Tag Archives: Cambridge

Lizard Brain : Stray, LP released 18th January 2019

The third album from Cambridge band Lizard Brain is a refreshing cornucopia of a dozen tracks where each one is completely different in style and substance; lovingly crafted in their studio by the perfectionist quartet.

Opening with an electronic sequencer pattern ‘Lost In Sound’ is a poppy song drenched in effects and frequently returning to the hookline of the title, referencing Bowie’s Space Oddity along the way. ‘Gannets’ is a guitar driven rocker with a neat descending chord sequence. Then to surprise the listener we have the loping reggae of ‘Am I Just A Name Now?’, with a lyric of resignation regarding the digital world ‘…I’ve got more friends now…than I’m ever gonna need…’.

‘My Thing And Your Thing’ is a cryptic folk-rock prog piece, needing extra listens to untangle it. ‘Red Dress’ is a standout. As deep industrial electronic slabs of sound drift in and out the surreal words are darkly comic. It is an excellent song; a hybrid of Robyn Hitchcock meeting mid-period Depeche Mode.

‘Nothing To Say’ rocks along solidly then a tight 80s jazz-funk feeling pervades the next two tracks; ‘Should I Tell You?’ is a catchy pop single then ‘Never Felt So Good’ is nearly seven minutes of laid back goodness featuring flute, saxophone, bar chimes, synthesiser, languid vocals and some of the instrumental unpredictability of later Steely Dan.

My current favourite is the unexpected blast of Northern Soul of ‘Back To You’, a perfectly formed confection of upbeat lyric, blaring horn and Hammond organ sounds, pounding drums and bass and the biggest hookline chorus on the album. Brilliant!

‘Are Your Hands Any Warmer Yet My Dear?’ is a medieval psychedelic waltz with beautifully played classical guitar, recorders, crickets and a gothically sinister lyric about a strange relationship featuring imagery such as ‘….I buy a guitar cut out from cardboard…see I drew on some strings…’. This is a track to treasure; unusual and satisfying.

Finally we hear the insistent pulsing patterns of ‘Freedom (Summertime)’, a gradually building anthem of escape and optimism. As the album reaches the end you realise that you have never heard anything quite like this celebratory and stylistic collection of excellent songs.

https://www.facebook.com/LizardBrainBand/

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12 Highlights From 2018 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums and Cambridge shows of 2018…

1. Wave Pictures: Sugar
Two albums this year and this uptempo loveable confection has already established itself into the trio’s live set.

2. Public Service Broadcasting: ROYGBIV
Stunning visuals made the live version of this lesser known track unforgettable.

3. Fightmilk: Your Girlfriend
Excellent new album but this stealthy masterpiece is in a class of its own.

4. Colour Me Wednesday: Sunriser
Album and live set opener, a summary of all the features that make this band something special.

5. Suggested Friends: Please Don’t Look At Me On The Bus
Short burst of DIY angst, delivers its message as the hookline haunts your brain.

6. Gaffa Tape Sandy: Water Bottle
High-energy set opener from explosive power trio.

7. Teleman: Cactus
One of many highlights of the new ‘Family Of Aliens’ LP, a stupendous and unrelenting electronic riff marches into the consciousness, with even more energy in the concert version.

8. Ember Rev: Bring It Right Down
Thoughtful and message filled accordion-based rock, works well on stage too.

9. The Sunbathers: Girl You Left Behind
Gentle seaside themed concept album includes this indie-folk waltzing gem.

10. Elma: September
A reminder of a celebratory album launch at the Portland for a fine collection of retro 60s delights. Special mention too for heart breaking ballad ‘Late To The Party’.

11. The Smittens: Upper West Side
Many vocalists and moods in a brilliant show at the Blue Moon from USA Indie collective.

12. Robyn Hitchcock: I Used To Love You
Cambridge references in this song from probably the best gig of my year, a church venue the perfect setting for the intimate performance of songs from a glorious back catalogue of timeless psychedelic imagery.

The Scissors : Look Good In Cheap Clothes, LP released December 2018

This excellent third full-length LP from Cambridge four-piece The Scissors pushes their sound into new territory musically and features words and ideas that chime with modern day concerns…

1. Plug Me In Kicking off with a chord from the soundtrack of a western, the sinister guitar of the verses is balanced by the organ-drenched chorus and it all ends very abruptly.

2. Parking Cars More of a rocker, driven by a pulsing bass riff. Not sure how the title line fits in but it is certainly catchy ‘…parking cars…you got to do it right…’

3. Death Engineer A moody song about built-in obsolescence, suggesting that it is the responsibility of the title character. Around this lyrical resignation a Doors-sounding electric piano and rolling cymbals ominously threaten.

4. Look Good In Cheap Clothes A surreal monologue, spoken by frontman Stewart Harris as the band play freely with the structures and sonic textures. This is a companion to the disturbing artwork of the album front cover (which itself brings to mind the notorious Beatles ‘Yesterday And Today’ sleeve?)

5. I Dream In X-Ray Vision In case you thought the Scissors of old had disappeared this impressive track is a pounding reminder of their trademark sound, with unrelenting unified riff, dissonant guitar and even the theremin gets a look-in. The lyric of course has enough ambiguity and imagery to satisfy the diehard fan.

6. Edgelands Picking up the ‘edge of the world’ theme from the end of the previous song, this loose psychedelic americana is echoing and atmospheric, driven by a roving guitar and accordion.

7. When Is A Boy Not A Boy? A cinematic, sweeping track; a guitar solos plaintively over exciting drumming weaving in with a strong vocal performance.

8. Ufotopia This mid-tempo song is the longest on the album and features a subtly uplifting band sound with the questioning and resigned reflections from the narrator. A guest saxophone solo steals the show at the end.

BONUS TRACKS
9. Glossy Magazines (EP ‘b’-side) This noisy staple of their live set is given a more introspective feel here, piling on the paranoia as the music moves in all sorts of unpredictable directions.

10. Electric Line Terminus (EP ‘b’-side) Another previous release and storming live track, this again has a Doors feel, a sort of doom-laden cataclysm of blues-based garage rock.

Luke James Williams : Drove, EP released November 2018

A new EP from Cambridge singer/songwriter/guitarist Luke James Williams.

1. From The Drove A short, multi-textured introduction to the EP, an array of acoustic instruments resolve into a welcoming chord.

2. Snares & Traps This is an intense, poignant ballad of relationship ending, delivered with characteristic emotion and commitment over a sparse, steadily repeating guitar figure. There is a neat waltz time middle eight as lyrical resignation takes over ‘…what have I got to show for it but a box of my broken pride…’

3. Speak To Me A mid-tempo uplifting celebration of affection; catchy chorus too, with a double tracked vocal. Ambiguous imagery pervades the lyric to reflect the positive feelings ‘… I want to hear the rush of life through every melody.. from your thoughts in the hills out through your mouth to me…’

4. Rabbit Hole The previously released single from the EP, this track has more of a band instrumentation. It features an impassioned vocal with a lyric of pleading and desperation always leading to the key line ‘…No I can’t watch you fall down that rabbit hole again and again and again….’

5. Still In Bed Beginning with the haunting lines ‘… I lay trapped in amber.. and you say that I don’t care…’ this very impressive song is the finale to his current live set. Sung with passion it is a standout track; a simple but stunningly effective ascending and descending guitar line is the only accompaniment to the emotionally raw lyric, coupled with a very attractive melody. Towards the end of the song suddenly a distant echoing piano drifts in and then subtly plays along.

6.You Are The Captain A slowed down folk ballad, this wistful, dreamlike piece uses timeless imagery of the sea as the narrator drifts away on the tide. Over the strummed chords and marching drumbeat the resignation and yearning is poetically described ‘…You are the bloodline, I am just bleeding…..all that I wanted was to be there… ‘

This debut EP is an excellent introduction to his music, as evocatively described on his website….‘Light and dark, ugly and beautiful, happy and sad, fearful and brave, the music of singer songwriter Luke James Williams reflects the opposing forces and wonderful chaos of the world around us’

http://www.lukejameswilliams.co.uk/#about

Bouquet Of Dead Crows, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 24 November 2018

Live at the Blue Moon, this was the launch show for the second long-player from Cambridge rockers Bouquet Of Dead Crows, with the promise of playing the whole album in order for the first and only time….

1. Faultlines An epic track probably destined to be the band’s permanent ideal show opener with the long build-up introduction, Eno-esque synth textures, a stately guitar/bass prelude (reminding me of Pink Floyd’s ‘In The Flesh?’) then finally the bass kicks off a blazing, simple but effective riff and the soaring vocal enters. With much more to come that’s just the first two of the seven minutes of this epic piece, definitely one of my favourites.

2. The Devil’s In The Detail Sounding great live, see full review of original release at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/09/09/bouquet-of-dead-crows-the-devils-in-the-detail-single-released-september-2018/

3. No Tomorrow With the smoke machine activating the venue alarm, things were clearly hotting up; this track starts off deceptively lightly but has a big chorus and a reflective vocal with some guitar fireworks at the end.

4. Slow Motion Ghosts This new album has the feel of a concept piece; the very different sounding tracks seem to slot together into a coherent whole and the title ‘Motus Octo’ (eight movements) gives a clue towards a linking theme. Possibly. This pivotal track is a grand anthem with dense, textured instrumentation and a show-stopping vocal, built around the phrase ‘…time passes by so slowly…’

5. Fragments (Black Hole Eyes) A concise all-out rocker, a jumpy time signature in the main riff and the telling discomfort of the line ‘…I’m suffocating in your black hole eyes…’

6. Cold Inside With a spectacular performance so far, it was time to debut the complexity of this superb prog-rock flavoured eight and a half minutes. There was so much going on here; stealthy and sinister bass-driven verses alternate with an addictive chorus. Finally the track resolves into a guitar (and piano on the recorded version) arpeggio instrumental which would fit well on an early Genesis album. High praise indeed.

7. Incessant Desire Another pre-released taster single, this punching rocker has a spiky signature line which the whole band play to fine effect. At this hectic pace it all gets a bit steamy musically and lyrically ‘…incessant desire…I can see the whites of your eyes…it drives us wild…’

8. Undone This cinematic, heavyweight finale is a bold showcase of the instrumental and vocal might of the band in an unforgivingly intense lyric and unrelenting steady and powerful backing.

After this excellent performance of the album the enthusiastic crowd of course wanted more so the celebratory tick-tocking pop-rock of earlier single ‘Bunched Up Bradley’ rounded the evening off satisfyingly. (See review at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/05/22/bouquet-of-dead-crows-bunched-up-bradley-single-released-may-2018/)

https://www.bodc.live/

With support from War Waves https://www.facebook.com/warwaves/
and Burning Codes https://www.facebook.com/burningcodes2018/

Indiepop All-Dayer, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 10 November 2018

The Blue Moon was the venue for the sold out and highly anticipated Cambridge Indiepop All-dayer, now in its third year. With a tasty line-up of nine bands; songs of relationship angst and elation, protest and politics, set to a DIY soundtrack of jangly guitars and spiky drumming.

Opening the proceedings to an already sizeable audience were Doyouthinkhesaurus?, a four-piece featuring staccato drums and creative bass patterns weaving around fuzzy guitars with fragments of lyrical ideas added to the mix ‘…you’re so underwhelming, how long is a piece of string…‘. ‘Lipstick’ resolves into a singalong chorus while ‘Cross-Words’ is based around one lyric line, noisy interludes and general unpredictability. Excellent sounds at 3pm on a rainy afternoon and all strangely addictive.

Last minute additions to the bill were duo Panic Pocket, a minimal mix of harmony voices, guitar and the only keyboard of the day (a retro mini-Korg) that seemed to produce some mighty, echoing tones. The songs addressed modern life concerns of internet dating, the tedium of the workplace and disappointing relationships; the lyrics were brimming with ideas and references. ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ was a standout track among many others.

Next it was short songs played quickly from exciting Leeds trio Nervous Twitch. With a tight uncluttered sound they are not afraid to draw on great 60s and 70s retro influences, especially on the surf guitar of instrumental ‘Tarantino Hangover’. They pushed the standard three piece instrument line-up in all sorts of directions, featuring fantastic vocals from bassist Erin; energetic but tinged with melancholy on ‘You Don’t Want Me’ and ‘Torment Me’. For me, this band was one of the big highlights of the day.

I fell for the irresistible low-fi jangle of Charmpit when I saw them before at the Leicester All-dayer; and as then their easy stage manner and crowd interaction earns a lot of love for their new summery tracks. You can’t resist a song based around the line ‘I’m in love with the world through the eyes of a squirrel’…

Also previously seen and reviewed on this site, Wolf Girl have a new album out and it made up most of their set. The quartet make an excellent sound with strong, uptempo songs and I particularly like the 60s folkier sound of ‘Dream Partner’.
Named after an amusement park ride, Witching Waves make a big noise (despite no bass player for this show). Opening with the relentless ‘Disintegration’, Emma sings and pounds the driving drum patterns while Mark extracts dense textures and spikes on the guitar.
I have reviewed Mammoth Penguins many times and they never disappoint; songs like ‘Cries At The Movies’, ‘Played’ and especially ‘Strength In My Legs’ sung with feeling by multi-talented Emma Kupa are indiepop perfection and there is a new album due very soon…

Another highlight for me were the excellent Happy Accidents , a power pop trio with an intense, sharp sound that belied some of the wit and comment in the lyrics. Opener ‘Wait It Out’,’Chameleon’ and ‘Different View’ motored along and bristled with energy while ‘Nunhead’ was more of an anthem with the repeated request to ‘….meet me by the cemetery…’.

And finally headliners Colour Me Wednesday, beginning with the majestic ‘Sunriser’, a distillation of many of their distinct facets; world-weary feelings of frustration with a relationship delivered with style by Jen Doveton, fascinating and endlessly varied guitar phrasing from Harriet Doveton and a tour de force drum performance from Jaca Freer. With excellent second guitar and bass the sound is full and rich. Transports of delight driving songs ‘Boyfriend’s Car’ and ‘Edge Of Everything’ sound great too and older track ‘Shut’ is a real crowd-pleaser.

All this and then an indie music disco into the small hours, this Cambridge institution is now a firm fixture on the music calendar….

https://www.facebook.com/doyouthinkhesaurusband/
https://www.facebook.com/panicpocket
https://www.facebook.com/nervoustwitchband
https://www.facebook.com/charmpit/
https://www.facebook.com/wolfgirlband/
https://www.facebook.com/witchingwaves
https://mammothpenguins.bandcamp.com/
http://www.happyaccidents.band/
https://www.colourmewednesday.com/
https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeIndiepopAlldayer/

Annie Dressner, CB2, Cambridge, 26 October 2018

Opening the sold-out show in the atmospheric basement space of the CB2 café bar was Milton Keynes based singer/songwriter/guitarist Anna Hester. Playing her own compositions she moved effortlessly between genres, but always with an emotional core. Starting with the minimal ‘In The Meantime’ she soon won over the supportive audience. Especially poignant was the musical interpretation of WW1 poem ‘Everyone Sang’ (which we did…) and I particularly enjoyed the gorgeous drifting jazz tones of ‘Watch The Clock’; as light as air in the spirit of an early John Martyn track as it resonated around the intimate venue.

Luke James Williams uses the percussive and rhythmic possibilities of his guitar to showcase his intense, personal songs which he describes as ‘…reflecting the opposing forces and wonderful chaos of the world around us…‘. There is some darkness in the lyrics of ‘Snares & Traps’ and lead single ‘Rabbit Hole’ from his forthcoming EP. He played ukulele too, and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ fitted in well. The final thoughtful song ‘Still In Bed’ rounded off an impressive set.

This was the launch event for ‘Broken Into Pieces’, the new alt folk/country LP from Annie Dressner, with her set featuring a complete play through of the album.

Annie led with acoustic guitar, supported by occasional keyboard/electric guitar/cajón/percussion from her two fellow musicians. On the album there is denser instrumentation on many tracks but this line-up worked too, because of the strength of the songs and Annie’s pure, clear voice.

Opener ‘Fades Away’ builds around a simple guitar figure, with a dream-like hookline. ‘Heartbreaker’ is an uptempo jaunt featuring eternal themes of country music; reminiscence, then the inevitable ‘moving on’. Lead single ‘Don’t Go’ is a cleverly structured pop song, with big chorus and classic middle eight. ‘Bruise Beneath My Bone(s)’ is a compact, deceptively simple song of regret.

And so it continued; this is an excellent album, with many, many highlights. Originally from New York, Annie is now a Cambridge resident but recalls anecdotes and memories of her former life to draw on for lyrical inspiration, especially on two of my favourites ‘Kentucky’ and ‘Paper Moon’. The haunting, spiritual ‘Morning’ was the closing track from the album showcase, but there were more delights to come, especially ‘Fly’ and ‘September’ from her previous LP.
‘The Book Of Love’ by the Magnetic Fields suited Annie’s voice perfectly, then for a final encore the three acts played a gentle version of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ bringing a fine evening to a close.

http://anniedressner.com/
http://www.lukejameswilliams.co.uk/
http://annahester.com/