Author Archives: iknoweno

Wooden Arms, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 December 2017

On a damp December evening, the welcome prospect of three acts making waves in their own not easy to classify genres.

The show started with the ethereal dreampop soundscapes of upcoming Cambridge trio Carolyn’s Fingers. Named after a song by the Cocteau Twins they weave their music from a simple combination of bass, keyboard and an echoing guitar that sounds like it is appearing over a distant horizon. Add hypnotic vocal cadences, unpredictable taped percussion clicks and bursts and you have their signature track ‘Glemora’. Their lyrics address some difficult issues such as the mental state of residents in a detention centre in the minimalist ‘Vapour’. A new single was being filmed during the set for video release and I think we will be hearing much more of their haunting sound.

I last saw Xavier Watkins fronting psychedelic revivalists Violet Woods a couple of years back, here he was back at the Portland with his new project Twenty-Three Hanging Trees; one man and his analogue modular synthesiser. He builds up electronic textures in extended pieces, requiring concentration from the audience to absorb the ever-changing sonic layers. With blurred back projections of images in reds and greens and the visual necessity of plugging in and removing wire connections it was all strangely involving.

Norwich band Wooden Arms describe themselves as a ‘genre-fluid contemporary quintet’ and with the addition of a new bassist they are creating a thoughtful acoustic-based ensemble sound, playing tracks from their new album ‘Trick Of The Light’. Seated at his electric piano singer Alex Carson is the creative drive behind the band, drawing on difficult personal experiences for many of the lyrics. Co-writer and lead vocals (and trumpet) on some songs Jeff Smith has a similar but subtly different voice. All of the band contribute backing vocals, adding an extra dimension to the infinite variations of instrumental light and shade.
The tempo of songs is sedate but there are so many intriguing touches; the sprightly birdsong violin on ‘Brevity’, the John Barry string motif on the smooth roll of ‘Cole Porter’ and the way the plaintive piano figures seem to underpin the direction of the songs. From the novel by Patrick Hamilton, ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’ is a great title and the song seems to lose itself in an evocative journey too. The final two tracks, the older ‘December’ and newer ‘Burial’ (released as a single) are fine summations of the band’s work, ending the show on an emotional crescendo.

http://www.woodenarms.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/23hangingtrees/
https://www.facebook.com/carolynsfingersband/

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12 Highlights from 2017 : A Sampler of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums and shows of 2017…

1. False Hearts: Cynical Love
Belting rock song, takes your breath (and ears) away

2. Luna Falls: Falling To Pieces
Three part harmonies, acoustic guitars and a gorgeous descending chord sequence chorus. Sounds great live too.

3. Tom Robinson Band: Man You Never Saw
Age does not weary the societal condemnation of the ‘Power In The Darkness’ LP, Tom is still loud and proud live.

4. Elma: Butterfingers
Heart-stretching ballad, just perfect.

5. Goldblume: Wisconsin
Live or recorded, Jethro and the boys put on a great rockshow.

6. Hannah Peel: All That Matters
Hypnotic, ethereal gig and plenty of experiment on a multi-layered album.

7. Seán McGowan: No Show
Sterling live support and heir to Billy Bragg, the minutiae and poetry of a zero hours contract in this ode to the minimum wage.

8. Dos Floris: On The Road
Stunning voice and electronic complexity working very well in a live forum.

9. Baby Arms: Eviscerator
The semi-underground DIY scene is home to this gem of a single.

10. Peaness: Oh George
Chester trio turn the mention of an ex-politician into poptastic gold.

11. Dream Nails: Tourist
Scarily good live band, getting their message across in short punk bursts.

12. Public Service Broadcasting: Progress
Surprising choice of theme for the new album, look forward to seeing it all in concert next year.

All tracks featured on…..

Gavin Chappell-Bates : Bad Faith/Good Faith, single released 8 December 2017

As a prelude to his much-anticipated second long-player ‘The Last One’ Gavin Chappell-Bates releases this philosophical concoction inspired by French savant Jean-Paul Sartre and his reflections on how a person should aspire to authenticity and make free choices. Despite JP’s intellect I’m sure that while smoking his pipe in the salons of Paris that even he could not have predicted this satisfying combination of challenging lyric and punchy indie-rock.

Although Gavin could probably multi-track and loop the other instruments himself he has chosen to feature two of Cambridge’s top performers and session players, Neil Bruce of Bouquet Of Dead Crows on guitar and Fred’s House drummer Paul Richards (who has just launched a new drumming film project, see link below). The spiky words and edgy music encourage the listener to reflect on the profound issues carefully, or just dance along anyway.

The accompanying video consists of graphic interpretations of the lyric, no personal appearance this time, before bombarding us with the big question: ‘…bad faith, good faith, decide, this is your life…’. Deep stuff indeed, but ridiculously catchy too.

With this song and the previous single Gavin is enigmatically trailing the forthcoming album, hopefully due early 2018?

http://gavinchappellbates.com/
https://www.gofundme.com/the-50-days-of-drummer

Motor Tapes : Shine EP, released November 2017

An EP of four top-quality new songs from Cambridge band Motor Tapes, moving into a more synthesiser based sound but as always paying meticulous attention to all aspects of the final production. The distorted tower block imagery on the CD sleeve reflects the simmering tension behind the façade as in the novel and movie ‘High-Rise’.

1. Shine The lead track is a deep synth stomp with dominant vocal and despite the doomy portents has quite an optimistic lyric about shining lights from mirror balls (I saw one of those at a show recently, it is such a timeless, simple special effect..)

2. Get On The drum machine and solid bassline drives this one along as the husky vocal urges and cajoles. Lots going on in the instrumentation and then brilliant guitar fireworks in the closing bars.

3. Storm Bouncy 80s electronic keyboard pulses give way to some smooth melodic lines and a great earworm chorus. Keep listening, one of the great strengths of the band is there are always some subtle musical twists as the songs progress.

4. Burn The band are currently playing a storming version of ‘Personal Jesus’ in their live show and this track lets the Depeche Mode mode of their current direction run free. Dense, deep and dark, with sampled panicking voices(?) at the end this is a dystopian nightmare, but is probably my favourite on the EP.

http://www.motortapes.co.uk/

Indiepop All-Dayer, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 18 November 2017

I have been looking forward to this one for ages with 9 bands in the friendly and intimate environment of The Blue Moon, now with its lighting and sound system upgraded. I missed Emma Kupa and Rainbow Reservoir‘s set but as previously reviewed on this site I’m sure they didn’t disappoint. Arriving to see Faith Taylor who I last encountered jangly-guitaring in Chorusgirl, she was showing a complete other side with an acoustic, dreamy folk accompanied only by her own guitar, violin and occasional backing vocals. This gives her chance to show the full range of her beguiling voice, particularly on the gorgeous Astral Weeks vibe of the closing number ‘Soon’.

Baby Arms is the side project of Jen Doveton of Colour Me Wednesday and from the deliciously titled ‘Eviscerator’ (‘..I will pull the truth out of you and your guts will spill…’) these songs moved along very nicely, brought to life by her fine backing band. There is a reassuring uncluttered DIY feel to the set, and she has a great clear pop voice, shown off particularly well in the plaintive ‘Garden City’ and ‘A Sign’.
It was a hard act to follow, but Chrissy Barnacle is in a category of her own; telling unpredictable and involving stories of her native Glasgow over gentle acoustic guitar. In contrast Shande are a noisy bunch, plenty of raw energy in the fuzzy guitar, mixed down vocals and relentless drums, this trio went down very well with the committed (and sold out) audience.

After a break to recharge, anticipation was high for ‘DIY punk Witches’ Dream Nails and just how good were they? Sparkling presentation, politics, protest, interaction, excellent and loud sound quality and short, short songs; the pure punk ethic embodied for half an hour of musical bliss. ‘DIY’ and a song to describe the retrograde motion of planet Mercury and its influence on our lives were in the best bonkers spirit of the B-52s and the track about rising fascism in Europe was over as soon as its point was made after a few seconds. I loved it!

Personal Best have some very strong songs, opener ‘If You Meet Someone In Love – Wish Them Well’ is irresistibly catchy and with a wall of guitar, some neat instrumental nuances and strong vocals they are the complete package. The mighty anthem of tolerance ‘This Is What We Look Like’ is an impressive and thought-provoking achievement.

Stepping up effortlessly to the headline slot was the brilliant Chester trio Peaness seeming quite moved by the welcome and affection of the crowd, with the band genuinely surprised to realise that many in the audience were singing along with the lyrics. The songs are sparse and uncluttered with no indulgent extended instrumental passages; the shared vocals and all those little drum tricks – everything is in its rightful place. The sudden stops and glorious chorus in ‘Summer Song’, the fuzzy rhythm guitar and intertwining bass line in the environmental ‘Ugly Veg’, and the camouflaged political message of my favourite ‘Oh George’; all are moments to treasure. Three new tracks were included tonight then the frantic finale of ‘No-One’ – Peaness were the perfect end to another superbly curated showcase of infectious indie pop…

https://peanessband.bandcamp.com/
https://personalbest.bandcamp.com/
https://dreamnails.bandcamp.com/
https://allthingsschande.bandcamp.com/
https://chrissybarnacle.bandcamp.com/
https://babyarms.bandcamp.com/
https://faithtaylor.bandcamp.com/
http://www.rainbowreservoir.com/
https://emmakupa.wordpress.com/
https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeIndiepopAlldayer/

Dos Floris, Lexington, London, 13 November 2017

The opening night of a short tour by electronica performer Dos Floris, with more dates to follow in the spring next year. The Lexington is one of those cool London venues with a legacy of many musicians playing on their way upwards.
Opening the show was Orlando Seale, with a stage decorated with inflatable animals and swimming aids, he introduced an unconventional support set, with elements of performance art keeping the audience on their toes. He was accompanied by a clipboard-wielding actor who chose to commend or reprimand Orlando on the quality of his performance as well as a second guitarist wrenching unearthly electric sounds to complement the calm and simple delivery of some haunting songs such as the sublime ‘Wrestling’.
He has recorded a superb EP and more with a full orchestral backing, tonight’s show was a complete contrast but nonetheless as effective.

If watching Orlando was like being part of a play by Samuel Beckett, the one-woman powerhouse that is Dos Floris took us onto another heavenly plain altogether. Florence Donovan is an excellent singer and pianist, as showcased later in the show with the stripped-back ‘Human Relations’ but her use of electronic loops, layers and textures brings her debut album to sparkling life this evening. ‘To The Wolves Part 1’ sets the agenda of sweeping soundscape and holds the audience riveted, their silent attention being testament to the compulsion of the occasion.

There is a pleasing unpredictability to the live versions of the tracks, with so many keyboard buttons that can be pressed to twist and enhance. The bass pulse of ‘That Day’ rocks you to the core, the anti-war message of ‘All The Kings Horses’ still cuts through and ‘Before You Loved Me’ is stunningly effective. The album title track ‘The Widowed Earth’ weaves its ethereal spell and when the show is all over somehow those haunting sounds are still echoing around this fine venue as Florence leaves the stage.

http://www.dosfloris.com/
http://www.orlandoseale.com/

Billy Bragg, Junction, Cambridge, 8 November 2017

When support act Seán McGowan took to the stage, the great majority of the sold-out Junction audience had already arrived and he seemed pleasantly overwhelmed but confidently rose to the occasion. His fast and furious protest songs feature the everyday but essential; minimum wage and insecure employment, petty crime and poor decisions. There is a slower, considered emotional undercurrent in the longer ‘Millbrook Road’ (a thoroughfare in his home town of Southampton). ‘No Show’ and ‘Costa Del Solution’ from his new mini-LP (with wage-packet sleeve) went down well. It was a blistering performance and by the end the audience in J1 were totally won over. As he and Billy might say, ‘..the boy done good..’.

I have seen Billy Bragg many times over the years as solo, duo and with a band; tonight he was accompanied on some songs by multi-talented CJ Hillman, ‘UK Americana instrumental musician of the year’ and making sterling contributions on pedal steel and second guitar, including stepping-up with some Johnny Marr jangle on ‘Sexuality’, the opening song of the evening. Billy can pace a set as well as anybody and he has so much material to draw on, in nearly two hours there was time for early classics ‘Milkman Of Human Kindness’, ‘Man In the Iron Mask’, ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and many more, played on his distinctive green Burns guitar.

Interspersed with the familiar was the new EP reflecting the current affairs of the day. The optimistic ‘Saffiyah Smiles’, environmental ‘King Tide And The Sunny Day Flood’ and the poignant ‘Full English Brexit’ were put into context by Billy’s introductions and he also reflected how many of his early song themes had come around again. ‘There Is Power In A Union’ and ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’ are always going to ignite his loyal audience and we never tire of ‘A New England’, the perfect ending to this brilliant show.

http://www.billybragg.co.uk/
http://www.musicglue.com/seanmcgowan
http://www.cjhillman.com/