HOMETOWN HEROES FESTIVAL, Undertone & Buffalo, all January
As in previous years, Liz and the team at Undertone/Buffalo/10 Feet Tall tackle a traditionally stagnant New Year period by roping in bands from South Wales and the South West to curate cheap ‘n’ cheerful nights of quality stuff. Undertone starts early with Edinburgh’s the Spook School (5th), presumably Charles Rennie Mackintosh fans and with a neat line in jangly indiepop hooks and coy brother-sister vocals that crucially values tunes over pose. Immediately elevated over numerous peers, then, and there’s a couple of very promising singles to seek out. A couple more cracking bills of noisy fare, not least the absurdly heavy scream-off on the 30th featuring Dimensions‘ excellent slovenly Jesus Lizard riffing, slow-creep tempo changes and giddy howling. They’re joined by Hogslayer (Zonderhoof and Shaped By Fate dudes bearing immensely heavy sludge/doom fare), Culver (expansive, widescreen and crushing post-metal) and your boys Brandyman. Awlright. Bristolian pair This Is Wreckage (corroded GvsB noise-rock meets Martinis police-siren guitars and spittle-flecked PiL post-punk) and St Pierre Snake Invasion (sturdy, metallic punk swagger like a loosened-up Bronx with uncannily accurate er, homage to Mclusky Do Dallas era Falco vocals) are the highlights on the 10th. Over in Buffalo, the sly retro-pop chic of The Lovely Wars is offset perfectly by Jemma Roper‘s sleek futurist thrills (16th) while Signature host the grime-infused neon-hued dubstep hybrids of Last Japan (17th). Have a rummage around the sales, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
FREE FOR ALL FESTIVAL, Moon Club, all January
The Moon Club’s second annual dose of one-upmanship towards events elsewhere, their January schedule again lines up a month of free gigs; faultless as a concept in a month where reserves of willing can be low, it requires a bit of investigative sifting but turns up some decent rewards. Bristol’s Gouranga (16th) do a nicely spacey take on streamlined Kyuss-esque desert rock and gleeful, sweetened Mudhoney/Nirvana grunge. Crunchy and tuneful, they’d be justifiable headliners but despite curating the gig they secede to Spider Kitten, launching their monolithic Cougar Club album. Determinedly independent, in underground obscurity for the better part of a decade, they’ve been (in just the times I’ve seen them) Sabbath/Melvins fuzzed-up classic rock, downtuned Earth doom and sludged-out drone-metal with a drum machine. Hugely deserving of their seemingly higher profile. Oppressive volume characterises the other freebie highlights, from the aforementioned Culver (19th, with sludgy ragers Bloodlung) and St Pierre Snake Invasion (23rd, with the now five-piece, Spider Kitten-augmented Brandyman – miss them at your peril). Fist Of The First Man are marooned on a less than inspired bill (18th) but were astonishingly good at their album launch at Chapter last month – muscular, mercurial and very loud post-rock experimentation that immediately raises expectations for the next album. It’s free, of course, so duck in and out if you have to. Or give the rest a chance. Just don’t complain there’s nothing on in January.
THE SWORD, Fleece, 9th
ORANGE GOBLIN, Clwb Ifor Bach, 30th
Two practitioners of unreconstructed classic rock, first-wave heavy metal and fried boogie whose stylistic paths have doubtless crossed but who might well get very different reactions from purists. Orange Goblin spent the first half of their fifteen-year career as the unlikely London wing of the 90s stoner rock movement, turning out wave after wave of red-eyed, wah-heavy boogie built on skyscraping cosmic riffs and decked out in album covers resembling a 1975 minivan – lysergic artwork, motorbikes, amps and girls. Somewhere along the line came a subtle turn away from the desert, keeping hold of the ZZ Top covers and but refining their style into a furiously heavy Sabbath/Mötörhead classicism. Metal for metal lifers. The Sword, by contrast, met with distrust and criticism for their take on similar material, the Texan quartet pegged as at best copyists lacking their own voice, at worst ironists. No amount of Sleep-copping doom, tongue-in-cheek album art or sci-fi concept albums has held them back though, and frankly if Mastodon or Baroness can enjoy themselves lacing sludgy virtuousity with Thin Lizzy swagger, why can’t The Sword? Warp Riders still sounds hugely fun and kicks like a two-day migraine, and that’ll do for me.
WILL GUTHRIE / DOMINIC LASH / SETH COOKE, Cafe Kino, 9th
The many tentacles of experimental/improv collective Bang The Bore reach out from further afield than their Southampton home these days; co-founder Seth Cooke is now resident in Bristol, hopefully signalling an increased number of BtB events in the city. This bracing start to 2013 brings Australian percussionist Will Guthrie, backbone of staggeringly fierce ‘terror jazz’ trio The Ames Room and contributor to electro-acoustic free improv/compositional ensemble Thymolphthalein. The Nantes-based Guthrie also cuts looser still on his own, using percussion, electronics and amplification; witness this incredible excerpt from his Sticks, Stones and Breaking Bones EP, described by Guthrie as “cold, brutal, inflexible and unstoppable”. Indeed. Improvising bassist Dominic Lash, also solo here, has his own impressive CV of contributors – Corsano, Parker, Butcher etc – and provides rumbling, dense low-end for sprawling jazz-prog outfit Gannets. Cooke, meanwhile, will perform on “a stainless steel waste disposal sink”, the instrument he’s pledged to use for any and all solo performances in 2013 under a Dogme-style pledge from Bang The Bore regulars. There’s more than enough by-numbers fare kicking about as the year begins; with this, and a few others on this page, there’s another way.
PETE SWANSON / H / CEMENTIMENTAL, Arnolfini, 11th
Here’s another cracking example. It’s easy for know-nothing dilettantes like me to suggest that Pete Swanson’s recordings since Yellow Swans split in 2008 have been a natural result of the separation; throbbing bass, sense clouds of static and hiss, just less of the cathartic, damaged guitar onslaught that was fellow Swan Gabe Saloman’s area. There, see? It’s more than that though, obviously; Man With Potential and the monolithic, decaying techno stomps on the splendid Pro Style EP refine the coruscating noise into a consistent, dissonant hum of high-pitched synth detritus and burbling FX, alloyed to insistent, driving and hypnotic beats. Single-minded and propulsive but retaining the boundless, erratic noise core of his other projects, it fits snugly amongst labelmates at Blackest Ever Black and Type alike and represents a thrilling suggestion that he can turn in whatever direction he pleases. Support here is drawn from Bristol’s excellent, uncategorisable tape and CD-R label Zamzam; the treacly, oppressive murk of H’s two releases, unfolding icy drones and drawn-out electronic wreckage, and Cementimental’s disorientating blast of circuit-bent noise and gleefully harsh electronic scree. Like scouring the inside of your mind, in an upbeat way. Recommended.
KANDA BONGO MAN, Tunnels, 12th
Anyone whose musical education was shaped by John Peel’s programmes from the mid-80s onwards will most likely have first heard African music in any form there, principally the infectious, insistent rhythms of Congolese soukous. Kanda Bongo Man, based in Paris, pioneered the faster, danceable kwassa kwassa variant to global acclaim, huge slabs of joyously upbeat party music dominated by chattering syncopated beats and wildly dextrous, pealing guitars. It’s music that packs in so many nods to other cultures it’s imbibed over the decades, from the Cuban rumba it was first based on to the dizzyingly fast take on steel guitar picking, even echo-heavy surf licks. He’s still playing, around 40 years after joining his first group, and this Bristol date (rearranged from November) is a lovely surprise to find amid the year’s first quiet weeks. The Tunnels is right by Temple Meads station apparently. Well worth the trip.
OUR MAN IN THE BRONZE AGE / THE DEATH OF HER MONEY / CHAIN OF FLOWERS / MARS TO STAY, Undertone, 12th
Split from the Hometown Heroes round-up by virtue of its superior all-round line-up, this is a fine start to 2013 for Kaskie out of TDOHM’s FYB, continuing to put together nicely varied and quality gigs. Proggy Milton Keynes outfit Our Man In The Bronze Age shift offer a more complex take on quiet-loud post-rock, plaintive piano and windy prog interludes giving way to an ecstatic three-guitar racket. A little overly histrionic in places but the good bits click like Crippled Black Phoenix do. Chain Of Flowers, featuring former or current members of crushing Newport doom/punk/metal dudes Crossbreaker and sludgy hardcore types Brutality Will Prevail, only debuted around May last year but by the time I saw them at Swn their pretty immersive, loud and pleasantly murky take on Cure/Joy Division/J&MC moves, sharing much with the Horrors’ strung-out shoegaze updates, was hugely impressive. Mars To Stay are another treat worth getting in early doors for, gorgeously brittle Galaxie 500 sketches and bruised sadcore pop reminiscent of Bristolian bedroom heroes like Flying Saucer Attack or Movietone. Much to look forward to in future releases from all present here, melancholy and texture explored in subtly different ways. You won’t find a stronger quartet this month.
FJORDS / LOCAL SPORTS TEAM / GINDRINKER, Le Pub, 18th
The first outing for our pal Ben’s new promoting venture Red Medicine, this wins on three fronts. The more people that commit to putting on regular live music events in South Wales in a fairly difficult and indifferent climate, the better, so hats off to him. This first event also utilises Newport’s fine Le Pub, and it also allows me to write about Gindrinker. In existence a remarkable eight years now, that there are still only two singles and a handful of demos to show for their genius, their toil and their 150 or so gigs reflects desperately poorly on the nation as a whole; not least myself, as I released one of those singles. The by now well-familiar musical influences – Big Black, Whitehouse, Throbbing Gristle, Datblygu, etc – are as relevant as ever, but it’s the awkward, unwieldy and insistently catchy Heath Robinson compositions and the undimmed majesty of DC Gates’ blackly comic prose and bilious English wit that see them embraced by all right-thinking patrons. Time for a Kickstarter for that album, yes? Also here, the highly promising Local Sports Team, whose recent Latvia EP goes big on hyper-catchy, drily funny shoutalong indie rock. You should support this, and get there early.
FLAMINGODS / HAMAMAMA / /PLEASE/, Gwdihw, 19th
The second Shape Function in as many months, which is A VERY GOOD THING. Flamingods fit in nicely with the Shape aesthetic as one might imagine it, a multi-limbed, dense tribal pop with a battery of percussion, fourth-hand derivations on the African guitar styles you’ll see at the Kanda Bongo Man gig and freeform, cooing vocals. Loads of bands doing this stuff, of course, but wading through the multitude at the last couple of Swn festivals has demonstrated that amongst the gap-year kids decked out in Top Shop’s Aztec Bullshit range and fetishising triangles there are plenty doing more than mere retreads. Flamingods are one such, pulling together warped takes on Eastern and African pop, the cracked, giddy experimentation of Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective and the sort of drum circle abandon seen at a Foot Village or, er, Islet show. Plus their excellent new single ‘Quesso’ features Dustin Wong out of Ponytail on added guitar shred, and he’s fucking great. Get his last album or be sorry. Hamamama are, or were, Greetings, who we put on with Queer’d Science recently; I mentioned at the time how there seemed to be numerous bands of the same name about and sure enough they’ve been forced to adopt one of their song titles instead. They’re still an ace gooey noise-pop clatter performed with daft wit and matching outfits though, so that’s OK. /Please/, as irksomely named as it is, is a pretty lovely thing too. Beautifully remote, hermetic sighs of processed vocal and twinkling keyboard patterns with a definite nod to Grouper. This is A VERY GOOD THING too.
1994! / THE CAVES / SOUTHPAW FAKERS / NIETZSCHE TRIGGER FINGER, Croft, 20th
I originally had this one flagged up as ace Caves/Bedford Falls offshoot duo Personal Best were listed on the bill; sadly their hyper-catchy 90s alt-pop is no longer present here, but it’s still worth your time given the addition of headliners 1994!. (The exclamation mark does lend that more of an enthusiastic air than I intended, but let’s plough on). The Lancaster, PA duo hack out loose, pummelling post-hardcore with gruff-as-fuck vocals and winning, inclusive energy; there’s enough beer-pounding good-time punk attitude, mathy intricacy and 90s emo yearning to win over casual listeners of all stripes, and if you get off on the likes of Japandroids, Fucked Up or Titus Andronics I’d count you among them. Check the FCKYRHED and Thank You Arms And Fingers albums in particular, freewheeling noisy fun which I’d highly recommend. The aforementioned Caves (Bristol version, thankfully) are now main support here, and well worth your time if you’ve not seen them before; brisk, tuneful punk-pop with a pretty great hit-rate.
‘IN SEARCH OF BLIND JOE DEATH’ / NO SOAP RADIO, Cube, 25th
An evening dedicated to John Fahey, ‘American Primitive’ guitarist, folklorist, DIY label founder (Takoma in the 50s, archival blues/jazz/folk imprint Revenant in the 90s) and a guiding influence to generations of folk, rock and avant-garde guitarists. Twelve years after ill health cut short a revived interest in his work, that influence is as widespread as ever, from modern-day solo guitar revivalists to the improve/noise fringes, even reappraisal of outright obscurities that took on Fahey’s template 30 years ago. James Cullingham’s film In Search Of Blind Joe Death: The Saga Of John Fahey, explores Fahey’s world and music, the blues and early music he drew from, the styles he pioneered, personal problems and his later, experimental and drone-based work. It’s shown here, for (I think) the first time in the UK, with supporting footage, DJs and live music from No Soap Radio, the hollerin’ ragtime blues solo project of Liam Kirby of Boxcar Aldous Huxley. Should be a grand old night.
DAVID BAZAN / MARCO Z, Buffalo, 26th
Throughout his career, David Bazan’s music has tended to be critiqued more diligently than most based on his unabashed Christianity, as though he’s carrying an additional, untrustworthy handicap before the race has begun. Listen to Pedro The Lion’s early records, especially the bruised croon and delicious, languidly-paced alt-rock of 1998’s It’s Hard To Find A Friend – Low, Built To Spill and Evan Dando’s most laid-back, reflective moments delivered with clear-eyed conviction – and the subtleties of Bazan’s faith needn’t even become apparent. Never shy of tackling big-picture issues though, he moved into no less accessible but more earnest territory over time before retiring the ‘group’ name and moving forward solo. Personal struggles and more intimate themes dominate his deftly melodic Curse Your Branches, the first full-length under his own name, and it’s cathartic but uplifting stuff, bringing to mind John Grant’s similarly themed Queen of Denmark and past collaborators Mark Eitzel or the late Vic Chesnutt. Good booking from Gathered In Song and Diverse, this one; should be busy, so worth picking up a ticket in advance.