Stereolab – Chemical Chords

Chemical Chords
4AD / Duophonic
Released 19th August 2008
Buy

Stereolab are a band I’ve long admired from a distance. The snippets of songs I’ve heard have been intriguing, but never enough to stir a purchase. When Three Women surfaced on the net several months back something changed, and Chemical Chords became an essential purchase. Fast forward to having the beautiful double-LP on the deck, and the record suitably impresses.

The album sounds exactly how I expected a Stereolab album to sound; insistent, wistful and melodic. The bolshy Three Women remains a favourite, joined by the noir swirls of The Ecstatic Static. Pop immediacy flows through the album, interrupted briefly by the distortion of Pop Molecule with its driving rhythm and twisted beats. Frequently the pop feel flirts with retro novelty, absurdly squelchy analogue synth stabs burst into life on tracks like the breezy opener Neon Beanbag.

This retrospection only adds to the charm of this album. This set of tunes not only has that immediacy to pull the listener in, they have the sheen of songs that live in the memory and bear out further plays. Chemical Chords is no revelation though, merely the confirmation that Stereolab are, on this form at least, a fine groop!

Tickets for Stereolab’s December UK tour can be found on Gigantic (Brighton only) and the evil Seetickets.

Stereolab – Three Women (mp3)

Live Review: Cornershop, John and Jehn – Amersham Arms

John & Jehn live at Amersham Arms

There is a sign outside the venue that reads ‘Cornershop live tonight…yes, that Cornershop‘. It shows the abyss of public awareness that Tjinder Singh and his merry band have fallen into of late. After all, it’s been six years since Handcream For A Generation graced the album charts back in 2002. However, with the promise of a cracking support from London-based French duo John & Jehn, the trip was made to my original London stomping ground. The gig is a warm-up for their Wireless show the next day, and their first gig seemingly since a mini-tour in November last year.

The Amersham Arms is barely full when John & Jehn take to the stage, their first words enticing the crowd closer. They launch into a taut set, John throwing all kinds of angular shapes with guitar and body, Jehn starting out hunched over an organ but soon taking to bass. The tunes are an amalgam of Stereolab, Velvet Underground and The Raveonettes, all hatchet guitars, pysch-synths and loaded stares. Unlike the Raveonettes, the drum machine clanking away doesn’t detract or become repetitive. In fact, there is so much to enjoy in their all-too-short set that I’m left wanting more. Another debut album to track down.

Cornershop live at the Amersham Arms, 4th July 2008

It isn’t long before Cornershop make their way onto the cramped stage. Launching straight into Sleep On The Left Side, it becomes obvious that this South London pub is about to be treated to the very best that the band can offer. They follow the opening salvo with the bouncy Lesssons Learnt From Rocky I to Rocky III, one of the most bewilderingly unappreciated singles of the early 2000s. The set continues at that pace, drawing faux-Bollywood moves from the front row, and head-nodding from the less dance-inclined. There’s new songs premiered, single-to-be The Roll Off Characteristics Of History In The Making the most memorable. There are also a couple of choice covers, Norwegian Wood with live sitar is a sound to behold, and a cheeky take on The Mighty Quinn brings ear-to-ear smiles. A breezy run-through of Brimful of Asha is followed by the spectacular 6 a.m. Jullander Shere, perhaps the band’s best track. The band leave the stage one by one, with Singh unsurprisingly the first to go. Five minutes later, drummer and percussionist are still at it. A short set, obviously made for festivals, packed full of quality, fun and tunes. Wireless is in for a treat.

John & Jehn – 20 L 07
John & Jehn – You Far Away
Cornershop – Battle Of New Orleans (Peel Session)
Cornershop – Topknot (MIA Remix)
Cornershop – Hot Rocks

Live Review: My Bloody Valentine @ The Roundhouse

My Bloody Valentine\'s Kevin Shields (pic by me)

Ive seen Mogwai 32 times” starts a conversation pre-set in The Roundhouse. The chap who said it then proudly displayed to me his Mogwai tattoo and we discussed the potential for this coming October’s ATP gig to be great. There is some sort of kudos that goes along with seeing Mogwai live, a renown for being loud…

The air of expectancy in the Roundhouse is palpable. This is after all, My Bloody Valentine’s first tour in so many years. Their first ‘proper’ gig that is, following the phony war of the previous week’s two ICA warm-up shows. There’s a generation gap in the audience, those old enough to remember the last time and those not. I’m firmly in the latter camp. There’s free earplugs on the door.

I decline. We miss Le Volume Courbe, one of Shields’ productees, and mingle into the audience about 15 minutes before the band come on. When they appear they utter not a word of greeting, not a shred of recognition towards the packed auditorium. There won’t be one word the entire performance. Not that anyone would have heard, for once the band start to whirl their twisted melodies you can’t hear the words in your own head, never mind those coming from the stage.

The music erupts from the stacks with a force and ferocity that completely belies the activity onstage, Shields and Butcher restrict themselves to about a metre square either side of the stage, whilst bassist Googe stands half-turned away from the crowd towards Ó Cíosóig’s kit. All seemingly completely oblivious to the waste they lay before them. Behind, psychedelic images and looped films play, transforming and shifting along with the music.

And all the time, the sonic maelstrom shifts and deepens, and inexplicably gets louder. The vocals are so low in the mix that I could only tell that they were being sung was by the movement of Shields’ lips. The noise seems to envelop the crowd, bouncing off the venue’s industrial walls. The physicality of the sound grows and grows, and by the time the instantly recognisable riff of Soon hurls into the room, it’s pushing me back onto my heels.

Crowd reaction to closer, You Made Me Realise

Photo: Dan’s Photos

I’ve never thought of sound on this level, sound you feel as well as hear. There’s people around me with not only earplugs, but fingers in their ears. Resisting the temptation to sully this sonic storm, I keep mine unbound, and gladly. Closer You Made Me Realise ratchets the intensity further, drowning us in a morass of feedback, glacially getting louder, heaping crescendo on crescendo until you feel the entire mound crash down. A tsunami of noise, shrieking, piercing, puncturing.

And then it finishes. No goodbyes, no encores. The crowd stands there, more through dumbstruck awe than expectancy. There’s a ringing in my ears that won’t disappear for a couple of days. I’m dazed but elegiac, unbelieving of what I’ve just experienced. I see the Mogwai fan again. “32 times” he says, “32 times and I’ve never heard anything like that.” I doubt we ever will.

Probable Setlist (thanks to www.mybloodyvalentine.net)
Only Shallow
When You Sleep
You Never Should
(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream
Lose My Breath
I Only Said
Come In Alone
Thorn
Nothing Much To Lose
To Here Knows When
Slow
Blown A Wish
Soon
Feed Me With Your Kiss
Sueisfine
You Made Me Realise

My Bloody Valentine – Soon

A full recording of the show is discussed here, I don’t have the bandwidth to host it!

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Ladytron Live Review: May 15, Astoria

Ladytron
London Astoria
May 15, 2008
Tonight is Ladytron’s first London date in some time, and a first time for the capital to hear tracks from he scintillating Velocifero live. The Liverpool-based foursome wase no time in airing Velocifero’s innards, they kick off with the trio of opener, Black Cat, first single Ghosts, and my highlight so far, Runaway. Warm yet distant, the new tracks exand Ladytron’s palette slightly, building on the more organic sound of 2005’s triumphant Witching Hour. A shame, then, that the sound in the Astoria is abysmal. Vocals drowned out by machine hum, bass lost amid a sea of mid-range. Biggest casualty is the opening of Black Cat, an intricate build to a delightful vocal break from Mira in her native tongue, bludgeoned by an unhelpful mixing desk.

The sound mess-up slowed the band’s momentum, as the opening triumvirate of newies segued well into older classics such as Seventeen, rendered tonight a breakneck speed. Live, the band have a strange sort of energy, almost mechanical. The new record certainly bears this out, a move towards their live sound. Older tracks are almost completely transformed, Blue Jeans moves towards the Stooges riff that drives at its heart. Something was clearly disrupting the band though, glances shot across at the mixing desk. And lo, roughly seven tracks in, clearly narked by the techical mishaps the band ceased. They only re-appeared to apologise and reassure that we’d see them again for a re-run. Somewhat ironically their last track before the fin was Soft Power

Here is what the band had to say on their Myspaz: “Hey, so we just got pulled offstage halfway through our set at the Astoria because the stage power had failed, no mixing desk and monitors. At first we were hopeful they would have a backup or somehow sort it out, but they couldn’t. So besides being fucking annoyed that we didn’t get to play all the set, we’re upset for everyone who travelled to the show and only got half a gig. Again sorry, we were standing there waiting to go back on, only for them to tell us it wasn’t possible. Sellout show and we could only play half. So as far as we aware the show is going to be rescheduled in July with original tickets valid. Hopefully there will be electricity next time, we’re getting in Nikola Tesla to do the power.

July can’t roll around fast enough, some ofVelocifero is just begging to be realised live. Particularly looking forward to Deep Blue and closer Versus. I left obviously disappointed, but also re-assured that the band had managed to engineer the new record’s sound into a live setting, whilst maintaining the precision and affected distance that originally made them so appealing.

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Live Review: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds @ HMV Oxford Street

 
photo: Maria Kilmpasani

You can’t imagine that this is Mr Cave’s favourite sort of public engagement; too light. Nevertheless, rush hour Oxford Street is treated to a set from Cave and his troop of wizened musical companions in full on dark mode. Cave has maintained his Grinderman image, moustachio’d and with mid-length slicked black hair, and to be honest the music hasn’t changed much either. Kicking off with recent single Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, the band rattled through roughly half their new album, a mix of old-style Bluesy rock and Cave’s famed skewed take on love and lust. Highlight for me was Lie Down Here (And Be My Girl), featuring both Mick Harvey and Warren Ellis on refrained backing vocals, buzzsaw guitar and a sweeping underlying melody. Throughout, Ellis provided perfect chaotic counterpoint to Cave’s slick persona, grizzled beard and unkempt mane. Switching between guitar, fiddle and flute, Ellis was a visual and musical feast, recalling the fellow gracing the front of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Cave on the other hand, was always controlled; even when careering towards the crowd. Sure, there was flailing and cursing but he strikes you as a gent that knows exactly what he is doing. Finishing with the extended version of More News From Nowhere (available on the special version of the album), Cave had preached mainly to the converted here; many people passing through the store treated the spectacle with raised eyebrows and laughter. For me however, it merely whetted my appetite for his full show in May.

Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!

Lie Down Here (And Be My Girl)

Buy the album

Baltic Fleet – Black Lounge/3 Dollar Dress

 

This is some great electronica, available as a limited 7″ single now, with a full eponymously-titled album following on March 10 on Blow Up Records. Baltic Fleet is the pen name of Paul Fleming, who has recently being playing live with Echo & The Bunnymen. As has been noted in other reviews, the tracks carry a real sense of travel with them; leftover vibes from writing a record on tour. This method can produce exceptional albums, my favourite ‘road’ album being R.E.M.’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi, a record reflecting the great American spaces it was written in. This gives the tracks I have heard so far real variety, both in style and execution. This bodes well for the album,

The tracks here show off a host of influences, Doves are all over Castellon Drive, the atmospheric guitars and open beats of Reykjavik Promise (my pick of the tracks here) come on like PJ Harvey’s We Float. The spiralling guitars and high-in-the-mix bass of 3 Dollar Dress evokes the fantastic Crystal, from New Order’s Get Ready. He also seems to have picked up some of the Bunnymen’s tunecraft too. What seems evident is that while Fleming’s influences are cosmopolitan his sound is still over-ridingly British, and to be more precise rooted in his North-West roots, haunted by the music of Liverpool and Manchester past. No bad thing, roll on March 10.

3 Dollar Dress (mp3)

Castellon Drive (mp3)

Reykjavik Promise (mp3)

(Tracks removed at request of label)

Buy 7″
Pre-order album

LCD Soundsystem – Big Ideas

A new LCD Soundystem tune is a big event for this blogger. This one has spread like wildfire over the internet, taken from the soundtrack to 21. The tracklist contains other such luminaries as MGMT, Broadcast, Amon Tobin and U.N.K.L.E. as well as Rihanna’s obnoxiously catchy Shut Up And Drive: a proper guilty pleasure that one. Anyway Big Ideas is more similar to LCD Soundsystem-era Murphy than the more recent stuff, and a darn sight more poppy too. Yes, it starts with skittery high hats and then a suitably flexible bassline joins in the fun, but apart from that this isn’t LCD-by-numbers. It finishes with a glitchy guitar sound, more akin to DFA cohorts Hot Chip, quite possibly Al Doyle’s influence there. Anyway, it is a good track, and nice to see that there is new stuff being produced.

The film borrows the true-story of a group of MIT students who employ a sophisticated card counting system to beat a big casino. I doubt it will be as good as the documentary aired by BBC Horizons last year that featured the actual perpetrators, but still.

Download here / Buy 21 OST here