Everything Everything – Alexandra Palace, London – 27 April 2013

Written for The Music Fix.

It’s a couple of months since their last London show, but Everything Everything’s latest outing was a far cry from their headline show under the arches at Heaven. Here they gave a quickfire half hour of support to Two Door Cinema Club, a band much of whose audience had taken advantage of the weekend to get their parents to take them on a trip to north London.

Despite the difference in audience, it felt like an Everything Everything headline show when their banner was unfurled to a massive reception. With benefit of hindsight, the joyful screams could just as easily have been a response to moving a step closer to TDCC’s arrival, or the thought of not having school in the morning.

With twilight seeping in through the glass windows and roof of the Palace, EE rolled out something like a festival set, their seven chosen songs including five singles. Back at Heaven it was the sharpness with which they realised ‘Cough Cough’ and ‘Undrowned’ that was most impressive, and – a credit to them – there was no sign of the band doing anything differently here.

Unfortunately, Alexandra Palace is no Heaven, at least as far as sound quality goes, and the massive reverberations from the great glass ceiling put paid to any nuance in their arrangements. Percussive details couldn’t be distinguished, and large parts of vocal lines were all too often lost to the vastness of the room.

The show wasn’t without charisma – the band was arranged around an energetic Jonathan Higgs in much the same way as Yeasayer organise themselves around Chris Keating – but there were few indications, save some overhead hand-clapping during ‘Kemosabe’, to encourage them to play again in this sort of venue. The only song that sounded as good as it should was the mawkish ‘Duet’, which, truthfully, has less potential to fulfil than most.

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The Playlist 26: Best of 2012

A bit belatedly, I added some of my favourite tracks from 2012 to the playlist. Possible top 5: Dirty Projectors, David Byrne & St. Vincent, Frank Ocean, Anna Meredith and Grizzly Bear.

Listen on Spotify

201. Sleigh Bells – ‘Comeback Kid’
202. The Tallest Man On Earth – ‘1904’
203. Django Django – ‘Default’
204. Daniel Rossen – ‘Silent Song’
205. Jack White – ‘I’m Shakin’’
206. Peter Broderick – ‘With the Notes in My Ears’
207. Grimes – ‘Visiting Statue’
208. Of Montreal – ‘Spiteful Intervention’
209. Sharon Van Etten feat. Zach Condon – ‘We Are Fine’
210. The Futureheads – ‘The Old Dun Cow’
211. Hot Chip – ‘Night and Day’
212. Jherek Bischoff – ‘Your Ghost’
213. Anaïs Mitchell – ‘Dyin Day’
214. Micachu and the Shapes – ‘Low Dogg’
215. Rocket Juice & The Moon feat. Damon Albarn – ‘Poison’
216. Eyvind Kang – ‘Nobis Natalis’
217. Bobby Womack feat. Lana Del Rey – ‘Dayglo Reflection’
218. Dirty Projectors – ‘Offspring Are Blank’
219. David Byrne & St. Vincent – ‘Lazarus’
220. Frank Ocean feat. Earl Sweatshirt – ‘Super Rich Kids’
221. Animal Collective – ‘Wide Eyed’
222. Roller Trio – ‘The Interrupters’
223. Jens Lekman – ‘The World Moves On’
224. Scott Walker – ‘‘See You Don’t Bump His Head’’
225. Patti Smith – ‘Amerigo’
226. Anna Meredith – ‘Nautilus’
227. Deerhoof – ‘The Trouble With Candyhands’
228. Grizzly Bear – ‘Sleeping Ute’
229. Cate Le Bon – ‘Through the Mill’
230. Dan Deacon – ‘True Thrush’
231. Mount Eerie – ‘(synthesiser)’
232. The Music Tapes – ‘To All Who Say Goodnight’
233. The Mountain Goats – ‘Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1’

Read the whole playlist.

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Eels – Brixton Academy, London – 21 March 2013

Written for The Music Fix.

Over the past couple of decades, the cult of Mark “E” Everett’s Eels has essentially been that of a solo artist. Bandmates have come and gone, and the Eels name has mostly been seen as an emotional channel for E’s personal tragedies. It’s only with their latest album, Wonderful, Glorious, that they have been strongly identified once more as a band in a more collaborative sense.

Eels have a track record for playing gigs in wildly different styles, which is exemplified by the aftermath of their 2005 double album Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. That album, the centrepiece of E’s career, spawned a divergent pair of tours: the ‘With Strings’ concert hall tour and the rocking ‘No Strings Attached’ outing a year later.

Today’s Eels are closer to the latter, making a focal point out of traditional rock music. Of all the apparent influences on show, 80s Prince is probably the most recent (on closer ‘Go Eels!’), while a couple of faithful covers of 60s singles better signpost the band’s focus. ‘Oh Well’, originally by Fleetwood Mac, provides an early foray into classic guitar heroism, which is matched later on by new material, not least the Waits-ian riffs behind recent single ‘New Alphabet’.

Much like the accompanying album, the current live set-up is all about Team Eels. They’re ostensibly a team by virtue of their matching triple-striped tracksuits and beards, their nicknames, and their frequent breaks to sustain an insistent intra-band hugging regime. Taking matters a step further, E and guitarist The Chet celebrated ten years of their musical relationship with a mid-set renewal of vows led by bassist Honest Al and concluded by drummer Knuckles’ tongue-in-cheek chorus of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’. But the sense of unity on stage went beyond the costume choices (where only a flat cap marks E out from his mates) – the ensemble was intuitively secure, and it would be a huge surprise if it turned out that they hadn’t written the music together.

Blinking Lights will probably be remembered as the end of Eels’ golden age, so it was no surprise when pre-Revelations entries provided some of the setlist highlights. What was a bit surprising was how dramatic the shift to audience euphoria was when the likes of ‘The Sound of Fear’ and ‘Souljacker Part 1’ popped up – the mood beforehand was staid by comparison.

Most memorable was ‘My Beloved Monster’. Although the Shrek soundtrack favourite has been through countless live incarnations, its current format would have been as close as a performance will get to the original album track, were it not for the band’s frequent, seamless segues between it and parts of ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’. It was an unexpected mash-up, somewhat removed from any previous Eels live fare, but the band pulled it off brilliantly.

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Everything Everything – Heaven, London – 13 February 2013

Written for The Music Fix.

Everything Everything have caused music writers a bit of confusion since their first release in 2008. Taking cues from acts in genres as diverse as r’n’b, Britpop and metal, the resulting output has tended to be mistakenly categorised as something other than pop.

The combination of frontman Jonathan Higgs’ unpredictable vocal leaps with spiky, mechanical rhythms cloaks some songs in an illusion of leftfield complexity, which falls away at the heart of their setlist, on upcoming single ‘Duet’. With simple melodic verses and a crashing semi-orchestral finale, they have the ‘Viva La Vida’ vibe down – moments like this will fast-track them into larger venues (and onto numerous BBC soundtracks, probably).

Ahead of the show, it isn’t easy to pre-empt how well their music is going to come across on stage. With each release, the Manchester based quartet has become better known for a style which rests on a few musical quirks, some of which might be expected to prove troublesome in a live context. Most prominent of these is Higgs’s voice, which flits between an insistent falsetto and a duck-like tenor; to a lesser extent, the band’s many-layered synth and guitar approach might seem liable to lose their subtlety in a club venue like Heaven.

Luckily, such fears turn out to be unfounded. Although Higgs’ voice does fade later on, it never cracks under the pressure of coming up against frequently dense textures. His opening performance – of quickfire lyrics that keep up with the florid synth triplets of ‘Undrowned’ – is really impressive.

Thanks to some admirable work at the soundboard, the arrangements as heard on the album are reproduced and bolstered – the heavy closure of ‘Undrowned’ takes on a more visceral element. None of the many various parts of ‘Cough Cough’ and (still their best song) ‘Photoshop Handsome’ are lost in the mix.

Throughout the show, Heaven feels like the smallest London venue Everything Everything are likely to play for some time. Sold out weeks in advance, the crowd gives a huge response all the way back: early in the set, ‘Torso of the Week’ is an unlikely target for a beery, octave-down singalong, but by the end, it surprises nobody when the announcement that their last song has come is met by a unanimous groan.

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Bernstein’s Mass in 2012

In 2011, last.fm stats showed that the things I listened to most were the newly released albums I’d enjoyed most. This year it hasn’t been quite like that – the release that racked up most listens was the original 1971 recording of Bernstein’s MASS. Much of the listening happened during August, when the BBC Proms encroached on my usual listening habits. The huge Welsh production of MASS was the most memorable of them (although the 4 hour long Cage centenary evening was pretty spectacular as well). My brother wrote a good blog about the MASS Prom, which is worth reading if you’re interested.

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Top albums of 2012: 3

Overview Part 1 | Part 2 | Mentions | Longlist | Spotify link

Grizzly Bear – Shields

Grizzly Bear - Shields2009 was a watershed year for a whole group of Brooklyn bands, but it’s the four members of Grizzly Bear who seem to have grown most as a collective since then. Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen’s writing styles – respectively soulful and folky, if we’re pigeonholing – lay the foundations for elegant arrangements, which are grounded by Christopher Bear’s drumming and finished off by Chris Taylor’s production. My album of the year, Shields demonstrates that a group of strong, individual talents can be better for sticking together.

Review of Grizzly Bear at Pitchfork Festival Paris

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David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant

David Byrne & St. Vincent - Love This GiantThe latest of the many collaborations of David Byrne is inter-generational, pitting his art rock eminence against Annie Clark’s 21st Century sweet violence. Their album finds its niche immediately, thanks to bold and unusual choices of instrumentation. The dominant sax and brass band is the album’s most vibrant feature; its constant clarity and bombast put each compositional style on a pedestal. As each writer’s parts intertwine, it’s exciting how easy it is to imagine who came up with the core of each song, and who added which touches later on.

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Hot Chip – In Our Heads

Hot Chip - In Our Heads

This is the latest in a line of Hot Chip albums that don’t shift radically between styles, but which represent gradual steps towards the Londoners’ apparent goal of electro-pop with human substance. Like their beloved Prince, Taylor, Goddard and co. write songs in two basic categories: pop tunes and ballads. Most importantly, In Our Heads beats previous efforts for internal consistency: the wacky, playful singles are matched for impact by moments where the music points less obviously towards the dancefloor, more to the head than the legs.

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Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo MagellanDavid Longstreth has used the Dirty Projectors name on an intimidating variety of recordings, which have moved from early musique concrète experiments to his latter day leftfield pop. Although this outing doesn’t take root too far from the Afrobeat and vocal ping pong-ing of his band’s most recent efforts – even with a personnel change, they’re still a vocal-led sextet – the bulk of Swing Lo is more focused on a personal core than more complicated musical play. The great opening R&B/rock fusion ‘Offspring Are Blank’ is a rare exception.

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Top albums of 2012: These ones are pretty good too

Overview | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 Longlist

2012albumshm

Albums, albums, albums. Not a vintage year, but I liked these ones almost as much as the main 12. Daniel Rossen’s EP was a great prequel to the full Grizzly Bear album, while Aimee Mann produced her best since the Magnolia soundtrack over 10 years ago. Paralytic Stalks was great fun despite claims that Kevin Shields was out to alienate people with it. I annoyed people frequently by compulsively tapping along to Neal Morgan and Mercury Prize jazz people Roller Trio. The Futureheads’ Rant played to their North Eastern a cappella strengths, while Jens Lekman’s voice was as smooth and his personal lyrics as charming as ever. Cate Le Bon wins the imaginary annual Child of Gorky’s award (despite competition from Race Horses, and I suppose the lovely Euros Childs too).

Aimee Mann – Charmer
Cate Le Bon – Cyrk
Daniel Rossen – Silent Hour Golden Mile
The Futureheads – Rant
Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
Neal Morgan – In the Yard
Of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
Roller Trio – Roller Trio

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