The Low Anthem appear upon , as it currently tears it up somewhere off-Broadway. It is truly one of the most remarkable records of recent years:

Will Sheff is one of the finest song writers of his generation. Writing great lyrics is hard. Coming up with a musical arrangement which is innovative but sounds classic is nigh impossible. Combining these with being one of the best live bands in the world should be borderline illegal. Okkervil River are all of these and, god bless them, have a brand new record coming out in the Autumn. The first track, Okkervil River R.I.P. is gorgeous, heartfelt and cunningly smart. So, everything I hoped for:

 

There’s so much good OR out there but I’d start with The Stage Names, Black Sheep Boy and The Overboard and Down EP (I can picture various friends of mine shaking their heads at my stupidity right now which should tell you just how good these folks are) Here’s three minutes that makes my own, petty creative urges shrivel up with envy:

Both Okkervil River and The Low Anthem feature on the latest Skewed Quiff, which is worth an hour of anyone’s lifetime:

 

 

The Invisible Man

I belong in the city, with it’s frantic serenity, with its casual, creativedestructive collisions of personality, with the buzz of traffic and conversation pulsing like the heart-beat of a predator in the moments before it ensnares it’s prey. My current home – the countryside, the market towns with their picturesque emptiness –  is a bolt-hole, a temporary refuge from living, a pause, a comma in the decades long sentence that is living.

Of course it’s not as simple as that but it’s what I tell myself – what I choose to believe – as I tumble into the glorious anonymity of the crowd, alone but part of something bigger.

This is not a journey into the unknown but a retreading of oft-walked paths. As such, to maintain some interest, I eschew responsibility and place myself at the mercy of my friends.

We emerge in the epicenter of hipsterness: East London and it’s crashing waves of contradiction saturating my mind. This is a place where everyone and everything seems to value the act of being seen more highly than the act itself. It is art as a lifestyle accessory. It’s also the home of everything new and vibrant. A place where creativity is valued above prosperity. The currency here is ideas.

Our destination is a pre-fabricated metal shed, taller than it is wide so that, despite the relatively sparse crowd, it brims at the edges with considered modernity and crisp cleanliness. It lacks the grimy layer of experience, the spilt beer and stale sweat of old gig venues. It’s the sort of place where you can happily charge £5 for a tiny can of organically produced craft lager. At least it smells better, I guess.

The support act are both close and far away. As if they are making music on another plane, unseen and untouched by human experience.  They are a mournful, forgettable dirge of a band. There is nothing bad about them – all the bits are in the correct place – but nothing good either. It’s music made with the head because the heart doesn’t give a damn. I attempt to keep my nervous conversation at a polite volume.

Time shuffles by half-heartedly, the act of impatient waiting clawing back the seconds, forcing us to live every bored moment. It’s worth it. The Invisible are a different proposition. They carry a quiet assurance, a tangible belief in what they do. Their dark, fractured funk is crafted with love and for 90 minutes their unstated urgency courses and rises like restless air  before a thunderstorm. They are damn, damn good and bigger things await them:

Their new album, Patience, is fresh off the presses and can be purchased from Ninja Tunes.

The next few days are a haze of afternoon drinking and blistered feet. I like to walk, to feel the cool pavement through paper thin soles, a warm, fluffy cloud of alcohol numbing me to the milling crowd of fellow tourists. When it becomes too much I slope off to hidden corners of culture: the basement of the British Museum with it’s Throne of Weapons, created from all the guns handed in during the amnesty after the Mozambique civil war; John Heartfield’s amazing montage art decrying the rise of fascism in the 30’s that adorns the top floor of the Tate Modern; and Nabakov’s Alphabet, a homage to the beautiful world of the synthesiac, which is currently part of the Welcome Trust’s exhibition on consciousness:

arts

The FA Cup careens by in the background, a helter-skelter jumble of aerodynamic cotton and sweary chanting, as I make my way eastward once again, though this time to a proper shambles, a venue where your trainers stick to the floor and the walls drip darkened attitude. We’re hit to catch some bands on the cheap. A random, low-cost, low-rent night of whisky chasers and quick thrills. Big Joanie catch my ear with their lo-fi chic and thumping delivery, making this track my favourite cover of the year so far:

You should check out their entire EP, available now on bandcamp.

I arise half-strung and hungover and head for a ridiculously opulent lunch somewhere in central London (one of those events where every course comes with a specific wine) because I enjoy a big ending (and a twist) and also because my friend Helen is one of the finest raconteurs known to mankind and she specialises in this kind of absurd midday magnificence. I eat too much and talk too much and, almost broken, barely make my train home, back to the blissful nothingness of rural Lincolnshire.

I can’t finish this without giving my thanks to Katie – for the culture – and Emma – for the gigs. They are two of the finest people possible. Without them you’d have spent the last 10 minutes reading about my exciting adventures in Witcher 3. Perhaps that’s for another day.

The Invisible are one of a number of great bands featuring in the latest Skewed Quiff, available free twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for the discerning  – and mildly disturbed – musical ear:

 

 

Outer Space

Music is always worth celebrating, if not for its power to unite and uplift then for that rare ability to be both personal and ubiquitous, to appeal to the many yet feel like it belongs to you.

When a song touches you it becomes impossible to understand that others can be, somehow, less susceptible to its evident charms. When several songs touch you it becomes easy to presume that everyone else is an idiot. However much your objective, sensible side tells you that music is a purely subjective experience built on memories and habit your frustrated, angry side will tell you that other people are wrong, wrong, wrong. The idiots.

At that point, if you’re anything like me, then you devote an unnecessary amount of time pointing out to all and sundry just exactly how and why they are so utterly wrong. Basically I’m not great company, especially if I don’t vent effectively. As such today’s blog will be as informative for you as it is therapeutic for me. Thanks in advance for your help.

In the bar of criminally overlooked musical excellence there is a plaque on the wall, half-hidden amongst a beer-stained deluge of greasy, blurred band photos, that signifies the current holder of that most inglorious of titles: Best Newcomer.

The current holders, Folkroom Records, are a rag-tag bunch of wayward folk lovers with one foot in musical splendour the other in the dour everyday. They live to play music and survive by pragmatism – in the shape of computer programming, accountancy or some other overly-reputable pastime. Yet, despite their limited resources they continually produce gorgeous, incendiary music.

I’ve previously raved about a couple of artists that they’ve released tracks by, the brilliant, mesmeric, genre-defying Ben Walker & Josienne Clark and the perfectly crafted, poetic pop of Keston Cobblers Club and feel no compunction about doing so again:

However, I’m really here to talk about Folkroom’s latest anthology, Volume 3 which is chock-full of elegant folk, stomping shanties and oddball brilliance (and is cheap as chips all things considered).

Patch & The Giant are a strident stagger, the music rocking and creaking, rising and listing, like a battle-hardened dreadnought lost forever to land:

I’m told that their records don’t do justice to the live performances of this London based six piece so worth noting that they have some dates coming up in July and August.

Unarmed by Nick Edward is the sharp, crackling heat of an open fire on a ice cold wintery afternoon, the snow beating almost silently against the cottage window. The world glistens, beautiful and empty as you drift away on the rising thermals:


There’s lots more of his stuff on Soundcloud and it’s worth picking up his latest album, which is a beauty (direct from the artist, of course).

Right, want a song as pure as the crystalline air of a mountain top? Want to simultaneously hate yourself and be impressed by your shrewd self-awareness? Of course you do, don’t lie to yourself:

Herons! are a band from Falmouth and they are very good. I know nothing else about them except that you can get their debut album from here and that they could do with some support in making their new record.

Of course, you could make a start by exchanging a miniscule amount of your income for a copy of the folkroom anthology, whose excellence is by no means limited to these 3 songs. Do it, do it now.

These 3 bands are, of course, featured on last month’s Skewed Quiff which remains an essential piece of listening. Hard to believe it will cost you nothing:

 

 

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