VLMV – Winter 2018

VLMV will be coming to Poland in February to promote their new album, “Stranded, Not Lost” out on Fierce Panda (and being assisted in Poland by Too Many Fireworks) on 16th February. More info as we get closer to the release (and tour) but for now, here’s the poster, and below, the band’s most recent video.

Radio Kampus. 10th January 2018

For my first show proper, accepting last week’s review of 2017, I have music that I missed over the last month or so that I’ve been away, and some new music that is, well, very new indeed. And one track that celebrates a 45 yr old favourite. I can’t believe that Holland by the Beach boys is only 6 years older than I am.

1. Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending

2. David Byrne – Everybodys Coming To My House

3. Emily Magpie – Leave it to Fate

4. Rachel Grimes – Eights

5. Zwidy – 4:35

6. Hannah Epperson – 40 Numbers

7. Millie Hanlon Cole – I Waited Too Long

8. Belle and Sebastian – The Same Star

9. The Beach Boys – Funky Pretty

10. Mateusz Franczak – All About

11. Mazut – Atlas

Radio Kampus. 3rd January 2018

As I return from what feels like quite a lengthy hiatus, but in reality has been only a few weeks, I find the Radio Kampus studio becoming something of a technological haven. There’s new stuff! And we have, what looks like a selection of webcast cameras and a video editing console. That’s all very exciting.

I returned to Radio Kampus on 3rd January for a review of my top 10 albums of 2017. I hope you enjoy it.

01 – Filthy Friends – Despierta

02 – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Holy Mountain

03 – Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Fam/Famine

04 – Benjamin Gibbard – December

05 – Good Weather For an Airstrike – Little Steps

06 – M8N – Railway Bars

07 – Alvvays – Plimsoll Punks

08 – Mogwai – Crossing the Road Material

09 – Meursault – The Mill

10 – Pin Park – Cat

Review: Leland – i got too close to you…

Conventional wisdom is a funny thing. Alan Rankine, the musical force behind the 1980s Scottish new wave duo – The Associates – once told me (and by me, I mean my class at Stow College, Glasgow, where he was teaching) that to make it in the music industry, you had to move to London. As an over-confident, early-20-something I called Bullshit on that. Chemikal Underground exists. The Delgados didn’t have to up sticks and move to the capital, they just created their own thing. The bands associated didn’t have to leave either. Of course, years go by and it becomes clearer as the hazy, confident mists of youth that this was largely an extraordinary circumstance. Further down the line, in a songwriting class, I was taught that albums should begin with some immediacy. With impact in much the same way mornings in new parents’ houses begin. Loudly and demanding of your attention and affection. Of course this is true of many albums, certainly of classics like Pet Sounds, Loveless, or Entertainment!; though not necessarily true of so many more, The Stone Roses, Electric Ladyland, and The Bends are just 3 whose opening tracks take a while to get to the point – and are all the better for it. It’s 2018 though, and the listener has more choice and less attention. One wonders if the Stone Roses released their seminal debut today, on bandcamp, if the wider world would have stuck through the 40 seconds before Mani’s instantly recognisable bass riff appears (or indeed the 1 minute 30 before the verse begins proper) before clicking on to the next album. Logic dictates then that it’s a brave artist who may release a digital album that begins by taking it’s time to get to the point.

Leland, an indie-rock solo artist from Aarhus in Denmark, does this very thing. The title track to the long-windedly titled “i got too close to you and thought you would fall onto me but that was just the clouds moving” begins with a slow, layering of guitars soaked in reverb and delay, a swirling, dusky fog hanging over an ethereal no-mans-land – a fog that drifts for 1 minute and 40 seconds before the momentum of the newly appearing drums propels the song forward. When it starts moving, though, it’s abrasive, overdriven, and exigent. Eventually we hear Leland’s voice, cocooned in reverb, singing to us from far across this desolate hinterland and though the fog never clears, cutting, buzzsaw guitars cut through it before disappearing, leaving the fog and a pulsing, electronic thud.

The wilderness evoked by the album opener is immediately punctured by the kooky playfulness of “diver”, a brighter note of indie pop to bring light to the shade of its cloudy precursor. It’s a common thread throughout this album that the vocals are so immersed in the ambiotic reverb that the actual words are lost in the wash.

On first listen, I was convinced this 8 track album could have easily been a 5 track e.p. with very little loss given there are 2 transitional tracks less than (or seconds over) a minute long, and a 59 second track at the end of the album. I was put in mind my initial disappointment of similar experimentally composed tracks on Mogwai’s Rock Action album and how, in retrospect, those feel inspired; I decided to listen again. The second, “dark whole inside the chest”, does feel inessential, in that it’s a small repeated passage of the full “band”, reversed and played backwards. Unfortunately it sounds ordinary forwards, and unnecessary backwards, especially as the same thing has been done so much better so often in the past. Another, though, “waves of grain” is – on repeated listen – worth the return. 38 seconds of overheard voices, reverbed and delayed set against slightly dischordant notes, picked against chilly, reverbed chords.

While this record is clearly a bedroom recording, it seems to revel in this. In an interview with “The blog that celebrates itself”, Leland is keen to point out that the instrumentation is sparse and deliberately so. Though one suspects this may also be down to necessity, the dedication to layering guitars and leaving synthesisers under the bed deserves credit. The recording isn’t without it’s quirks though and while the drums are well rendered, they are so metronomic as to give away their machine-sequenced origins. This, however, feels like it may be a nod to a clear influence of this collection, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

The stand-out track on this album is by far and away the one that betrays its influence so clearly. The gorgeous “you” has all the hallmarks of a songwriter trying to put his own spin on “Sometimes” from Loveless. That’s not to say that it sounds like the song, but there are certain similarities in instrumentation and technique that on hearing the more recent, I was put in mind of the classic – the male / female unison vocals for one, and an uneffected guitar to balance the washy overdriven guitar and give the mix some definition, for another. Though it owes a tip of the hat to “Sometimes”, “you” is it’s own song though, and in its production, Leland takes a risk. 2 minutes in, there’s a deliberate and sudden stop. Though deliberately lo-fi in its concept, it loses something its execution when the break is punctuated by a digital thump that feels to the listener like it may have been a production mistake. It’s a bold decision though, and though it removes the listener from the song for a moment, it doesn’t diminish the whole. The track ends with a fade, not of volume, but of tone, as the bright distortion takes on a much thicker, darker sound.

The album ends with “lately my heart has not been breathing”, a ghostly piano, which brings the album to a close with the evocative sound of the piano pedal being depressed. Conventional wisdom probably also has something to say about signposting the end of your album, and this is as fitting as any to a record so comfortable in it’s own fidelity.

A brief thought of The Frozen North, 4 years on

Digging through some photos in a long-forgotten hard-drive, I came across a collection of early photos from the first photoshoot we did as the Frozen North, and it occurred to me that on Friday it will be 4 years since the band began. I occasionally find myself missing the music that we created together, and the camaraderie that we shared, certainly, in that first year. Tomek and Aga remain very good friends, and of course though I don’t see the others much, I do keep an eye on what they’re up to. It feels good to be getting “back on the horse” with Spy Stories, and with my solo record, but I do wish my, ultimately futile, attempt to bring us all back with each other for an occasional stint as our respective side-project had come together. Alas.