Monthly Archives: October 2010

Five-oh!

Cock and Bull TV is one of those good ideas. They are an online music show, is the crux of it, but the shows consist of live recordings and interviews with the bands therein, and to make that happen, they put on free gigs in Shebeen. If you can’t guess my attitude to free gigs, click ‘June’ in the sidebar there, and then ‘July’ and ‘August’.

I’ve watched some of the videos from the older ones. Wounds is good.

Squarehead is too.

Now, the interviews are obviously more RTE teen presenter than ultimate exposition of authorial intentions or anything. But still.

So episode 4 was being filmed in Shebeen, with Sacred Animals, Tieranniesaur and Girls Names.

Sacred Animals were first, fresh from the whole ‘one of the most blogged-about bands in the world’ thing, which seems like an anomaly that might keep popping up, given that Adebisi Shank had the same honour when Nialler included them on the MAP thing. Always dangerous being the favourite.

The confusing thing with Sacred Animals for me is that they’re patently good. There’s a purity to the sound, and it sounds tight and talented as you could hope for. And it’s even pretty original, though Radiohead is a comparison it’s probably impossible to shake without going death metal. But it doesn’t grab me. The melodies just don’t seem to resolve into anything memorable, and the songs don’t really go anywhere. It’s frustrating, because if they did, they’d instantly be a good band. Everything else in place. But instead, it just feels like waiting through elegant-sounding music. Maybe on another night, in another mood.

Tieranniesaur, on the other hand, isn’t elegant sounding at all. With a comedic short-people-in-front, tall-people-at-the-back arrangement on stage, they make surprisingly meaty music for a Popical Island supergroup of sorts. The lyrics might be twee every now and then, but the musical touchstones aren’t twee at all – Jackson Five, AC/DC and Cassandra’s band from Wayne’s World, from where I was standing. They’re lots of fun, and in a different scenario (without cameras and the not-quite-into-it-enough Girls Names/Sacred Animals/Cock and Bull crowd), there would have been every danger of a dance party breaking out. As expected, Sketch from Popical Island #1 was the most fun, with something approaching gang vocals for the word ‘bollocks’, but there isn’t a song without a hook, and it is worth a note in my head anyway that ‘shambly’ isn’t a word that could apply to them at all.

Then it was 11.15pm and I had to leave for the bus. Girls Names, some day.

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Here in my chest where you burst, I keep the crush and the weight of the world.

Sometimes a place develops a relationship with a band that’s beyond just being ordinary attendees of their gigs and listening to their music. To our eternal national shame, we made careers for Josh Ritter and David Gray by becoming strangely attached to their music when no-one else was. It’s not like Future Islands are that much more popular here than anywhere else, but I think both Dublin and Samuel T. Herring are aware that it’s a little different when they come here.

I don’t know what it is. I wasn’t at any of the previous gigs, so I couldn’t really speculate. When the guy said “we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time” he seemed unusually sincere for someone bloating up the home crowd’s ego. I think he was telling the truth.

Anyway, before talking about Future Islands there’s a few other things to countenance. This was my first visit to the Workman’s Club. Seems a decent place. The wooden floor makes a sound when you stamp on it, which is usually a bad omen, but the sound was fine and the size and shape of the place, with no bar in the actual venue area itself, is good. Tentative thumbs up to the Workman’s Club. Not a workman, but if I was I’d be proud to be associated with it.

The next thing: Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands. There’s minor meme status to the fact that they, along with Squarehead, play all the time, but I haven’t seen them in a long time. And they’re different now. Tighter, and any attempts to keep calling them ‘freak folk’ will fall flat. There’s a confidence to them, and their new, meatier stuff, obviously forking off from the last Ariel Pink album in certain cases, is excellent. Also, what we can probably confidently call the Album 2 iteration of the band, even though it’s the same, can’t help but benefit in some vague sense from the fact that most of them have some profile in their own right now – you’re watching Catscars, School Tour and Hunter-Gatherer formed like Voltron, not just the Cold Dead Hands.

One particular high point was the song where Robyn (Catscars) left the stage, watched from the floor, then came back up to do a falling piano version of some dubstep high-end over a huge climax. Paddy and Ger’s duelling vocals, too, brought a new energy. Going exciting places, this Patrick Kelleher.

So then Future Islands. Like I said, I haven’t seen them before. I came to Future Islands on their last album, In Evening Air, with the vague knowledge that they had this live reputation. At first I was confused. I’m pretty sure a lot of people are confused. Here’s this post-new wave synth stuff, vaguely fragile sounding and maybe even saleable if the right whining fringe sang over it. But then there’s Samuel Herring.

Uncanny, is a good word for his voice. It’s one of the knots to untie with Future Islands, the fact that he doesn’t speak like a semi-aristocratic mid-Atlantic school tie old boy. He does sing like one. But it’s so far gone it doesn’t feel like an affectation. It feels like a character, something to transform into to let out all these ultra personal emotions that come through their songs – unrequited love, fucking up, being far away and a lot of other sad things.

I’ve been doing a little thinking about characters as indie band singers lately, apropos Kevin Barnes’ attempt to explain that he’s not roleplaying as Georgie Fruit any more, but it’s still a character. Authenticity is one of the idols of this whole constellation of music, but punk’s not what it was in terms of influence, and the hyper-irony of self-consuming online hipster criticism is seeping into how bands approach what they do. I’m not suggesting that Sam Herring’s being ironic, because he’s probably not. He’s about as sincere a guy as you could find, down to the berserker chest-beating and the preparatory sad face he pulls during instrumental intros while he’s waiting to sing.

But it is still worth noting that, as far as my reading goes, he’s playing a character rather than just adopting a stage persona which everyone does to some degree (except Ted Leo, obviously). It adds a layer of distance between the audience and the performer to a certain extent, but it also makes it much easier on a personal level to engage with. Jamie Stewart rubs salt in his own wounds without the redemptive power of a totem character to project through. He’s hard to watch. There’s none of those moments of sunken stomach empathy and despair with Future Islands, sad as they are. In a sense, Herring and the audience experience the same character, and it’s cathartic for everyone.

This could all be bullshit, but it’s fun to think about. Without any of that stuff, this was a gig par excellence, paced a little poorly but made of great songs, enthusiastic performance and a crowd as open as you will find in Dublin short of the youth crew at their favourite band in Marlay Park. When beats dropped, people bounced. Bounced. Not shuffled awkwardly, but actually dipped in height and returned to their original height in time with the music. That was fun.

Worth not fixing my phone for three extra days. Also at this point a shout out to my cousin whose antics at the last Future Islands gig are apparently ‘infamous’ according to the singer, from the stage, while introducing the song her infamy was cemented during, last time.

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Hun-Ga

Falling behind. I could throw out the ‘so busy’ excuse – writing for various print things and editing a print thing in college (print being similar to a blog but on actual paper, if you’ve never encountered it) – but that’s mostly crap, I just sleep too much. Coming up soon, though, a 5,200 word Kevin Barnes interview transcript and maybe some new form of Irish music exposition gimmick.

Anyway, I went to see Hunter-Gatherer’s 7″ launch in Whelans. Missed Ilex, which is a bad thing because Ilex is really good, heady, beat-counting electronica from my memories of her, and seeing her again would have been nice. Arrived in time to see Meljoann though.

Meljoann’s an interesting one. She seemed, as people do every now and then, to come out of nowhere, making what Nialler was calling skweee and what (according to Meljoann in the last Totally Dublin – one of those ‘various print things’) Glasgow calls aquacrunk and America calls ‘post-Dilla’. Bristol calls it wonky, I think. Thinking about where she sits, musically, is a good thought experiment. She’s heavily into 80s and 90s R’n’B, in too deep for it to be dismissed as ironic even if it was, and that shows through. But she’s au fait with all this stumble-beat electronica coming out at the moment too. Is she knocking around the halls of what the current face of electronic music is putting out, or is she a strange hipster iteration of retro black pop?

She’s probably neither. She doesn’t exactly have her shit as watertight live as might be ideal, but she’s still someone to watch, musically. Her voice is great and her ideas are good. To me, it seemed like she came from somewhere completely outside the Dublin Osaka-y electronic scene and seemed to be isolated, but apparently there’s lots of this stuff. That’s a good thing, I think, and Meljoann’d make a good leader for it if she reduced the amount of time between songs.

Then there was Hunter-Gatherer. In the admittedly extremely microcosmic Dublin scene worldview I possess, he’s already at the top of the pile as far as electronic music goes, and I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer is one of the best Irish albums of the last while. His live shows are always incredibly intense, but it always feels like there’s one thing missing that stops it being the fully great experience it could be, and it’s never Hunter-Gatherer’s fault.

This time it was crowd talk. But outside of that, the bass was all-consuming, the screen for the visuals made him look a bit like a ghost before the visuals started, the visuals when they started were just the right type of nonconfluential, I felt, and the songs are, obviously, great. Some day I will see Hunter-Gatherer at six am in a pitch black empty section of piping in Berlin or something, and it will be the greatest gig ever. For now, these shows are more than enough to keep showing up to.

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All my identity mutations are dosed in books.

There I am, standing outside the Academy at 2.42pm, eating an apple that’s serving as a replacement for breakfast in case I need food to avoid freaking out. I’m about to meet and interview Kevin Barnes. If you want my opinion on Kevin Barnes, it’s here and here. If you don’t know who he is, he’s basically of Montreal, although you have pretty much no excuse for not knowing that.

A guy walks past me to the door with a paper bag. There are arms sticking out of it. I ask him if he’s going in, walk in with him and proceed to make small talk.

“Did you buy some arms?”
“Yeah man. 2 euro store. Some fake arms, some fake blood. And these silver gorilla masks. Gotta take advantage of the local plenty you know?”

This was David Barnes, Kevin Barnes’ brother, who did almost all of their cover art and had an excellent website full of other stuff before he took it down. I didn’t know that at the time or I would have had a bit of a fawn. Anecdote over.

Several hours later I show up to the actual gig, skillfully avoiding having to see Planet Parade. There’s a guy shouting at the bouncers after being kicked out already, within the first song. Good work MCD.

The first thing to notice about this gig relative to past of Montreal gigs is that it’s all a live band now. Where once there was a murkily-mixed backing track of programmed bass and drums, there are now talented musicians. The members who’ve been around forever have obviously had the Elephant 6 ramshackle shaken out of them at some point since the last tour. The most obvious new member is , K Ishibashi who plays violin, guitar, keyboards and bass, if I recall correctly, and also does a wicked impression of Kevin Barnes’ falsetto that leaves The Late BP Helium free stage-left to do the harmonies in a range he’s more comfortable with while he vogues and plays a double-neck guitar.

It’s strange seeing of Montreal now. Hissing Fauna was Hissing Fauna (and – get this, oM fans who are as lax in their study as I seem to be – Barnes pronounces it Fowna). The subsequent albums are, by every scientific standard, less good. But Skeletal Lamping rewarded patience, even if the urge to perform some sonic surgery to remove the ‘I’m a motherfucking headliner’ bit from the otherwise lovely Wicked Wisdom is strong as ever. And False Priest, dripped as it is in the affected falsetto sex squeal thing and confused as it might sound, is just as intriguing once you realise what it is that he’s actually saying.

They’re a better band now than they’ve ever been before, to see live. And, without the Jon Brion post-production, False Priest stuff sits incredibly well alongside the Sunlandic Twins/Hissing Fauna/Skeletal Lamping stuff. Our Riotous Defects touches Comedy Barnes, unseen for the most part since before Nina, weird sex squeal Barnes, and, on Janelle Monae’s part that he sings himself in her absence, abstract, transcendent Barnes. And Coquet Coquette could’ve sat in after She’s A Rejecter fairly comfortably, three years ago.

There was also plenty of Hissing Fauna, which is great news even to the hardiest of devotees. The live band means they can do an accelerating intro to Gronlandic Edit that drops a bomb when it actually kicks in. Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse, being the ‘hit’ in these parts as far as I can discern, goes down predictably well too. It’s weird, though. Barnes is a different person on stage, or at least a different character, than he was when he was doing this stuff the first time round. It’s post-Georgie Fruit Kevin Barnes that sings everything now, no guitar in hand, pretty much frolicking around the stage with his admittedly improved but also slightly less revelatory singing voice. That’s fine, and lots of fun. But worth noting.

And so David Barnes used the arms and the blood and the silver gorilla masks. Anthropomorphic animals in lycra battled on stage, they begged for Kevin’s blessing, they lifted him up, they faked fighting him, they played hype man for the encore and they exploded streamers and confetti from their wrists like weird abstract Spidermen. It’s a reverie, no doubt.

The encore? There’s almost always a cover. If you weren’t hep to that, check out You Ain’t No Picasso’s archive of oM’s covers. There are lots, and those are only the ones that got catalogued. They’re usually tributes to someone you can hear in their music – David Bowie features heavily, say, and so do the various 60s bands you see on the cover of Mojo, and Prince. Fittingly for Nu-Kevin, the encore in the Academy was…

Thriller! An exclamation mark there – one in every 10,000 words is apparently the guideline, so it’s probably time – to acknowledge how surprised the crowd was when the massive synth chords hit for the first time. And then two more Michael Jackson songs medley’d into it before going back to those Thriller chords to end. It’s not The Past Is A Grotesque Animal, but it was fun as hell.

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Being on the Ah Here podcast

Podcast! Right click! Download!

If you’re around here often, there’s a chance you’ve heard me talking in recorded form at some point, either doing the Analogue Hour through Bren’s expensive microphone or fucking around last summer with an entry-level Sennheiser and a sock-based muffler (which you can find in the ‘Podcast‘ section above, though podcast is an extremely generous term for what went on). I mostly just talk quite slowly and tangentially about music. You’ve had enough of that.

But introduce Sean Mc Tiernan into the equation, and you can expect fireworks. Famous for being @NoChorus on Twitter, writing about Irish memes and months of horror for the Awl and for doing the renowned Ah Here podcast, he asked me to go on, so I did. We talked about Ian MacKaye being a ‘laughable joke’, The OC being the greatest television programme ever made (it’s not) and various other pieces of referencey cultural ephemera. He’s a funny guy. I talk quite slowly and tangentially about music. Subscribe on iTunes, if you know how to do that. I don’t know how to do that.

Podcast! Right click! Download! In case you forgot last time!

Say I have some stilletos… take ’em off and test your mettle.

Popical Island is without a doubt A Good Thing, in a quite important, structural way. There are a few reasons. Firstly, they are, to some degree, a label. The Popical Island #1 compilation (which is still around on Bandcamp) put a whole bunch of excellent Irish ‘bockety pop’ bands and bedroom projects in the same place and gave it to people in a form that made them take it seriously. It’s amazingly endearing, catchy and great as a collection. Stream it at least if you haven’t heard it. It opens with So Cow literally naming places on the road to Dublin on Exclusive Express Bus Service License Blues, makes Fake Blood by Squarehead available for a thousand potential future girlfriend mixtapes, and introduces a lot of cool music on the way. But it did more than that.

It created a scene. That sounds dramatic, but stuff always sounds dramatic, so let me explain what I mean. These bands existed beforehand, it’s not like they formed just so Popical Island could exist. But they were ‘Thumped bands’ or part of different vague alignments (in my mind at least) – Hefty Horse or whoever. What Popical Island did was to draw a Venn Diagram around indie pop in Dublin and the places that contribute to its scene. Where before, Dublin had indie pop bands, now it has a scene. And that has a home now, too.

I missed Popicalia 1, the first Popical Island club night in Shebeen Chic, but Popicalia 2’s line-up – Hipster Youth, Squarehead and the mighty Grand Pocket Orchestra – was too good to miss. So I shuffled down and got a pint of Harp, as you do. The place is the perfect size – a basement with enough space, but without being cavernous. There’s a distro table with CDs and (naturally) tapes from various affiliated bands, even if they’re not playing, like a hardcore distro or, I suppose, a twee pop one from a place with a slightly stronger tradition. Thumbs up to that, and to the money box concealed within a hardback dictionary. Twee as fuck yo.

Hipster Youth opened in two-piece live format, all crunchy, no-fi beats from a laptop and lapgaze keyboard playing. Despite sinning cardinally and breaking kayfabe by admitting (through a heavily distorted microphone) that they hadn’t practiced in a million years, they carried the lo-fi electronics thing well. Super Fun Hipster Suicide Party’s Twin Peaksy descending melody on the Casio keyboard every suburban house grows organically when the children hit five was an obvious highlight, as was Thursday night which, despite some rust, had enough complexity and belt to work. And then, announced as a Large Mound cover, Gardenhead by Neutral Milk Hotel. Teenage Elders is sold out as a physical release, but you can download it for free if you like, and the guitar lo-fi facet of Aidan Wall’s personality Porn On Vinyl is about to put out a cassette album on his label Long Lost too.

Squarehead came next, marking the third time in less than three weeks that I’ve been to a gig Squarehead played at. Would possibly be retreading to talk about them, but Fake Blood’s still the shit. So good.

But now to the crux of the matter. Grand Pocket Orchestra. Sometimes when you leave a gig, especially with an Irish band you’ve seen before, you get this weird idea that they’ve ‘arrived’ in some un-solid sense. It’s not like they haven’t been good forever – their EPs were brilliant and their album, which eventually came out (on the same day as Fight Like Apes’ second album according to Mary-Kate in UCD’s newspaper) is full of ‘riot pop’ excellence. They were great as a three piece the first time I saw them at HWCH 2007 (seeing as it’s blog birthday week), but now, with Maggie ‘The Social Hand Grenade’ Fagan on drums and Bobby ‘Brain Heat Wave by No Monster Club is finally about to be released this month‘ Aherne on miscellaneous, it seems like they’ve hit the peak of their powers.

How many crowd-surfers do you see at your average indie pop collective club night? Honestly? Well there were upwards of five at this, plus two band members. Mr. Pop-I Ruan’s tweet summarises it well:

@Popical_Island

Trouble deciding the best moment of tonight…the dweeb mosh-pit or barry lennon keeping them in line.

Barry Lennon’s from Richter Collective, by the way. Footnote there.

Anyway, GPO. It was incredible. Frantic as hell, with album songs sitting confidently as equals alongside the early EP songs. There can’t be highlights when it was so intense for the whole thing – Radio, Get Go, Odd Socks, Ballet Shoes, Basketballs, Worms, all genius. Plaintive requests for water from the band were met mostly with blankness from equally thirsty spectators. The floor got wet, people fell over. At the end of the set, evidently with no more songs to play, they got back up and played Get Go again at about 1.4 times the regular speed.

Anyone I talked to afterwards said it was the best Grand Pocket Orchestra gig they’d ever seen. It was definitely the best I’ve ever seen. Out the back afterwards, in the company of a gypsy euphonium player who can’t actually play any further than the third bar of Happy Birthday but tries anyway, people were comparing wounds. I was wringing sweat from my hair (sorry anyone I dog-splashed), others had grapefruitesque swellings on their shins, bruises in various places, desperate thirsts for water, ill-advised internal urges to take their shirts off.

Goes in the top tier of the memory bank, for sure.

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Lacteal Duck Sloe

via Brian Rogers

They’ve been around a while, but all of a sudden any Irish Times employee you talk to (and by talk to I mean read the writing of on the internet) is telling you to check out Cloud Castle Lake. So, having been curious for a while – to the extent that I asked them to do an interview once that fell foul of the 50% attrition rate between being questions being sent and answers being returned – I decided to check them out at Electric Relaxation in the Bernard Shaw.

One of the obvious advantages to gigs in the Bernard Shaw is that they are free. One of the obvious disadvantages is that it is patently not a venue and if there’s more than about fifteen people there you’re probably not going to see anything. There were significantly more than fifteen people there. I couldn’t see anything.

Still, though. The scarlet letter with Cloud Castle Lake is the Radiohead thing – that the voice sounds like Thom Yorke’s, and the experimentalism follows the Kid A-Amnesiac-HTTT-In Rainbows mould. It’s there, definitely, as much as I’m sure they’re tired of hearing it. But for me that’s not the main thing going on. En route to being a little post-rocky, they shave off the unwieldy ‘epic’ edges and end up somewhere weird, proggy and not too far from krautrock at times. They’re hooks without melodies, rhythmic patterns from both the low end and the high end, going after the full-body-experience as well as just the head. The voice – which you could justifiably spidergram to Jonsi if you weren’t happy with Thom – is pitch perfect and so high it really just functions as another instrument, but with a little extra personality. It’d be interesting to see them play alongside someone a bit more aggressively experimental like Children Under Hoof, to see how they fit.

The recordings they have are all qualified with a (live) or a (rehearsal) caveat, which actually makes it all the more impressive that they’ve built up such a buzz. Whenever they do put something new out, consider it on the proverbial ‘hotly anticipated’ list.

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