Monthly Archives: June 2011

Viva Brother? Let’s Hope Not.

Cast your mind back to the start of the year, and you may recall that the NME were hyping up two bands in particular as the ‘new saviours of British guitar music’, or something along those lines. The two bands in question were The Vaccines and Brother. Now, as you can probably tell from the title of this post, I’m not here to hate on The Vaccines – they’re not the earth-shattering prospect that NME might have made them out to be, but they’ve got a handful of decent tunes and at worst they’re merely inoffensive. No, my bile in this case is reserved for Brother – or, as they are now known, Viva Brother.

Viva Brother - The most punchable faces in UK music?

Yes, the swaggering, over-confident Slough four-piece have been forced to change their name due to a lawsuit from another, longer-running band called Brother. Somewhat bizarrely, the band in question are an Australian Celtic rock band whose music features both bagpipes and a didgeridoo – (Viva) Brother were apparently aware of them when they chose their band name, but didn’t think it would become a problem. As it turns out, the Australian band thought differently – so much so that they sent someone across America to dump a 30-page writ at (Viva) Brother’s feet while they were playing in San Francisco.

Now, that might seem like a pretty badass thing to do, and fair play to the pre-existing Brother for defending their name, but it’s the kind of situation where both parties come across as complete dicks. Was it really necessary to “serve” the lawsuit in such a dramatic fashion? You may have preserved your name’s integrity, Celtic-rocking Brother, but in the process you’ve provided a quartet of gobshites from the UK with another story to raise up as a piece of mythology, not to mention an assload of free publicity. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

Meanwhile, in typically self-aggrandising fashion, Viva Brother have presented their name change as “a big fuck you” to the other band. The announced the change by walking on stage at Glastonbury with a flag emblazoned with the new name, and have pointed out in no uncertain terms that the new name means “long live Brother”. Well, best of luck to you lads, but I have a feeling that you’ll have a rough time out-lasting the other band’s near 20-year career.

Of course, such bravado is par for the course with Viva Brother – after all, this a band who’ve come out with such hilarious gems as “If anyone here doesn’t want to see the future of music, leave now” (at their first London gig), have entitled their debut album Famous First Words, and seem to insist on wearing ridiculous sunglasses regardless of the weather.

You may notice I haven’t even got to talking about Viva Brother’s music yet, and that’s because by comparison it’s barely worth discussing. They’re essentially the result of force-feeding ‘Country House’ era Blur some Oasis albums, then reprocessing the resulting vomit into bland, nutrition-free slabs of so called ‘Gritpop’. Now this isn’t meant to be a slight on Blur (although it is, perhaps, a dig at Oasis) – just listen to the first 20 seconds of ‘New Year’s Day’ and you’ll see where I’m coming from:

So, the “future of music” is re-heated Britpop leftovers? Whatever you say guys – carry on partying like it’s 1995, I’m going to go get a bucket.

Famous First Words is released on… oh, like you give a shit. I know I don’t.

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New Zola Jesus Track Streams, Is Predictably Fantastic

Stridulum II was the first official UK release for Zola Jesus (otherwise known as Nika Roza Danilova), and it ended up being one of my favourite records of last year. Understandably then, I was pleased to discover today that she’s previewing a song from her next record, Conatus. The track is called ‘Vessel’, and you can stream and download it right here.

‘Vessel’ features a typically powerful vocal from Danilova, layered over a backdrop of glitchy, robotic synths and echoing piano chords and the end result is positively dripping with atmosphere. It certainly bodes well for the new album, which is due out on September 26th – check out the full tracklisting and artwork for Conatus below:

Side A
‘Swords’
‘Avalanche’
‘Vessel’
‘Hikikomori’
‘Ixode’
‘Seekir’

Side B
‘In Your Nature’
‘Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake’
‘Shivers’
‘Skin’
‘Collapse’

Zola Jesus also has a few summer festival dates lined up, which you can find details of right here.

Conatus is released on Souterrain Transmissions records on 26th September.

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Local Artist Of The Whenever #5: Burning Fences

Burning Fences - EP

Burning Fences are a relatively new local band with a decidedly retro sound – their fuzzed-up, psychedelic rock draws inspiration from both 60’s psychedelia and more recent groups such as Spacemen 3. Comprising of Si Mickelthwaite (Guitars/Vocals), Jack Holdstock (Drums) and Dan Barton (Guitars), the group have recently recorded a 4 track EP, which they’ve made freely available via their Bandcamp page. Yep, you can download all four tracks for absolutely nowt – check it out below:

Recorded live in a single session, this is some pretty meaty stuff. ‘Riverrun’ starts out with a menacing two-chord drone before whipping up a squall of noise in the chorus, and ‘Holed Up’ features some pretty thunderous drumming underneath its wall of sound. Particularly impressive is ‘Somehow’, which seems to run the gamut of every possible sound a guitar can make, switching from soaring melody lines to walls of fuzz in an instant –  and I swear there’s a bit that sounds like a helicopter taking off as a missile comes screaming out of the sky.

The band have only played a handful of shows so far, but they’re well worth going to see – the EP gives you a good impression of their sound, but they pack even more of a punch live. I caught them supporting Moon Duo last month and was suitably impressed, but if you’ve missed their gigs so far then fear not – you’ll have another chance fairly soon. Unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly when (as nothing’s been announced yet), but the band are hoping to line up some shows in August – keep an eye out on their Facebook page for more details.

Find Burning Fences on Facebook here.

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Benjamin Francis Leftwich Streams Debut Album

It’s fair to say that Benjamin Francis Leftwich is the first York artist to break through into the national, mainstream consciousness for a fair while, and his debut album Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm gives a pretty good demonstration as to why. The 21 year old singer-songwriter has clearly made the most of the opportunities given to him, crafting an album of fragile, beautiful songs – and you can have a listen to it over at This Is Fake DIY right here.

Benjamin Francis Leftwich

From the stark introspection of ‘Pictures’ to the quietly defiant ‘Bottle Baby’, via the impossibly pretty ‘Butterfly Culture’, there are some stunning songs on display here. Tracks like ‘Box Of Stones’ and ‘Atlas Hands’ flesh out Ben’s sound with backing vocals and tasteful strings (in the case of ‘Box Of Stones’), but manage to do so without getting in the way of the simplicity of the songs as they were originally written.

Ben’s also got a fairly extensive touring schedule lined up over the next few months, including festival performances at Summer Sundae, Bestival, Reading/Leeds and Green Man Festivals, to name but a few. He’s also got a full UK headlining tour scheduled for later in the year – as part of that he’ll be playing a hometown show in York at the National Centre For Early Music on the 29th October. I can tell you that he reduced The Duchess to stunned silence during his last performance in the city, if you want some idea of what to expect. You can find details of all his upcoming shows here.

Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm is released on Dirty Hit records on the 4th July.

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Enemy Of The Charts: Introducing FOE

FOE

You may take one look at FOE‘s pink wig and bicycle combo and think that she’s just some sort of twee version of Lady Gaga – but you’d be wrong. Oh so very wrong. FOE (aka Fleet-based musician Hannah Clark) is somewhat of an antithesis to the current crop of female chart stars – and she’s not afraid to take them to task. Nowhere is that clearer than on ‘Genie In A Coke Can’, which sees FOE taking a swipe at big-budget artists (“Millions in marketing of pop star trash/you’re better than that”), over grungy, sinister guitars. Check out her performance of the track for BBC 6 Music below:

‘Tyrant Song’, meanwhile, is miles away sonically from the polished sounds of the Top 40 with its dirty, crunching riffs and wonky synths. So when FOE sings “Are you ready for the next big thing?”, it’s clear she’s being scathing rather than self-aggrandising – and if you weren’t sure, the next line should more than clear it up (“Are you ready for a clown in a g-string?).

Her sassy demeanour and punchy sound should make FOE worth checking out live – she’s on tour throughout July, including a date at The Duchess in York on the 4th July. Given the generally slow nature of the city to react to anything new musically, it’s possible that this is a case of being too far ahead of the game – but I have a feeling this’ll be a show that it’ll be worth being able to say you were there for.

Find FOE on Facebook here.

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Local Artist Of The Whenever #4: The Blueprints

They’ve been around in one form or another since 2004, but new things are afoot for York indie-popsters The Blueprints right now. Currently comprising of Stuart Allen (vocals/guitar), Mark Waters (bass) Tom Williams (Keys/Piano) and Russ Broadbent (Drums), the band plan to debut new material at their show at Fibbers next Friday 1st July. Not only that, but they’ll be giving away two new tracks on CD as well – so if you want to hear new stuff from the band, it’d be advisable to get yourself down to the gig. Support on the night comes from youthful funksters Hot Fudge, acoustic artist Open Invitation, and embryonic rock duo …And The Hangnails.

The Blueprints

Of course, if you’re not familiar with the band then you may want to check out their previous material, some of which you can find on Facebook or (if you’re feeling old-school) Myspace. You’ll find a selection of breezy, upbeat and melodic songs await you, including the very literally titled ‘3 Minutes’ and the mandolin-led tale of childhood playground debates ‘Spectrum Vs. Commodore’. Or, for those who wish for more instant gratification, check out this video of the band playing a stripped-down version of ‘Walk’.

Find The Blueprints on Facebook here.

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Review: Arctic Monkeys @ Admiralspalast, Berlin, 20th June 2011

It might seem a bit daft, but there is a good reason for me to travel all the way to another country to see a band from the UK – the main theatre at Berlin’s Admiralspalast is pretty sizeable, but at less than 2000 capacity it’s a relatively intimate venue for Arctic Monkeys these days (unsurprisingly, the show is sold out). Warming the crowd up is Alex Turner’s old buddy Miles Kane, who rattles through a number of tracks from his debut solo record, Colour Of The Trap. Kane is an energetic performer and his set goes from strength to strength – he’s clearly winning the crowd over even before an excellent closing trio of tracks. First there’s the taut, moody ‘Come Closer’, then a vibrant cover of The Beatles’ ‘Hey Bulldog’, before he closes out his set with the frantic, frazzled guitar of ‘Inhaler’.

Arctic Monkeys (photo by Ed Miles, NME)

When Arctic Monkeys take to the stage about half an hour later, they don’t waste any time turning the tempo up, setting the pace with Suck It And See‘s most rapid-fire track, ‘Library Pictures’ before rolling into ‘Brianstorm’ to whip up even more of a frenzy. ‘This House Is A Circus’ (“berzerk as fuck”) is an apt follow up, and ‘Still Take You Home’ provides the first real throwback moment, both musically and in terms of crowd reaction (hint: they go mental for it).

At this point, the band have the audience in the palm of their hand, even before Alex attempts to sing “Don’t sit down ’cause I’ve moved your chair” in German – I’m not sure how accurate his translation was, but the crowd appreciate it nonetheless. Following up that track by playing ‘Pretty Visitors’ from Humbug might seem a tad self-indulgent, but the track’s pace keeps the set moving before we land firmly back in ‘hits’ territory with ‘Teddy Picker’, ‘Crying Lightning’, and ‘Brick By Brick’.

The hit parade is followed by a melodic interlude of the kind that Suck It And See might have hinted at, with the beautiful ‘Reckless Serenade’ is followed by Humbug highlight ‘Cornerstone’ – both apt demonstrations of how Turner’s lyricism has only grown in potency over his career. Of course, it was pretty damn good to begin with – a fact that’s re-affirmed as the band blast through the one-two punch of ‘The View From The Afternoon’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ without batting an eyelid.

It’s surprising how well the songs from Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not actually hold up in the live arena – helped, no doubt, by the fact that these very English-centric songs have transcended barriers of nation and language to be taken into the hearts of fans all over the world. There’s a palpable excitement every time Turner mentions that they’re going to play “an old one”, and the audience seem to know all the words. Their dedication is such that halfway through the gig, someone passes up a banner to the stage that simply says “Helders = God” – and with his propulsive drumming driving songs as intense as ‘Pretty Visitors’ and the utterly brilliant ‘Do Me A Favour’ (still probably my favourite Arctic Monkeys song), it’s difficult to argue otherwise.

That latter song is placed halfway through an excellently-paced five song sequence that ends the band’s main set – stepping up the tempo set by the sultry ‘All My Own Stunts’ and subtly menacing Favourite Worst Nightmare number ‘If You Were There, Beware’. After ‘Do Me A Favour’ comes the euphoric release of ‘That’s Where You’re Wrong’ before the band offer the audience one last ‘old one’ with the classic ‘When The Sun Goes Down’.

Of course, they’re back for an encore, beginning by playing shimmering Suck It And See highlight ‘The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala’ before breaking out another fan favourite in the form of ‘Florescent Adolescent’. Alex then invites Miles Kane back to the stage to play the stunning, heartbreaking ‘505’ – forget ‘A Certain Romance’, this is absolutely the most potent set-closer that the band have in their arsenal, and a wonderful way to end the evening.

Looking back over the setlist, it’s clear that the band wanted to put on a crowd-pleasing show during this tour. And yet, it doesn’t feel at all like a compromise – indeed, they play a roughly even split of old and new material. It feels like they’re giving the people what they want without losing any sense of integrity, and it’s just another step in the band’s amazing career so far. Tonight was the first time I’d seen the band play live in about four years – and also the first time I realised how much I’d missed seeing them. It’s not quite the same as accidentally coming across them at a gig in Sheffield, or the sweaty, intimate shows that followed in the summer of 2005 – but it’s fantastic that they’ve managed to come this far, and it’s still an absolute pleasure to see them play.

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