Caroline Waters – Manager – Oxjam Brighton Takeover

Oxjam began in 2006, with the aim of creating a network of music-loving people across the UK, all united by a shared goal – raising money for Oxfam to help fight poverty around the world. Ten years on and the festival is still going strong, with hundreds of incredible gigs taking place each October all over the country. It's a national festival with a local focus and Brighton, being such a hub of musical creativity, has a bit of a duty to step-up and represent!

For several years Brighton has had a multi-venue festival, what they call a 'Takeover' event. Much like The Great Escape or Drill Festival there are shows organised in venues around the city which can all be accessed via a wrist band. We chat to Caroline Waters, who is our local Oxjam Takeover manager, to find out about her history with Oxjam, what's going on in Brighton this year and how you can get involved.

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Deerhoof – The Magic

Deerhoof are an incredible band, they are so original, so different, so fun. I'm ashamed to say that despite seeing them live twice, and having been completely blown away on both occasions, I've never bought any of their albums. I'm not quite sure why. I guess on some level I was thinking that their free-wheeling style, veering from art to noise to pop and back again, with little let-up, wouldn't translate into something I'd enjoy listening to passively, in an arm chair or on a bus rather than in some sweaty auditorium. Yet here I am, 22 years into their career listening to their 16th studio album for the fourth time, grinning from ear to ear.

To create The Magic Deerhoof rented an abandoned office space in New Mexico for seven days, rather than some big professional studio. They went in with few ideas, dry, and came out with these 15 songs, 40 minutes of vibrant, eclectic, experimental rock. Deerhoof have always been a bit of a DIY band, happier to take a more surreal approach than do something obvious. Happier to set up and jam as a garage band than layer endless over-dubs under the guidance of some hot-shot producer with a fleet of engineers positioning microphones. That much is obvious when you're in their presence, and when you listen to their music. It's refreshing, it's fresh, it's new, it's different! The Magic is undeniably polished though, it's a professional record and that is a testament to their longevity, they've been at this a long time and so, sort-of inevitably they've become very adept at capturing what they do. What's more surprising is how great the music is, after a couple of decades you can expect artists to mellow, to simplify, to refine and, in refining unfortunately most bands lose the spark that animated their early, glory days. The Magic is full of spark though, it sparkles, it's exciting and driven!

The album begins with singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki quietly sing-saying “The Magic”, before a punk rock riff and pace-filled drum beat launches 'The Devil And His Anarchic Surrealist Retinue' into action. It's a catchy number and it's energetic, hitting a high as the chorus kicks in with the two guitarists panned to either side, playing off each other, completing each other’s licks. 'Kafe Mania' continues in a similar vein, with an even denser rock riff to begin that is immediately contrasted by the pop melodies, shiny keyboard pads and Satomi's unmistakeable vocal – jingle-like with her strong Japanese accent. Punk rock dominates the mix as Deerhoof's phenomenal drummer Greg Saunier takes lead vocal for the short slice of anger that is 'That Ain't No Life To Me'; “you were born to be my grave/you want out I'm in to deep/I don't care how the other half live cos I've seen how the other half dies”. The distortion on the guitars is dialled up to eleven and the attentive listener will note how they subtly play with time, as verses come out significantly slower than the choruses before them and spaces are extended and accented – it's the same effect as a young, amateur band who are so excited by the chorus they race to it, but Deerhoof create this excitement intentionally, deliberately and expertly.

Still the anger in 'That Ain't No Life…' is a rarity, it's a testament to the joy bubble that Deerhoof generate with their music that a song with a title like 'Life Is Suffering' can do nothing but lift your spirits as Greg and Satomi sing; “note my screams of joy, higher and higher and higher”. Next up is 'Criminals of the Dream' which was released with a music video back in May to promote The Magic's forth-coming release, at five minutes it's much longer than anything else on the album and uncharacteristically long from my experience of the band. The music video seems to be pieced together from semi-random mobile phone footage and close-ups of a dog that Satomi can't seem to teach how to fetch. The song begins with an incredibly cheesy keyboard tone, sounding like a home-keyboard playing a Disney theme, Satomi sings “dream, you can dream, you can dream you can dream, I know you can dream” ushering in a dark and fuzzy bass tone and driving drums with bright simple melodies plinking out on top from a guitar that sounds almost like a steel drum. The contrast between gritty, edgy guitars and hard-hitting, explosive drumming with squeaky clean poppy melodies and soft, bright key tones is an ever constant feature of the Deerhoof sound, but it's not the only mode they play in. There's funk, avant-garde noise, free-form jazz-like playing and anything else that takes their fancy in the moment – 'Model Behaviour' being a perfect example with it's strange jazzy groove, caught somewhere between Primus, Ren & Stimpy and an early 90s computer game.

Some of my favourite moments in their repertoire here err towards the slightly more conventional, like 'Dispossessor' or 'Plastic Thrills' where the band sound like a model example of the sort of American garage rock bands Graham Coxon started to idolise in the latter half of the 90s, and almost turned Blur into in parts of 1997's Blur album. They do melodic rock, fuzzy as hell, but still find interesting quirks and twists in their arrangements, always leaving room for a little of the unexpected. Deerhoof continue to surprise with a bizzare cover of The Inkspots 40s jazz hit 'I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire', the melody almost adhered to whilst the backing track is a minimal electronic beat and completely off-key synths. 'Acceptance Speech' has shades of 80s classic rock, 'Patrasche Comes Back' sounds like someone left a microphone running capturing Satomi singing a new idea to herself and 'Debut' sounds like they've borrowed the groove from Channel 4's University sit-com Fresh Meat.

'Little Hollywood' is a real late-album highlight, sounding in some ways similar to Punjabi MCs bhangra version of the Knight Rider theme tune, it's a cracking groove, showing off Greg Saunier's undeniable skill and range but also the band’s ability to retain their style and identity whilst suddenly, unexpectedly taking on melodies and rhythms that are completely left-field and unusual within their oeuvre. Whether they're rocking hard and loud, grooving away with off-beat funk and jazz, or telling surreal little tales Deerhoof really sound fresh and exciting on this album. They are as inventive and creative as they've ever been two decades into the game – they really have got the musical magic down. Long may they continue!
Adam Kidd

Website: deerhoof.net
Facebook: facebook.com/Deerhoof
Twitter: twitter.com/deerhoof

 

 


 

 

Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room

Laura Mvula is one of those rare artists who come along from time to time with a refreshingly original sound. She has a unique and instantly recognisable voice and style, first gifted to the world through her début album, Sing to the Moon, which narrowly missed out to James Blake for the 2013 Mercury Music Prize, although she was the bookies favourite. Mixing choral gospel voices, soul and jazz with more classical elements and a distinctly electronic production style, she has carved a niche for herself with her beautiful, melancholic music for the soul. In a recent interview Mvula bravely revealed all, giving us a real insight to the trials and tribulations that have been affecting her during recent years, marking her second album The Dreaming Room as a real personal triumph, beyond it's obvious musical achievements. Its rare for someone in the public eye to speak so openly and honestly about debilitating conditions such as the acute anxiety and depression that have plagued her since her parents divorce in her mid 20s, defying the expectations and conventions of the deeply religious community she was raised in. I applaud her for shining a light on something that many people struggle with in silence.

Being thrust into the limelight so suddenly whilst dealing with these problems must have been difficult after her début was released, but it seems in the last 18 months, work on this second album had become a near impossibility, she divorced from her husband of seven years and was plagued by such strong anxiety attacks she could not be in a room on her own – making writing a real difficulty. It's hard to listen to the second single 'Phenomenal Woman' which closes the album and picture the same Laura Mvula frozen by panic attacks, but that is the very power of this second record. Edgier, groovier, darker and in some ways more intense than her début, The Dreaming Room, it’s an empowering record. Inspired by a Maya Angelou poem with the same title, 'Phenomenal Woman' talks about a woman who realises her beauty and triumphs against adversities to metaphorically fly – it's not much of a stretch to imagine Mvula is singing about herself, rising above her problems to turn in, in her own words, “a beast of an album” and this, with its dark bass-line and euphoric chorus is a stand-out example of what she has accomplished.

Lead single, 'Overcome', which features the unmistakable funky guitar chops of Nile Rodgers, continues the theme of not just surviving but flourishing despite our problems, as Mvula sings “When your head is heavy, low/And the tears they keep falling/Take your broken feet and run”. This song has choral gospel voices at its core, deeply layered harmonies that become like a synth pad, a motif Mvula uses throughout the record. The melody these background vocals follow makes some unusual choices for pop, or even jazz music, as there are resolutions that sound like they're lifted straight from an old hymn, which creates a strange tension in this context and is another approach she recalls throughout the album, notably at the end of 'Lucky Man', unifying processes like these almost give this record the feel of a concept album. The filtered background sounds and broken drum beat of 'Bread' reminds me, weirdly, of the tonal qualities of Vampire Weekend's last record, Modern Vampires of the City. There is a real embracing of what electronics can do to transform sound, weirdly over-perfect vocal harmonies, beautiful strings contrasted with a sharply percussive sound. Mid-album highlight 'Let Me Fall' has a bright synth line underpinned by shifting off-beat chords and a driving, skipping rhythm which all coalesces around repeated counter-point melodies that work into a hypnotic trance-like refrain: “No looking back when hope is pushing forward/Hand in the sky will lead us out of the darkness”.

'Kiss My Feet' has the most beautiful xylophone melody, which I can already imagine being used for some utilities advertising campaign. As a major player on the Sony roster writing such affective parts Mvula will have a hard time turning down such commissions, but advertising has become a big part of the successful musician's bread-and-butter income these days, I'm just hoping over-use doesn't taint the genuine emotion found here. It's one of the most beautiful songs on the album, with its chorus of “I've been waiting for you/I've been lost without you/I've been praying for someone like you” – but, what's perhaps not immediately apparent on first listen, is how unconventional the arrangement is, how different the sections of the song are and how skilfully they roll from one mood to the other. There's also a real darkness at play, despite the upbeat optimism of the lyrics, that betrays the desperation behind the sentiment. 'Angel' is another moment that shows off Mvula's incredible skill for composition, proceeded by the short orchestral instrumental 'Renaissance Moon'. The song starts with a capella voices singing at an extremely unusual harmonic interval, one soaked in digital effects. Its verses possess a strange melody that weaves its way around what sounds like all the notes, taking us off on strange tangents, while a synth-sitar plucks a bluesy Beatlesy pattern in the background. This all leads to one of those repeating melodic codas Mvula does so well while what sounds like a synth-harpsichord playing a beautifully flowing arpeggio fades off in the distance.

'People' is another strong track from a highly consistent album, released as a single back in April. This song features a high contrast between tension-filled verses, with dark brooding lyrics and later a rap from former Grime MC Wretch 32, and a sombre but uplifting chorus about the glorious light within every person. Again it continues that theme, of triumph against adversity, that whilst people seem to be constrained by their origins in life, they all have this light, this potential. However, it would be a mistake to think that Mvula has over-laboured this point, or to think that she is without humour. 'Nan' is a great example of her openness and wit, as she surprises us all when the penultimate track on the album is just a recording of a telephone conversation with her Nan, who asks her about how her music is going, reminds her to think of god and her prayers before asking her to “write a song I can lift me spirits, write a song I can jig me foot”. Really it's the perfect introduction to the aforementioned album closer 'Phenomenal Woman'. We get the intensity of the spiritual connection, we get that desire to have music that will raise us out of darkness and ultimately we're reminded that it's all for fun, to get up and dance and lose yourself in that infectious groove. With this second record, and all that it represents, Laura Mvula has shown us that she truly is a phenomenal woman. This is a deep, dark, brooding masterpiece of an album but it is also certainly transcendent, joyful and indeed triumphant.
Adam Kidd

Website: lauramvula.com
Facebook: facebook.com/lauramvulamusic
Twitter: twitter.com/lauramvula

 


 

 

 

The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith Of Phobos



Last year experimental rock giants Primus played a show with a lesser-known psychedelic pop act called The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, fronted by none other than that old son-of-a-Beatle Sean Ono Lennon. During a backstage jam Sean found some serious common ground with Primus bandleader, and idiosyncratic bass-player extraordinaire, Les Claypool, and the seeds for The Claypool Lennon Delirium were sown. The pair were clearly itching to explore their musical conversation further for only a year later we have the duo’s début album Monolith Of Phobos, released on the 3 June, shortly after Mars, orbited by the moon Phobos (home of the famed monolith), reached it's closest position to earth for 11 years. The planets were certainly aligned for this collaboration. Last year when Lennon set off to Claypool's guesthouse-cum-studio (and vineyard apparently) in Sebastopol, California, he was expecting they might just write a few songs, but two weeks later they had the entire album in the bag. ??

The title track sets the scene, out of psychedelic waves of abstract guitar and bass noises mysterious sci-fi melodies emerge weaved around Claypool's distinctly percussive bass playing style, which tends to sit up front throughout the album, while the often simple drumming takes a back seat, with simple grooves holding time, leaving space for the bass to work its magic. There's an almost nursery-rhyme style delivery to the vocals, considering Buzz Aldrin's fascination with visiting Phobos to explore the monolith. Science fiction fans will immediately think of 2001 A Space Odyssey when they see the term 'monolith', but Mars' moon Phobos has a very much real building-sized rock which scientists, with support from the famed astronaut, have proposed visiting. The album continues with a two part song 'Cricket And The Genie' which has a similar groove to Tame Impala's 'Elephant' in its first movement, almost glam with powerful offbeat hits. The song is more progressive (as you might have guessed with it coming in two 'movements') and even more psychedelic; it's looser and takes the listener on a real journey as it explores the problems of big pharmaceutical companies through a fantastical tale. The second movement repeats the dark refrain of 'you really gotta try it' over and over again. ??

'Mr Wright' was put forward as a lead track to promote the album, and it certainly has a bass-line that is instantly recognisable as Claypool in full Primus mode, the bass at double pace while the drums groove lazily in half-time behind. Lennon's vocals are, again, in full-on dark nursery-rhyme mode, a style that reminds me a little of his father – but it's hard not to think of the monolith of John when considering the work of his son, a shadow he's done admirably well to escape from throughout his career. 'Mr Wright' discusses a character who, perhaps, ought to have been called Mr Wrong, a creeper who likes to watch people sleep, shower and even sets up little cameras to watch them pee – perhaps a little reference to Chuck Berry, who famously (allegedly) did just that in his Southern Air restaurant at the end of the 80s. It ought to be mentioned how perfectly the bass-playing is matched with psychedelic guitar work throughout the album, Lennon clearly has a skill for playing the (supposedly) wrong notes at the right time, much like Claypool. ??

For 'Boomerang Baby' the bass takes a bit more of a back seat while steady guitars and melodic keyboards dominate, with a lyric touching on the interference of technology in relationships. 'Breath Of A Salesman' is another off-beat bass funk with fabulous guitar work, and some very Beatlesy production on the backing vocals. This one sounds like a Claypool lead vocal to me, although it's interesting how well their voices work together, either trading places in counter-point, like on 'Mr Wright' or harmonising as they do here. There's a telling moment in the epic psychedelic exploration that takes up the six minutes of 'Captain Lariat'. The song strips down at the end to Lennon on his own, just guitar and vocal, following the progressive melody line when suddenly he stops after a mistake to say, “ah fuck it, one more time”, followed by Claypool saying, “keep going”. It's a really revealing moment, I find, where we're given an insight into the process. With modern computer-based recording the opportunity is there to come up with your ideas and then record them as quickly and as freely as possible, to later be edited and sculpted into the final product. I suspect this is how these guys have worked and it certainly would explain the album's fresh and instantaneous feel. 'Ohmerica' reminds me a bit of Beck. Melodically it's like one of his folkier numbers, like something from Mutations, but there are all these weird bits of idiosynchronous backing vocals, a funky slap bass and clavichord that take it into a different dimension.

??After a bit of free-from bass meandering, 'Oxycontin Girl' comes in as a late-album highlight, returning to the theme of the evils of big-pharma, this time telling the tragic tale of a girl hooked on the heroin substitute Oxycontin, which seems to leave as many victims in its wake as the drug addiction it was designed to help people recover from. It's suitably dark and again features that sing-song vocal Lennon does so well, there's a darkly fluid clavichord progression that creates tension throughout. 'Bubbles Burst' is led by a strong melancholy melody, with a phasey vocal treatment that once again makes it hard not to think of The Beatles. Here it's Claypool's ability to use the bass guitar almost as a lead melodic instrument that transports this track to somewhere new, and there's another opportunity to enjoy Lennon's stellar lead guitar work. The dark lyrics explore the tragic life of Michael Jackson's monkey Bubbles, as he is sent at a young age to live on the Neverland ranch. It's one of those bizarre seldom-considered side-stories to popular culture – the perfect theme for a Claypool/Lennon song, it would seem. The music video, featuring The Mighty Boosh's Noel and Michael Fielding as a sinister Michael Jackson and Bubbles respectively, compliments the dark, surreal themes expertly. 'There's No Underwear In Space' closes the album with a sprawling nightmarish instrumental, done in a fairly minimal style. The synthesiser melodies and arpeggiated guitar sequence are cut from the school of sci-fi epic, but the percussion is almost non-existant. It's a great psyche outro, suitable to close the album and rolling nicely out of 'Bubbles Burst'. ??

As musical conversations go this has certainly been a most fertile one. Claypool and Lennon certainly have complimentary muses, both musically and lyrically, they manage to marry intelligence and playfulness in equal measure throughout the record. It's refreshing to hear an album that has such fluidity, just these two guys with bellies full of Claypool wine, playing around and nailing it in the process. There is a looseness to the record, and, compared to lots of modern music, a sparseness and lightness to the production that allows this album to sit in its own space. The duo are off on an extensive tour this summer, here's hoping there are plenty more inspirational backstage jams to be had, as I for one am eager to hear what comes next! ??
Adam Kidd

??Website: theclaypoollennondelirium.com
Facebook: facebook.com/theclaypoollennondelirium

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The Strokes – Future Present Past

??It's been three years since The Strokes brought out Comedown Machine, an album that I don't remember having much impact at the time, I've even met fans who didn't know they'd released it! 2011's Angles was more up my street, and fared better in the charts, although arguably there's more filler than killer on that collection too. After headlining last years Primavera festival in Barcelona and playing a huge concert in London's Hyde Park, we're not too surprised to hear some new material from the group, but this small release was launched so inconspicuously we almost missed it. Future Present Past is the band’s first EP release since their début The Modern Age dropped in 2001, causing the major label bidding war that launched the band into the musical stratosphere. This trio of new tracks forms a sort of minimalist career retrospective, looking to their past, where they ended up and, hopefully pointing to where they're headed.

??'Drag Queen' plods along with a steady 80s drum beat, a bass guitar with a horrendous amount of filthy distortion throbbing away and a shiny clean guitar masquerading as a glassy synth. The effect is like a late 70s/early 80s bit of future-synth, from a group like Kraftwerk or producer Giorgio Moroder, it could be the optimistic sound of tomorrow, except it's so dirty it has become dystopian, especially through Casablancas’ vocal: muggy, messed up and at times deliberately machine-like. It sounds like he's recorded several takes and treated each differently. At times, one of these voices interrupts the other, at others, strange effects are applied to pitch him up. The lyrics are hard to make out through the fug, but thankfully the band have released a lyrics video, with a complimentary retroscoping-style animation that gives us a chance to decipher the distorted drawl. At times Casablancas is seriously downbeat, with his frightening vision of a future city where “they try to sell the water/try to sell the air/try to sell your daughter/try to sell her hair”. At other times he's downright hilarious: “coast to coast/LA to Chicago/I don't know geography all that well”.

??The next track 'OBLIVIUS', would have sat nicely on 2011's Angles album with its elaborate melodic, harmonised guitar lines. It has a great big chorus, where Casablancas’ voice soars asking 'what side are you standing on?' as the guitars simplify, growing broader and more densely distorted. After a screeching guitar solo, things breakdown to a faux-classical section of guitar playing that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Daft Punk's Discovery, backed by a soft, distant falsetto vocal. Interestingly, the EP closes with a remix of 'OBLIVIUS' from the band's drummer Fab Moretti, and it's not what I was expecting at all. Rather than taking the source material and re-imagining the track it sounds almost like Moretti has literally just made another mix from the desk. He puts a lot more emphasis on the vocal, bringing it to the fore and giving it clarity, whilst also emphasising, and embellishing the song with more synth parts, replacing verse guitars. ??

If we're to take the Future Present Past title as instructional then the third track 'Threat Of Joy' must represent The Strokes' past – and it certainly has a production sound that ties it more closely to their earliest work. It's interesting to note that this is the first EP the band have released since their debut The Modern Age 15 years ago and this wouldn't have sounded too out of place alongside 'Last Nite' and 'The Modern Age', although this comes across as more of a ballad. There's a clarity and cleanness to the guitars and drums that contrasts with Casablancas’ distinctive slurred vocals in much the same way they did way back in the early days. It's unreasonably tight, with an easy-going sound that flies by despite its mid-tempo leanings, and when a smooth arpeggio guitar comes in in the final third it sounds great. The best moment to my ears though is the super-mellow coda the song plays out on, it's a bit of magic that stands out to me in the same way the walking bass-line does on the title track from their debut album 'Is This It' – a bit of unexpected flair when everything around it is played straight.

??It would be great if 'Drag Queen' turns out to be the first signs of some moody futurist Strokes album we'll be getting later in the year, but I wouldn't hold your breath. In a recent interview with Zane Lowe on his Beats 1 show Casablancas talked about making music for the internet age and preferring to work on EP releases rather than albums. It does kind of make sense, this is their most consistent release in a long time, three tracks that, whilst being wildly different in approach from each other, are all memorable and of the highest quality. Nowadays, with the shrinking attention spans of the smart-phone generation it could be the case that regular, bite-size releases are the way to capture hearts and imaginations without demanding too much from an audience. Personally, I'm not quite ready to ring the death knell on the classic album format. We'd do well to note that future trends are as likely to progress towards new ground as they are to regress relishing golden eras, just look at the continuing vinyl renaissance we're enjoying. I for one am hoping this stealthy EP simply represents the band keeping their oar in while they complete work on some dark magnum opus. ??
Adam Kidd

Website: thestrokes.com
Facebook: facebook.com/thestrokes
Twitter: twitter.com/thestrokes

 

 

 

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

So Radiohead have a new album, but I guess you heard about it already, right? It has been hard to escape in the world of social media – most of my timeline has been buzzing with various shades of sycophantic adoration since the record dropped on Sunday and frankly, in spite of my own love for the group, I find it a little baffling how they can have such a massive impact whilst avoiding the usual marketing over-saturation most bands have to go through just to get you to stream their latest work. In Rainbows, which the band released to huge fanfare as a 'pay what you like' download, was clearly a massive game changer. I've heard people say the band members made more of a fortune from that album than any of their previous major label efforts combined. I'm not sure if that's entirely true or not, but it was undeniably an uproarious success. It was also a great collection of songs and possibly my favourite album of theirs. I've been following the band since my parents bought a copy of Pablo Honey the day after hearing 'Creep' on the radio. I was in the car. I still have that copy of the album, in a yellowing, tatty plastic CD case and 'Anyone Can Play Guitar' is one of the first songs I learnt how to play on the guitar, aged fourteen. It's rare for a band to bloom with such an excellent record so long into their careers, but In Rainbows was nearly a decade ago now and The King Of Limbs was, frankly, a bit disappointing. Its songs were buried beneath over wrought layers of dense digital poly-rhythms, a theme carried from Thom Yorke's solo album, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes and before that, with his other band Atoms For Peace's album Amok, which also seemed to lack for actual songs: those melodic jewels that have always kept Yorke's pop crown in place, no matter how far he fell down the rabbit hole of existential angst. So why were we all still so excited – so willing to spread word of their new work ourselves, like a bunch of brainwashed Midwich Cuckoos?

If Radiohead, and Yorke's side projects, have been becoming ever more obtuse, Johnny Greenwood has been simultaneously pursuing the sublime. The younger Greenwood, famed in the early days for his aggressive and distinctive lead guitar work, has been off carving out his own solo career, in the somewhat less conspicuous world of film soundtracks and composing for orchestra. I've not been following him too closely, but it feels like it's Greenwood's work with orchestral muusic that has most affected this new album, the string arrangements throughout A Moon Shaped Pool are amazing. They immediately give this album its own sound palette, making it sound distinct from any other Radiohead album to date, and they are often strikingly beautiful. This is an album where the electronics, while certainly there throughout, tend to bubble away in the background while more organic sounds – piano, guitars, brushed drums and voices – are given the fore. At times it sounds as if the orchestral parts might be programmed, rather than played, because they sound so direct, perfectly rendered with machine-like precision. It could just be that the London Contemporary Orchestra are that good, credited on the album for providing strings and choir, they won in the Ensemble category at the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards last year. Having worked with Greenwood on soundtracks they seem the perfect match for Radiohead on this album, their contributions provide much of the character for this, possibly their most laidback and love-lorn album.

The first song, 'Burn The Witch' is also the first song they teased, complete with a sinister music video spoof, where Trumpton meets the Wicker Man. It's propelled by a violently insistent set of taut strings, hard bowing that creates tension but with a sort of bubbly energy that propels it with progressive momentum. The lyrics also compliment the contrast between optimistic front and dark realities, "sing the song of sixpence that goes…" recalling the famous nursery rhyme we still teach to children, ending with a maid getting her nose ripped off by a magpie. I was surprised that the next teaser track they released, 'Daydreaming', was also the second song on the album, because it is so mellow. I often find when sequencing an album people tend to start with a few up-beat songs, establishing a certain pace, letting the slower songs gather more towards the middle and end. On A Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead defy that convention by placing this six-and-a-half minute song, that has no drum pattern, only a gentle keyboard arpeggio for rhythm, backed with electronic ambience and a vocal, right at the front. From that point on they establish a convention of a one beat driven track followed by a track without drums, or with only very minimal percussion. When I spotted the album tracks are also in alphabetical order (if you ignore the 'The' in 'The Numbers') I wondered if this was a happy accident, but having listened to the whole album many times in sequence, you can't ignore how well it flows, which seems surely deliberate.

'Decks Dark' is a slow-building sombre groover, with some great gritty electric rhythm guitars and that fantastic choir, the last minute is one of those incredibly satisfying moments of mellow crescendo you couldn't imagine anyone else pulling off. 'Desert Island Disk' sees Radiohead at their most folky; it comes close to resembling a Nick Drake song, with Yorke choosing a deeper register than the high pitched falsetto he's famed for. There is a beat to this one, but it's paper-thin and the whole song is sparse, mostly bass and acoustic guitar but with plenty of atmospherics working away in the background. 'Ful Stop' takes things up a notch, with its insistent beat, but it's still stripped back. The motorik beat and driving bass sound like they're way off in the distance, while a soft, sinister glassy synth pad dominates the foreground. Again this is a satisfying builder; halfway through what sounds like a second drum kit comes in, creating skipping poly-rhythms as the guitars mount competing for space with bleeping electronics.

We go back down again for 'Glass Eyes', where the orchestra really shines. The song is played on a piano sound that has been filtered, sounding almost like it's underwater, leaving Tom's voice to sit, lonely and sad upfront, backed by shimmering flourishes of strings. One of the shortest songs on the album, it's stark and beautiful, and sounds melodically very familiar to parts of their earlier work. 'Identikit' is another slow groover, with an intricate off-beat funk to the verses – it's got one of the biggest choruses on the album, with Thom repeating, “broken hearts/make it rain” over and over before handing the baton to the choir, who take the motif to celestial heights. The track ends with a guitar solo, yes, not a massive shred, but an interesting cascade of delayed notes flowing round each other, in a cleaner tone than they might have used earlier in their careers.

It's at this later stage in the album that things really hit their stride, in my opinion. 'The Numbers' begins with dancing, fluttering pianos and odd sampled noises before slowly ushering in another mellow groove, with some excellent bass playing. Two thirds into the track the strings step up, with some ingenious lines that snake around the vocal, taking us to unexpected places, reminding me a little of the way Yes were using strings on the Time And A Word album. 'Present Tense' though has quickly become my favourite track in this collection, its Latin groove and guitar arpeggios seem to me to be the sound of the band perfecting something they were seeking in the In Rainbows sessions. I just love that kind of rhythm, matched with Radiohead's distinctive style of melancholia. There's also something particularly moving about the sentiment. Thom sings about using distance as a weapon of self defence, to protect himself from a world he finds difficult to inhabit. Later when he sings, “in you I'm lost” we feel that his distance is broken down by one person he can connect to, and lose himself in. A point that becomes terribly tragic when we consider the news, which is hard to avoid when you're searching for info on this album, that Thom split from his long-term partner of 23 years of marriage last year.

In truth, the first fruits I heard from this period of recording sessions came by surprise on Christmas Day last year, when the band unexpectedly uploaded their song 'Spectre' as a free download from their Soundcloud page. It turns out Radiohead had been approached to compose a song for the last Bond film, but their offering was rejected in favour of Sam Smith's 'Writing's On The Wall', which inexplicably went on to win a Grammy, well, there's no accounting for taste! Still, listening to the strings on the excessively titled 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief' you'd be forgiven for thinking Radiohead simply picked the wrong song for Bond. The mood of suspense and thriller-ready tension conjured up by those soaring notes would compliment a serious Bond, or any other lofty spy-flick, extremely well.

This is an album full of references to love that become so tragic when viewed through this lens, none more so than on album closer 'True Love Waits'. This heartbreaking ballad has been in the band's repertoire for some time, there's a solo acoustic performance from Yorke at the end of the I Might Be Wrong live album, which straddles the complimentary material on the twinned albums of Kid A and Amnesiac, showcasing them in a live setting. In fact the song has been around even longer than that, I've got lucky friends who said they heard it live back in the Bends era, and it was apparently recorded during sessions for OK Computer, a version that's never been released. I wonder if Thom and Co felt this song was too sickly romantic for a Radiohead album, before the true love turned sour twenty years on, finally giving the bitter-sweet kick the sentiment really needed to tug on our heart strings.

I asked at the start of this review why so many of us get caught up in the spells Radiohead cast, turning their seemingly anti-commercial tactics into hugely successful marketing because so many of us are primed and ready to share whatever they give us. Perhaps it's because these dark themes of depression, anxiety and heartache are so familiar to so many of us deep down, the private nightmare thoughts that some of us never share with others, but many of us experience from time to time. Perhaps this modern world bears down on many of us to the extent we recognise ourselves in the alienation, angst and melancholia in their recordings. They paint beautiful pictures of painful struggles and there's comfort in the recognition. A Moon Shaped Pool finds Radiohead at the top of their game, breaking new ground whilst recalling familiar themes from throughout their career. It's a sombre, moody record that ticks all the right boxes for me. I would say it's a return to form but I listened to King Of Limbs again last night and realised that I'd seriously underrated it. Still, that's a great sign for this album: it's immediate, it sucks you in from the opening notes and keeps you there to the end. Sure, it has plenty to offer to the repeat listener, there's depth to each song that reveals itself the closer you listen, as you might expect, but it's the return to uncluttered immediacy that really marks this out as being amongst their finest work.
Adam Kidd

Website: radiohead.com
Twitter: twitter.com/radiohead
Facebook: facebook.com/radiohead

 

Hiatus Kaiyote – The Old Market – 28th April 2016

The death of Prince does not just resonate with those who were brought up on that unparalleled 80s oeuvre, but also to younger generations, who were not alive to him in that decade when almost everything he touched turned to gold. Prince was also very good at nurturing new talent and keeping an ear out for what was happening beyond his Paisley Park compound. 

He had previously and publicly bigged up Hiatus Kaiyote's 'Breathing Underwater' track, via twitter and singer Nai Palm brought that little nugget to the attention of tonight's crowd, a cross-section of the beautiful people of Brighton dressed up to party along with this uplifting beacon of future-soul and all that innate positivity that expression and musical genre implies.

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Prince – Nothing Compares 2 U

When I heard the news last week that Prince had died it just didn't seem real – friends were struggling to come to terms with it, conspiracy theories were flying around that it must be some sort of hoax. It has been a year full of celebrity deaths, and we're not even through April yet, but you compare Prince to Bowie (who we lost in January) and you'd be forgiven for thinking The Purple One was in rude health. Bowie had withdrawn from the live arena long before his death but Prince was insatiable. His output of albums never slowed and it seems like only yesterday that he was guerilla gigging in London on the HITnRUN tour, announcing shows at the last minute, playing several concerts a day. This did not appear to be the behaviour of a man on his last legs and Prince looked, sang and played like a man much younger than his 57 years with his doe eyes and razor-blade cheekbones. A week before his death I was looking up live shows on YouTube and stumbled across his 2007 half-time Superbowl performance – it was phenomenal. A torrential downpour would have sent most artists running, but Prince wasn't like other artists – he asked if they could make it rain harder and finished with an appropriate and mind-blowing rendition of 'Purple Rain'.

The strange narcissism that we've come to expect from a celebrity's untimely demise was on full throttle that week, met by an equally alarming backlash. Those who loved Prince felt a profound loss and filled their social media feeds with tributes and personal memories – so many people had their own Prince stories and everyone who didn't seemed enraged by what they considered over-share. My newsfeed was a confusing spectacle; I was a fan but not a true devotee, although I did find myself far more upset than I ever would have expected. I found myself in the midst of a war of rant and counter-rant, even in death the man had the power to polarise. I had speculated with friends that Prince may have been suffering from AIDS, for, although he seemed youthful he was also undeniably slight and he was well known for being promiscuous during a time when the disease was rife. Sadly the news emerging today seems to be confirming those fears. It's alleged that Prince was diagnosed with AIDS six months ago, apparently refusing treatment as it was against his faith as a Jehova's Witness. So at a time like this, when the music world is in mourning, it's worth asking that question – what made Prince so special?

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Space – The Haunt – 16th April 2016

I have to admit it, I was genuinely excited about seeing Space tonight at The Haunt. I last saw them back in 1996 at Manchester University, just after their hit ‘Female of the Species’ had been released. I was a big fan of the song as soon as I heard it, and I was very happy they played it as the very first song in their set. And then again as the closer. My friend and I were on the front row shouting “Space are ace! Space are ace!”, and I remember Tommy Space saying back, “So are you ‘la!”. Ahh to be back in 1996 again. Well tonight we are, sort of.

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Ellie Ford – The Other Sun

Tonight Ellie Ford is launching her début album The Other Sun at Bleach and I’m gutted not to be able to make it to the show, although I’m sure one of my colleagues will be there to appreciate the evening and I have to admit I’m a little jealous. I’ve been listening to the album all week and it’s a captivating piece of work, full of rich instrumentation, skilfully performed with precision and led by Ford’s soulful vocal, which is full of grace and poise. From the opening notes of ‘The Sweet Life’, played on the distinctive Wurlitzer electric piano sound that has always reminded me of Bill Withers, you enter into another world. It’s a carefully constructed place, everything is delicately arranged and there’s an over-whelming melancholy mood that completely envelops you. The album suspends you, like a leaf dancing in spring breezes caught between the changing temperatures, pulled in every direction but surrendering to none. The songs float along on spidery grooves, sparse or fluttery and feathery, rather than pinned down with a solid backbone. The space this creates allows the classic folk and blues instruments found here plenty of room to manoeuvre, and they do so expertly. The additional male harmonies on the chorus of ‘Sweet Life’ make it sound like a lost track from Gomez’s debut album – the vibe is all there, a soulful, bluesy concoction, warming as a welcome hug. As we move towards the outro there’s a very Beatlesy descending pattern hidden just beneath the surface. Next ‘The Only One’ establishes itself with a sweet electric guitar motif; it sounds like the sort of song Jeff Buckley would have loved to cover, in his early days, when he recorded Live At Sin E, had it been written at the time. This track keeps it simple, just that guitar (which is deeper and grittier than you might expect) and Ellie’s sweet voice expressing the beautifully melancholic mood.

Ellie Ford is a harpist, so the Joanna Newsom comparison is hard to resist, especially on a tune like ‘How Do You Know’. Here the harp comes to the fore and there are other Newsom-like devices at play: little clarinet flourishes, excellent off-beat percussion, a dense arrangement and a melody that wanders around the words in interesting ways. Sure, it reminds me of Newsom, but whether she’s a big influence or not you’d be a fool to deny that this song is a real achievement. It gets through so much in five and a half minutes and truly all of it is great. There’s a particularly moving moment when the violin comes in after about three minutes and it just sounds amazing. ‘Old Best’ continues to showcase the harp and voice; Ellie sinks down to some pretty deep notes, near the bottom of her range and it sounds so intimate, like she is there whispering in your ear. The drumming on this track is fantastic too, combined with those floating harp arpeggios, full of mysterious suspensions, there are moments where this almost sounds like Japanese classical music.

‘Homebound’ has a major but melancholic chord pattern that sows bittersweet seeds in your soul and waters them with melody. There’s an Americana spirit to this tune, it’s intoxicating and curious how such yearning can be so comforting. Then there’s ‘July’, the first single from the album which has a real propulsion to it, from the rhythm of the electric guitar to the expressive drumming, it has more momentum than most of the album, but doesn’t lack for beautiful melodic flourishes – that flute is perfect! When things strip down to just guitars again we get to hear some exceptional violin playing, the fiddler has incredible tone and it’s been expertly captured. ‘Reprise’ is an interesting interlude, with its epic strings, harp and clarinet it sounds like a cinematic score from some Celtic-themed movie, it stands out as quite distinct from the rest of the material on the album, and not just from the lack of vocal. The treatment is different, favouring the strings, and it shows off a skill for composition which led me to think it wouldn’t be too surprising if Ford found future work in the film industry.

‘My Bird Won’t Sing’ is another track that strips things down to just voice and one instrument, this time it’s an acoustic guitar, but it takes a while to realise that. The guitar has a dynamic arrangement, it pushes and pulls, it fills the space with complex finger-picking and empties it out with simple two note chords, taking you on a journey that never gets tired. ‘Ten Times’ has a really interesting double tracking sound on the vocal – the audio geek in me zones into it, a voice following the main melody but with a slightly different tone and placed in the distance. This track builds nicely to crescendo with harmony voices but relies throughout mostly on the harp and electric piano to carry the song – it’s great how they shift which instrument takes the focus from track to track. It’s rare to hear a band of five musicians giving each other so much room, and the result is excellent dynamics. Whenever they decide to fill the space and all play up it is all the more effective for the space they’ve left empty before it.

The album closes with two of the best numbers, ‘Don’t Tell Me Where You’re Going’ has the sort of soft-soulful vibe of Norah Jones, it’s easy going and breezy, and there’s a great deep guitar lick I could imagine sitting in a Roy Orbison song. When the wind instruments and strings back up the melody I find the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I would have expected them to leave us with an even sparser song, but I’m pleasantly surprised by ‘Blackout’ with its close prairie harmonies and excellent percussion. The drums remind me of Mitchell Froom’s production on the first couple of Ron Sexsmith albums, with drums tuned up to a really high pitch. The pattern and melodies are very familiar, this is classic folk, blues, roots, Americana – whatever you want to call it, it’s great. There seems to be a well deserved buzz building around Ellie and her talented bandmates, I first encountered her as the ‘E’ in KATE – a band of four song-writers who pitched their skills and songs together. That band didn’t go the distance but it’s fantastic to get my hands on this record and hear all of that talent realised so perfectly on such a mature and cohesive first record. Here’s hoping it is the first of many!
Adam Kidd

Website: elliefordmusic.com
Facebook: facebook.com/elliefordmusic
Twitter: twitter.com/elliefordmusic