Tag Archives: Patrick Wolf

Let’s Get Cynical’s ‘Top 10 Albums That I Actually Listened To In 2012’

It’s fair to say that 2012 was a bit of a weird one for me in terms of actually listening to full length albums  – which is to say, I didn’t listen to anywhere near as many new records as I probably should have. To be honest, the album I’ve listened to the most is probably Boxer by The National, but of course that came out five years ago and thus can’t really be my album of the year. As such, there are some records that probably ought to be here that aren’t, simply because I just haven’t listened to them. Bat For Lashes is the most obvious example I can think of – there’s not even a good reason I haven’t listened to The Haunted Man, I just… haven’t. Maybe I’ll do a list of records I should have listened to in the last year? Anyway, enough rambling, a list. Of sorts.

Honourable Mention:
Patrick Wolf – Sundark And Riverlight

Patrick Wolf - Sundark And Riverlight

Patrick Wolf – Sundark And Riverlight

This probably would have made my top 10, except it somehow feels like cheating to include a record that doesn’t actually contain any new songs. That said, it’s far from a by-the-numbers greatest hits compilation, with Patrick Wolf going so far as to re-record 16 tracks for this career-spanning compilation. The impact of these songs is undiminished by these acoustic re-workings, and in some cases they’re even better for it – ‘Vulture’ being the prime example. For that reason, this album is more than deserving of an honourable mention – it’d be nice to see more artists take as much care with their own ‘greatest hits’ records.

10. Rozi Plain – Joined Sometimes Unjoined

Rozi Plain - Joined Sometimes Unjoined

Rozi Plain – Joined Sometimes Unjoined

This record deserves to be in the list just because Rozi Plain seems like a lovely human being, but happily there’s some great music on here too. Sparsely beautiful acoustic songs are the main order of the day here, but it’s the more propulsive moments that really stick out – ‘Humans’ and ‘See My Boat’ are both giddy highlights, while the soothing atmosphere and tender honesty of ‘Catch Up’ also brought a smile to my face.

9. Lone Wolf – The Lovers

Lone Wolf - The Lovers

Lone Wolf – The Lovers

Included here because I had enough faith in Lone Wolf to join the Pledgemusic campaign for his new record, and sure enough he delivered. It’s very a compact record, and very different to previous album The Devil And I, but it’s no less rewarding a listen. The queasy, nervous atmosphere of ‘Spies In My Heart’,  the lush soundscapes present on ‘The Swan Of Meander’ and ‘Good Life’, and the quiet desolation of ‘Two Good Lives’ are among the record’s finest moments, but it’s excellent throughout.

8. The Hundred In The Hands – Red Night

The Hundred In The Hands - Red Night

The Hundred In The Hands – Red Night

The second album from NY electro-indie duo The Hundred In The Hands is mainly here because ‘Faded’ is, to me, a jaw-dropping heartbreaker of a song, but to be fair there’s more to this record than just that one song. The sun-kissed melancholy of ‘Recognise’, the darkly danceable ‘Keep It Low’ and the throbbing, widescreen shimmer of ‘Tunnels’ should provide you with plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more.

7. Purity Ring – Shrines

Purity Ring - Shrines

Purity Ring – Shrines

Forget brostep, Purity Ring have probably created the best record featuring 2-step beats that’s been released all year (disclaimer: I know nothing about dubstep). Seriously though, wonderfully atmospheric synths and skittering beats combine with mesmerisingly ethereal vocals make Shrines one of the year’s most compelling records, with ‘Fineshrine’ and ‘Obedear’ being particular standouts.

6. Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

What is there to say about this record that hasn’t already been said?It’s the album that single-handedly made ‘folk-step’ a thing, and by now you surely know where you stand on the Mercury-winning band – personally, I thought Alt-J were deserving victors thanks to their inventive debut. And yes, it’s better than the Django Django album, in case you were wondering.

5. 2:54 – 2:54

2:54 - 2:54

2:54 – 2:54

The debut record from the Thurlow sisters may have stuck firmly to a singular aesthetic, but can you blame them when it’s as well realised as this? Rarely do debut records sound this self-assured, but 2:54 make it look easy. Flawlessly executed throughout, from the passionate whirlwind of ‘Revolving’ all the way through to the razor-edged tension of ‘Creeping’, 2:54 is a record to lose yourself in.

4. Team Me – To The Treetops!

Team Me - To The Treetops!

Team Me – To The Treetops!

In the absence of a new Los Campesinos! record, Norwegian sextet Team Me did an admirable job of filling my need for twee, yet full-blooded indie pop. Bittersweet lyrics, ridiculously long song titles, chaotically beautiful soundscapes and euphoric gang vocals mean that all the right ingredients are here for a record that’s as likely to break your heart as it is to leave you with a big, silly grin on your face. Besides, any band who namedrop Patrick Wolf are alright in my book.

3. The XX – Coexist

The XX - Coexist

The XX – Coexist

Having proved themselves to be masters of late-night, atmospheric intimacy on their debut, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that The XX reduced me to an emotional wreck within about three listens of Coexist. At first I feared that it lacked the magic of their first album, but then the emotional one-two punch of ‘Sunset’ and ‘Missing’ hit me with full force and left me like putty in their hands. A record for anyone who’s ever loved, lost, or hoped for a second chance.

2. FOE – Bad Dream Hotline

FOE - Bad Dream Hotline

FOE – Bad Dream Hotline

In a world of dull, identikit popstars, FOE represents a swift and vicious punch to the face , in much the same way that album-opener ‘Ballad For The Brainkeepers’ doesn’t take long to hit you like a battering ram.  Unafraid to get the knives out for money-grabbing, fame hungry artists (‘Tyrant Song’, ‘Get Money’, ‘Genie In A Coke Can’) while simultaneously presenting Hannah Clark’s own impeccable pop-rock vision (‘Jailhouse’, ‘The Black Lodge’, ‘Cold Hard Rock’), Bad Dream Hotline is exactly the kind of record that should be celebrated as ‘pop’ in my own skewed version of the world.

1. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory

Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Despite my limited listening this year, I’m actually pretty confident that Attack On Memory would be my number one record regardless. The change of style took me aback when I first heard it, but I quickly grew to love the angrier, more agressive new Cloud Nothings. ‘No Future/No Past’ and ‘No Sentiment’ are vicious highlights, but it’s ‘Wasted Days’ that’s really indicative of this record’s ambition – a nine-minute downward spiral of furious self-loathing, built around the repeated mantra of “I thought I could be more than this,” it should well and truly obliterate any preconceptions you had about this band.

Listen to all the albums on this list on Spotify here.

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Under This Weather: An Iceland Airwaves Adventure, pt II

Welcome to part two of this review/travelogue of my visit to this year’s Iceland Airwaves festival in Reykjavik. If you haven’t seen part one already, may I suggest clicking here. If you have, then let me continue from where I left off…

Friday 2nd November

As the ominous notices posted around our hotel indicated, the high winds that had been present throughout Thursday got much worse overnight – we’re talking 40 mph winds, strong enough to knock me off my feet and blow Alex across the road as soon as we leave our hotel. We’re supposed to be going to the Blue Lagoon today, but as we stand around uncertainly in the lobby clutching our swimming towels and waiting for pickup, we’re eventually told that all the buses have been cancelled. The postponement of our trip actually proves to be a blessing in disguise, as it means we can go watch more bands. The day is mostly spent in a bar called Hressó in the centre of town, where they have a tent set up in the courtyard. Throughout the afternoon we hear some indie-pop from Passwords, a slice of luscious folkiness from Half Moon Run, and the hit-and miss electro of Doldrums – half the time they nail an interesting, expansive sound, but the other half is a mess of mis-matched beats and aimless scratching. We also catch FM Belfast percussionist Borko playing in a fish restaurant – his off-kilter, often melancholy alt-pop is a genuine surprise by comparison, but a very pleasant one nonetheless.

The afternoon’s most engaging set is provided by Reykjavik locals Retro Stefson, whose sound ranges from the anarchic, African-tinged ‘Kimba’ to the sleek, cutting-edge electro-pop of ‘Qween’. The tent is packed and very much ready to party, with frontman Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson oozing charisma and even leading us through a simple but effective synchronised dance routine at one point (jump four steps to the right, jump four steps to the left, repeat) – it’s daft, but it’s a lot of fun.

For dinner, we continue our theme of going to a restaurant and not eating anything vaguely appropriate with Tabasco’s, a Mexican place in the centre of town. I admittedly get closest with a large rack of BBQ ribs, while Alex has an Icelandic fish soup, and Pete goes for a very nice piece of salmon.

Alex and I then make our way over to Fríkirkjan in order to get a good spot for Patrick Wolf – Pete, not being the biggest Wolf fan, heads off in search of alternative entertainment. The church is actually rather lovely inside, though the sight-lines aren’t exactly the best for the purposes of a gig – fortunately, we’re early enough to bag ourselves seat next to the aisle, so that’s not a problem for us at least. Icelandic singer-songwriter Lay Low provides our warm-up, opening with a couple of songs on acoustic guitar before being joined by a full band. Her folky songs are sweetly sung, and there are even a few sung in Icelandic, whose lyrics are inspired by some of the countries female poets – they’re particularly lovely regardless of my complete lack of understanding.

Even with the church crammed to capacity, Patrick Wolf takes his sweet time appearing, but he’s worth the wait and his performance is sublime throughout. Highlights include the ever-beautiful ‘London’, a never-more-appropriate rendition of ‘This Weather’ (“the storm blows around this harbour town…”), the stirring ‘Overture’ and the stripped-back version of ‘Vulture’ that sounds the way it probably should have all along. He’s accompanied, as ever, by violinist Victoria Sutherland, but he’s also joined on stage by his sister Jo Apps for a couple of songs – her haunting vocals make tonight’s rendition of ‘Teignmouth’ spine-tinglingly good. Alex tells me after the gig that it’s one of the best she’s ever seen (by any artist, period), which surprises me – not because it was at all bad, it’s been wonderful in fact. It’s only now that I realise why – having never been disappointed by Patrick Wolf in the 10(!) times I’ve seen him before today, I’ve sort of come to take these things for granted. But all things considered, this is probably the best Patrick Wolf performance I’ve seen in the past few years – and he seems genuinely humble and happy to be here.

We could probably go home satisfied after that to be honest, but the night is young and we decide our next stop should be Gamli Gaukurinn, where Icelandic classic rock band The Vintage Caravan prove to be entertaining and (unintentionally) amusing, even if they’re not really my sort of thing. We’re really here to see what Thee Attacks have to offer in a fully electric capacity, and I must admit their show makes a lot more sense this way. It’s a brazen display of lust-driven rock and cocky showmanship from Jimmy Attack, who commandeers a guitar that’s been left backstage after his own breaks, and at one point suspends himself from the lighting rig whilst continuing to sing into a dangling microphone. There’s nothing desperately new or original about what they’re doing, but the Danish band are worth watching for the showmanship alone.

Finally, because one FM Belfast party just wasn’t enough, we head back to Harpa to re-unite with Pete and catch their headline set at Silfurberg. See part one of this review for more details, but suffice to say their show still works on a larger scale, pretty much matching Wednesday’s performance for sheer fun factor -and it makes me very much happy to be here.

Saturday 3rd November

It’s fair to say that Iceland Airwaves throws up its fair share of oddities. For example, one of the ‘off-venue’ locations is in fact a very small house (more of a shed, really) in the town square, where artists play to about three or four people (and anyone else who wishes to stand outside and listen. It is there that we find ourselves watching oddball Icelandic folk-punk band Pollapönk at three in the afternoon, and it’s a slightly surreal experience. Ólafur Arnalds takes his turn in the shed a little later, playing a three song set that’s as soothing as the weather is cold. We also catch Low Roar playing some delicate solo tracks at a record shop inside Harpa.

Dinner comes courtesy of Icelandic Fish & Chips, which is a little bit tricky to find (it’s slightly to the west of the central area) but worth a visit. They basically offer a more refined take on your traditional British chippy, with neat little chunks of fish instead of a single large portion, crispy potatoes instead of deep-fried chips, and a variety of different sauces on offer. I decided to try a fish that’s imaginatively titled ‘Red Fish’ – by doing so, I discover that it’s actually a white fish, so I can only assume it’s red on on the outside.

Musically, Fríkirkjan is our first stop for the evening once again. We arrive to find Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason’s performance of their avant-guarde classical work Solaris already underway. Personally, I struggle to engage with it – there are sections towards the end that are quite impressive, but it proves a little too formless more often than not. There’s also a slightly awkward moment at the end where the music appears to have stopped for a good 15-20 seconds before the audience finally starts applauding. But perhaps the silence is, in fact, part of the composition? If so, I guess it confirms that such things are far above my puny musical brain.

I’m really here to see Daughter though – Alex contemplates fighting her way out of the building to go see Sin Fang again, but ultimately decides to have a bit of a power nap in the pews instead. I basically can’t see anything at all as we’re in the back corner of the church, but musically their performance is wonderful. The fragile emotions of ‘Candles , the stark love/hate dynamics of ‘Landfill’ and the trembling atmospherics of ‘Youth’ are all beautiful highlights of the band’s set, and they seem overawed by both the setting and the crowd’s response. If tonight’s performance is anything to go by, 2013 is going to be a big year for them.

We then head back to Iðnó so we’re not left out in the cold later on. Ólöf Arnarlds (yes, she’s Ólafur Arnalds’ cousin) is playing when we arrive, but her floaty voice is a little too Joanna Newsom for our liking. Sweden’s I Break Horses prove to be a more entertaining proposition – I was hoping to give them another chance after not being able to give them  a fair appraisal at Latitude this year, and their performance here seems more impressive. Occasionally their sound does verge on being too hazy and indistinct, but more often than not they really nail their electro-shoegaze aesthetic – ‘Hearts’ and ‘Winter Beats’ are particularly successful in that regard. While not one of my absolute festival highlights, they nevertheless proved very enjoyable.

I was quite looking forward to seeing US post-punks Diiv, but their show proves to be a disappointment for a couple of reasons. First, the sound is absolute crap, as whoever is mixing is doing a pretty awful job of keeping things balanced, and over-compensating for that with the volume. Secondly, the band themselves fall into a trap of repetition, to the point where I experience déjà vu on more than one occasion. “Have I heard this song before?” I think to myself –  no, but it sure feels like it. By the time ‘Doused’ comes along to inject a bit of variety into proceedings, the sound is so bad that it sounds like the engineer has decided to sack his job off entirely and just whacked all the faders up to full – the song’s urgent guitar lines are buried under the weight of bass and drums, making it feel like an exercise in squandered potential.

I’ve heard via Twitter that Patrick Wolf is playing a DJ set at some sort of ‘Pink Party’ that’s being held at a nearby hotel, so naturally Alex is very keen to go there. And thus I spend my last 1000 Krona on entry to a gay night – we then stay for about two songs, one of which is ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba, the other of which is some Godawful piece of shit I’ve never heard before in my life. With no sign of Patrick Wolf behind the decks, we decide to leave and come back later (I actually walk right past him as we leave, but am completely oblivious to the fact until Alex points it out).

On a tip from Alex’s friend Nik and an intriguing description in the program, we head over to Þýski Barinn/Deutsche Bar. I’m really glad we did, as Elektro Guzzi prove to be an absolute revelation. On record, they don’t necessarily sound much different to a lot of other dance acts – but live, they play all their music using just drums, guitar and bass (and presumably a fuckload of effects pedals). The result is a thrilling, constantly evolving, non-stop feast of propulsive sound – think Battles gone techno and you’re pretty much right on target. They’re probably my best surprise discovery of the festival.

After that, it’s back to Hotel Borg, where Patrick Wolf’s DJ set is well underway – the mix of music we hear starts out with a  selection of empowerment-friendly female-sung anthems (Florence & The Machine, Gossip, Lykki Li) and ends up sounding like every other Saturday night in my recent existence (Rihanna, LMFAO, Azealia Banks). We decide it’s time to leave again when Patrick disappears without warning and his replacement starts playing something that sounds like someone vomiting on a track by The Knife.

We make it back to Deutsche Bar in time to catch the very end of Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán. Their music is basically what would have happened if Europe were a shit punk band – terrible, but hilarious. After that, we end up in Factory, where after spending a while in the queue we’re eventually let inside the packed out venue to bear witness to both Icelandic hip-hop (Emmsjé Gauti) and Icelandic dubstep (Hermergervill) – both things I of I never thought I’d find myself listening to, but there you go. I end up dancing with some crazy woman from Estonia, and the venue winds up at about half four in the morning – I decide to make the short walk back to the hotel, while Alex and Nik continue on to find the after-after-party.

Pete’s awake when I get back, and we’re both still chatting when Alex returns shortly after, having beaten a hasty retreat from some weird, dimly-lit nightclub where a whole bunch of Icelandic people were making out. I almost wish I’d stuck around, if only out of morbid curiosity.

Sunday 4th November

Sunday is about two things – the Blue Lagoon, and Sigur Rós. The stormy weather of the past few days has all but disappeared – the sun is out, the air is still and it’s a positively tropical 4-5 degrees, making the trip infinitely more pleasant than it would have been on Friday. It’s also a good chance to relax after the past few hectic days, so visiting on Sunday turned out for the best in more ways than one. The warm, milky waters of the lagoon are reputed to be good for the skin, as is the silica mud that’s available to use as a face mask – I don’t know if it’s just a placebo effect, but my skin does feel a little softer after my visit. Without wishing to ruin the romance of the place, the water in the lagoon actually comes from the nearby geothermal power plant – even Icelandic entertainment is environmentally conscious.

After we get back to Reykjavik, we walk a couple of blocks from our hotel to Svarta Kaffi (Black Coffee), where we have one of the best meals of the holiday. The concept is simple – get a decent-sized circular loaf of bread, hollow it out, and fill it with soup. The restaurant offers both a meat and vegetarian option, which changes daily depending on what ingredients are available. Pete and I go for the meat soup, which is chilli and lamb, while Alex takes the vegetarian one, ginger and coriander. It’s also pretty damn good value, and with a sizeable amount of bread to go at you can’t really complain about going hungry (I eventually manage to finish the lot, though I wouldn’t blame you for giving up). A group of friendly locals call us a cab, and then we’re off to Laugardalshöllin, despite my utter failure to pronounce the name of the venue correctly to the taxi driver.

Fortunately, he understands that we want to go see Sigur Rós, and we’re not the only ones – there’s a long, snaking queue outside the venue. The gig takes place in a dark, featureless barn of a room, and the band make us wait an hour past their advertised stage time with nothing more than an ambient drone as a soundtrack, but when they finally take to the stage, such gripes are forgotten. Tonight’s show features both a re-vamped version of the band’s stage show, in which spectacular videos are projected alongside the music, and the debut of a brand new song ‘Brennisteinn’ (‘Brimstone’ – or sulphur, if you prefer. Perhaps it’s a nod to Iceland’s geothermal power, and the fact their hot water smells like eggs because of its sulphur content?). Beyond that, I won’t attempt to gush about specific songs or regale you in any great detail, but suffice to say the band’s performance is imposing and breathtakingly powerful. Like the casual fan that I am, my ‘moment’ comes during ‘Hoppípolla’ – and in an instance that seems all-too rare for me these days, I feel like I can forget everything else while I’m listening to it. That it somehow actually means something because of that. Which could be considered ironic, given that the song is sung in a nonsense dialect of a language I don’t even understand in the first place, but I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of my enjoyment. It’s a reminder that, at its best, music can overcome any such barriers – and tonight, Sigur Rós were absolutely transcendent.

Monday 5th November

This journey ends as it began – on a plane, sleep-deprived, contemplating how different things will be when we arrive. I feel like I’ve seen so much, yet only just scratched the surface of Iceland and its music scene. To be honest, I wish I’d had the opportunity to spend a little more time in Reykjavik before and after the festival – fear not, I tell myself, you’ll be back some day…

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Briefings From Beacons

While this won’t be as sprawling as some of my other festival reviews, I figured I should offer some thoughts on this weekend’s festival, as a) Joe of Please Please You was kind enough to offer me guestlist for it and b) I just read a somewhat unfairly negative review on Louder Than War that talked about precisely one band (and even then didn’t make it fully clear which band they meant). But I wouldn’t want to gloss over some of the negative aspects of the event, so lets get them out of the way first. Yes, there weren’t enough toilets – I definitely felt a bit sorry for all the female attendees and families with young kids, as the free-standing urinals in the arena mostly alleviated that issue for me. Yes, I couldn’t see any water points in the arena, and a lack of signage on the campsite made it appear that there was only one malfunctioning water tap to serve a few thousand people (this wasn’t actually the case, but I’d only realise this halfway through Sunday). Were these factors enough to ruin the weekend for me? Not really, no, though maybe I’d have been more pissed about it if I’d have paid for the privilege of being there. Anyway, if you want to read a load of moaning about that and other stuff, go have a look at Louder Than War’s review if you so desire – no, I’m not linking it – I’m here to talk about the music.

Friday

Friday was mostly spent wandering around, taking in bits of various bands and trying to find something that would really hold my interest – the brooding post-rock of Post War Glamour Girls gets things off to a reasonable start, but York locals Fawn Spots are the first big hit of the day for me. Their new lineup comes as a surprise to me – following the departure of original drummer Lee Bowden (an amicable split, I’ve been assured), Sean Joseph Hughes has stepped in behind the kit, with Oli Grabowski (aka Endangered Species) providing additional guitar and backing vocals. While the chemistry between Bowden and frontman Jon Meager will be missed, the three-piece sound remarkably tight considering they’ve been together less than a week. They also play two brand new songs (again, written less than a week ago), suggesting that Fawn Spots MK 2 have a bountiful future ahead of them.

Over on the main stage Theme Park play an almost inappropriately tropical-sounding set given the overcast weather, while Disclosure have a bit of a nightmare in the dance tent. They start out with ‘Control’, but the volume isn’t high enough for the crowd’s liking – and they’ve got a fair point. Things go from bad to worse when it appears that the speakers have blown – and when the performance gets started again, they duo only last a couple more songs before the sound dies again and they’re forced to abandon their set entirely. With Julio Bashmore cancelling due to illness on top of that, I can’t help but feel that there will have been a lot of disappointed Friday day-ticket holders…

More meandering ensues, and after Veronica Falls prove pretty dull, Runaround Kids do a pretty good job of livening things up again by at least vaguely reminding me of Johnny Foreigner in places. Hey Sholay win the prize at this point in the day though, their cheery, infectious indie-pop fully invigorating me again. Most of my time after that is spent impatiently waiting for Factory Floor, and happily they don’t disappoint – my only minor complaint is that they keep teasing me with things that sound a bit like their 2011 single ‘(R E A L L O V E)’ without actually playing it, their krautrock-inspired electronica is utterly mesmerising in its repetitiveness nevertheless.

After that, Peace keep me somewhat entertained by at least alluding to various bands I like (Wild Beasts, Friendly Fires, The Horrors, Foals) without necessarily being quite as good as any of them, while Roots Manuva provides a definite feel-good vibe with his main stage headline set. It’s Savages who provide me with one last surprise for the day though, their intense, visceral brand of post-punk coming across like an all-female version of early Joy Division – yes, that good; I was genuinely blown away.

Saturday

I didn’t actually realise this coming into the festival, but Saturday proved to be the strongest day overall in terms of the lineup for me. The Magnetic North and Stalking Horse both impress me early on, and Juffage demonstrates his multi-instrumental talents with a performance that I somehow feel would be even more impressive in a smaller venue – I make a mental note to try and get to his next show at The Basement in York.

2:54 have made one of my most-loved albums of this year, and they’re on fine form on the main stage, with ‘Creeping’ sounding particularly majestic. Future Of The Left follow up with an earsplittingly loud and vicious performance, while Japandroids demonstrate their frenetic energy with a set of lo-fi noise-pop. Later on, Ghostpoet gets the crowd suitably fired up with tracks from last year’s Mercury-nominated debut album Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam, and it feels like he’s really grown in confidence over the last year or so. His fans respond in kind, particularly to the upbeat optimism of ‘Liiines’, but it’s ‘Cash And Carry Me Home’ that takes on a new life as a live track and becomes a brilliantly unlikely festival smash hit.

Junior Boys prove pleasant if somewhat anonymous, but that doesn’t really matter because after that it’s time for Wild Beasts. It’s only been a month since I saw them headlining Latitude, and while the set is fairly similar, it’s no less exhilarating – and this time round they have time to play ‘Two Dancers (i)’, which is an absolute favourite of mine. The fact that it’s a homecoming show of sorts means that the atmosphere is pleasantly lively and the crowd are in “fine voice” as Hayden Thorpe puts it – the mass chorus of “boy, what you running from?” during ‘Lion’s Share’ is a spine-tingling moment. Oh, and the Pussy Riot masks during the encore were a nice touch. I come away from the band’s performance with the feeling that they really are one of the most important bands of the current generation. Yeah, I went there.

Sunday

There’s a grand piano on the main stage on Sunday, which I can only assume is there for Patrick Wolf – but that doesn’t stop both Goodnight Lenin and Admiral Fallow making good use of it early in the day. Unfortunately, I can’t quite buy into Frankie & The Heartstrings despite their energetic performance – they just seems a little bit Futureheads-lite to me. The Wave Pictures, on the other hand, prove to be a much more entertaining indie-pop proposition, and Hookworms also impress with their mix of motorik rhythms and blissful noise.

Both the rain and my own fatigue lead me to stay put on the main stage for the next few hours, where I almost start to feel I’ve spent as much time watching bands soundcheck as I have actually watching live music. Perhaps the organisers were erring on the side of caution, but 40 minute changeovers seem overly generous even for a festival main stage. Both Errors and Lanterns On The Lake are kept to strict half-hour time limits because of this – the inventive electro-rock of the former and the swooning post-rock of the latter are both deserving of longer sets.

The changeover for Patrick Wolf somehow manages to go on for 50 minutes despite the fact he’s playing an acoustic set with only two other musicians, but fortunately it’s worth the wait. It’s admittedly a bit of an odd fit for a festival main stage at half 7 in the evening – particularly with the throbbing bass echoing over from the dance tent – but fortunately the songs are strong enough to prevail even in this acoustic capacity. The set’s fairly heavy on material from Lupercalia, highlights of which include ‘Time Of My Life’ and ‘House’, but it’s the older songs that really work for me, with ‘Paris’ being my ultimate favourite. Patrick also sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to a guy in the crowd called Paul before playing ‘Hard Times’, which I guess is probably the closest I’ll get to being personally serenaded by the man himself. The crowd are receptive throughout, creating a quiet but nevertheless magical atmosphere – and it’s clear that Patrick is enjoying himself too.

To round things off, mad genius Thomas Truax plays to a packed-out Into The Woods tent, crafting bizarre, hypnotic tales with his home-made instruments, before Cloud Nothings bring the weekend to an invigorating close with their muscular indie-rock. The sound’s a little muddy at first, but it’s cleared up in time for the band’s intense extended run-through of ‘Wasted Days’, and the closing pair of ‘No Sentiment’ and ‘No Future/No Past’ are both vicious and victorious in equal measure. It’s a fine way to round off what’s ultimately been a very good weekend.

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Let’s Get Cynical About Leeds Festival 2011, pt II: Saturday

Leeds Festival

On Saturday, I awake to find someone in a nearby tent is playing Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’. Why would you do such a thing? Anyway, it’s onwards to the arena again for day two of Leeds Festival.

Out of morbid curiosity, I stick my head in the Festival Republic tent while Cherri Bomb are playing. Turns out they’re basically a cock-rock band – except without the actual cocks, being as they’re one of only two all-female bands on the entire festival bill (to my knowledge, anyway). Moving on, Pulled Apart By Horses proceed to tear up the NME/Radio 1 Stage despite it being only midday. They play three vicious-sounding new songs among the more familiar material from their debut record, and all four members dive into the crowd after set-closer ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’. Leeds, that was your wake-up call.

I’m a little disappointed to have to miss Islet, but one my cousins is playing at the same time, and I’d feel like a bit of a dick if I didn’t go support him . Thankfully, he’s actually in a decent band; upcoming Leeds four-piece Circles. Playing on the BBC Introducing Stage, they carry themselves well for a band who’ve not even been together a whole year yet, delivering bursts of wirey, energetic post-punk to a receptive crowd.

I decide I can’t really be bothered to trudge back through the mud for Miles Kane, so I stick around to catch The Bronze Medal. I figure any band that shares its name with an Idlewild song can’t be all bad, and my suspicions turn out to be correct – although they don’t sound anything like that band, the Bath-based group craft a fine line in mellow, spacious post-rock, with floaty guitars and luscious harmonies.

Over on the Dance Stage, Mount Kimbie are crafting intriguing slices of ambient dubstep, but despite the name of the stage it seems it’s a little early in the day for them to really get the crowd going. Crystal Fighters, on the other hand, have no such trouble – despite starting late due to copious dicking around during their soundcheck, they quickly have the crowd moving with their quirky electro-rock. They eventually get chucked off the stage for overrunning – I guess everyone involved was just having too much of a good time.

Back on the NME/Radio 1 stage, Patrick Wolf is as fantastic as ever, even if his set does lean very heavily on his newest record, Lupercalia. There are excursions for ‘Damaris’, ‘The Libertine’, and a pretty much obligatory run-through of ‘The Magic Position’, but other than that it’s all his most recent stuff. Not that that’s really a bad thing – ‘Armistice’ provides a suitably stirring opener, while ‘Bermondsey Street’ and ‘The City’ are both moments of pure joy – but the selfish part of me always wants to hear more of his older material. He also invites Katie Harkin (of Sky Larkin) on stage to perform backing vocals on ‘Together’ – and to be honest it’s a shame they don’t take the opportunity to perform ‘The Future’ as well, because she’s got a gorgeous voice. (As an aside, you should definitely check out Sky Larkin if you haven’t already.) Regardless of my gripes, it’s always enjoyable to spend time in the company of Patrick Wolf and his music.

Next up on the same stage are Metronomy, who also play a set that favours tracks from their most recent album – but by contrast, I think it’s pretty much perfect. They cherry-pick the best tracks from The English Riviera – ‘Love Underlined’, ‘She Wants’, ‘The Look’, ‘The Bay’ – as well as playing rejuvenated versions of older songs such as ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Radio Ladio’. It’s amazing what a few years can do to your opinion of a band – I recall being bored to death when I saw Metronomy back in 2007, and yet today they don’t put a foot wrong.

Rather than hang around as the inevitable swarm of festival knobheads descends on the tent to see The Vaccines, I head over to the Festival Republic Stage to gain first-hand experience of Mercury-nominated bellower Anna Calvi. Much to my surprise, I don’t find her powerful voice to be as excruciating as it easily could be – by the end of the set I seem to have developed enough of a resistance that even the dramatics of ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ don’t hurt my ears. And fair play to the girl, she can definitely play the guitar as well – her set won’t go down as an essential part of my weekend, but I enjoy it far more than I thought I would.

White Denim are introduced by the DJ/Compere as “one of the best live bands in the world” – and then proceed to spend the next 40 minutes putting a hell of a lot of weight behind that claim. Their experimental rock feels like it sits in the place where garage rock and math-rock collide, its breezy, upbeat feel combining with some utterly exceptional musicianship to create something that’s instantly spectacular. Colour me impressed.

Like DFA1979 the day before, Tom Vek is another artist who passed me by when he was first around in the mid-2000s. Back with his first album in 6 years, he’s not showing any signs of rustiness during a slick set of his infectious electro-indie. When he drops ‘A Chore’ and ‘I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes’ back to back, the crowd respond in a big way – cementing the fact that Tom Vek’s performance is a highly enjoyable experience rather than just a hipster box-ticking exercise. “That was a lot of fun, Leeds!” he says at the end of the set – and the feeling’s mutual.

On the other hand, Digitalism seem like they might better off on the Dance Stage, with the likes of ‘2 Hearts’ and ‘Circles’ passing by without things really kicking off. It’s clear that they’re not used to having to work this hard to get a rise out of the crowd, as evidenced by the fact that an imposing, bearded German man has to tell us to “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” three times before getting a reaction he deems satisfactory. “ARE YOU READY FOR JUMP?” he shouts, to a fairly tepid response – and so his wirey, blonde-haired counterpart takes matters into his own hands and leads by example, finally getting the whole tent jumping along with him.

Unfortunately, the result of that particular piece of audience interaction is that the crowd at the front of the tent (myself included) are now packed together like sardines – a situation not helped by the fact that The Horrors seem to have attracted enough people to fill the tent to bursting. I try not to let the cramped conditions affect my enjoyment of the band’s set – and to be fair to them, they absolutely nail it. ‘Changing The Rain’ opens the set with a widescreen, woozy swagger, ‘Who Can Say’ and ‘Endless Blue’ both get the crowd moving in full force, and ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is just as glorious live as it is on record.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly – until an abrupt power outage cuts ‘Still Life’ short. But then, after a brief chorus of boos, something a little bit magical happens – as the band defiantly light cigarettes on stage, the crowd spontaneously break into the song’s chorus of “When you wake up/when you wake up/you will find me.” Power is eventually restored, and the band roar back into action – ‘Mirror’s Image’ cements this moment as a triumph in the face of adversity, with the band’s pent-up frustration being unleashed in a snarled, furious storm of noise. Proceedings are ended in spectacular style with the expansive, pulsating ‘Moving Further Away’, and Faris Badwan’s reaction seems genuinely humble – “thank you Leeds, you’ve been the best crowd we’ve had for a long time.” The chants for an encore are thoroughly deserved – but at 10 minutes past the 11pm curfew, they will remain sadly unfulfilled. Sunday, you’ve got some work to do if you’re going to top that.

Find a Spotify playlist with some of the day’s hightlights here.

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(Some Of) The Songs Of The Year So Far.

Seems that everyone and their blog is talking about their ‘X best albums of the year so far’. Screw that – but here’s a bunch of songs instead. A few of these might not be my absolute favourites from their respective albums, but I’m just working with what I could find on Soundcloud. That said, here they are, in no particular order of preference. Continue reading

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Patrick Wolf Streams New Album (But Only If You’re In The UK, Sorry)

Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia

More streaming action today courtesy of The Guardian and Patrick Wolf. Yep, you can listen to his new album Lupercalia right here – unfortunately, you can only hear the tracks in full if you’re in the UK (you can thank We7 for that, non-UK readers).

Having been fortunate enough to hear the album before now (look out for my review on Muso’s Guide some time next week), I can tell you that it’s yet another stylistic shift for Patrick. Gone is the aggression and melodrama that often defined The Bachelor – in its place, you’ll find a more upbeat, optimistic view on life and love. It’s not all ultra-cheery pop in the vein of lead single ‘The City’ though – ‘The Days’ sees Patrick longing for an escape from loneliness, while ‘Time Of My Life’ sees him standing defiant and moving on from a previous relationship. There’s also a sense that he may have finally found contentment after all these turbulent years, if the heartfelt lyrics of ‘House’ are anything to go by. Watch the video for it below:

Lupercalia is released on Hideout records on the 20th June.

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Soundsphere Magazine Broadens Its Horizons

Soundsphere Magazine

For those who may not be familiar with it, Soundsphere Magazine is a York-based alternative music magazine. Headed up by the ever-enthusiastic Dom Smith, they released their first print edition last winter, covering artists such as Placebo, Gary Numan and Rammstein. Their second issue is due out at the end of June, and sees them expanding their coverage considerably, going from their alt-rock/goth/metal roots to cover a wide variety of indie, rock, metal and electronic artists. Enter Shikari are the new issue’s cover stars, and the magazine also features artists as varied as Patrick Wolf, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Pendulum, The Pigeon Detectives, Skindred and Killing Joke. There’s also support for local artists too, with features on Officers and Hungry Ghosts. For more information on the magazine and how you can get your hands on a copy, check out this page on the Soundsphere Magazine website.

For more from Soundsphere Magazine, go to www.soundspheremag.com

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