Friday, 31 May 2013

Preview: SummerTyne Americana Festival

It makes sense writing about a traditional bluegrass music festival with the genre Americana while actually being in, America. Folk, country, blues, traditional rhythm and blue and rock n roll are the prime genres expected at these Americana tagged festivals across Europe, none so prolific as the British summer festivals. SummerTyne takes place every July, mid-summer, and it's been this way since its inauguration year in 2006. Past performers include Seasick Steve, the late Solomon Burke in his final performing year and Lyle Lovett. The 2013 edition of SummerTyne Americana Festival will be the coming together of the previous six years for one behemoth line-up, that is hidden behind the artistic and cultural The Sage Gateshead in the North East of England.

Martha Wainwright headlines the three day festival with The Mavericks, Patty Griffin, Willy Mason, and Mud Morganfield filling up noticeable slots. There will be a performance from Sam Amidon, an artist we covered earlier in the month. His popular covers branch out from the singer-songwriter bracket with Appalachian folk and a mythical twist on some of country's biggest names. He will play on Saturday, an artist not to be missed. Amidon will be Wainwright's guest for the Saturday evening, which will be the most packed day of musical treats across all stages. Wainwright has been releasing critically acclaimed albums ever since her family name was recognised in the 60s for Loudon's hilarity assured folk records, many of which I own and still play. Martha has been the source of female artist inspiration over the last decade and her performances have proven why she's one of Canada's great singer-songwriter exports. 

Willy Mason has been touring across the United States and beyond for years. His lo-fi recordings such as "Oxygen" and his electronic influenced recordings on latter albums If the Ocean Gets Rough and Carry On have compared the Massachusetts man to Beck. I’m sure this comparison hasn’t come as a surprise nor problem to Mason whose folk/blues antics have gained acclaim from many sources. Mason will play on the third day, Sunday, which is headlined by Heritage Blues Orchestra. The blues band has already created a wave of excitement across the UK festival scene; they will also be playing at the Cambridge Folk Festival this year. Their refreshing sound takes the original Chicago blues and adds a little bit of modern elegance on the once groovy and dated genre.

Other performers include the fantastic psychedelic rock / pop musician Matthew E. White, who released a fabulous debut album last year titled Big Inner. There will be a special performance from Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, a Cajun band from Louisiana. Also sister act Larkin Poe will be playing this year’s festival.

SummerTyne Americana Festival will be air-conditioned, likely, and have stages inside the Sage and outside by the river. It will take place in mid to late July from Friday 19 to Sunday 21. You can buy tickets here with individual prices for some of the top performers, with the others (outdoors) being free events. Enjoy the summer while it lasts.

Small Black - Limits Of Desire

For anyone living in the Northern hemisphere, it's the perfect time to be listening to the likes of Neon Indian, Washed Out, Memorytapes and the like who strive on the hazy, heatstrokes of electronic sound, while at the same categorically loathe the very title most have come to define their sound. Chillwave is, undoubtedly, the (electronic) sound of summer though; the music of twenty-plus Celsius temperatures, translucent flares entering our eyes and the unremitting joy (or moan, if you're British) of living amidst the heat - weather-based or not - and atmosphere of the day. For many, it's an individual aim; a solo effort built from nostalgic reminiscence of past similarly joyous moments, all the way up to the present day. But for Small Black, the aim appears to be built four-fold, and navigated more towards the immediate present. New Chain, Black's 2010 debut, may have seen chillwave taken to its utmost limit as a sound resonating warmth, but beyond that it showed Black still hold enough credential in the accompanying fields of synthpop and indie electronic to mount a counter-offensive against the haze and the euphoria of past delight. Perhaps that's what both the name and the expose-like artwork to sophomore, Limits Of Desire, are trying to convey - a sense of absolute realization, and a reaction to such laid-upon limitations on chillwave's signatory bliss of the past.

Free At Dawn certainly opens with the suspicion that Small Black not only strive to escape the bliss of previous, but that their endeavors are more provoking and personal to the point of direct interaction. 'I've been keeping myself from you/Hoping that you just come to' vocalist Ryan Heyner expresses, his voice remaining hesitantly transfixed amid the rhythm of synths and choral overcast that bend and mold the piece towards its more weightless characteristic. It's only when the synths kick up and usher in more heavier, percussive elements does the track begin to mirror vocalist's withdrawn, but clearly hopeful sway of lyrics. By the time the drumbeats emerge from out the disdain and into the frontal layers of the track, the music becomes less concealed and feels as if more confident and assured in its stance. It's a good way to introduce Canoe which, by contrast, is straight off the bat with its confident foray of unfazed percussion and vocals which hold a lot more colour and level of freshness to their detail. But above all, it's the drumbeats that remain at the wheel of this track, and for good reason. The more acute and pristine textures strike quite an interesting contrast with the rest of the instrumentation; synthesizers offering even more weightlessness but coming across (rightly so) as ushering in colour and tone as opposed to a dictation of clarity...or the lack of it.

But it's No Stranger where Small Black appear to make use of their chillwave aesthetics yet in a forwarded, face-first directness. Heyner himself acts as a kind of dimming beacon amid the track's sub-bass of drums and murmured synthesizers, and as if catching onto the same manner of a metaphor, the guitar-like sweep of electronics cast the song in evermore grand shades of bright colours and texture. So in regards to delivery and execution, Small Black obtain a sense of reason and craftsmanship with their palette of oblique and hazed electronics. But it's rather despondent that when the track closes off in what feels like an emotively-charged relay of beats and electronics, that the vocals end up not just muffled amid the sprawl of tone and colour, but that the actual architecture and layering of the piece feels as if it's collapsing in on itself - that the sounds have somehow lost their ideal meaning and are slipping dangerously close to, perhaps, a more glorified, synthesized form of drone. Fortunately, Small Black's more wondrously, poppier melodies like Sophie demonstrate a (pardon the pun) limiting of the need to show desire in a particular reach of synthesized sound. There remains some blurring of the boundaries between the percussive and the electronic elements, but there's more a feeling - aided most-definitely by the track's frosty, late-night atmosphere helped in parts to the repeating chime graciously coming in-between passages - of understanding and focus with what it is the band are trying to encapsulate in their sound. Because of this, the track succeeds in generating more of a visual abstraction for the listener, than perhaps a solitary audible one.

Further to that, with the track Breathless, there's definitely more a focus on the rhythmic and structural integrity to the track as opposed to simply lavishing a sound with even larger breadths of electronics and effect-laiden textures. It's the simpler lead of synthesizers and drumbeats here that show a certain kind of compromise that doesn't overly damage or hinder the band from expressing a need for venture and far-flung discovery. Certainly, the use of reverb and echo without question is here to express a level of adventure and passion, but at the same time, it doesn't swallow up the momentum and the more engineered aspects to the music. Small Black's understanding then becomes two-fold in its output, as the album gradually slips into its latter offering. The return of the wintry, snow-covered bliss on Proper Spirit may, as we discover, be a paradox to chillwave's summer vibe, but the point that Small Black appear to be wanting to escape that confine, clearly shows. Heyner too, though clearly pegged down a couple of layers on the production floor, still manages to sustain himself and show, via his own tone and harmony, to want to lift himself out of the obscured focal of electronics. The music too - which offers a pleasant confidence and desire of guitars - may well be seen as not necessarily objecting to wanting to explore the multitude of synthesized colour and texture, but at the same time providing enough clarity and drive to suggest this isn't exactly a sound Black want to be shackled to.

While it's understandable that the band want to remain balanced and neutral on the argument between cast-iron chillwave and exploratory synthpop, the unfortunate drawback is that their attempting to satisfy both parties leaves their delivery - as much as the actual culminations of music - sounding rather less expansive than what most tracks here are suggesting. The problem then, is that despite their album title hinting at a 'limit', there's very little to suggest their music has got both eyes set on preventing their music going over a supposed threshold. Only A Shadow manages to create a very thorough and cleanly-swept rhythm and lead of drums, but while the ideas and themes of discovery and momentum may very well be present, it's the lack of holding back and focusing on where the track is progressing, that ends up diluting the crispness and potential conviction of the track in its earlier moments. In the end it comes off like a trans-continental flight...only for the plane to end up landing thirty minutes after take-off, because of turbulence.

It's important to understand, and more-so to be able to differentiate, between criticizing the effects Small Black apply onto their sounds, and the manner at which all these sounds come together. And further to that unfortunately, the way they compromise and conflict with each other's placement and reason for being. Shook Loves is another fortunate example of Black managing to look past the need for mounds of tone and fogged production and using the simpler stripping-back of layering to bring to light the spaciousness of their music. The way the synthesized textures feel much lesser in substance - while still expelling a level of blurred quality and breadth amid the piece - allows the more complacent percussion and interaction between sounds to show themselves. The vocal harmonies and positioning of Heyner's offering of lyrics, bring to light most importantly the presence of space and possible isolation within this song. And through this ultimately, it ends up, ironically, catching the listener's mentally-constructed field of vision, simply because it offers the allusion of space, rather than outright filling it with bloated content.

Without question, Small Black have succeeded in one small part, to convince their audience their debut (which was as much a frivolous response to chillwave's warming retreat into the past) and their sophomore are two separate stages in developing towards an exploration of their characteristic sound, than simply a translation from one moment in time to the next. Limits of Desire then, can't be faulted for being the culmination of this deeply-detailed, objectively-passionate manifesto in breathing life into electronic textures and the colours they so graciously project outwards. Unfortunately, it's the fact that Black's chillwave and synthpop ideas meet head-on, that creates a kind of yielded friction between the two sub-genres' philosophy on progressing a sound from simple binary value to universal value and beyond. But where there are moments where the move towards synthpop beats gets lost amid the former field's use of effects and analogous nostalgia, Small Black equally manage to assert a balancing act between expanding the sounds they generate, and ensuring the structure of such tracks still holds a means to harmonize and intertwine the layers composing it. There's only so many times you can criticize a band's passion and foundered intention to discover, before sinking too far into personal attacks. Let's hope then, as will be one of the major notes to take away from this album, Small Black's journey isn't met with as near the same level of musical turbulence.


Eddie's Album Round-up: May

The Leisure Society - Alone Aboard the Ark

The Leisure Society are nearing melodic folk perfection, but they're not quite finished yet. Their debut album The Sleeper was a lovely contemporary folk album with a key standout titled "We Were Wasted". James and I who form 'Tea or Coffee?' actually played this track on our radio show, to his excitement and my... Lack thereof. Although The Leisure Society tick all the boxes for an interesting modern folk outfit, they can never excite me. Alone Aboard the Ark is a simplistic follow-up to 2011's sophomore album Into the Murky Waters. It was neither dull nor exceptionally interesting; it was just an album of contemporary music for an aging population of BBC 6 Music listeners.

Tracks like "A Softer Voice Takes Longer Hearing" and "The Sober Scent of Air" re-live the light percussion of the bands earlier work. In contrast, the piano and banjo filled "Another Sunday Psalm" opens the album in a fun Bellowhead-esque fashion. And even though folk is at heart with The Leisure Society's music, they cross lanes more than once on their third album. "Fight For Everyone" is some sort of pop rock track with 60s distorted vocal, confusing on an album of such melodic material.

"All I Have Seen" offers a slice of an orchestral ballad, with a descending guitar structure found on gospel records and Spiritualized B-sides. The instrumental isn't great and at times sounds a little too out of place. The following track "Everyone Understands" also doesn't fit with The Leisure Society's nature. This is the music listeners can get up and dance to, joyful piano and a well-produced acoustic guitar. The structure and piano riff have been lifted from somewhere, but I can't quite put my finger on it. There's almost a sense of tribute with The Leisure Society. It just seems like they're covering other bands work consistently rather than contributing originals.

Alone Aboard the Ark seems to go on for hours; it's an unwelcomed length of folk based music. The final track "The Last In A Long Line", pretty much sums up Alone Aboard the Ark. I feel bloated just listening to this album in full. Vocalist Nick Hemming doesn't particularly have a unique or interesting voice. This album just goes above my head, in a quite satirical and unusually strange manner. I'm usually at heart with folk and even modern folk music, but The Leisure Society just don't cut it for me. There are some interesting tracks on the bands third album such as the opener "Another Sunday Psalm", it's a shame Alone Aboard the Ark is a downhill journey from there.


Sloan - Hardcore Covers

Sloan are not known for their punk rock recordings in homeland Canada, or just about anywhere else. The quartet who are accustom to 90s alternative rock and a general indie rock aesthetic have taken the opportunity to release a cover album of hardcore punk rock songs from the likes of Bad Religion, Angry Samoans, Minor Threat and Gray Matter. It starts with Angry Samoans' "Gas Chamber". Sloan are covering these tracks at the dead end of their career and surprisingly these tracks are full of life and energy, as you'd expect from hardcore punk, but not from an alternative rock covering them. The grit, dirty distorted guitar and wailing vocals of Chris Murphy suit the Minor Threat cover, "Filler". There's no room for breathing or thinking during Hardcore Covers, as Sloan impressively record 12 covers in a slick 17 minutes.

Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown" is among the best on the album. It sounds like Sloan have actually entered a time machine and typed in 1978. Murphy sounds like a demented Iggy Pop as he repeats the Greg Ginn lyrics: "I'm crazy and I'm hurt. Head on my shoulders going, berserk." Gray Matter's "Retrospect" was recorded in a D.I.Y manner with no professional recording equipment, and it's soon to be re-mastered for that very sound reason. Sloan pretty much re-master it for them with invigorating guitar solos and a powerful vocal.

An act of imitation is often shunned in music, but Sloan seem to do this well by throwing out their Canadian essence for some hardcore punk. At just 17 minutes, this covers compilation isn't much to go by on Sloan's future direction. They're not suddenly going to abandon their alternative rock style for a dead 80s genre. Influential it was, but it should be left where it belongs, however Sloan are offering another choice for fans of hardcore punk. This covers compilation follows their debut hardcore single "Jenny", an audiophile’s guide to hardcore punk. This album is short, fast and evokes the raw sounds and fantastic songs of 1980s hardcore punk. Sloan have done it well, and we'll leave it with the title of Mogwai's seventh studio album, as Sloan have proved it with this release - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will.


Quasimoto - Yessir Whatever

Madlib has been out of action as Quasimoto or eight year, since releasing his sophomore album The Further Adventures of Lord Quas in 2005. His work with MF DOOM has earned him a rightful badge of 'good producer', and is almost in 'the same league' as Stones Throw representative J Dilla. It's unfortunate that Madlib's follow up to his 2005 album comprises of several aged tracks.

Yessir Whatever is like that debut indie rock album that features four completely original tracks, and then rest made up of tracks from old singles and EP's on your way to that debut release. The only problem with this is Quasimoto has already released two albums, and fans of Madlib know the difference between an album or originality and an album of lifted material. It might be considered lazy or cheap, but I prefer to label it poor. It's like releasing an EP because of the unwarranted tracks that fans already have. Take the pivotal third and fourth tracks "The Front" / "Youngblood", fantastic beat production and sounds; however this was released in 2005 as a double A-side single. You wouldn’t blame people from staying away from Yessir Whatever for feeling somewhat cheated.

Opener "Broad Factor" does have that funk jive and heavy bass beat fans will love. The typical and now famous Quasimoto vocal is on show once again. The following track "Seasons Change" was left off Quasimoto's sophomore album because of sample clearance. It was later released as a single... And finds its way on to Yessir Whatever. "Astronaut" / "Am I Confused?" were both released as UK only single in the past, but have been 're-mastered' for this album. it seems shocking the more I research and the more previous material I find on this album. "Sparkdala" featured on an old post-Further Adventures of Lord Quas bootleg. It has been re-recorded for this album, but still... The same shit applies. Where has all the originality gone? Seriously, this isn't funny anymore. "Green Power" is another old track, as is album closer "LAX To JFK", an old Madlib track from 2002. That year just says it all really, I'm actually quite depressed.

"Planned Attack" finally reveals new material. A jazzy beat is greeted by a sample of D&D All Stars: "Cruddy, filthy from the ground on up, when I plan my attack I doubt that you're ready." This is followed by another original, "Brothers Can't See Me". The light bass beat sounds blunt and the Quasimoto vocal becomes a glitch heavy electronic track. This cut, glitch style is repeated in "Cathin' The Vibe". This track isn't as interesting or well delivered vocally as the previous two originals, but it does feature a non-effected Quasimoto vocal. He sings the best lyrics on Yessir Whatever: "Ay yo, I keep it butter while you're artificial flavor. Even though I'm independent and your label is a major." 

Yessir Whatever is an extremely flat album at best. 12 tracks, 30 minutes and five originals, it's actually quite grim to think about. After the success of both studio albums The Unseen and The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, you wouldn’t think Madlib under his strange pseudonym Quasimoto would release an 'album' full of old tracks and a few new ones. Even though some have been re-recorded, it doesn’t make up for the poor quality of authenticity and 'new'. You can't really advertise this as 'the new Quasimoto album', as it's not at all new really. The few originals are somewhat bland and to use the hated word again - boring. There’s no life, no imagery and no new in Yessir Whatever.


Beaches - She Beats

Here's something to bring with you on holiday over the summer months - well, I say that but the Australians are used to November, December, January and February being their hottest months of the year whereas us Northern Hemisphere guys at Music Review Database rely on two months really, just July and August as our hot patch of cider and summer. She Beats is the second album from Australian shoegaze quintet Beaches. They hired veteran krautrock musician and producer Michael Rother of Neu! to record two tracks. We're about to find out whether his inclusion was necessary, or not.

Beaches start off extremely song with the duo tracks "Out of Mind" and "Keep On Breaking Through".  The killer distorted electric guitar plagues the opening track, with the latter being a melodic psychedelic haze of guitar effects and reverberated percussion. The album follow the pattern of distortion and melodic guitars combating each other to see which one takes over the most. It seems as if the echoed rhythm guitar often takes centre stage, with the distortion heavy lead becoming a backdrop for additional noise. The bas is blunt and offers little more than a simplistic riff on too many occasions.

This applies to the guitar riffs on tracks like "Distance", which just doesn’t have the needed variances. Rother recorded this one, but he also recorded the standout track "Granite Snake". Beaches have many influences ranging from 60s psychadelia to 80s space rock and the craze of 90s shoegaze. They take on a more alternative approach to their sophomore album. She Beats sounds like a demo recorded by The Stone Roses. The spaced out percussion and spurges of guitar noise are fantastic, making She Beats a joyous package of noise.

This spaced out percussion can be heard all over She Beats, and it's exciting. Closer "Veda" has a tribal and The Doors-esque raga rock style to it. "Weather" features a distinctive structure with the hazy vocals that truly need to be hazy to stand any chance of success in this genre. Beaches tick all the boxes of a respectable shoegaze band influenced from psyshadelia and they do it in style with She Beats. It's an album to listen to while watching the sun set, absolutely stunning instrumentals at times on this album.


The Stooges - Ready To Die

The Stooges, or Iggy Pop and The Stooges as the album cover advertises, is the latest in a fine line of poor rock albums from the car insurance salesman that influenced the butter salesmen. You sit at home listening to Raw Power and Fun House and then you suddenly realise how bad Ready To Die actually is. Pop's lyricism has gone from philosophical intelligence to "DD's", where a sex craved Pop sings: "I'm on my knees for those DD's. Why tell a lie, I am stupefied. I'm so happy when I look at them, though I'm happier when I'm touching them." Strangely enough he's not mocking anybody, he genuinely is on his knees for those DD's, but wow, really???

Ready To Die doesn't sound like a Stooges album, this is down to the fact Dave Alexander and Ron Asheton are dead. Tracks like "Gun" and "Dirty Deal" sound like Bruce Springsteen B-sides. Then you have the totally three chord, garage rock tracks that are quite simply awful - "Job". The opener "Burn" is no different to The Weirdness, so much that it's almost unlistenable. The pre-release single has very loud guitars with little direction. You almost expect The Stooges to perform badly after their terrible fourth album The Weirdness, but you just want to see them succeed in their old age. 

"Sex and Money" is a little bit better than the opening track; however the lyrical theme and backing vocals put me right off instantly. The guitar riff is respectable and The Stooges seem to enjoy keeping the tempo fast, the guitars loud and layered. This makes Pop sound somewhat interesting instead of the poor vocals he has delivered on his previous solo albums.  There's that sense of typical straight forward American rock with tracks like "Ready To Die" and "Dirty Deal", these southern styled roots rock songs are decent, loud but feature no depth at all.

Ready To Die isn't that bad in reality, it features some killer back album tracks that you wouldn’t expect from the noise makers. "Beat That Guy" is a ballad with an acoustic guitar, it doesn’t take centre stage like a typical ballad, but the Guns N Roses styled lead guitar does. "Unfriendly World" sounds like a Bob Dylan bootleg from the 80s, this is a compliment. Pop actually sounds like a grunting Dylan on this track. The album ends with "The Departed", one of their best tracks since the 70s. There's a lovely vocal delivered by Pop over the rhythmic military styled percussion and acoustic guitar layers. 

Yeah, Ready To Die doesn’t excite me, nor would I expect it to.  The Stooges are not the same as they were in the 60s; it's as if Pop is singing with a backing band rather than being involved as the band. This is why Ready To Die is styled as Iggy & The Stooges. It's not a terrible album; it just lacks lyrical quality, musical depth and excitement.