Highlights from XYZ

2013-11-06 01.54.16 pm
Since around June, 95% of my writing has been going onto XYZ’s website or the glossy pages and front covers of its monthly edition. Here is a brief summary of most of those pieces and a small selection of articles, excluding anything written before June (here, here, here, here).

The 1975 (front cover)
Clean Bandit (front cover)
Crystal Fighters

Reviews: (highlights *ed)
AlunaGeorge – Body Music
Raffertie – Sleep of Reason
Washed Out – Paracosm
*Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
Janelle Monáe – Electric Lady
*Bill Callahan – Dream River
*Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
Darkside – Psychic
Machinedrum – Vapor City
Kwes – ilp
*Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

The 5,6,7,8s; Ultramagnetic MCs; Local Natives; Dinosaur Pile-Up; Regina Spektor; Moon Duo; Thurston Moore; Daughn Gibson; Merchandise; Ethan Johns; NO CEREMONY; Washed Out; Born Ruffians; Fuck Buttons; Wire; CocoRosie; Seth Lakeman; Machinedrum; Temples; Jaga Jazzist + The Physics House Band; Clean Bandit; Savages; Steve Mason; Mount Kimbie; Julia Holter; Gary Numan; Gold Panda; Son of Dave; and counting…

Latitude review
Bestival review
misc print content including theatre/comedy/music previews & individual features


The 1975 Interview:

The 1975 are well and truly on the swell of buzz-band breakthrough. This year has seen them support the Rolling Stones, play the Emirate stadium alongside Muse and break the top 20 with the sugar-coated drawls of ‘Chocolate’ – and all before the release of their debut album early this month. But if it seems a long wait after early single ‘Sex’ appeared in 2011, it’s nothing for singer/guitarist Matt Healy, who talks to XYZ’s Callum McLean about black & white videos, youth and memory. Is he feeling the pressures of sudden indie stardom?

“It’s not like we’re lost in this new world, we have each other – we’ve always had each other, so it’s that sense of reality that keeps us quite grounded…I think the fact that we started it at thirteen – when you start anything that age it’s for fun. The dynamic’s not changed that much!”

However much Healy claims to retain two feet on the ground, the (un)reality of success is impending. The morning we talk he’s moved out and split with his girlfriend. “I don’t have time for anything, apart from this”, he admits, and talks breathlessly throughout the interview, as if nervous to stop and check himself.

“I suppose I am quite grounded…I’d be mad to lose that humanity to my side, for people to deceive me or call me a rock star”, he muses rapidly. Already compared in the press to Razorlight’s infamous indie buffoon Johnny Borrell, Healy is split between this everyman frankness and a similarly exorbitant rock’n’roll ambition: “I’ve always had a good sense of who I am, in my own mind I’ve always wanted to be Michael Jackson or Prince – I’ve pretty much always been them, but in my own head.”

It’s a similar paradox between his indie confessionals and the post-Doherty monochrome aesthetic of music videos like the one for ‘Sex’. Healy admits there’s a grey area between fact and fantasy in the 1975’s music and the debut’s obsession with youth: “You don’t have a clinical brochure perception of the way that your life is, you kind of have a faded polaroid of history.” But is he stuck in the past? “We’re about growing up and evolution. We’re defined by snapshots of our lives, and I think the album is the early years.” In fact, they’re already five songs into demoing a second album. So why wait so long for the debut? “We were like, ‘okay, well if we’re going to put this album out, we can’t just put it out because it’s too audacious and arrogant and too wrapped up in an identity that people don’t know about.’”

The ‘arrogance’ they seem so cautious to conceal points rather towards a confidence in each other that’s had ten years to brew. And they were rightly hesitant to dilute that confidence, even when the label hurled big-name producers at them for the album. Finally, Mike Crossey, the mastermind behind The Arctic Monkeys’ first two LPs (“that guy knows how to record music really fucking well”), joined the band at Liverpool’s legendary Motor Museum. “He was really tentative and said, ‘look, I’m a massive fan of what you’re doing, I wouldn’t want to step on any toes – I want to co-produce an album with you’”.

The result is an album full of synth and funk-tinged pop nuggets that point towards the 1975’s unabashed sincerity, not made-for-NME hipness. “My perfect song would hold the message of a Leonard Cohen song and sound like ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’”, Healy enthuses. “I think that’s how we’re defined: it’s uplifting. You’ll struggle to find a minor chord progression in our band because– you know moments in pop songs where you get that little grin? It’s that moment that I really live for…if you could bottle that, you know?”

Julia Holter – “Loud City Song” review

Julia Holter weaves a stirring avant-pop masterpiece from modernist weirdness, hushed vocals and beautifully downplayed melody on her third full-length.

The LA-based auteur resonates with many more shades of New York than her California heritage would lead you to expect. Her compositions bend around the powerful simplicity of her lyrics, often hushed in wisps that float across minimal, repeating sound textures. It’s edgy fare, and unsurprisingly appeases the hipster kingdoms of Pitchfork (who dubbed this album ‘Best New Music’) and the blogosphere, like ironic catnip. But unlike much of the heavily prefixed (neo-, avant-) runoff you might associate Holter with, her occasional opaqueness betrays a convincing intelligence. She’s learned in the right sort of ways, having studied composition and clearly well-read (she’s frequently compared to Woolf’s modernism), this erudition translates, rather than to patronising or pretentious highbrow art, to immensely intricate but palatable songs. Melody and structure come first, meaning the overlapping echoes of ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ and the twisting and turning strings of ‘Maxim’s I’ construct dense tapestries of complex music from rapturously moreish parts.

What is special about those parts on this, her third LP, is their variety and dynamic range. Where last albumEkstasis was more of an avant bedroom record, Loud City Song resonates with rich layers of strings and echo. If before, Holter was whispering into her mirror, or through the keyhole, she now sings from what sound like epic heights – ‘Hello Stranger’ sounds like it would have the delicate majesty of Radiohead’s ‘How To Disappear Completely’ if given the benefit of a full string section onstage. And the newfound scale seems intricately linked to the album’s urban subject matter, where lyrics twinge with the intimate details of city life, married with modernist directness and all tied up in webs of repetition and association. For example, album opener ‘World’ delivers grand statements amongst an unfolding, abstract exploration of an apartment building. But what amazes, more than the astute complexity of the arrangement, like the whole album itself, is that it manages to sneak by so much cerebral density in a form that washes over the ears despite (as well as probably on some subconscious level because of) its high art intellectualism.

In this way, Loud City Song might well be (intellectually, musically) more than the sum of its parts, but all of those parts are candy for the (untrained) ears. And the candy is as wholesome and subtle as haute cuisine, but affordable and palatable as Haribo Starmix. Get it down you.

8/10, out now, Callum McLean.

CocoRosie @ The Dome

The sisters Grimm of freak-folk, CocoRosie promise a habitually theatrical performance of moreish oddity at The Dome this month.

Bianca and Sierra Casady, aka Coco and Rosie, come with a background as twistedly folkloric as their music. Daughters of a Syrian/Native American mother, the girls (born in Hawaii and Iowa) were eventually estranged from their father, and at one point even each other. Reunited in Paris, they began to produce as a duo the early outpourings of weird, hybrid music that would become their trademark. Four albums followed – including two sleeves separately labelled as the ‘worst covers of all time’. Genres as disparate as opera, folk, reggae and hip hop melded into a superlatively kooky mush, held together by the only consistent factor: Coco and Rosie’s distinct(ly weird) voices. Best differentiated on recent single ‘Gravediggress’, which imagines a conversation between an abandoned girl and a banished old lady, Sierra croaks and whispers ethereally before Bianca cuts through with her incredibly grotesque (though often incredibly affecting), cartoonish squeak.This year sees a fifth full-length, with some of their most moving – as well as wacky – material, and collaboration from long-time friend of the pair Antony “and the Johnsons” Hegarty. Which makes CocoRosie a doubly intriguing, bewildering proposition – bewildering on the first count purely for the implausibility of their sound (especially Bianca’s twisted tones) and the image that goes with it, but on the second count for the fact of their continually shifting music, that resonates with new and bubbling noises each time. But they always sound very much like CocoRosie – different, from one song to the next, but always from just about everything else around.

Live, they’re known to incorporate this unpredictable oddity into their costume and behaviour, which has reputedly ranged from Sierra wearing tracksuits and playing MC, through dressing as a “burlesque scientist” to the duo playing pat-a-cake alongside their singles. The Dome offers up an exciting space for their theatrics, and it’s anyone’s guess how they’ll fill its period interior. One thing’s for sure – it’s gonna be a spooky, kooky mess the likes of which you’ve never seen before.

Jaga Jazzist + The Physics House Band @ The Old Market preview:

Amongst Norway’s finest exports, genre-splicing nine-piece Jaga Jazzist grace TOM with a rare full-band performance, alongside local math-rock disciples The Physics House Band. Head music to drive you (instra)mental.

An ever-reshifting, lyric-less collective of musicians melding jazz fusion with electronica and post-rock doesn’t exactly scream mainstream success, but nothing ever stopped Jaga Jazzist. Having long been received by daytime airplay up there, as well as through their side-projects in more straightforward pop acts, they gained global attention after their second, 2002 album <i>A Livingroom Hush</i> was named BBC’s Jazz Album of the Year and brought them to the attention of indie-giants Ninja Tune. A narcotic blend of their diverse influences (Warp Records electronica, dub reggae, Steve Reich…), it was immortalised by NME as “Charlie Mingus with Aphex Twin up his arse”. What followed and set them apart from Scandinavian avant-jazz peers was the deft turn of Jaga’s sound towards post-rock on their later albums <i>What We Must</i> and 2010’s <i>One Armed Bandit</i>, with increasingly expansive arrangements covering all dynamic bases from wispy-soft to epic chase music. Maintaining a hardcore fanbase as their records became ever more idiosyncratic, this cinematic element to Jaga’s sound reached a peak on this year’s <i>Live with Britten Sinfonia</i>, where the nine-piece joined forces with Cambridge’s chamber orchestra for an inevitably grand affair self-dubbed “a psychedelic Bond soundtrack twisting and turning from the stage”.
Even sans orchestra, Jaga have long proved themselves most convincingly on stage, where their unrivalled musicianship weaves together vast soundscapes of guitar, woodwind, brass, keys and vocals, all tied together with founder member Martin Horntveth’s masterful drum strokes. And now, on a highly sparse European tour, Jaga bless Hove’s TOM on one of only two UK dates – and with a full set of members, no less. It’s a no-brainer – save that cranium-crunching for processing those complex live arrangements.
And if that wasn’t a tempting enough proposition, Brighton’s own Physics House Band – ever the more sought after local act for support slots – open up proceedings with their own instrumental mastery. TPHB, in many ways descendants of Jaga’s jazzy avant-rocking, stray further into the realms of math-rock, layering a maniacally sharp edge onto their often serene numbers. Filling spaces with the dense sound of many more than their modest trio might suggest, the band will set the tone for what will undoubtedly be a chin-strokingly sublime evening of word-less wonder. Just don’t heckle them to sing lyrics.

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