Birdskulls – Trickle

I’m having mixed feelings about that name. On one hand it has a gnarly punk sound to it that suits the band. But bird skulls are small, brittle things that you could probably crush under your foot. Birdskulls music in contrast, is anything but fragile. The three piece manage to emit a sound, both live and on record, that is absolutely huge and has some serious weight too it. A rhino’s skull might be more appropriate, or at the very least a large dog’s.

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Yung – Hope and Ruin – 21st September 2015

The first time I saw Yung play their guitarist tried to attack me. Well that’s what I initially thought was happening. In retrospect, more likely he had attempted a stage dive only to land squarely on my back, meaning it more closely resembled an illegal rugby tackle. It was an abrupt and slightly awkward end to what was one of the most electrifying sets I saw at The Great Escape in 2015. It was unquestionably punk but somehow felt incredibly new and fresh.
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Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie

With The Early Years EP, their first release on Rough Trade earlier this year, Girl Band presented themselves as an extremely promising group, spewing out a sound equally indebted to contemporary strains of electronic and dance music as it was to punk and noise rock. But instead of just inserting token dance rhythms into their songs, Girl Band’s music draws upon the structures of the genre. Rather than simply moving from verse to chorus, their songs evolve, building up and breaking down in waves of increasing tension and aggression that is reminiscent of how a DJ might move a crowd to euphoria. Girl Band, however, are definitely working you over into a much more negative headspace. Despite the unearthly sounds being emitted the album was in fact recorded live, with the four-piece playing together in a room, creating a suitable claustrophobia.

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Micachu and the Shapes – Good Sad Happy Bad

A classical instrument virtuoso from a young age turned pop experimentalist extraordinaire; Mica Levi is one of those people whose talent is so large it seems to cause a constant restlessness to her output. Whether its working with The Shapes or producing Bafta nominated movie scores, it often seems retreading the same ground would be a near impossibility for her. Not because of a conscious decision to willfully push herself but an entirely instinctual one to fight off boredom. When you have this many ideas the only possible direction is forward.
 
Much more explicitly than either of their last two records, Good Sad Happy Bad feels like three musicians playing in a room together, which is unsurprising considering the origins of the record, where the songs emerged from the recordings of an extensive and impromptu jam session. In fact many of the songs sound like they were done in one take. In ‘Sea Air’ Mica repeatedly fails to reach the high notes of the songs hook, meaning the invitation to “breathe in that sea air” sounds less restorative and more likely leave you feeling woozy and nauseous, gasping for breath.
 
As the title suggests, Good Sad Happy Bad tackles emotion as its primary lyrical subject matter but in a strangely flat and monosyllabic way. Songs on the topics of feeling stressed, sad, suffering or waiting explore these themes by doing little more than repeating them within a phrase. They become completely abstracted, giving the record an uncomfortable numbness and glazed over look in its eye. The backbone of ‘Unity’ is built from an unsettling sample of Mica screaming that works in opposition to the drugged up, reverb drenched lead vocals so that they almost end up cancelling each other out. ‘Thinking It’ delivers a spoken monologue on the pros and cons of living a healthy life style versus hedonistically enjoying your youth whilst you still can, but the narrator isn’t able to come to any decision, instead left in a state of paralysis, unable to commit to one or the other.
 
Whilst almost every weird creation on 2012’s Never immediately popped into life because of a new sound your brain was forced to recalibrate itself to, the palette on Good Sad Happy Bad is considerably more muted, guitars are at the fore front of much of the music although the playing is often stubbornly unconventional. A track like ‘Crushed’ really isn’t built from much more than drums, vocals and a solid riff. In fact it could almost be bracketed as a DIY rock song, although ones that are closer to the outsider art of The Shaggs than it is to anything you might hear on the radio.
 
Much of the music has an inchoate quality to it; not fully formed but merely emerging as an idea that is exercised before the band become bored and move onto the next one. ‘Waiting’ is simply a metallic sounding synth sound that ascends up a scale only to cycle back round again. Lead single ‘Oh Baby’ is one of the only moments on the album that feels like a fully-fledged song and not just a glimpse of one. Using a submerged, echo chamber synth and Mica’s rasp sounding on the verge of a mournful blues singer.
 
Its definitely an album that rewards repeated listens. While at first it seems impenetrable and even at some points monotonous, slowly it reveals itself to be full of subtlety and detail. Melodies often take small but unexpected turns, and there’s countless blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flourishes in the production that add depth and colour. For a group so readily described as pop, Good Sad Happy Bad isn’t an immediate listen, nor is it even a particularly easy one. But there is melody and intricacy hidden here amongst all the obtuse vitiating, you just have to work that little bit harder to uncover it. Generally, I would say it’s worth putting the hours in.
Louis Ormesher
 
 
 

Gwenno – Interview – 2015

Born and raised in Cardiff, Gwenno Saunders is no stranger to Brighton being the former front woman of Brighton’s The Pipettes. Since they disbanded, Gwenno has toured as a synth player with Pnau & Elton John and released her debut album Y Dydd Olaf, first on limited release with Welsh label Peski and then re-released by Heavenly Records this year. Her psychedelic electropop sound which is all sung in Welsh got a rave review from BrightonsFinest and has made us mightily excited for her co-headline show with H Hawkline on 24th September at The Basement. We spoke to her to find out more about her music.
 
 
Do you think where you live has influenced your music?
I think that everywhere I’ve lived must have influenced me in different ways, I’ve always lived in cities – Cardiff, Las Vegas, London, and Brighton. They’re all very different from each other but I suppose that they share a similar template. I’d love to live in the middle of nowhere someday too and I’m sure that would completely change my music.

Is there much of a music scene in Cardiff?
There is, and it’s incredibly varied. Cardiff’s population is growing which means that it’s changing all the time too, and I think that having some more established independent art spaces has helped to merge the music and art worlds again, which can only be a good thing!
 
What music were you brought up on?
Alan Stivell, Clannad, The Chieftains, Meic Stevens, BUCCA, Heather Jones, Y Trwynau Coch, traditional Yiddish music, Brenda Wootton, Billy Bragg, a lot of protest songs – The Internationale, The Red Flag etc . So loads of different music but no Anglo-American pop/rock at home, which meant that it took me awhile to figure out that landscape but also gave me a different perspective.
 
Can you remember the first album you bought?
Well, my Irish dancing teacher used to listen to a lot of 70’s easy listening music in the car on the way to class – The Carpenters, Lionel Richie, Mamas & Papas etc. and the song that really stood out for me was ‘Almaz’ by Randy Crawford and I remember going to Kelly’s Records in Cardiff’s Indoor Market to buy it. I just thought it was the saddest song ever when I was seven!
 
What was the first instrument you played, and when?
My Uncle taught me piano when I was young, and I really enjoyed it, and I learnt violin at school and got through to grade 4 on both but the Irish dancing took over for a while. I came back to the piano later on in my teens and it was lovely to re-approach it outside of the classical sphere so I suppose that some kind of keyboard instrument would be my favourite.
 
Do you still have an affinity with Brighton from your time with The Pipettes?
I really do! I remember arriving in Brighton around 2005 and going to a gig at the Volks on my first night. There were two guys dressed up as aliens playing electronic music and they were brilliant – I wish I could remember what they were called! I remember immediately feeling completely free to do anything and I really appreciated the confidence that musicians seemed to have to embrace the ridiculous. I was only aware of the more post-rock side of what was going on in Cardiff at the time so it had a huge impact on me.  People weren’t afraid to embrace pop music either, which I thought was fantastic. Funnily enough, when I moved back to Wales I soon discovered that a lot of performance art/music had been going on there for decades, it’s just that I hadn’t been aware of it. But I think Brighton helped me see that it was there.
 
The style of your music has jumped drastically from your time with The Pipettes to now, is this down to your time with Pnau & Elton John?
The chance to tour with Pnau was a brilliant one and it came about through my friend, Joe Harling, who happens to be from Brighton. What was great about it was that firstly, I was just a synth player and backing vocalist as part of the live setup so I could step right back and learn from them. Secondly, as Pnau, there isn’t an obvious concept so that to me it was incredibly free having come out of something that was so conceptually rigid. Both Nick and Pete are obsessed with sound and coincidentally I was starting to record my own stuff and going on my own sonic adventure so I learnt a lot during my time with them.
 
What made you start performing as Gwenno?
Well, when I was eighteen and I first started performing it was because I thought that the world needed more Welsh and Cornish language pop!
 
How would you briefly describe Gwenno’s music?
Musically, at my core I love a good song and what I’m trying to do is to create a sonic world around it, and to embrace different sounds from different places. I’m trying to find the balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar.
 
What are your main influences?
Childhood memories of music, 20th century avant-garde composers, The Weimar Republic, Welsh language post-punk, and boundary pushing musicians working in and outside of Wales today.

 
What inspires your lyrics?
The need to try and define the world that I see around me.

 
Tell us a bit about your newest release Y Dydd Olaf?
The album was inspired by a sci-fi novel of the same name, written by Nuclear Scientist Owain Owain and was published in 1976. It shares similar themes with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World but has the added element of the protagonist being able to share the experience in a diary form as the overlords in the story cannot decipher Welsh. That solidified my own sense of purpose with the music that I was making when I came across the book, and helped me focus on creating my album.

 
What has been a musical eye-opener and how has it affected you?
I listened to a lot of Datblygu when I first joined The Pipettes and it had a lasting impact on me, it reminded me of the culture that I was from and helped me navigate in an unfamiliar world.
 
If you could work with any artist, who would it be and what would they bring to Gwenno?
I think that Brian Eno would be incredibly interesting to work with, I enjoy his theories and it would be good to learn from them and challenge them too!

 
If there is one artist everyone should listen to, who would it be?
It would have to be Malcolm Neon, a one man Kraftwerk/Visage machine from Cardigan who recorded most of his output during the early 80s in his bedroom.
 
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Ruth White – ‘Flowers of Evil’, Anelog, Julia Holter.

 
Do you get to go watch many gigs?
Datlbygu played their first gig in 20 years in April at a festival that we (Peski) curated for the Wales Millennium Centre called CAM’15 and that was pretty perfect.

 
What has been your happiest memory with music?
Probably making up silly songs in Cornish with my sister and my dad when we were little. One in particular, which we still sing on occasion, is a command to the red man at the traffic lights to go away or we’ll get violent which is set to a doo-wop melody. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds!
 
What are your future plans for the summer and after?
I’m heading on a U.K tour with the marvellous H.Hawkline in celebration of Heavenly Recordings being 25 years old and both of our albums being released this year. We’ll be at The Basement in Brighton on the 24th of September. So, come on over if you’re free!
 
Website: Gwenno.info
Facebook: facebook.com/Gwenno
 

 

Wand – The Green Door Store – 8th September 2015

Don’t get me wrong I love The Great Escape. It’s a Brighton institution and is one of the highlights of my year every time I go. But the crowd there sure can be a surly bunch sometimes. Especially in the early evening shows when there still hasn’t been enough time to consume a copious amount of alcohol. There was one band however that proved the exception to the rule this year and that was Wand, where the crowd response was just as chaotic as the bands barmy desert psych rock. I approached the show tonight anticipating something equally anarchic.

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Alvvays – Concorde 2 – 7th September 2015

As Alvvays themselves are keen to point out, tonight’s show at the Concorde 2 feels like something of a homecoming gig. Brighton was the first UK city the band ever played when they performed at The Great Escape in 2014. This year has seen them go stratospheric, with a string of great shows at some of the biggest festivals in the country. Now they’ve returned to play the same place where it all began for them on this side of the Atlantic. “We’re actually seriously considering moving here” lead singer Molly Rankin confesses mid way through the show and the audience seem to think this is an excellent idea.

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Natalie Prass – The Haunt – 3rd September 2015

Since discovering Prass’ eponymous debut earlier this year I’m not sure a week has gone by where I haven’t found myself returning to it, being both deeply intricate and continuously rewarding. Tonight at The Haunt is Prass’ first foray into Brighton as a headline act after supporting Ryan Adams earlier this year at The Dome and, quiet rightly, its hotly anticipated.

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Juan Wauters – The Prince Albert – 2nd September 2015

Much like Mac Demarco, who Juan Wauters supported when he last played in Brighton in December, Wauters is one of the chilled bros that make up the roaster on Captured Tracks. Breaking with the exceptionally high quality retro indie-pop the label has become known for putting out, Wauters offers super simple songs that would be more at home in the New York folk scene of the early 60s.
 
In fact support group Manuka Honey are probably more in line with what you would expect from the Captured Tracks sound than Juan himself. With 80s chorus drenched guitar lines and laid back they’re-almost-about-to-fall-over slow tempo jams. Their lead singer's delivery tries to follow this vibe but ends up just sounding flat and dispassionate, detracting somewhat from what is some decent song writing.

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Kagoule – Urth

Kagoule - Urth
Nottingham three-piece Kagoule have been hard grafting for three years in the build up to the release of their début album Urth. Released on Nottingham indie label Earache Records, better known for put releasing albums at the extreme end of the metal spectrum, Urth strongly resists categorisation. Yet another band completely obsessed with groups who were making music whilst they were still learning to walk, Kagoule pull upon the complexities of post-hardcore such as Fugazi and Unwound as well as the biggest sounding bands of alternative rock such as The Smashing Pumpkins. Like many debuts it represents a culmination of everything the band has worked on leading up to its creation.
 
The album opens with ‘Gush’, a wiry guitar riff and skeletal drums set askew by bending guitar notes that ping around in the peripheries of the stereo field.
The burst of chorus comes to an alarming halt like the plug has been pulled and the most melodic part of the song is withheld to the last thirty seconds of the song, with lead singer Cai sighing “I need to get away / I can’t believe it’s come to this”. As a statement it’s a sign of things to come for the rest of the album, Kagoule are very happy to dismantle what are tightly crafted pop songs in favour build something far more interesting.
 
‘Adjust the Way’ has so many changes in its dynamics its enough to make your head spin. At one moment its chugging along like a heavy duty truck, before quickly morphing into a moment of delicate calm, Cai reflecting “its just the way of the world”. Its restless and jittery even when it moves into these quiet, hushed moments, like its trying to wriggle free from the grip of its own structure. This constant evolution is reminiscent of Unwound’s later recordings after they had calmed down a bit, but whilst those songs would stretch on five minutes or longer, Kagoule seem to try and cram just as much into the length of a radio pop song.
 
The albums shortest moment, ‘Empty Mug’ is a brief piece of straightforward punk complete with power chords and shouty backing vocals, but fails to add anything to the records, a genre exercise that should have been left on the cutting room floor. Equally ‘Greenbeefo’ doesn’t wait around long enough for you to get used to it, but in contrast is feels more like a bite-sized piece of the album as a whole and moves so smoothly into the next track ‘Centralwing’ it has the feeling of an extended intro.
 
Lead singer Cai Burn’s vocals overall are middling at best, never particular imbued with any strong emotion while the rest of album rushes past his ears. ‘Glue’ tries to work around these shortcomings by adding angelic soprano backing vocals to create a more expansive sounding chorus, but come across as too self-conscious an attempt to construct something instantaneous and accessible
 
But in general nothing is straightforward on Urth, meaning your attention is never allowed to waver. ‘Damp Sand’ is skeletal with a rattling rhythm section and restrained, slinking guitars. ‘Made of Concrete’ is the only song where bassist Lucy Hatter takes on leading vocals, her light voice giving the song a more straightforward indie pop sound. Bubbling beneath however is a wall of feedback far back in the mix, like chaos surging underneath the song threatening to engulf it at any moment. ‘Open Mouth’ could be a classic piece of Gen X slacker rock if it wasn’t constantly trying to wrong foot itself with abrupt starts and stops, keeping both the listener and the band on their toes.
 
Choosing to end the album on the lo-fi acoustic song ‘Blue Sun’ is one of the only points where the album does anything approaching predictable, but it’s still a welcome moment of underdeveloped intimacy, done in what seems to be one take complete with bum notes and all. Those spindly post-hardcore guitar lines that are still present running through the album like a main artery.
 
Its a hyperactive record, unwilling to stay in one space for two long. Much like a shark, Kagoule seem convinced that if they aren’t constantly on the move they might die. It makes for an exhaustive listen considering its relatively economic length but its intricacies are sure to reveal more pleasures with each successive listen.
Louis Ormesher