Category Archives: Reviews

Monotonix – Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 Nov / Body Language (Drag City) Review

Monotonix

Montonix - Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 November

Monotonix – Cardiff Arts Institute, 30 Nov, with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs /
Body Language (Drag City) Review

Blames the cops. Three garage punks from Tel Aviv, Monotonix were once contained safely within the boundaries of Israel. Until they started playing gigs. Five seconds later they were being banned from most of the country’s venues for a live show that tends to descend into a wild mix of sweat, chaos, setting themselves on fire (band) and random sex acts (audience). Like a Tasmanian Devil with a Rickenbacker there was no way Monotonix were going to sit idle, so with their homeland refusing to play ball they upped sticks for more welcoming climates.

Produced by the Fucking Champs‘ Tim Green in San Francisco, ‘Body Language‘ is a cacophonic mess of blistering, dirrrty garage and cacophonic punk, with ever so slight nods in the direction of Cream and Led Zeppelin. Just six tacks long and seemingly drenched in as much gasoline and leather-stinking sweat as you’ll find at one of their gigs, this is rock and roll at its most filthy and exuberant.
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The Teenagers – Reality Check (Beggers)

Teenagers - Reality Check

Teenagers - Reality Check

The Teenagers. Has there ever been a more evocative name for a pop band? Pop music owes its success to the obsessions of teenage fanatics who after its emergence in the 1950s dragged it through a thousand splintering sub-genres and into the laps of MTV executives and mega-brand-sponsored world tours.

When the come-down of the last World War forced parents to grant their children more freedoms than they had ever experienced, it coincided with the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and a new concept of youth. The story goes something like this: adolescent is given disposable income and a taste for 45s. Elvis is given a pair of hips so dangerous they could subvert a nation through a television screen. Pop music and teenager falls in love and they’ve been living a symbiotic relationship ever since.

So the Teenagers already have some living up to do, on name alone. Yet I suspect they’ve never let so much as a thought cross their mind about how iconic their existence actually is. They’re three gorgeous-looking scruff-bags from Paris via East London. The story goes that they stumbled across their own sussed version of danceable guitar-pop after posting a joke MySpace page. Their first friend request was from a girl called Nicole that they didn’t know. “Fuck Nicole”, they thought, and wrote a song called “Fuck Nicole”.

This self-deprecating wit is sprawled all over Reality Check, like favorite bands over a schoolgirl’s text book. Indie-cool and infectious, the Teenagers are dirty twenty-somethings masquerading, with fantasies of still being in their teens. With a tantalising grasp on the giddy highs and lows of adolescence and an obvious weak spot for the candy-pop drum machine and synths of ‘80s pop like “I Think We’re Alone Now”, they sound like a lo-fi New Order with three smutty Frenchmen on vocals. The influences on their MySpace page says it all: Sex, Love, Party, Vodka, Summer, Puberty, Red Bull. A statement of intent for most teenagers, it reads like a shopping list of ingredients for Reality Check.

Take, for example, the album’s first track, “Homecoming”. The filthiest slice of pop since Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg orgasmed through “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus”, “Homecoming” explores the memory of a sexual tryst through the eyes of an arrogant boy and naïve girl.  “Last week, I flew to San Diego to see my auntie”, he says in a dry monotone. “On day one, I met her hot step-daughter / She’s a cheerleader, she’s a virgin, and she’s really tan /… On day two, I fucked her, and it was wild / She’s such a slut”. And then, her version:

Ok, listen girls: I met the hottest guy ever.
Basically, as I was stepping out of my SUV,
I came face to face with my step-cousin or whatever, who cares?
Anyway, he was wearing skinny jeans, had funky hair
And the cutest British accent ever.
Straight away, I could tell he was a rocker
From his sexy attitude and the way he looked at me.
Mmm, he is totally awesome.
Oh my god, I think I’m in love.

What follows is the wildest chorus you will hear all year. Imagine Gainsbourg singing the first words, Kim Gordon the next: “I fucked my American cunt / I loved my English romance”. All this accompanied by an innocent summer-crisp beat, like Belle and Sebastian making out with The O.C. “Don’t forget to send me a friend request”, she says at the end, in what could be the first social networking reference in popular song. “As if”, comes the cutting reply.

It’s like John Waters reshot Grease with a Larry Clark script. The last time pop music seemed this subversive, Ice Cube was ranting about the police “Fuckin’ with me cuz I’m a teenager / With a little bit of gold and a pager”. If only we could get “Homecoming” to number one—it would be like a million teenage girls seeing Elvis’ grinding hips for the first time.

Most of the songs are delivered in the same sullen monotone, only allowing the choruses to fly along with the melody. The result is fascinating. It’s not just the lyrics, which move between melancholic reminiscing of drunken nights and bitter diatribes at ex-lovers. It’s the voyeuristic position it puts the listener in, like dipping into the pages of a secret diary. The prose is hardly Pinter, but the sentiment is instantly recognisable: secret crushes, embarrassing memories, summer innocence, mood swings, underage drinking, bored Sundays and wild Friday nights, putting the first band poster on your wall, slamming your bedroom door on arguments and telling the world you’re right, but secretly, bitterly, knowing that you might be wrong. “I don’t know anything / I don’t know anything / I don’t know anything,” the chorus to “III” repeats.

Of course, we’ve been here before. Pop stars recalling the rushes of their formative years is nothing new. Pulp produced fantastic observant pop music with a refreshing lyrical sting, and the Teenagers do not have the dexterical creativity of Jarvis Cocker. Yet the way they deliver a crushing harmony and then immediately slip back into that soft French accent is as infectious as anything by Franz Ferdinand or Bloc Party.

From the dreamy fan obsession of “Starlett Johansson” (“When I noticed for Jared Leto, I felt sad for 30 seconds / When I noticed for Josh Hartnett, I prayed for 40 nights”) to the skuzzy art-punk of “Fuck Nicole” and the delicious “Make it Happen” (which is begging to be added to the opening credits of the Breakfast Club), the Teenagers are Tiffany via Soulwax. They have a knowing appreciation of pop (à la Gwen Stefani), but with a sly cynicism and sassy attitude. The way their wispy accents make greasy sound like greezy on “Love No” is worth the album alone. That Reality Check draws it’s inspirations from the 80s, but also France’s über-cool Kitsuné and Ed Banger scenes (they are regular touring partners of Justice) shows that they have a Blondie-style ability to mix art, disco and pop.

Quite how the Teenagers have stumbled across themselves is an enigma. By rights they should be a fashion construct, carved out of teen-cool by Terry Richardson, stuck on the cover of Vice magazine, filmed by Gus Van Sant and sprayed across American Apparel adverts for the summer season.  With their too-cool-for-school, fashion-spread attitude, the Teenagers will annoy many people, but it’s been far too long since an indie band worthy of pinning them to your heart came along. Reality Checkwon’t change the world, but it will make the lives of new-found fans a little more special.

Like they say on “Feeling Better”: “Now that you’re a fan / You can write our name on your body / Take a pen / Write it down: ‘I love the Teenagers’”.

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The Teenagers, Bristol Thekla 05/04/08

The Teenagers

The Teenagers

Gigwise, May 2008

Irony, oh you are such a tease. The Teenagers, three grubby Parisian hipsters with a fondness for infectious electro-pop and filthy lyrical fantasies, are playing the Thekla, Bristol’s floating rock club and a ship once known as the Old Profanity Showboat.  Singer Quentin, skinny, cute and mischievous twinkle in his eye, is leading a rabble crowd of drunken Bristolians through the x-rated chorus of ‘Homecoming‘, the band’s most notorious and deliciously addictive number. “I fucked my American cunt,” they sing in unison, like a Skins version of Songs of Praise. Old Profanity owner, arch-surrealist and Bonzo Dog Band leader Vivian Stanshall, currently mixing it up in Dali heaven, should no doubt be extremely proud.

The Teenagers are of course the most titillating thing to arrive from Paris since Lady Sarkozy eyed up Prince Philip behind the French President’s back. Fashion-mag cool and full of subversive knowing references to their formative years, they’re annoying as many people as are swooning for their unique blend of Gallic sleaze. Tonight, everyone at the Thekla seems far too drunk to care though. Deep in the ship’s bowels, the crowd is a salacious mix of Teenagers-obsessive’s, gearing up for tonight’s performance with impromptu shouts of that ‘Homecoming’ chorus, and dozens of lager-fuelled lads, fresh from the high street and intent on continuing their binge-apocalypse.

If it looks a mess from the stage, then the view for the audience is certainly as skuzzy. Expanded to a five piece through extra guitar and live drums, the Teenagers race through cuts from their impressive debut ‘Reality Check‘ like they can’t wait to get amongst the dirty throng. During current single, the fiery ‘Love No’ – the one where, in their wispy accents, they deliciously pronounce “greasy” as “greezy” – Quentin, mike lead wrapped around hand, other arm outstretched and bouncing up and down like a cat on pins, leans back and fore into the crowd, beckoning the mass to touch him, like some gorgeous lo-fi superstar.

The sight of the lager lads, in their freshly-ironed designer shirts and crap haircuts, reaching out for Quentin, then turning back to their mates with hi-fives (“look mate! I touched the singer!”)  is both hilarious and somewhat disturbing, especially during ‘Streets Of Paris‘. While most of ‘Reality Check’ deals with the sweet and bitter moments of adolescence – sex, love, party, vodka, puberty, red bull, reads the ingredients on their MySpace page – the Teenagers have said the only truly autobiographical song is ‘Streets of Paris’. “We were wearing kitten masks,” Quentin sings in a gorgeous giddy high during the chorus, before recounting bumping into a group of thugs wearing “Nike caps” and running for their lives. It’s quite vulgar watching the same kind of thugs barging other people out of the way to get to the front.

Still, the room continues to swirl around the fuzzy mess of 80s pop and lo-fi electro and by the time the Teenagers play the ‘Summer Nights’-on-ketamine ‘Homecoming’, it couldn’t get any messier. Quentin pulls a few eager people onto the stage to sing the boy/girl vocals with him, cruelly letting a girl fumble through her verse, before the crowd pipe back into the chorus of the teen-sex hymn. Suddenly the louts and the indie-kids become one heaving mass, swaying from port to starboard on the Old Profanity Showboat, all singing “I fucked my American cunt / I Loved my English romance”. Vivian Stanshall would love it.

The Teenagers – Starlett Johansson

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The Kills – Midnight Boom (Domino)

Decadent, sullen and minimal, the Kills have always been a band seemingly out-of-sorts with the industry they’ve chosen. Their ragged garage blues and photobooth posing suggest an art installation or some conceptual burst of freedom in an underground movie, not the austere album/tour order of the music business.
The music is as raw as their image, cheekbone-sharp guitars and death black hair. And interestingly for a band that seems to exist in duotone—they have always advocated the artistry of their photography alongside the music—first impressions are of a band devoid of colour, stripped down to it’s bare necessities: vocals, guitar, drum machine. And yet with every Kills release you soon realise how deceiving their minimalist image is. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s refusal to follow the rules and ditch the drums and bass does more than guarantee any income is split a clean 50-50. Subtle multi-tracking and inventive use of that sparse drum machine ensures the Kills have more layers waiting to be stripped away than most bands who rely on the usual drum/bass rhythm section. The resulting sound is visceral, subversive and immediate.
Midnight Boom is the Kills third full-length release, coming three years after No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side, from 2003. When they first emerged, carving out a niche for themselves with a distinct style and sound that knowingly referenced other artists such as Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, the Kills were joyously welcomed and both records were well received. For a band who limit themselves in their choice of instruments and now on their third album, you might ask how they can progress. The answer is an album which shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn’t dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.
It’s a brave band who open a record with 12 seconds of hushed dial tone. Over those initial seconds comes the eager tapping of numbers. It’s unclear who’s calling who but that dial tone soon builds into the effortless beat of “U.R.A. Fever”, an immediate sexual sway of a song, dripping with the Kills typically-subversive chemistry. Mosshart and Hince taunt each other with “You only ever had her when you had a fever” while discordant guitars lash violently at the pace of the song. It’s clear that the Kills have lost none of that raw tension, but it’s also interesting to note the difference drafting in producer Alex Epton (Armani XXXchange from genre-blending sleaze merchants Spank Rock) has made to the Kills sound.
Crucially Epton hasn’t pulled-out his usual record chainsaw and torn apart the Kills sound. Brought in for additional production, the Kills have drawn on Epton’s beat-making skills to add extra texture to the drumbeats. The result is more character, more intensity, and it’s beautiful. “Last Day of Magic” slides along on a cool-ass beat and a whispering backwards hi-hat, Mosshart sounding like Peaches at her most temptress, the Kills spitting out more and more erotic charge with every bar. While the fabulous “Sour Cherry” with its “I’m the only sour cherry on your fruit stand” line and tongue-in-cheek swagger, seemingly exploits what sounds like the under-used rhythmic qualities of chopsticks.
The atmosphere here is strung tight, hinting at the sexual energy Mosshart and Hince give off onstage. But the Kills are also a group that understand the Tom Waits vintage of beauty in melancholy. So yes, they’re all hip and sass at the best times, but they also know how to claw at your heart strings.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the haunting “Black Balloon”, a classic Kills ballad that begins by recalling the dry blues of “Rodeo Town” from No Wow. “You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time / Farewell my black balloon,” coos Mosshart. The song’s already lighter than air when half-way Mosshart breaks into an ethereal “aaah-aaah-aaah”, and the song lifts skyward along with said balloon, Mosshart calling out after it, suggesting some latent erotic union: “Farewell my black balloon / Let the weather have its way with you.”
Elsewhere Midnight Boom is such a ride. “Cheap and Cheerful”, “Getting Down” and “What New York Used to Be” all bounce along with vigour that makes the album such a joy. It feels free and rebellious, driven on an urgency and playfulness that evokes Jean Belmondo‘s character in Godard‘s À Bout de Souffle. In fact, the jump-cuts, bold energy and fresh tale of modern urban life of À Bout de Souffle make it a perfect celluloid sibling for the Kills.
The Kills talk much about the influence of art and film on their music. Hince and Mosshart have said they drew inspiration for Midnight Boom from a 1960s documentary, Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, about the playground rhymes of inner city American children. “We just started building rhythms around those and had this concept of coming up with modern-day playground songs,” Hince told Domino Records. “Cos they’re really quite dark. Cutting people’s thumbs off, kicking people in the face, throwing ‘em down stairs. I kinda liked it. So I got this old MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and just started making rhythms on that. And these playground songs ended up as Midnight Boom.”
Fed to the skewed guitar and beats, the influence of these ghostly patty-cake rhymes from 40 years ago litter Midnight Boom, from the gorgeous drive of “Tape Song” to the art-punk of “Alphabet Pony”. And they make perfect sense, shaping the record’s consistency and adding to the Kills’ extremely infectious build.
The Kills bleed cool and it runs darker and cooler than ever before on Midnight Boom. They’re a soundtrack waiting for a road movie;  If they didn’t exist you can guarantee they’d turn up in a David Lynch film somewhere, busking on the side of a distant highway under lonely neon and a half-moon.
Midnight Boom finishes with “Goodnight Bad Morning”, a song so full of early-morning melancholy it rivals even the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” for sheer crow-black blues. Over a rocking-chair beat and soft-strum of acoustic guitar Mosshart and Hince whisper “….See it in everyone / Like a lost idea under lightbulb sun / Your eyes ready for take-off melt in your head / What a beautiful state we’re in.” It is a song that could have been the highlight on any Mazzy Star or Leonard Cohen album but it closes the Kills most remarkable record to date, staying with you long after it ends, Hince’s slow humming still resonating in your senses, the cold shiver still working it’s way down your spine.

 

The Kills

The Kills

PopMatters, March 2008 8/10

Decadent, sullen and minimal, the Kills have always been a band seemingly out-of-sorts with the industry they’ve chosen. Their ragged garage blues and photobooth posing suggest an art installation or some conceptual burst of freedom in an underground movie, not the austere album/tour order of the music business.

The music is as raw as their image, cheekbone-sharp guitars and death black hair. And interestingly for a band that seems to exist in duotone—they have always advocated the artistry of their photography alongside the music—first impressions are of a band devoid of colour, stripped down to it’s bare necessities: vocals, guitar, drum machine. And yet with every Kills release you soon realise how deceiving their minimalist image is. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince’s refusal to follow the rules and ditch the drums and bass does more than guarantee any income is split a clean 50-50. Subtle multi-tracking and inventive use of that sparse drum machine ensures the Kills have more layers waiting to be stripped away than most bands who rely on the usual drum/bass rhythm section. The resulting sound is visceral, subversive and immediate.

Midnight Boom is the Kills third full-length release, coming three years after No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side, from 2003. When they first emerged, carving out a niche for themselves with a distinct style and sound that knowingly referenced other artists such as Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, the Kills were joyously welcomed and both records were well received. For a band who limit themselves in their choice of instruments and now on their third album, you might ask how they can progress. The answer is an album which shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn’t dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.

It’s a brave band who open a record with 12 seconds of hushed dial tone. Over those initial seconds comes the eager tapping of numbers. It’s unclear who’s calling who but that dial tone soon builds into the effortless beat of “U.R.A. Fever”, an immediate sexual sway of a song, dripping with the Kills typically-subversive chemistry. Mosshart and Hince taunt each other with “You only ever had her when you had a fever” while discordant guitars lash violently at the pace of the song. It’s clear that the Kills have lost none of that raw tension, but it’s also interesting to note the difference drafting in producer Alex Epton (Armani XXXchange from genre-blending sleaze merchants Spank Rock) has made to the Kills sound.

Crucially Epton hasn’t pulled-out his usual record chainsaw and torn apart the Kills sound. Brought in for additional production, the Kills have drawn on Epton’s beat-making skills to add extra texture to the drumbeats. The result is more character, more intensity, and it’s beautiful. “Last Day of Magic” slides along on a cool-ass beat and a whispering backwards hi-hat, Mosshart sounding like Peaches at her most temptress, the Kills spitting out more and more erotic charge with every bar. While the fabulous “Sour Cherry” with its “I’m the only sour cherry on your fruit stand” line and tongue-in-cheek swagger, seemingly exploits what sounds like the under-used rhythmic qualities of chopsticks.

The atmosphere here is strung tight, hinting at the sexual energy Mosshart and Hince give off onstage. But the Kills are also a group that understand the Tom Waits vintage of beauty in melancholy. So yes, they’re all hip and sass at the best times, but they also know how to claw at your heart strings.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the haunting “Black Balloon”, a classic Kills ballad that begins by recalling the dry blues of “Rodeo Town” from No Wow. “You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time / Farewell my black balloon,” coos Mosshart. The song’s already lighter than air when half-way Mosshart breaks into an ethereal “aaah-aaah-aaah”, and the song lifts skyward along with said balloon, Mosshart calling out after it, suggesting some latent erotic union: “Farewell my black balloon / Let the weather have its way with you.”

Elsewhere Midnight Boom is such a ride. “Cheap and Cheerful”, “Getting Down” and “What New York Used to Be” all bounce along with vigour that makes the album such a joy. It feels free and rebellious, driven on an urgency and playfulness that evokes Jean Belmondo‘s character in Godard‘s À Bout de Souffle. In fact, the jump-cuts, bold energy and fresh tale of modern urban life of À Bout de Souffle make it a perfect celluloid sibling for the Kills.

The Kills talk much about the influence of art and film on their music. Hince and Mosshart have said they drew inspiration for Midnight Boom from a 1960s documentary, Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, about the playground rhymes of inner city American children. “We just started building rhythms around those and had this concept of coming up with modern-day playground songs,” Hince told Domino Records. “Cos they’re really quite dark. Cutting people’s thumbs off, kicking people in the face, throwing ‘em down stairs. I kinda liked it. So I got this old MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and just started making rhythms on that. And these playground songs ended up as Midnight Boom.”

Fed to the skewed guitar and beats, the influence of these ghostly patty-cake rhymes from 40 years ago litter Midnight Boom, from the gorgeous drive of “Tape Song” to the art-punk of “Alphabet Pony”. And they make perfect sense, shaping the record’s consistency and adding to the Kills’ extremely infectious build.

The Kills bleed cool and it runs darker and cooler than ever before on Midnight Boom. They’re a soundtrack waiting for a road movie;  If they didn’t exist you can guarantee they’d turn up in a David Lynch film somewhere, busking on the side of a distant highway under lonely neon and a half-moon.

Midnight Boom finishes with “Goodnight Bad Morning”, a song so full of early-morning melancholy it rivals even the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” for sheer crow-black blues. Over a rocking-chair beat and soft-strum of acoustic guitar Mosshart and Hince whisper “….See it in everyone / Like a lost idea under lightbulb sun / Your eyes ready for take-off melt in your head / What a beautiful state we’re in.” It is a song that could have been the highlight on any Mazzy Star or Leonard Cohen album but it closes the Kills most remarkable record to date, staying with you long after it ends, Hince’s slow humming still resonating in your senses, the cold shiver still working it’s way down your spine.

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I Found #1 Windmill – Puddle City Racing Lights (Friendly Fire)

Windmill

Windmill

8/10

Summary: Windmill’s attraction is knowing when to let the melody loose, allowing the track to sweep off on its grandeur mission, and when to rein it in, affording the listener an eerie experience of never quite knowing whether the next taste will be happiness or tears.

Much is made of the UK and America’s political ‘special-relationship’ but ever since the Beatles set foot on the tarmac of the newly-renamed JFK Airport in early 1964, it’s the incestuous special-relationship of Britain and America’s pop economies that has really interested us all. And it has very strict rules.

These rules ensure only Northern English towns scarred by unemployment and Thatcher, and not Los Angeles, can produce Jarvis Cocker; rules that equally dictate Marilyn Manson could never be aloud to surface in Blackpool, playing early gigs in penny arcades and working men’s clubs. It’s a balance of power that lets the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys equally sell trillions of records without upsetting the ying verses yang of these two pop nations.

Of course sometimes the heavens are turned upside down and Bush are formed. But generally things run smoothly – even the Killers dropped the Britpop hooks in favour of epic American stadium rock.

Rules, of course, are meant to be broken. And it’s a special kind of joy when they’re broken with such a splendid disregard as the heart-breaking Americana which comes from Windmill’s English suburbia.

Known to many in the UK as just another over-priced service station stop on the M1 as you head North from London, Newport Pagnell was at least recognised by James Bond devotees as being the home of the Aston Martin. Until 2 years ago anyway, when production was moved away by owners Ford. Now, bar lower-league footballers and soap actresses, even Wikipedia struggles to find noteworthy commentary on this small middle-England town.

Yet it’s in these streets that Matthew Thomas Dillon has been toiling away perfecting a craft that bears little influence of a British music industry obsessed with asymmetrical haircuts and skinny jeans. Dillon’s ears have instead been long tuned in to the same channels that feed the contemporary, seminal voices of America: Newsom, Stevens, Coyne, Barnhart, Donahue, Marshall, Tweedy and Smith.

Choosing a name like Windmill to represent his work is quite a metaphor from Dillon. Windmill’s sails move with the same guidance that have informed many of his contemporaries on the opposite side of the pond.  Echoes of Talking Heads, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell are beautifully littered throughout Puddle City Racing Lights while Dillon’s own voice stirs with the resonance and strained observation of an early Neil Young.

Windmill - Puddle City Racing Lights

Windmill - Puddle City Racing Lights

The result is a record soaked equally with comforting lo-fi as it is with grand, sweeping statements. Piano and strings constantly linger over Dillon’s words, the minimal composition lending an ever-present melancholy to match his heartfelt voice . But Dillon’s genius is knowing when to let the melody loose, allowing the track to sweep off on its grandeur mission, and when to rein it in, affording the listener an eerie experience of never quite knowing whether the next taste will be happiness or tears.

“Asthmatic” is a perfect example of this. If the tingling piano and cello at its start suggests a bold statement akin to Springsteen’s bombastic faith of the Rising, the song’s epic potential is only strengthened by the Flaming Lips-style wall of crashing drums that follow. But just when you expect the melody to soar away Dillon pulls the song back to the ground, only allowing the fragile piano to remain and giving us the words “Always breathing in / Never breathing out”. Arcade Fire would have followed the formula to its logical, spectral, conclusion, but Dillon seems inspired by the possibility of the crescendo, the light and dark of the song, the space that is sometimes covered over and forgotten. For a song he names “Asthmatic”, he actually lets it breathe.

Dillon is also a strong observer or, at least, a strong thinker. Locking himself in his bedroom for hours on end so he can perfect the vision in his head, many of the fourteen songs here have emerged over twelve years through Dillon’s careful consideration and a £300 four track. For the recording of Puddle City Racing Lights, he received assistance from members of the Earlies’ live band, former Alfie guitarist Ian Smith and co-producer Tom Knott, but before it came countless homemade albums, originally only intended for himself and a few friends’ enjoyment, which must have provided the training ground for these tracks.

The observer/thinker is redolent throughout Dillon’s lyrics. He writes evocatively about everyday things – “the detritus of modern life” as the press release puts it” – airport lounges, trains, fluorescent lights, escalators, the feel of an airport’s plastic chair before taking a flight. Just as dEUS sang about the inevitable loneliness of hotel receptions, so “Boarding Lounges” describes beautifully the awkward, perpetual, melancholy of being forced to linger in these human holding pens. Although, as Dillon repeats the line “Gates close / Escalators climb” over the raw piano and slightest of strings, it’s unclear if he is actually advocating the experience.

Dillon finds himself continually compared to Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips by lazy critics and “Tokyo Moon”, “Plastic Pre-Flight Seats” and “Plasticine Plugs” are obvious starting points for these references. Yet while there is certainly a lot of common ground between Wayne Coyne, Jonathan Donahue and Windmill’s pained, graceful, beauty, they fail to appreciate Dillon’s favoured instrument of expression; his piano. Even more than his stark, emotive voice, Dillon relies on the piano to convey the misery, the happiness, the wonder and the dismay. In this way, he has more in common with Tom Waits and Tori Amos, both of whom grew as artists through their deep relationship and exploration of the piano’s emotional and expressional possibilities. The naked piano of “Boarding Lounges” and Tilting Trains” is as stirring as on Amos’ Little Earthquakes, while “Replace Me” and “Fashion House” could easily sneak into Blue Valentine without much suspicion.

Oscar Wilde once commented “We are all in the gutter, but some of are looking at the stars”. Listening to Windmill sounds like Wilde is whispering those words in your ear.

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Trentemøller – London Forum, 14/04/08

Trentemøller

Trentemøller

Gigwise, April 2008

It’s 10:45pm at the Forum. There’s a thousand people in here and they’re horny as hell. Like the visuals of Betty Page earlier in the set, Trentemøller has built the audience into a sexual frenzy, teased them with ambient rushes, lashed them with filthy electro. And then, just as the they’re finally getting off, just as the last gushing thrusts of ‘Rykketid’ are due to burst forward like a massive volcano of electronic lust, he cuts the song, ends the foreplay, denies us our money shot. Anders Trentemøller, dressed in black, gothic fringe dripped in sweat, looks at the panting, shattered crowd, grins and walks off stage.
Any other artist would thrust to the very end, give the audience what they want and roll over and light up. Not Trentemøller. Intent on subverting our preconceptions about live dance music, Anders takes the seductive texture and moody electronica, so delicately crafted on his acclaimed debut The Last Resort, and crushes it into an infectious, raw experience that ranks alongside the best that Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream and the Prodigy can offer.
A bold statement, but when the crunching ‘Evil Dub’ gives way to the first evocative notes of ‘Moan’, it’s as rapturous as being on the receiving end of any performance of Loaded or Block Rockin’ Beats. Moan, an absolute classic of stirring, filthy analogue, intense dub and seductive melancholy, is just waiting for the world to catch up before it takes its rightful place as a festival classic. Hammering away at the banks of electronics and flanked by the incredible duo of Mikael Simpson and Henrik Vibskov on bass and drums respectively, Trentemøller turns such intricate electronica as Moan, or the David Lynch eerie-ness of ‘The Very Last Resort’, into a captivating experience.
‘Always Something Better’, bass punching you square in the back, beats pounding ever harder, takes the intensity ever further, and then ‘Rykketid’, with it’s swirling techno bleeps and marching Seven Nation Army sample, builds repeatedly to that suggestive sexual-electro peak. Of course it never comes. Trentemøller, like some cruel techno lothario leaves us in heat, arched on our backs and longing to be finished off, knowing that we’ll be back for more.

It’s 10:45pm at the Forum. There’s a thousand people in here and they’re horny as hell. Like the visuals of Betty Page earlier in the set, Trentemøller has built the audience into a sexual frenzy, teased them with ambient rushes, lashed them with filthy electro. And then, just as the they’re finally getting off, just as the last gushing thrusts of ‘Rykketid’ are due to burst forward like a massive volcano of electronic lust, he cuts the song, ends the foreplay, denies us our money shot. Anders Trentemøller, dressed in black, gothic fringe dripped in sweat, looks at the panting, shattered crowd, grins and walks off stage.

Any other artist would thrust to the very end, give the audience what they want and roll over and light up. Not Trentemøller. Intent on subverting our preconceptions about live dance music, Anders takes the seductive texture and moody electronica, so delicately crafted on his acclaimed debut The Last Resort, and crushes it into an infectious, raw experience that ranks alongside the best that Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream and the Prodigy can offer.

A bold statement, but when the crunching ‘Evil Dub’ gives way to the first evocative notes of ‘Moan’, it’s as rapturous as being on the receiving end of any performance of Loaded or Block Rockin’ Beats. Moan, an absolute classic of stirring, filthy analogue, intense dub and seductive melancholy, is just waiting for the world to catch up before it takes its rightful place as a festival classic. Hammering away at the banks of electronics and flanked by the incredible duo of Mikael Simpson and Henrik Vibskov on bass and drums respectively, Trentemøller turns such intricate electronica as Moan, or the David Lynch eerie-ness of ‘The Very Last Resort’, into a captivating experience.

‘Always Something Better’, bass punching you square in the back, beats pounding ever harder, takes the intensity ever further, and then ‘Rykketid’, with it’s swirling techno bleeps and marching Seven Nation Army sample, builds repeatedly to that suggestive sexual-electro peak. Of course it never comes. Trentemøller, like some cruel techno lothario leaves us in heat, arched on our backs and longing to be finished off, knowing that we’ll be back for more.

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Glasvegas – Bristol Trinity Centre, 13/09/08

Glasvegas

Glasvegas

Sitting quiet and graceful amongst a sea of concrete towers and sex shops, Bristol’s Trinity Centre is an appropriate venue for Glasvegas. The spectacular lighting reveals the enigmatic gothic church as a beacon of grace and hope against the encroaching darkness that surrounds it. An apt location then for a band that explores the glory and emotion of a world drenched in broken homes, crime and violence.

Apt as well for the religious fervour that has swept Glasvegas here. Less than a week old, their startling, eponymously-titled debut has already shifted over 50,000 copies, contradicting any doubts that this is a band built on hype and no soul. True, the hype burns so bright it threatens to pierce the Wayfarers that James Allan refuses to take off – coolly ignoring any health and safety implications on the darkened stage. But it’s their conviction that burns brightest of all; an addictive sense of purpose that eloquently pairs Allan’s compelling lyrical reportage of dislocated urban living – cynical racist murders, estranged fathers, tooled-up gangs – with an incendiary sense of the Clash’s bombastic urgency crashing through Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

It’s this mix of swagger and desire that runs through everything that Glasvegas do. From the spiralling, white noise that heralds first song ‘Flowers and Football Tops’, through the playground battles and infectious howl of ‘Go Square Go’, to ‘Geraldine’, Allan’s hymn of the true passion of a social worker.

It’s evident in their composure. Rab Allan and Paul Donoghue, bassist and guitarist respectively, tear at their instruments while behind them Caroline McKay, strikingly standing behind her kit, looks intent on destroying the few drums she has. In the centre of all this Allan’s strong-as-an-ox pose remains reassuringly consistent: guitar low, head high, like a ley preacher brought up on Strummer and Brando. Only when the pace of the delivery eases and he’s freed from the microphone does he move slightly, arching his back towards the stage, raising his darkened eyes to the ceiling, as if looking towards the heavens for some answers to the riddles that occupy him.

The pose is refreshingly iconic and therein lies the paradox. For a band that is so fresh-off-the-blocks they’d have Usain Bolt looking over his shoulder, Glasvegas display an attitude that is wise beyond their years. It’s like the girl groups and Jesus and Mary Chain are not just influences but ghosts stirring within them. This is a band that sound so old and lived-in yet stun you with how new and invigorating they are.

It’s an interesting fact that the finest of artists can be confounding, riddled with contradictions and questions, never easy to dissect or to explain. Against the Van Gogh-inspired artwork of their debut, seemingly etched into the back wall, the silhouettes of these three men and one woman in black manage to shimmer with both the leanings of the past and the expectations of the future. Tonight, any passers by might just have noticed the Trinity’s beacon burning a little more brightly than usual.

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