While Notting Hill Carnival is all well and good, Brighton’s beginning to develop its own Bank Holiday tradition with Two Three Four Festival. The two-day event brings together an eclectic mix of local talent, out of town buzz bands as well as a few acts with well-established fan bases. It has everything you need right here if you want to spend your three-day weekend enjoying great music.
With an industry in free fall and the album increasingly becoming an irrelevant form in an age of streaming and instant downloading it’s heartening that an album can still be an event. Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, and Kanye West streaming The Life of Pablo live from Madison Square Garden showed that a record can still be at the centre of our culture. With everyone talking about it and weighing in with their opinions in a way that is increasingly reserved for box set TV. Frank Ocean’s Blonde, or Blond, and the accompanying Endless is the latest of these event albums. The spectacle of which included shifting release dates, an enigmatic visual accompaniment and a 300-page magazine given away for free, now available to purchase off eBay for price margins that are well into the thousands. Alongside their buzz-generating capabilities, another thing these records have in common is the dizzying amount of collaborators involved in their creation. By and large, it’s not obvious what most of them actually did. In this context Ocean becomes more than just an artist. He’s a curator or almost a film director. Filtering a whole team of people’s skills and talents through his singular vision in order to build a cohesive whole.
That doesn’t mean Frank’s vision isn’t an opaque one. We’re immediately given an indicator of this on the opening track ‘Nikes’. Where the first time we hear his voice, he’s processed it by pitching it higher. It’s a trick he returns to frequently but often feels unnecessary. On ‘Nikes’ it functions only to withhold his voice from us that little bit longer. After we’ve waited to hear it on new music for so long. It can be a remarkably sparse record as well. ‘Pink’ is – for the most part – just Frank’s voice and a lo-fi recording of a chorus-heavy guitar. Not miles away from the music of DIY indie artist Alex G, who is listed as a collaborator on the two projects. There are choruses here, but the meandering melodies feel conversational in their rhythm. They creep up on you unexpectedly, never introduced without any grand sentiment. With it booming low-end and sample heavy instrumentation, ‘Nights’ might be the closest thing Blond has to a banger, but eventually moves into a more dark and murky space. It’s also one of Frank’s most cryptic explorations between himself and the past: “Did you call me from a séance? / You were from a past life”. ‘Pink + White’ is probably the closest thing we get to the soulful slow jams that invoke the cloudless blue summer skies of Channel Orange. Completed with cinematic strings and softly strummed acoustic guitar, it’s one of the few moments that sound like the album-of-the-summer many probably hoped this record would be.
When Frank Ocean wrote a letter to the Internet describing his experience of falling in love with a man, he became a figurehead of an intersectional identity-politics between race and sexuality that still remains at the forefront of our society four years later. But Blond is only passingly political. Police brutality against minorities appear flickeringly, buried amongst other references.
“R.I.P Trayvon / That N—a look just like me” he tells us on ‘Nikes’ a song up to that point mainly critiquing consumerism. Making it all the more jarring but also deeply sad. His experiences of living in New Orleans during hurricane Katrina can also be glimpsed. But it is always through the personal. The political is largely implied.
The interludes, backed by a sweetly nostalgic synth lines, are on the surface kind of mundane but weirdly touching. The coda of ‘Futura Free’, collaging together interviews recorded with Frank’s brother and friends while they were just kids, captures the carefree hopes and dreams of youth in its most raw materials. ‘Be Yourself’ is, on one level, a humorous phone message left by someone’s mum on the dangers of drug use. But her central point of having faith in your own identity seems to create a rippling effect across the album as it progresses. A recurring theme seems to be the very contemporary difficulties that get in the way of our ability to love. Whether it's distorted and perverted by technology, such as the anecdote told on ‘Facebook Story’, drug usage or broader political society preventing more altruistic versions of love. ‘Solo’ at first glance seems a celebration of debauchery and the bachelor lifestyle. Later in the song – and in the show stopping reprise featuring Andre 3000 –, “solo” morphs into “so low”. The slippage between the two uses captures the desire to be free and independent but also wanting to stop the loneliness warded off by connection and intimacy.
Frequently intriguing, occasionally questionable, and sometimes awe-inspiringly beautiful. Blond is a challenging listen in a way that most albums that reach its level of exposure these days just aren’t. Anyone expecting the straightforward R’n’B hits of Channel Orange will be disappointed. Blond is altogether much more abstruse. Reluctant to reveal itself all at once, it remains to be seen whether it ever will completely. But there’s an intimacy here between artist and listener that goes beyond the mere confessional lyric, extending to pure, inarticulate feeling. On ‘Futura Free’ he confesses: “Play these songs it’s therapy momma, they paying me momma / I should be paying them” and then he switches to address us directly. “I should be paying y’all, honest to God”. If anyone’s album deserves that you take your time with it, it’s Frank’s. For his sake, as well as ours.
Almost more than any other genre or sub-genre, hardcore punk is music made by kids, for kids. Which is what makes it slightly strange seeing a band called The Adolescents still going. All of them middle aged and out of shape, with multiple Adolescent-branded fans placed strategically around the stage to make sure they don’t get over heated. It isn’t exactly quintessential punk behaviour.
The dark cloud from celebrating Pride is still looming over my head when I manage to force myself to go catch the tail end of Porridge Radio. But I regret not making the entirety of it. Their naïve, lo-fi music brings to mind The Raincoats, The Slits and other post-punk bands that can write amazing songs from the most bare-bones setup. The group treat playing live as a kind of joyous, childlike play. Trying to figure out chords as they go along and ending their set in excited yelping.
My musical infatuation for Carly Rae Jepsen is one often met with bewilderment or derision by most people I confess it to. “I can’t tell if you’re joking” someone says to me when I run into them the day after Brighton Pride and I’m still enthusing about her performance. I can assure you. I’m not.
And I’m not the only one. Alongside Brighton Pride Festival, the other festivals Jepsen has blessed with her presence this year include Pitchfork, whose core audience is often stereotyped as the snobby muso, where she was received rapturously. On top of that, she recently collaborated with Danny L Harle of trendsetting, experimental pop collective PC Music.
In Michael Azerrad’s classic document on the American underground of the eighties, Our Band Could Be Your Life, few bands are portrayed as having such deep and inherent contradictions as Dinosaur Jr. While groups like Black Flag or Butthole Surfers channelled their chaotic and baiting lifestyles into equally tumultuous music, Dinosaur Jr became synonymous with the slacker movement. The slacker tarred a whole generation as too laid back and chilled to really care about anything at all. Behind the scenes the band was being fuelled by passive aggressive conflict and deep held resentment. When their chapter in Azerrad’s book comes to an end, reunion or any form of reconciliation seems unlikely. One of the last times the original line-up played together ended in guitarist and lead singer J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow wielding their instruments like swords as they fought each other onstage. Barlow then went on to sue Mascis over royalties after a bitter, messy breakup. The experience would fuel much of Barlow’s 90s music released under Sebadoh, which were often thinly veiled jabs at Mascis.
But not only is the original line-up back together, they seem closer now then they ever did during their heyday in the late eighties. Making for a reunion that feels much more heart warming and genuine than the more cynically-motivated reformed bands of recent years. It also helps that they’re making some of the best music they’ve ever made. 2007’s Beyond is as strong as any record in Dinosaur’s catalogue and while perhaps Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not doesn’t quiet reach the heights of that album, it serves as a healthy reminder that there are few bands we should be more grateful for burying the hatchet and giving it another shot than Dinosaur Jr.
On Give a Glimpse… Mascis is still very much Mascis. He still has a knack for deceptively naïve and simple sounding melodies. And he still sounds like Neil Young after his brain’s been zapped from spending a whole weekend doing nothing but watching daytime TV and eating leftover takeaway pizza. He’s also still a totally effortless songwriter that can twist an idea we’ve heard a thousand times and make it sound totally new with a flick of his wrist. It’s a trick you feel he could carry on doing indefinitely, without ever fluctuating the regularity of his output or dipping much in quality.
Prior to the album coming out, the band released a clip of every one of Mascis’ solos from the album compressed into one seven-minute track. It’s hard to imagine another guitarist of Mascis’ generation who could warrant such a move, or who is so synonymous with their soloing. Not only because 80s underground rock shunned such virtuosity as crass and showy, but also because there are few guitarists who have as unique a sound as Mascis. His particular tone and the effortless fluidity of his playing – like his guitar is merely another limb he’s able to control as easily as wiggling his toes – make his solos almost instantly recognisable.
The same goes for the riffs. The monstrous, fuzzed up, central stomper of ‘I Walk for Miles’ is crushingly heavy and searing enough to singe your eyebrows within a ten-foot radius. In contrast the opening to ‘Be A Part of Me’ is gorgeously delicate and melodic, yet both are unmistakably the work of Dinosaur.
The album begins with the 0-120mph duo of ‘Going Down' and ‘Tiny’. ‘Tiny’ in particular is a classic up-beat piece of punk rock that feels custom made for getting a crowd jumping and getting soaked in each other’s beverages.
‘Lost All Day’ chronicles the aftermath of a break-up, walking around and wondering what went wrong, but in typical Dinosaur Jr fashion it also feels like a celebration of aimlessness, wandering off without any direction or aim; just doing it because you feel like it. Barlow contributes one of the strongest tracks of the album with ‘Love Is…’. Which shouldn’t be surprising when you consider much of the angst alt-rock Barlow released under Sebadoh in the 90s far surpassed the major label, sans Barlow, years of Dinosaur Jr. Rooted in 60s folk rock, ‘Love Is…’ works as a lovely mid album palate cleanser while still containing a totally ripping Mascis solo.
Even in their youth, Dinosaur Jr were imitating their elder statesmen. Pulling on classic rock and sixties pop and country music when such things were reviled and virtually demonised in DIY and underground rock communities. They’ve now become the dinosaurs of rock they’ve always secretly wished they were. To be honest, their new position suits them really rather well indeed.
“Do I dare to disturb the Universe?” ponders Hayden Thorpe in the chorus of Wild Beasts’ ‘He the Colossus’, borrowing a line from T. S. Eliot’s modernist poem ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. In his poem, Eliot gave us a portrait of the character Prufrock, meant to represent man in the age of modernity. The collapse of religion, a world wrecked by war and the increasing urbanisation and industrialisation of modern life condensed into a single individual. With all the alienation and inability to act that came with it. On Boy King, Wild Beasts are similarly creating a portrait that is an aggregate of contemporary – although almost exclusively male – existence. One where the media exploits our base desires and all aspects of our life are surveyed. The line between public and private lives becoming totally erased. Masculinity, as always, is a primary concern of Wild Beasts’ music and Boy King is an unflinching look at male identity from multiple angles and perspectives.
Wild Beasts might sometimes paint sex as deeply neurotic, impossible to extract from its social-political dimensions. But they still have unflinching faith in music’s aphrodisiacal potential. When combined with keen precision, rhythmic syncopation, the breathy timbre of the voice and slick, streamlined production that pulls from R’n’B and funk, it can be the ideal medium to convey all consuming desire.
Thorpe’s falsetto voice is as impishly transgressive as ever. Filtering musings on maleness through a prism that purposefully subverts any normative assumptions of gender. It complicates what might have been a crude or lewd version of male sexuality and creates one that is complex and multi-faceted. It is aggressive and passive, boastful but neurotic. “I like it messy / don’t you make it neat / Your heart I’ll eat”, repeating the word “eat” while sucking air through his teeth in ecstatic lust during ‘Eat your Heart out Adonis’.
‘Get My Bang’ continues Wild Beasts’ penchant for songs that explore their specific brand of randyness. Copulating aggressive sexuality with fervent consumerism inside a raw, barebones funk rhythm.
The flexing and muscular riff of ‘Tough Guy’ sends the testosterone levels through the roof. Like watching a line of posturing body builders. But it also takes to task the stoic and emotionally repressed version of male identity and reveals it as useless for coping with the contemporary world. “You know the route well / so you follow the old path / To a new hell”. While ‘Alpha Female’ proposes a roll reversal of gender roles where the man becomes subservient to the woman: “Alpha Female, I’ll be right behind you”.
Since Two Dancers, Wild Beasts have been increasingly immersed in the sounds of electronic music. Noticeably producers such as Oneohtrix Point Never, whose hyperactive synth-work captures something of the dizzying plurality of modern existence. It can be heard in the synthetic, sighing noises that open ‘Big Cat’ and the percussively used pitched voices in ‘Ponytail’. These sounds obscure the line between the organic and the synthetic. It’s something Wild Beasts openly pine to project with their music. But being a collection of musicians playing together restricts them from fully utilising the unlimited potential of laptop production. Their music retains a restrained and arch feeling to it that is characteristic of post-punk. Leaving plenty of space in its Spartan production. It might feel thematically in opposition to what they hope to achieve but it doesn’t do anything to detract it from being a compelling listen from beginning to end. While the synth parts on Present Tense sometimes felt cinematic and cold, here they constantly groove, slavishly following and obeying the rhythm. Boy King is unabashedly huge and brash pop. Bringing together the more guitar centric grooves of their early sound and the more futurist electronica of recent efforts. It’s also not afraid to get down and roll around in the muck, using plenty of gritty distortion and fuzzed up effects to replace the more delicate sensibility the band is associated with.
‘2BU’ is one of the album’s highlights. Drawing on genres such as dancehall and UK funky with its deep rolling, broken-beat rhythm, rumbling sub-frequencies and stuttering, skipping rim shots. Tom Flemming delivering a creepy line such as, “I want your face / I want your skin” in a seductive, mournful baritone. The somewhat cryptic lyrics again see the band talking about half a dozen things at once – possession, greed, jealously and love – and exposing them as one and the same. “I’m in your head/I’m in your dreams” he tells us somewhat threateningly. Dreaming is a motif that comes up time and time again in Boy King, including the album’s closer ‘Dreamliner’. They reflect our desires in a way we are rarely able to express in waking life.
The gentle melancholic chords of ‘Dreamliner’ shows the fundamental concern that links Prufrock from the beginning of the last century to the Boy King in the early decades of this one. That is a desire to be fully understood. Subjectivity is a barrier preventing us from ever being fully known to each other. The image we are given of the Boy King is a plural one. He is often contradictory and never comprehendible in totality. A Nietzchean figure, able to will himself to power, but also a slave to his own base needs. “What I’m dreaming of, you’ll never know.”
Read our Spotlight feature on Wild Beasts here: http://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/spotlight/1632-wild-beasts
Support act The Glugg make discordant no-wave noise that incorporates atonal saxophone and manipulated vocal samples to create a dense and confounding atmosphere riddled with anxiety and dread. Discernable melody and structure isn’t of much interest. It’s music that demands a response and a reaction, whether that is a good or bad one, and deserves respect for the sheer bloody mindedness of it. Positioned in the corner, virtually behind one of the amps in a Cossack hat, is one Don Bolles of The Germs and Ariel Pink’s backing band fame. Adding improv guitar to the unfolding cacophony. He’ll be back on stage later doing the same thing with Destruction Unit.
These days, some things are always certain to be brought along with the change of seasons. A disappointing polling result, freakish and ominous weather or a new project from absurdly prolific, DIY garage rocker Ty Segall. Having already brought out the best album he’s ever made at the beginning of the year – and fully unlocking the potential of his inner weirdo – seemingly isn’t enough for Ty in 2016, so he’s back with another band. Joining Ty in Gøggs is Ex-Cult member Chris Shaw (that’s a member of Memphis-based hardcore punk act Ex-Cult, not an ex-member of The Cult) and Charles Moothart, who also collaborated with Segall on their joint project Fuzz.
It would seem Segalls’ influence has been somewhat usurped. There is still the lingering scent of his trademark fuzzed up garage rock, but it’s Shaw’s band the Ex-Cult that asserts its dominance on Gøggs’ sound. While Fuzz is the Segall side-project in ode to the heavy rock and proto-metal of the early 70s, Gøggs pulls on the hardcore punk scene of the 80s and the rota of bands on labels such as SST and Dischord as its main inspiration. On tracks such as ‘Shotgun Shooter’ and ‘She Got Harder’ you’ll largely get what you came into the album expecting: nasty punk rock with almighty riffs and chewed up, lo-fi production. Anything with more nuance or shades of grey is pretty much absent. The self-titled track is a highlight, opening with some ominous-as-fuck bar chords while the bass line tiptoes up a scale like a cartoon character sneaking up some stairs.
Shaw takes on the roll of lead vocalist, adopting the hyper-macho bark of early hardcore a la Henry Rollins. Even behind the drum kit in Fuzz, Segall wasn’t willing to step away from his role as frontman. Here, his distinctive yelp is demoted to the position of offering spectral and almost androgynous backing vocals, looming over Shaw’s shoulder like some pervy ghost.
But as an album, this is nowhere near as strict in its parameters as, say, Fuzz is. Overall, Gøggs does a good job at avoiding becoming a total pastiche piece. The hardcore that Gøggs is influenced by began to die when it stopped championing creative freedom and started enforcing a strict dogma about what it had to sound like. It’s a history Gøggs is no doubt fully aware of and the band consciously tries to avoid such trappings. ‘Final Notice’ is probably the album’s most unconventional moment. Opening with Shaw letting out a hoarse scream of pain while de-tuned synths zap and bleep. The drums sound like they’re being played midway through falling down a flight of stairs. Guitars are virtually absent, but that doesn’t stop the song from easily going toe-to-toe with the rest of the album in terms of heaviness. In fact it would probably end up beating a lot of other tracks here.
Particularly in Brighton, Ty is an almost inescapable influence. So much so to the point of copying him has become something of a cliché, even within such a small DIY scene. While many of his imitators reduce his sound down to some reductive signifiers, he isn’t as interested in staying in one place for so long himself.
Of course, there is one thing that acts as a through line connecting Segall’s psyche-garage-rock and Shaw’s hardcore punk and that’s Los Angeles, the location of both Segall’s home-grown scene and the place bands such as Black Flag, which Shaw’s day job is so enamoured with, first started up. The city is the great equaliser in deciding whose sound gets to dominate the album is fully realised both sonically and thematically on the closing track ‘Glendale Junkyard’, an ode to a particularly large pile of trash found in LA. The song uses razor-wire guitar lines and heal-digging tempo changes means your blood is still pumping long after the album has self-destructed in a wall of feedback.
“This is not a side project, it is a necessity”, Shaw insisted on a statement about the band’s first release at the tail end of 2015, whiffing somewhat of insecurity. But overall this is a minor addition to the Segall canon, albeit one that is totally at ease with its status as such. In terms of what albums push or progress his sound and which exist merely as an interesting or entertaining footnote to the main story, this feels like a choice Ty has total control over.
‘Who the fuck is Car Seat Headrest?’ my editor retorted when I asked him a few months ago if I go could go along to review tonight’s show. In the small space of time between that conversation Car Seat Headrest – aka 23-year-old Will Toledo – has gone from being a relative unknown outside of certain blogospheres to getting a substantial amount of attention, earning prime time play on BBC Radio 6Music and his excellent recent album Teens of Denial making its way into many publication’s favourite albums of the year so far. Tonight he’s sold out The Hope and Ruin well in advance and based on the number of people pleading for tickets on the event’s Facebook page, he could have probably filled a venue with a significantly larger capacity.