Poppy and Friends//Live// 26.01.11//The Workshop

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on 29 January 2011

The Workshop is underground, tiny and dark like a good venue should be. Just need to ignore the ‘live nudes’ sign and the picture of the topless woman licking a record and it’s pretty much my kind of place.

Poppy and Friends are headlining Folkabout, a night of treats each one with their own twist on the folk genre.

Now, these reviews are normally all about the headliners and likeable singer-songwriter Richard Lobb and country crazies The Wagon Tales were great but Misty Miller really is ‘one to watch’. The 16 year old has a hauntingly soulful voice and her ukulele backed songs hold the room in silence.

While Misty is all about the sugary sweetness, Poppy and Friends’ brand of anti-folk has a slightly more shambolic edge while Poppy herself has a voice that could be compared to Alanis Morissette but with a little less angst…and from Bristol.

The double bass and drums are intense but slightly overwhelming. This is the second time I have seen this band and the second time I have strained to try and hear exactly what Poppy is singing which is a shame as, after listening to the band recorded, the lyrics are one of their major strengths. Songs like Tuesday have a comical honesty and you can imagine yourself right there in the story, which is what I love about folk music.

I think I must be going soft in my old age but there’s something about really sweet lyrics that I cant get enough of at the moment: Mandy’s Ice Cream has me in a nostalgic chuckle as she talks about the ice cream tax her mum used to make her and her sister pay to her when they were little – a lick of ice cream and half a flake.

7/10

 

Michael Lee // Face Forward // 18.10.10 // Crash Records

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on November 19 2010

Multi-instrumentalist Michael Lee was apparently inspired to take up music after a childhood in the sleep village of Longwick, Buckinghamshire. He started gigging at 14 and those long, quiet evenings in the countryside obviously led to him really enjoying learning his instruments and experimenting with different sounds.

Face Forward is a collection of Lee’s best songs from over a number of years which means it has a lot of of variety but it is confusing at times as it jumps between genres ranging from pop to folk to prog rock. The twinkly guitar riffs and summery grunge on tracks like ‘Land of Change’ and ‘Never Enough Time’ make me think I probably wasn’t the only one listening to Incubus albums on repeat as a teenager and and enjoying their easy going vibe, but Lee’s more ballady tracks like ‘Tired’ and ‘Mystery of Life’ are less satisfying: ‘Slow’, unoriginal and a touch wingey.

Lee plays most of the instruments on Face Forward and produced it himself, a labour of love with is quite indulgent at times: Tracks like ‘Despite’ reflect this, and the epic Face Forward a prog rock wandering piece of music which is the most extravagant track on the album.

This one may be an album more for fellow musicians than people that just like to listen to good music without agonising over the nuances. Face Forward is not altogether a bad album but now Lee has got the mixed bag of old favourites out of the closet maybe he can look to the future, follow his own advice and Face Forward….sorry I couldn’t resist!

6/10

Natalie McCool // Shoot Shoot EP // 25.10.10 // Hubris Records

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on October 29 2010

22 is not as young as it used to be in a music industry where as long as a child can talk (or at least make a noise) it has the potential of a hit single, but it is still an impressive age to have played with Paul McCartney.

While studying at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts McCool performed in front of Macca who was compelled to pick up an acoustic guitar and play along. She also lists Chris Martin and Mark Radcliffe among her fans and was head hunted to work with Steve Levine after he was on the judging panel for the young songwriters’ Make It Break It award – which she won.

This EP is short, only three songs, but it is clear a lot of thought has gone into it; each track is perfectly crafted, planned from beginning middle to end. The first two tracks: Shoot Shoot and Prophecy, with its mournful strings, are very dreamy but with a slightly dark edge.

McCool’s acoustic sound is slightly wild and conjures up images in my head of dark woodlands, the type you would expect beautiful elves to wander around. Sure enough, I am not the only one to have had this thought and a quick Google image search for McCool shows she does indeed have an ethereal quality about her and has been photographed among the flora.

If this EP is a taster of what’s to come then the future certainly looks interesting for McCool and hopefully as her confidence (or other peoples confidence in her) grows the music might start to sound more free and that wild, mysterious edge will become more obvious than some otherworldly photographs.

7/10

dan le sac Vs Scroobius Pip // The Logic of Chance

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on August 10 2010

 Released on March 15 2010 on Sunday Best

The Logic of Chance is a collection of wise words on topics such as ‘Broken’ Britain, domestic violence, love and the perils of writers block for rappers.

Always recognisable and undeniably British, dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip create modern poetry, with an edgy soundtrack, The Streets for a new generation.

The duo have never skirted round issues which can put people off who think that music doesn’t need such obvious social content but it is always refreshing to hear artists that are not afraid to speak their mind. For every fan this may loose them there is probably at least one more that not only enjoys the music, a fast paced mix of electro, hip-hop and drum & bass, but also the viewpoints explored.

One album highpoint: ‘Cauliflower’, is a combination of Scroobius Pip’s spitting South East accent with the sweet and pure voice of US singer Kid A telling the story of a beautiful whirlwind romance with illustrative lyrics such as “still got a cauliflower ears from where her voice first hit me”. Such lyrics are what makes dan le Ssac Vs Scroobius Pip worth a listen, playing on modern references in a poetic way while staying funny and clever.

The duo seem determined to ‘make a difference’ and get through to people but it is hard to see how the kids a lot of it it is aimed at will ever hear these tracks. The Logic of Chance is their second full album release and although they have a lot of respect in certain quarters they are yet to break into the mainstream as is the conundrum that many artists challenging ‘the man’ find. Reach out to as many people as possible while possibly compromising on your music or lyrics or resign yourself to the background until the world is ready. Until then dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip are ready and waiting, discussing a very British state of affairs.


9/10

Drum Eyes // Gira Gira

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on August 7

Released on September 9 2010 on Upset The Rhythm

Gira Gira contains the kind of music that needs to be listened to after years of progressing through ‘relatively hard core music’ fan badges. For those who, like myself, only ever progressed to the hardcore music equivalent of the 25m swim badge this album could be difficult after repeated listening.

There is no denying the enormousness of this record, arranged like a soundtrack Dr Who makers would envy. Every instrument is played to within an inch of its life, with drums pounding prominently all the way through. As the monster awakens with opener ’50-50′ it builds to a ferocity which is futuristic and full of drama, providing a score to a scene where I imagine Drum Eyes stepping off their mighty space ship guns blazing and bullets flying everywhere in slow motion while they look menacingly on.

‘Future Police’ has keyboards that sound like a frightening Nintendo game, an intensity that continues throughout the rest of the album, which although it is only six tracks long does not leave you feeling short changed. Gira Gira is not just pure noise: there is melody, texture and some heavy beats giving a rich variety of sounds including a heavy metal edge on the track ‘Future Yakuza’.

The album is a far cry from the usual franticness of DJ Scotch Egg, the Japanese gabba music producer who heads up this collaborative side project along with members of bands including The Boredoms and Trencher. Gira Gira is straight up angry, psychedelic and slightly scary ear busting tracks, a thirty five minute assault on the senses. The intensity can be too much, but the question is: Can you handle it?

8/10

Paolo Nutini and Martha Wainwright

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on July 16 2010

Live at the Eden Project, Cornwall on July 2010

Eden Sessioners are massive fans of what they know and what they like. But if they’re not sure, they’re more than happy to just have a chat with their mates which is something that Martha Wainwright has had to cotton onto tonight: “I would talk to you but I don’t think I need to, there seems to be a lot of talking going on away” she says wryly.

After a day of sporadic torrential rain, the sun has come out for tonight’s main acts, the first of two sold-out sessions from Paolo Nutini and Martha Wainwright. It is the season finale of an epic set of gigs that has seen acts from Jack Johnson, to Mika, to Doves play in the futuristic Eden Project setting.

Wainwright starts minimally with acoustic tracks including the beautifully executed ‘This Life’. The band then melt on stage for ‘Bleeding All Over You’. There is a tranquillity to Wainwright’s set and although the crowd is chatty they still seems to be listening intently. This gig is part of her ‘Martha Sings Piaf’ UK tour and she plays three of these songs now, full of passion, dedicating one to her mother, Kate McGarrigle, who died at the beginning of this year.

This along with the premature birth of her son Arcangelo has meant that Wainwright has not had the easiest 12 months, the fact that she is back on tour and delivering great shows deserves to be highly commended but a lot of this emotion is lost here.

In contrast, Paolo Nutini springs on stage vibrant and full of enthusiasm to a crowd screaming with excitement, flanked either side of his set with the dramatic theme to The Godfather, perhaps a reference to his Italian ancestors.

Unlike many chart favourites the 23 year-old singer songwriter shows he deserves to be taken seriously as he moves effortlessly moving between reggae, soul country and pop, his band is also very adaptable. Like Wainwright, he plays a smattering of covers including a version of MGMT’s Kids and a song from Jamaican reggae star John Holt.

Despite his slightly worse for wear appearance Nutini has obviously planned this set well, saving one of his biggest hits ‘Last Request’; to the encore, the perfect ‘lighter moment’ with the same stillness that marked his performances of tracks such as ‘These Streets’ contrasting the vibrancy of ‘Jenny Don’t be Hasty’ and ’10/10′.

The show is very impressive, the whole band are giving it their all; there is some skilful VJing and lighting. Although he makes the odd mistake, Nutini’s loveable rogue smile and laid back manner means that the audience is putty in his hands and he seems to reciprocate this positivity along with a sense of awe for Eden’s futuristic setting he leaves the stage with “I love you Jurassic Park”.

8/10

 

Johnny Flynn // Been Listening

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on July 12 2010

Released on June 7 2010 on Transgressive Records

Mr Flynn is back, and this time he is in the midst of the annoyingly labelled ‘nu-folk’ heyday.

First cutting his performing teeth playing fiddle with Emmy The Great, Flynn will be touring the UK when he and The Sussex Wit provide support for Mumford & Sons in the Autumn. He has also created a small YouTube storm with Laura Marling covering Jeffrey Lewis and Diane Cluck’s ‘Travel Light’, scoring over 237, 000 views. Marling and Flynn also collaborated on Been Listening for the song ‘The Water’, which sways mournfully like a small boat bobbing on lapping water.

Former single, ‘Kentucky Pill’ kicks off the album: guitar plucking and horns, full of sunshine. Chronicling the twists and turns of life in a light and airy way, songs like ‘Churlish May’ show why folk really is the best genre for telling stories and it is obvious that Flynn is a natural at bringing a story to life.

Although the music seems to be simple, the classically-trained musician also comes through in the drama and colour created by the music. The strings and brass add excitement and Been Listening is a slight departure from the more traditional debut, A Larum which was released in 2008. Keen to show that he can diversify, the next single to be released from the album is ‘Barnacled Warship’, out on August 16, a track with tones of regret but a bold fighting spirit, which also shows a sophistication and capability which means that Flynn should be taken just as seriously as his peers.

We all know that trends go round and round and right now folk is very much on a high. The nu-folk posse are not reinventing the genre completely but, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

8/10

Doves and Mumford & Sons

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on July 6 2010

Live at the Eden Project, Cornwall on 02.07.2010

Lovely. The most appropriate way to describe this year’s batch of Eden Sessions. Organised to the tiniest detail the gigs are very polite and well, lovely. This year the Sessions have diversified and each night is loosely grouped into genre, but tonight’s combination of Mumford & Sons and Doves is a little uneasy.

Mumford & Sons have risen to mainstream fame since forming in 2007, reaffirming that waistcoats, beards and banjos are where it’s at. Still peddling their album ‘Sigh No More’, they also play new tracks tonight. ‘Nothing Is Written’ starts off slow and melancholy but the crowd are clapping along from the word go, and when it kicks in fully they erupt becoming a sea of jumping bodies. There is something resembling a small barn dance in the middle of the audience, a party which continues for the rest of the night. Another new song, ‘Lover of the Light’, has a tone full of optimism and hope, perfect on this clear evening. The new material is not a departure from the expected Mumford sound but there is a maturity in the arrangement and lyrics which shows growth.

The band capture and keep the audience’s attention with every song, full of energy and enthusiasm and audience also goes crazy for favourites like ‘Timshel’, ‘Feel The Tide Turning’, ‘Little Lion Man’, finishing with ‘The Cave’ before leaving everyone screaming for more.

Doves have some hard work to do: When the gig was announced Mumford & Sons were still emerging and Doves, with their solid following and previous storming set at the Eden Sessions in 2002, were a steadfast finishing band. And although the crowd is still up for it when they take the stage, it is clear that many are Doves virgins.

The band grab the audience well to start; Jimi Goodwin’s memorable voice and the moody and atmospheric music is the perfect soundtrack for the sun setting over the stunning Eden Project scenery. The band have worked hard on this ‘greatest hits’ tour and put on a good show with dramatic visuals including some interesting videos, my favourite being the ‘hoodies’ filmed for Black and White Town. The band relies heavily on the crowd being right there with them and affectionately coining the audience ‘Edeonions’, Goodwin manages to gain friends in most of them, especially when he offers to pay any council fines if the sound techs cranked up the volume.

Although transfixed by songs like Kingdom of Rust and The Cedar Room, the audience wander during lesser known songs. However, an encore is called for and those leaving to try and beat the traffic miss out big time. There is a new energy to the band, and the audience, and the party is at last starting as the band play out with the ecstatic Space Face from the band’s previous incarnation Sub Sub. Although Mumford & Sons and Doves turn out to be uneasy bedfellows, Doves’ experience shows through in their triumphant finish. I just wish they played their set in reverse.

7/10

Catherine A.D. // Skeleton Songs EP

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on June 30 2010

Released on June 7 2010 on Outsiderhood

With comparisons to PJ Harvey and Kate Bush as well as scoring collaborations with Bernard Butler and Liam Howe, Catherine AD, Catherine Anne Davies to her mother, has a lot going for her. Surrounded by highbrow hype, she has collaborated with Nitin Sawhney and was subsequently asked to be one of the London Southbank Centre’s Emerging Artists in Residence.

 This dramatic EP is fourth in a line of DIY offerings and is billed as being a raw example of original demos, altered at home for release. The tracks actually sound a lot more polished and produced than that but she has a beautifully pure voice with dreamy ethereal qualities. Catherine is also a prolific multi-instrumentalist with a vast repertoire including including guitars, piano, organ, melodica, accordion, banjo and some clever programming on her trusty MacBook.

‘Skeleton Songs’ begins in a slow, otherworldly way, I imagine ‘Over and Over’ as backing music to an old fashioned jerky and silent video of children running around, playing on rope swings and jumping over rivers. The momentum is built to a gutsy, swinging finale with ‘The Heart Wants to Be A Hammer’ exiting with the sentiment: “a hammer, a bulldozer, maybe a knife” summing up the sweetness of the EP but a sweetness that can’t hide something altogether more sinister below the surface.

8/10

Treecreeper // Juniper

First appeared on Never Enough Notes on June 18 2010

Released on June 21 2010 on Trash Aesthetics

Unfortunately, dictionaries are for words not phrases but if they were then the definition of Middle Of The Road (or MOR for fans of pretentious abbreviations) would be this album. Treecreeper are from Wendover, a sleepy village between Oxford and London. Wendover is somewhere, after a sneaky look on Google Streetview, I imagine weary travellers may have stopped back in the ‘olden days’, tethering their trusty horses outside the local pub as they travelled between the two cities. Juniper is a good theme to being trapped somewhere like this in a state of depression.

It could be argued that the re-released album should be compared to a long, lolloping summer’s afternoon; the tracks are all very thoughtful and self indulgent in length, the work of tortured souls who write poetry alone and lament what could have been.

The highlight, the only track which sounds like it was played with a band with some kind of enthusiasm for life, is the instrumental ‘Crossing’, a lovely summery affair but sadly only 50 seconds long.

‘November 23rd ‘ is a slightly redeeming feature finishing the album, a slightly different if mediocre song. It has a more filthy blues feel, like a smoky bar in a slow motion film scene. I imagine the protagonist is about to come face to face with his sweaty arch enemy or a couple is about to enrol in some up close and personal time as a band plays.

The rest of the album is seriously miserable but in a wanting to tear your hair out and throw the stereo out of the window way, not a self-indulgent have a good cry way. Everything has been levelled out to give one big drone of Americana on extra slow setting.

Maybe I just don’t get it.

3/10