Preview: Owen Pallett at Portland House

Disconcerting as it may be, there’s certainly something arresting, focus-intensifying about seeing an artist for what you know will be the last time. Whilst farewell tours can sometimes be trotted out, phoned in celebrations, when we heard that Owen Pallett would be no longer touring his stunning solo material, I was on call to tell as many people as possible to go, because he is not someone you want to miss.
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He revealed earlier in the year that he feels no need to tour after this year. “I had a wonderful moment last March when I realised that I didn’t want to play the violin onstage any more”.

“2015 is my last year of touring, it’s extremely liberating.”

Liberating for him, it should create a thoughtful cynosure for you – this is the last chance, buddy.

First time I saw him, was in the smaller but no less hallowed surroundings of The Gate in Roath, 6 summers ago. A relative newcomer to his work (I pretty much just got giddy at This Is the Dream of Win & Regine), it was an astounding set. Touring as ‘Final Fantasy’ then, until he had to change his name due to the same named game (so much competition between singular Violin looping artists and Japanese Role Playing Games), he captivated a open mouthed audience – most people sat cross-legged on the floor, watching his beautiful, intricate, dissonant, playful, singular, neo-classic songs cascade ideas upon us.

There can’t be many more contemporary artists of a similar ilk who’s heads seem to bubble up quite so many stunningly original ideas. That the gig in The Gate ended with him playing in the car park opposite to a hushed crowd in the dark did make it more special, but somehow his music has a force of it’s own that lifts gigs into the ‘special’ category, regardless of the undoubtedly beautiful, simple experience of hearing him there.

Since then, he’s made several stunning albums of even more experimental, maximalist orchestrated LPs. Maturing from the intensely personal work before, Heartland was narratively cryptic, with random, allusive and ellusive references to a character called ‘Lewis’ appearing beneath sparingly but beautifully embellished electronic sounds atop his orchestral ideas. Illustrious & grand, but it never stood still in your ears – it felt like a stunning, constantly changing intricate puzzle box that you might find in a Guillermo del Toro movie – never to be solved, always to enchant you.

Last years In Conflict is the zenith of his work so far though. Stripping away much of the grand visions or pretences, it is plaintively direct and more openly ‘confessional’ (I use apostrophes as it does feel a little too Red-Top describing any work of art as such). Whether through ‘The Passions’ hazily orchestrated violins complementing the simplistic, thoughtful pianos and directly told relationship tales or the rousing, almost rock-y, by turns cacophonic ‘Riverbed’, Pallet’s neo-classic ear and intense originality is set upon a kind of ‘pop’ with no mediating pose.

It is simply stunning. You really owe it to yourself to see this gig.

Tickets – http://www.portlandhousecardiff.com/tickets

 

Live: We Were Promised Jetpacks

As my stomach rumbles disturbingly, excitement surges through me, for I read the upset stomach brewing up a storm inside me to be no more than an anticipatory foreshadowing of We Were Promised Jetpacks’ tempestuous gig to come that very evening.

Across their three albums, We Were Promised Jetpacks have persisted with their thunderous fall-back sound to such an extent that it seems almost too easy a comparison to make. There are moments when I listen to them wondering if they could even be a ‘concept band’ – that they’ve listened to the likes of ‘A Wind’s Poem’ and thought to extend that one concept as their entire sound. Whether or not this is true, to do otherwise than parallel them to a climate of storms would likely elude their central themes.

In the midst of the crowd, the venue feels intensely muggy and close. It could be the layout of The Exchange, or it could be that I like to run away with conceits, but as the band gather on the stage they seem to loom overhead and the tightly-packed audience below bump up against one another with the electric atmosphere readying us for the first strike.

Whipping their way through their set, they are everything we have come to expect from the band: the cacophonous, crashing of drums and onslaught of instrumentally-led outbursts, while vocalist Adam Thompson’s eternally soothing tones tease and lull us. Even as he roars over the cyclone surrounding him, there remains an aspect of tenderness. They provide us with little by way of interaction, preferring to uphold a brooding front. However, on a number of occasions the bassist – he who is surely the essential undercurrent of such a sound – lets an expression of sheer joy break through and dapple across his face.

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Songs from the first album are certainly those that have the audience crowd at our most raucous, but then familiarity always is a crowd-pleaser. In fact, the distinction between the material from the three albums is largely imperceptible, yet they have mastered a formula that does wonders forthem, so they are not to be resented for continuing down the same vein.

Apt as ever, they finish on the tumultuous ‘It’s Thunder And It’s Lightning’. We crash and tumble our way through the calm of its build, craving that final perfect storm from which we surface, a-buzz and drenched in vapours of sweat and delight.

E-mail conversation with Richard Owain Roberts

Recently, I e-mailed author Richard Owain Roberts whose debut book All The Places We Lived is out on Parthian later this month (Amazon link $$$: http://www.amazon.co.uk/All-The-Places-We-Lived/dp/1910409650), asking if he would talk to me about his perspective on the personal brand and creativity – two subjects on which Richard has a lot to say. What follows is the unedited e-mail thread.

—— MT > RO ——

Rich,

You asked me about brand building the other day. It got me thinking about the blog that we’re doing at Small Joys. One of the things that I was hoping to do was to publish some transcripts of e-mails threads that I’ve had with interesting people. Would you be interested? If you agree, I’ll publish everything from the start of this e-mail until it gets boring for us. Kind of an e-mail interview or something more useful to use e-mail for.

Are you interested? 

I’m interested in what branding means to you as an author. I mean, is that what you’d even label yourself? What is a Richard Owain Roberts? 

Feel free to sell yourself. We believe in advertising as long as it betters the person being sold to in some way. 

Cheers,

M

—— ROR > MT ——

i am interested

should i start now, or do you want to start a new thread?

—— MT > ROR ——

Let’s carry on in this one.

—— ROR > MT ——

i would say i’m a person. i’ve got a book coming out on the first of may. i’m writing another book. i’m writing another book. i’m doing 2 x other projects. i would say i’m a person who is writing books and trying to make things.

i read on facebook recently re an author who was complaining about not getting enough attention for their work. this sounds like ‘an author’. i didn’t relate to that. either be happy with what an outdated model can give you or make your own attention, i suppose.

branding is important because if you expect people to buy your products then i think it’s right that the product doesn’t end with the book or film or whatever. for example, kanye made yeezus and it’s maybe half an hour long; but there’s probably 3-4 hours worth of video interviews he did around the time it came out. and these were the interviews where he went in and said what was on his mind rather than giving generic answers re what were your influences when making this album etc etc. this feeds back into the music and then back out again. this seems very relevant to me.

there is an impression maybe that branding is somehow disingenuous, i know a lot of people just hate the word because of associations to business culture. i think, maybe in 2010, some people heard a contestant on the apprentice use the phrase ‘personal brand’ and it made them angry. instead of being angry, they should have enjoyed it. the business jerk was entertaining them on a fictional programme. in 2014 someone on twitter got very angry because i referred to ‘my brand’. this was in 2014: four years after the business jerk on the apprentice. this is funny to me. i favourited and retweeted him. it’s okay.

branding is about honesty. or it doesn’t have to be. everything in my book is real, one way or another.

this isn’t to say that some people aren’t being disingenuous, although most of the time, if they are, this is reflected in an uninteresting product or nondescript brand.

—— ROR > MT —— 

rather than a fictional programme, the apprentice is probably better described as ‘fiction’ lol

—— ROR > MT —— 

the idea of striving to impress anyone (i suppose traditional gatekeepers in whatever industry for example) or acting ‘political’ in terms of being careful about what you say / attempting to manipulate people, seems very outdated. if you have confidence in what you’re making, and how you present your brand, i think everything will be okay. brand is way less cynical than pretending to be everyone’s friend.

—— MT > ROR ——

I have so much stuff to say about what you wrote in your last messages. It’s hard to know where to start. I think what I really want to say is: 

Kanye comes across as a real weirdo, right? But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s really good at what he does as his primary outlet for creative work. But what interests me specifically is that he has blurred the boundaries between Kanye the rapper, the artist, the personality and also as Kanye the fashion designer. I like that about him. Do you think that’s the new mode? 

—— ROR > MT ——

i think kanye, to me, comes across as being a very honest person. i think he’s doing what a lot of people are doing to be honest, in terms of not limiting himself, but he’s doing it to a large audience, some of whom are ready to listen. when he talks about designing uniforms for cities, designing buildings, i appreciate that. for example, in cardiff we have a couple of brilliant buildings, maybe some more on the way, but i still see a lot of generic new builds going up. as a young capital city we have the advantage of having no current reputation internationally. someone else might choose to see that as a negative (truly a boring, defeatist opinion) – it’s a positive though because it means we have a blank canvas to create something incredible. but we still have over-ground car parks, and we’re still putting up office/residential blocks that look a decade old already. every single piece of new architecture should be the boldest statement of individualism, within an overriding city narrative. we should be building a city that looks like 2115. and this is possible. go to sci-arc or the rdafa and give someone a chance to make something awesome for us.

—— ROR > MT ——

if you feel like you can make something, anything, you should work on it and then do it. i think that’s what kanye is doing. it’s pretty simple and it’s sad that people make fun of him for it.

—— ROR > MT ——

you put a post up on facebook about the revamped morgan(?) arcade creative spaces and how it was now being pushed as ‘a lot like london’ with a ‘fairly soho vibe’. i mean, that is the worst branding i can imagine. it’s also a dated ghetto mentality being spoon fed to people who who earnestly read the western mail and don’t know better.

the merger of a load of universities no one had heard of internationally to make USW was good. i think some people lost their jobs but that’s okay if you believe in collectivism or are a perfectionist. if you want to make a product that is interesting or exciting, i think disappointing/angering other people is inevitable – but that’s their decision to be angry or disappointed, it shouldn’t effect the creative person’s approach to their work

—— ROR > MT —— 

have you watched the movie ‘jobs’ with ashton kutcher as steve jobs? i suppose it’s a boring film for maybe 70% but i’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in what hard work and genuine commitment to a brand is

—— MT > ROR ——

One of the interesting things that has happened since we last spoke is that there was some discussion over Twitter/Facebook/elsewhere about DIY culture. For example, I mentioned that I’d been with someone who had applied for funding to do a thing that she could have done with her phone for free. And her main concern was that if she did it on her phone, there wouldn’t be a high production value.

That really annoyed me because 1) It seems dumb and 2) It’s such a cop out. 

What’s your view on DIY stuff? 

—— ROR > MT ——

the idea of ‘high production values’ seems cringeworthy somehow. mark duplass did a talk at sxsw that felt relevant to this point. i’d encourage people to google it.

‘high production values’ in films: you could watch ‘the theory of everything’ and it probably conforms to what ‘high production values’ means in a traditional sense, but i can’t imagine what anyone could possibly get out of it on an emotional level. read the wikipedia page on stephen hawking or something.

diy seems like a better way of approaching things. you can learn editing on youtube, you can learn any technical skill on youtube. what mark duplass is saying is relevant: there are no barriers to telling stories.

if someone wants get in touch with me about making a film together one weekend i’d be happy to listen and talk about it.

Live: Deerhoof @ The Marble Factory

The modest honour exhibited by a solid-sounding support band is a long reliable harbinger of a great show to come. The Marble Factory tonight is no exception. Cowtown take to the stage to showcase their tightly skewed sound. Their songs have a definite urgency to them, although they later joke that their nerves are speeding up their songs four times over. An air of fear, delight and eventually victory vaporises around them – an unsurprisingly confused cocktail considering the magnificent spectacle to follow them: Deerhoof.

As they first hit upon our senses, the sheer love of the crowd for tonight’s main act becomes immediately apparent. Across the front of the stage, they adopt almost a line formation as if to portray upfront the elements forming Deerhoof – each band member takes their songs to manipulate out different shapes but, without exception, they all tessellate perfectly.1502_deerhoof-1417824346

They begin their set with ‘Exit Only’ and ‘Paradise Girls’ from their latest release, La Isla Bonita. Satomi Matsuzaki’s deliverance of these songs grasps us with its deconstructedness – her style seems at first disarmingly uncluttered but it is consistently impressive and exercises an odd complexity.

Something almost geometrical emerges from their sound. While their songs feed off an enigmatic genius, there remains something of an abstract structure to crafting something that is so satisfying, we are putty in their hands. The shapes into which we mould are nothing compared to Matsuzaki’s superlative dance moves, which correspond so as to be surely written into the songs themselves.

So overwhelmingly brilliant is this set that we are owed something of an interlude and, yet again, they deliver as drummer Greg Saunier takes to Matsuzaki’s mic:
“Each night I stand up and start striding toward the microphone. I hear Ed start to giggle in my ear as I’m passing by. And today in Bristol on, whatever day it currently is… Feb Two Three, it’s the first time that I’ve ever worked up the courage to face Ed and say “Ed, what is so funny?” and at last I’ve discovered either the truth, or what he’s telling me to spare my feelings, which is Everything. Everything is funny. Whether he meant it or not suddenly I found a quiet moment inside my own mental experience that I agree 100%.”
This monologue is delivered with such perfect timing and artistry however that really there is no let-up on that overwhelming brilliance. We are simply more infatuated and ever more eager for whatever it is they decide to next subject us to.

Whether it’s the contortions of a demonic birdsong preluding ‘Bad Kids to the Front’ or the eagerly anticipated encore – inspiration for another comedic insight into Saunier’s mind [see appendix] – of ‘There’s That Grin’ and ‘Come See the Duck’, we are all honoured to bear witness to – and in the final case, participate in – an encapsulating performance so supreme.

Appendix: “It may appear as though we were stalling, just seeing the maximum width to which our heads could expand. In fact, 99% of the time we were gone we were just trying to figure out how to get the curtain back open – it’s Velcro-ed very tight.”

Live: HMS Morris, Rhodri Brooks & Eugene Capper @ Gwdihw

A little characteristically late, the eponymous and cantankerous Eugene Capper took to the stage as first on the bill of the evening joined by lo-fi Americana aficionado Rhodri Brooks with support, as if often the case with Capper’s ever changing suffix ‘and Band’.

His is a blend of whatever he darn well feels like on the night, it would seem, varied and often conflicting genres in a gentle tug of war. The light and lackadaisical interaction with the crowd and bandmates colours the performance and feels like a bit of a performance itself; a little wry and sarcastically clichéd. Most impressive though is Eugene’s multi-instrument abilities – no matter the switch between genre or style, each song is richly layered and almost prog-like in progression.

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After a brief interlude, Rhodri Brooks takes the stage with Eugene supporting, just to confuse us. The two complement one another nicely, Brooks’ languid Americana proving a well-considered accompaniment to Capper and Band’s unique brand of folk. ‘Intro (Herwgipio)’ is a psychedelic and melancholic drawl of an opener, while ‘Fold Me’ showcases an unhurried yet carefully considered style both cloying and relatable. And toe-tappingly good.

Both supports provide that particular branch of psychedelica that can only be rooted in Wales and set up HMS Morris nicely. Making waves in the same vein as Peski Records electronica peers Plyci and R Seiliog, this is catchy dreamscape electro pop at its catchiest.

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Heledd’s bewitching vocals slice through the swirling synths and Wil’s lush percussion and Sam’s live-sampled ethereal voice backing on the loping and brooding ‘Gormod o Ddyn’. ‘Shipping Forecast’ smacks ever so slightly and infectiously of kraut-rock, before breaking down slowly but surely and ‘Aur (Gold)’ encompasses the band’s sound succinctly; a captivating and cinematic style.

All three will also be playing at Chapter Arts Centre on Tuesday 17th for ‘Overboard’, a gig fundraiser for The Boat Studio. The first of its kind in Wales, artists Ellie Young and Amber Mottram hope to transform a canal boat into a floating and adaptable art space that hosts residencies, exhibitions, gigs and performances. More information at www.theboatstudio.org

Y Mae’r Môr Mawr yn Ddu from HMS Morris on Vimeo.

Photos: Noel Dacey

Review: Tuff Love, Roll for the Soul, Bristol

Roll for the Soul – a charming community bike café – is the setting for tonight’s Glaswegian trio of bands: Tuff Love, Pinact and Algernon Doll. In the lead up to the gig, the set times had been shifting around, re-ordering, until it transpires Pinact and Algernon Doll were stranded on the motorway and would no longer be playing. Although disheartened to be missing out on those two, the buzz of excitement filling the small, cozily lit venue remains intact for Tuff Love.

Tonight’s show is part of a micro-tour celebrating the release of their second EP, Dross, but they also pay heed to the earlier songs from Junk. The lack of glaring lighting on the stage area allows for wave after wave of surf-pop melodies to evoke images of dappled light emanating around us – it’s a signature haziness that has a distinct Glaswegian hometown flourish.

Each and every short, fuzzy pop song is met with great enthusiasm and delighted anticipation. One such song is ‘Sweet Discontent’ – saturated with sunny haziness, piercing drums, soothing vocal harmony and jaunty-dance-inducing guitar, driven by insistent bass.

The second single taken from Dross, ‘That’s Right’, pummels us with its catchiness, its scuzziness, its undeniable upbeat instrumentation. An unadulterated affection fills us all because Tuff Love are quickly proving to have mastered the perfect balance of impressive lo-fi with imaginative flair.

Finishing with ‘Slammer’ – a song that they wrote in a day last June – Tuff Love show off their ponderous yet energetic riffs and sharp lyrics. With a confident ease, they command our excitement – for, after a 45 minute set, our stamina is not yet worn down. If anything the friendly, encapsulating atmosphere is ever hankering for more. Something will happen, hopefully, we are told.

The organisers do not disappoint. After an interlude, two local musicians turn up to play an acoustic set, alternating songs between the two of them. Lou (of both Personal Best and Caves) and Warren (of something I’m sure; I regret I do not know) embark on a spontaneous performance with songs about binaries and fluidity; close friends leaving; and finish with Warren singing Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5. Hastily put together through necessity though it may be, this only adds to the sincerity of their compassion.

With the small group of us circled around the space in which they perform, there is something of a campfire to nature of it all: not just in the way that Warren, when playing, leaps around the space like a flame, but in the sense of togetherness, lightheartedness, and community. It’s all you could hope for and imagine in such a charismatic venue as Roll for the Soul.

You can see Tuff Love at Wales Goes Pop!, April 4th at The Gate

Review: Fago.Sepia, Gwdihw

It strikes me that no one really knows how to dance, or at least, at the gigs I attend, everyone is unsure of how to execute dancing without bringing attention to their awkward bodies. A few years back when at a Johnny Foreigner gig in Bristol I witnessed (and was complicit in) an apparently spontaneous choreography in which the audience danced en masse with a thrust forward of one shoulder, propelling the other back. That was it. In time with the music, we relegated our movements to our shoulders only.

Math rock music is particularly susceptible to this dancing affliction: arguably, it’s the subgenre most enticing to dance and has attracted dedicated fans who are keen to express their enjoyment and appreciation thus, but the unpredictability of the music leaves us vulnerable to misplaced shapes being pulled left, right and centre.

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Fago.Sepia’s debut gig in Wales is no exception. Like at jofo, dancing seems concentrated in one body part, although it differs for each member of the crowd: shoulders, hips, heads, waists; no doubt the French band have the power to afflict an entire, collective body with their confidence and expertise.

Their outfit is one that brims with self-assurance and an impressive certainty in their skills – a certainty that every twist and turn will infect the crowd with a glorious delight. They share in this very same delight: part way through their set, they thank us for their hot hearts (warming their hearts – this corporeal English idiom is about as graceless in translation as the dance moves I, for one, am attempting).

Onward, with their riffs that pirouette, gyrate and invite us into the over-excited frenzy, the taut structures tumble into dissolution. They clatter, they lull, they storm through our circulations with a wild precision to fuel a body of rhythms more toned, supple and tight.

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They deliver their final punch of fun with quatorze – the first song from their 2010 release, the resume – a fantastic texture of cool, jabbing guitars, intermitted with a yelp of joy reminiscent of that starting The JB’s Gimme Some More. Apt, as the bodies cease with their flailing limbs and shout an “encore”, before a steady dispersion.

Photos: Oli Montez, Circuit Sweet, http://www.circuitsweet.co.uk/