“To hell with poverty, let’s get drunk on cheap wine” bemoaned Leeds monoliths of Post-Punk Funk, Gang of Four in 1978. With the latest Brexit statistics of meat and cheese prices skyrocketing but wine being okay. It’s a nihilistic response to a cultural crisis, but with the release of Squid’s latest single Houseplants we’re summoned to have a bit of a fucking boogie, chugging down lambrini to a motoric beat whilst everything turns to toss.
Houseplants, a follow up to the bands Dan Carey produced hyperventilating instant classic The Dial furthers the already established ironic yet earnest explorations in tight funk rhythms, ear-worming repetition and splashes of post-rock textures. Yet this time around we’re welcomed with more immediacy and we’re lauded into the groove that smacks your jaw like an on-time train from Northern Rail. This train that’s just hit you in the face we can imagine that the passengers look something akin to the lost souls in a Hieronymus Bosch painting except they’re reading all Sunday Telegraphs TV times supplement, updating their linkedin profiles and sorting out cocaine for the weekend whilst bleeding blue and yellow goo from their pours without realising it.
Absurd right? Well as is the genius of Squid. With Houseplants we see a claustrophobic attack on middle England, we as listeners are attacked with the unfortunate pedestrian concerns that we haunt ourselves with daily I.e. careering, buying a house, children’s television. Whilst the familiar is screamed at you by the band’s lead vocalist / drummer Ollie Judge, you begin to realise just how absurd the whole thing is.
It’s cruel optimism and the results of ongoing destruction of our souls daily by the neo-liberal agendas beyond our control set to a pulsing beat and infectious groove. It’s brilliant and exactly what we need right now it such times of divisions. Frustrations we can dance to. Squid seem to hold similar lyrical and sonic concerns to many of this new emerging sound of rhythm fuelled post punk (black midi, Handle, N0v3l) and with Houseplants, another jewel is added to this tapestry of militant post-funk resistance. Viva La Squid!
On the 27th February Kevin Morby announced his upcoming double album Oh My God, joint with the news was the release of his new single No Halo. Morby has made a career from re-imagining America’s classic rock heritage, a heritage which as time passes on has started to swallow NYC innovators such as The Velvet Underground, Ramones and The Jim Carroll Band in its revisionist history.
No Halo is no exception from this rule with Morby’s well documented Dylan-esque croon and a Rhodes organ chord progression creeping through the track; the classic Morby formula is at play but with repeated listens one can’t help but feel that something else is at play too.
The track feels like something of an ode to the innate rhythms of rock n roll and the digestion of these rhythms as a child. Whether it’s the ‘1,2,3,4!’ before a Ramones track kicks in, or learning a new nursery rhyme with a ‘1,2,3,4’ in the playground when the sun’s out and slightly burning your face fat. There’s something both weirdly human and meditative about our unsaid appreciation of these patterns. They guide us through life, song and the passing of time without us knowing too much why or our need for them.
Morby’s lyrics don’t shine too much of a light on these eternal questions either but he evokes images of nostalgia “When I was a boy / No rooftop on my joy” with the elemental “no how, no one, nothing was not made of fire” and the spiritual “And hey, hey, hey / No, no, no halo, halo, halo, halo”. Demonstrating to us that with a tiny simple repetition we’re merely a few syllables away talking about the fundamentals of what’s important about life as we know it. This is all reinforced by the Astral Weeks flutes, Coney Island Baby Sax and The Steve Reich-esque clapping reinforcing this hypnotic reflection on this mortal coil. Heavy fucking shit man. The best music always is.
With No Halo it really feels like we have the first signs of an artist reaching a cosmic maturity and looking back at the building of himself as an artist. One can’t help but feel like this isn’t Mr. Morby’s first tackling with this subject with track 3 on 2017’s City Music’s ‘1,2,3,4’ except whilst previously this toe-dipping into this subject matter felt like something of parody or an ironic wink as the simplicity of rock n’ roll; this time round it feels as though Kevin something profoundly spiritual in the simplicity of it. Thusly it feels like the songwriting’s as honest, bare and nude as Kevin Morby is on the front cover and makes me tremendously excited for his upcoming double album.
It’s a Friday. The one day that’s slightly better than the other 6 in the week. Merrily the pre-drinking of premium reasonably priced lager, slightly taught wine, fizz, cider and other liquids are all being pre-drunk. Presumably in flats and other living arrangements in an unanimous ‘do-one’ to the week’s pedestrian headaches and salary motivated activities. With the sabbath of fun on our hands, everything is always a bit more special on a Friday. None the more special as an evening well spent watching bands in the basement of Stevenson’s Squares’ beloved Soup Kitchen.
Tonight, we are blessed with the intoxicating experimentalism of Athens, Georgia’s: Mothers. Touring their sophomore album, the excellent Render Another Ugly Method one of this year’s blistering sonic highlights. If that wasn’t good enough also on the bill two of the most exciting bands that Manchester has to offer the mighty Chew Magna and Blanketman.
Kicking off proceedings with a hefty serving of snap, crackle and fuzzy pop the awesome Chew Magna, who played an absolute stormer. Taking their name from the sleepy village of the same name there was nothing sleep educing about the band’s set. Currently playing songs from their recently released ‘White Hotel Ep’ recorded in the drug den of the same name, they play 6 songs all of which seem to be sonic love letters to the great idols of American Indie rock I.e. Pavement, Guidedby Voices, Broken Social Scene etc. Although the influences are clear, this isn’t parody or poor imitation like say Yuck for example who attempted something similar with their music but lacked the heart and personality to pull it off. Chew Magna do the opposite of this.
They are still uniquely English as the name suggests as do singer’s Laurie Hulme’s vocals, each song stands alone as an ode to a well spent childhood in Northern towns where more than a hand full of Sonic Youth records were hanging around on bedroom floors. With the subject matter of their songs casually swinging from Jean Paul Sabre to Sylvia Plath to “compulsive liars”, they’re a well-read band with much to say both sonically and lyrically. There was even a few non-ironic tapping guitar solos and pure shredding which only added fun the proceedings, plus a disgustingly tight rhythm section whose drummer played so hard a symbol fell off mid song yet they still carried on. They were really the only faultless band of the evening and the only thing I wished was that there were a few more people in the audience to witness the great thing I’d just witnessed. Fun, brilliant fuzzy pop songs that Alex Chilton would be proud to have in his arsenal; go see Chew Magna and if you don’t you deserved to have “I’m really lame” all over your forehead for 3 weeks.
Next up the hotly tipped MCR Live favourite Blanketman, if you haven’t heard of them already you may have come across them in Friday’s edition of the Manchester Evening Newsproclaiming them as one of Manchester’s best up and coming bands. From their performance I’m not going to disagree with our local newspaper’s claim. One did feel I was seeing a different Blanketman from which I’ve seen in sweaty basements around the city. There was much less jumping around and slam dancing at this performance as the group settled on more subdued yet hypnotic set. Opening with the angry yet meditative Gridlock Fears (recently recorded by the excellent gang at Dead Basic Studios in the city’s Northern Quarter), the influence of Anton Newcome was definitely felt in the building. Before one was allowed to slip into a deep paisley underground inspired twangy haze, Blanketman would kick you awake with punchy numbers like 5 Days a Week and Flip It Over. These bangers in particular I saw a few people singing along to, a testament to the band’s growing popularity. They look excellent, sound fab and aren’t afraid to take a few set risks despite their growing popularity. They really added something ace to the evening’s pleasantries.
Finally we have the magnificent Mothers lead by the brilliant sprawling song-craft of KristineLeschper. It would be easy of this reviewer to make note of the band being from Athens, Georgia home of fellow genre-bending hypnotists Deerhunter and make comparisons to their work, or even suggest that the band sound like a bizarre amalgamation of early 80’s R.E.M., Pylon, Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops and Joanna Newsom. These all being the notes I made on my phone on my phone whilst watching the gig and I still think is somewhat true but in hindsight I don’t think comparing Mothers to a bunch of other bands really gives an honest representation of the uniqueness of the experience of seeing the band.
The cocooning slow-core experimentalism was somewhat torturous and agonising but in the most amazing way possible. To explain what I mean by this, the band would tease you with little blasts of frantic and explosive poly-rhythms, note and mind-bending fireworks of noise. Then halt. The band in stilted in tableaux. Not moving in a self-imposed Pinter pause whilst Leschper would switch between guitar and keyboard with slow painful haunting droning anti-ballads. The band would then unfreeze themselves and join in the dream tapestries of sound and tease you further. None conformists to the rock tradition and audience expectation, Mothers are the forerunners of a new kind of audio experience and one of the most exciting and original acts I’ve seen for some time. I urge for you to buy all their records and merchandise so this beautiful experiment can be continued for the world’s benefit. Do it up suckaa!
Polymorphic self-proclaimed “ambient-punks” Deerhunter return with their eighth studio album ‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared’, their first release since 2015’s ‘Fading Frontier’. Although not a drastic departure from their previous efforts, sonically there’s a melancholic sincerity which haunts the album. Upon listening, it feels as though you’re hearing a band quietly appalled with its national identity and the baggage that comes along with the task of writing about American topics. Despite its concerns, they don’t weigh the album down too much as the fizzing pop sensibilities Deerhunter are renowned for carrying the weight of their mournful lyrical content.
That being said this album is more than just Bradford Cox having a big bloody cry and holding a sign in the desert saying “I’m a sad boy – Trump is a muppet and I don’t like him that much” whilst a reverb-drenched drum-machine sound-tracks this terrible scene. It was recorded in the desert – Marfa, Texas to be exact – and co-produced by the ever-brilliant Cate Le Bon. The combination of these two aspects really lends themselves to the album’s attempt at defining a space. As no place lends itself as much to the mythology of America as the desert. Also, having Cate involved as an artist who is very aware of her cultural heritage and transferring that sonically without it being too “on the nose” is a transference Deerhunter attempt with this release and the results are spectacular.
With its album artwork which resembles the front cover of an out of print Frank Waters novel it opens with the harpsichord ridden lament ‘Death in Midsummer’, presumably a nod to the Yukio Mishima short story of the same name in which a decision to go on a family holiday results in the death of two children (cheery stuff). The twanging of harpsichords is achingly reminiscent of something that could be found in John Cale’s 1973 masterpiece ‘1919’. This borrowing from instrumentation similar to other classic ‘baroque rock’ concept albums from the ’60s and ’70s is prevalent on the album. For example, ‘No One’s Sleeping’ which deals with the sensitive subject matter of the murder of MP Jo Cox, yet conversely to its subject sounds like it could be off The Kinks’ ‘The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society’. The track even makes reference to this lyrically “the village green is now nocturnal”.
This borrowing from imagined pasts compliments certain instrumentation on the album which is influenced by borrowing from the other direction; the future. With the synthesizer sounds on ‘Greenpoint Gothic’ sounding like it’s from a Vangelis soundtrack to an abandoned existential late 80’s Sci-Fi movie. Whilst Cox’ and Lockett Pundt’s spaced out guitar-interplay dances a drunken, cosmic tango through all the albums tracks – a great sense of other-worldliness is created. The guitars themselves sound subliminally inspired by the great German Kosmiche bands of the ’70s, in particular, the work of guitarist Manuel Göttsching which creates great depth and a slight cosmological horror: like looking into a great unknown void.
What is achieved by mixing the sounds from fictionalised futures and pasts – blending imagined outer-space with a non-existent nostalgic rural-ism – is Deerhunter create a new way of discussing the present through song. This cutting and pasting of cultures could be described as détournement a phrase coined by the French Situationists of the 1950s. The phrase is also the title of the 6th track on the album making their cultural hijacking of using both fictional futures and pasts, central to the albums’ themes. This hijacking, as it were, allows a discussion of the present in which there’s an implication of what we’re currently experiencing is fiction which somewhat terrifyingly rings true if we linger on the thought of our post-truth digital age a little too long, which the album forces us to do.
‘Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared’, offers more questions then it does answers to where we are at the moment which is where I feel the album’s strength lies. It invites ruminations on some unsettling themes which quietly invite themselves in the form of brilliantly written pop songs. Like much of Deerhunter’s previous output it doesn’t expect you to say it’s a masterpiece on first listen. Rather, to fully “get it” one must live with it for a while until it reveals itself to you. I won’t tell you it’s an immediate masterpiece either, although I would highly recommend you get lost in the album for a while.