Ben Garnet aka The Organ Grinder’s Monkey returns with his guitar and palette of creative ideas, mutated by his laptop in all directions.
As the introduction to ‘Take A Step Forward’ jumps between the speakers the multi-layered guitar and staccato bursts of percussion are embraced by an electronic mandolin sound and treated vocal. All a bit lo-fi, but strangely addictive. ‘Up, Down, Left, Right, A-Start’ is an up-tempo twist on an 80s video game soundtrack with retro vocoder voice. A nice synth (or is it guitar?) break ending and a catchy chorus. ‘Falling In Love With A Cartoon Character’ is a strange nightmare indeed, with less electronics and plenty of vocals.
The title track is more mellow, quite soothing but those electronic ‘glitches’ keep invading (of course) to give it an edge. The final song ‘Christopher’ has an atonal marching piano figure behind a nostalgic lyric with a downbeat ending. Lots of keyboard textures here, subtly drawing attention to the words.
Distinctive and bold artwork by Amy Deer complements this welcome new EP, with a sad-looking character emerging from the water, possibly followed by icebergs/bottles/people..? This ambiguity reflecting the music perfectly…
Another strong line-up for a sold out evening at The Portland, starting with Ben Garnet, otherwise known as The Organ Grinder’s Monkey, a regular in Cambridge (and on this site) with his guitar/random sounds/voice/laptop combination. A large audience was already in the venue, reacting well to the electronica, triggered effects and manipulated vocals of hours of painstaking studio crafting being let loose to run free in the live performance. Older songs ‘Testing the Theory…’ and ‘See This Through’ sound as good as ever as does the heavy bass and denser instrumentation of new track ‘False Economy’. Apparently new experiments in stereo are pushing the capacity of the laptop (Bill) beyond its limits but it looks like this creative partnership will run and run.
Five piece Cambridge band Violet Woods are featured elsewhere on this site and it was good to see that their live versions of tracks from the debut album have grown in stature. It was a nicely paced set, contrasting the dark mysteries of ‘Electric Fascination’ with the simpler pastoral pleasures of ‘Here’ and ‘Driftwood Royalty’. The band musically blends moody 12-string electric guitar with bold retro organ notes as second guitar, bass and drums all make a major contribution. The finale of the album and live set is ‘The River’ an epic track with a haunting vocal from Xavier Watkins, then eventually all the instruments break loose, with feedback and the drum kit flayed until it sounds like it is being thrown down the stairs…
The Wave Pictures are a likeable and unassuming trio, their sparse tight sound and onstage interplay creates a captivating and engrossing show. Having formed in 1998, they have recorded many albums as themselves or collaborations with a variety of performers, also they have covered songs by cult outsider American singer Daniel Johnston.
Complex lyrics featuring relationships, domestic trivia, assorted wildlife and name checks of Johnny Cash, Tracey Emin and The Real Slim Shady(!) are delivered mainly by guitarist Dave Tattersall with drummer Jonny Helm leading on some songs. Along with bassist Franic Rozycki the band are accomplished musicians, their trademark indie rock is clear sounding and intricate guitar solos interspersed with busy basslines and solid drums.
There are also departures in musical styles, the polyrhythmic shuffle of ‘Before This Day’ was an early highlight. At times I was reminded of the minimal relaxed sound and lyrical concerns of Jonathan Richman, another live performer with the ability to have the audience losing themselves in his unique musical world. Soon to be released album Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon featured strongly, then the show ended with requests, all warmly received by the very attentive audience.
An experimental night at The Portland, free entry and biscuits. Squadron Scramble are a duo, playing keyboard and guitar and totally lost in their music, anonymous to the point of standing in the shadows and not speaking with the crowd. But they didn’t need to, the sound was powerful, adventurous guitar underpinned by sympathetic keyboard, backing tapes and an animated back projection. The overall theme of the instrumental played was flying, from the Second World War to echoes of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It was hypnotic, pulsing, sometimes challenging and discordant but always interesting and the visuals fitted well.
Pete Um has been on the Cambridge music scene for a while but this was the first time I had seen him. Seated at a table like a character in a Samuel Beckett play he speaks or sings over tapes of varying low-key musical styles , most tracks lasting less than a minute. Reflections on relationships, political ideas, war and peace, Cambridge, all a bit random but you keep listening to see where he goes next..
The Organ Grinder’s Monkey is talented guitarist Ben Garnett, inextricably linked to his laptop (‘Bill’), together on a restless quest to alter the form and structure of song. Describing the sound as ‘lo-fi glitch-rock’, he plays guitar and sings, interacting with loops and effects, triggered by guitar, pedals and voice. Audience participation was taken to a new level when one of the crowd was given a controller for a personal real-time mix of one of the songs. In ‘See This Through’ at the end of the set, the staccato bursts of bass and percussion invaded the existing complex structure of melody and vocoder. The ideas are strong, as conventional songs they stand up anyway but the constant diversions and changes sustain the listeners’ interest. Have a listen on Soundcloud, including some intriguing remixes of other peoples songs…