• August preview: some live highlights for this month in Cardiff and Bristol

SHIT AND SHINE / SOME TRUTHS / TOMAGA, St John The Baptist Crypt, 1st

August kicks off in uncompromising style on both sides of the Severn Bridge. CacoSarco, as I am unfortunately going to refer to them, welcome Shit And Shine back to the crypt after a beast of a show with Gnod a year ago. Now, as then, SAS are a monolithic and splendidly creepy pile-up of limping Butthole Surfers antagonism, rotten industrial grooves and, on their game-changing self-titled EP for Diagonal last year, a kind of mutoid house replete with swooping strings, steroidal basslines and mistreated vocal samples. It’s a brilliant diversion from a man (Craig Clouse) who appears to quite rightly believe he can do as he pleases. Some Truths is Bass Clef’s Ralph Cumbers working with a custom-built modular synth on loan from Bristol kit-builder Tom Bugs, spooling out moody, crystalline patterns drenched in reverb and delay. Touching on space rock and Tangerine Dream ambience, AFX and the anything-goes approach of Hieroglyphic Being, his Some Friends I Lost To Bedlam album for Mordant Music takes what started as a part-time experiment further out than he could have imagined. Tomaga evoke the sensation of listening to both the other bands at once, being a Shit & Shine-affiliated improv duo layering modular synths, skittering percussion and theremin into spiralling jams and fractured, hypnotic mantras.


Celestial Communications’ first gig since Swn 2013, this takes the experimental and challenging spirit of that line-up and relocates it to a DIY skatepark on Newport Road. Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance have a lengthy rap sheet within UK DIY circles, not least as curators of Brighton’s unparalleled Colour Out Of Space fest. Working as Blood Stereo, they take more cerebral, studied aspects of avant-garde composition and mess their hair up, steal their dinner money. Teeth-rattling frequencies, otherworldly ambient drones and crackling, unsettling sampled musical and non-musical noises are interrupted by Nyoukis’ own ululations and mutterings. Garbled, hallucinatory, uncomfortable noise with a darkly playful spirit in the tradition of another talented and prolific prankster, James Kirby’s V/Vm. More such improv head-fuckery comes care of Usurper, an Edinburgh duo with a battery of actual and pseudo-instruments and a cut ‘n’ paste aesthetic that smears electroacoustic clatter and sputtering found-sound weirdness up the walls. Tom Roberts (of Brighton absurdist free jazz troupe Bolide Awkwardstra) and Duncan Harrison (warped tape jams and trebly walls of hiss and feedback) will present a hitherto unquantifiable collaboration, while Ian Watson represents with crackling drones, DIY electronics and dangerous hints of melody. He also designed the really fucking great poster for this gig, which you’ll get a print of if you book an advance ticket.



All your best friends will be at these gigs, even if you don’t know them yet. Two more of the member-swapping, wavelength-sharing DIY shows that Bristol seems to do so well, the RFTS evening will be especially swell, having essentially copied a Joy Collective gig from last month (hi Mike!). Tour partners Frozy and the Nervy Betters were a swoon of greatness at Gwdihw a few weeks ago, tender and ramshackle and hushed and rollicking in turns (and if Frozy’s first song is a lilting instrumental version of George McCrae’s ‘Rock Your Baby’ again you can die happy a second time). Also on form that night was Oh Peas!, the solo-with-guests music of Rosie from Cardiff’s Totem Terrors. One more time: her debut album ‘Shades Of Intolerance’ is the best bedroom lo-fi sadpop you will hear this or any other year, so buy it and buy it now. And adding the Middle Ones to the bill really smacks the wang into Cardiff’s face; Grace and Anna’s bare-bones songs are just brilliant: vulnerable and devastating vignettes built from a little guitar, accordian and vocals. Go see, and if you’re available two days before that, go to Brandon Park, where a more relaxed gathering will be forming, with future hit songs from wunderkid locals Trust Fund, Two White Cranes and more. Going to either of these will make your life 72% better. Yes, 72%.


Soft Walls is an occasional solo project from Dan Reeves of Cold Pumas and the Faux Discx label. His second album under the name is due out in Summer 2014 on Trouble In Mind, and while solo on record he trades up to a full band (with definite article, grammar fans) live.  No Time ups the dynamics from the bedroom-quality sound of the debut, MJ from Hookworms’ production work bringing a clarity that keeps the immediacy and attractive kitchen-sink spirit but lets it shake some of the dirt off in doing so. Reeves tries out an airy, echo-drenched croon on the shuddering, thrilling Suicide/Wooden Shjips hum of ‘Never Come Back Again’, while ‘Guided Through’ softens the metallic clamour of Cold Pumas with some Deerhunter-style, jangly motorik-leaning pop, eddying psychedelic drones and plenty of mind-altering Telescopes-style whoosh.  Realisation that dawns when listening to Teardrop Factory’s Topshop EP: holy crap, these people used to be Homescience. If you remember the series of plaintively romantic, fuzzed-out gems that band issued a decade or so ago, the good news is Andy Ward still writes gorgeous comfort blanket slacker-pop that nods towards the melodies of Loaded, the homemade sonics of Alien Lanes and the plaintive, heartfelt qualities of Television Personalities.


Fourth outing for this laudable not-for-profit showcase of heavy music of various stripes from South Wales and beyond, curated as always by Spider Kitten. The doom/stoner mainstays are one-sixth of another strong line-up; Cougar Club was a brooding, psychedelic beast that still sounds enormous two years on, their best and most deservedly acclaimed stuff yet. Headliners War Wolf are a punked-up, crusty metal trio who open their LP with a choice Wicker Man sample and a song called ‘Christianity (Is Dying)’ which dispels thoughts of predictable metal blasphemy by following up with equally vitriolic assaults on other outmoded ways of thinking. Their Crushing The Ways Of The Old dabbles in hardcore tempos and sludgy, riff-heavy monsters, furious and gut-punchingly heavy. Politicised, pro-choice, anti-pricks all round Good Dudes. They’ll work perfectly alongside kindred spirits Smiler, recently crudely reanimated Valleys crust punk/hardcore lifers who are abrasive, splenetic and sloppy in the right places with sludgy Sabbath interludes and detours into ugly grindcore. What else? POHL give it some Big Business-style stoner/grunge wall of fuzzed-out, hook-filled noise; Haast’s Eagled chuck in blackened, downtuned riffs and sandpaper-gargling Prince of Darkness doomgrumble vocals; and Jimmy Rowe offers William Elliott Whitmore-styled Southern gothic twanging. Thrifty fans of the heavy stuff should apply here.


Shirtless and unhygienic Bletchley noise-rock leviathan Action Beat return, marshalling infinite guitarists and drummers into formation for an imposingly heavy co-headline tour with similarly hard-touring post-hardcore screamers Silent Front.  They’ve just released an album with former long-time Ex frontman G.W. Sok, augmenting their spiralling improv jams with his inimitable vocals. It’s great. All their records are. Standard AB template: happen upon riff. Add more guitars. Add more drums. Pummel riff into ecstatic submission for four minutes. It’s great. We put them on back in 2010 and they nearly broke the poor soundman. Repetition in their music, and they’re never gonna lose it. Sorry. Silent Front are a different but no less enervating proposition, a tense, lurching noise-rock beast whose seesawing dynamics manage to be complex and challenging without letting up on the urgency and head-cracking power. Phil Mann reels from full-throated howling to a pacing, gritted-teeth harangue which further sharpens the lazy comparisons with Shellac, Jesus Lizard or Lungfish which I have inevitably just made. With a proposed Cardiff date falling flat this represents your best shot of seeing these two, and promoters Cheap Words On Handbills add bratty mathcore poppets His & Hers (Blood Brothers x Test Icicles, for good or bad), furious sheet-metal clatter and bracing discordance care of Mister Lizard and Repo-Man’s tumultuous art-skronk. This will rule.


Prolific as a musician and painter outside of his day job in the Dirty Three, Mick Turner’s unassuming profile does him a disservice; Don’t Tell The Driver holds up against anything his band or his frequent collaborators (Cave, Cat Power, Will Oldham) have done in recent years. Which is not to denigrate any of those people, it’s just Driver already feels like an unjustly lost classic. Free of Warren Ellis’ stormy violin leads, Turner’s impressionistic, wandering guitars explore a broader palette than before, with gently picked melodies, dusty twangs and clusters of notes winding between scattershot brushed drums, twinking minor key piano and sighing horns. I’ve already loaded more painterly similes into this thing than is strictly necessary, but there’s something about the breadth of mood conjured by Turner’s compositions which evokes great landscapes, an intricacy to his unfussy playing which your garden variety post-rock guitarist couldn’t hope to emulate. Apt support from Bristol based guitar improviser John Scott, aka Stereocilia, whose longform oscillations would find favour with anyone who saw and enjoyed Land Observations’ set at Swn last year.

RICHARD DAWSON / FRANK FAIRFIELD, Colston Hall Lantern, 15th

Amazing scenes.  Richard Dawson’s first gig outside his native North East of England, as I never tire of pointing out, was a Lesson No. 1 and Joy Collective night at Undertone last February.  I’d guess few of the 40 or so people who kindly turned out that night knew his stuff before, but the reactions to his warm, witty stage presence and extraordinary voice were priceless – rapt, smiling, laughing faces.  Bloody excellent.  He’s since returned to headline From Now On festival, doubling up with a set of playful improve with Rhodri Davies, toured the UK and Europe widely and now comes a co-headline tour taking in the 250-capacity Lantern.  The Glass Trunk, with its sprawling, sparse 10-minute-plus folk traditionals punctuated by clamorous, pealing clusters of Bill Orcutt-meets-Sir Richard Bishop guitar, might appear challenging at first, but its gruffly heartfelt charms are irresistible and Dawson’s splenetic and personable mannerisms are an utter joy.  Will be interesting to note the dynamic between two very different interpreters of tradition here; Fairfield is no less spirited in his way, though his reverence for his own source material posits him more as a lively archivist than Dawson’s earthy, immersive takes on classic forms.   I’ll be making the trip for this one and I strongly recommend you do too.


My last mention of Fat White Family in this ‘column’, six long months ago when we were all so much younger and less cynical, suggested the South London lovelies were pleasingly unlikely candidates for next big thing status.  Yet here they are, moving from Start The Bus in February to the Fleece in August and a Saturday night spot at Green Man.  What I like about them is the agreeably shambolic way they cobble together a sound from well-chosen influences without sounding at all calculated; limping Monks-style skiffle pastiches, grimy post-Nuggets freakbeat flecked with off-key cooing and vocal tics, the panting, gritted-teeth unease and queasy, skeletal grooviness of Clinic’s early EPs. Co-headliners The Growlers have a more conventional approach and fewer edges to their pretty Merseybeat-goes-garage songwriting, offset with more one-dimensionally creepy lyrics; ‘Dogheart II’ overdoes the ‘little girls’ stuff just a bit, like the Coral signing the sex offenders’ register. They’re from California, though, which makes sense; you can hear traces of Anglophile West Coasters from the Monkees to Sir Douglas Quintet to Brian Jonestown Massacre in their cutely curatorial dressing-up-box sound.

ST VINCENT, o2 Academy, 21st

St Vincent’s fourth album is self-titled, which leads the straw-clutching observer to interpret it as a definitive statement, the artist’s “…and this is me” moment. That’s apt to an extent; elliptical and direct and curious by turn, its lyrics ask as many questions as they answer, but its sound is unmistakeably Annie Clark. It explodes with playful creativity, bearing the hallmarks of a mutually beneficial creative partnership with David Byrne (especially on ‘Digital Witness’, a musical exclamation mark whose synthetic horns and rubbery bass could slip unnoticed onto Speaking In Tongues). There’s also a complex, potent compositional approach that, like former bandmate Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz or Dirty Projectors, sparkles with pop savvy while turning cartwheels through increasingly meticulous arrangements. For all that, it’s surprisingly compact and poised, reining in any tendencies to cut loose and shred, sealing off from the violent catharsis often unleashed onstage. If Academy-sized venues initially seem a surprising indication of status, it’s heartening to see such a risk-taking, gifted musician operating without a safety net in the big rooms; she’s held far bigger rooms and fields in the palm of her hand, so this should be a breeze.


It’s easily forgotten that Stephen McBean worked as Pink Mountaintops before Black Mountain, the band he remains best known for, released their first album of glorious sun-baked psych-rock classicism.  PM swiftly came to work as an outlet for ideas that didn’t fit the more studiously defined stylistic templates of its offspring; sweeter, sloppier, a lo-fi tumble of Velvets drone-pop, goofy drum-machine pop and the rickety DIY folk of early Smog which cast McBean’s beardy barroom drawl amid more playful, upbeat arrangements.  With the exception of one steaming great disaster (a hackneyed, toe-curling guest ‘rap’ that simultaneously demeans rap, women, swearing, juvenilia and the entire history of recorded sound), the recent Get Back does a decent job of maintaining the fine hit-rate of the first three PM albums; wobbly motorik, reflective, crumpled pop with a romantic bent and some killer solos, one (on ‘Through All The Worry’) from J Mascis.  Punchier and less notably laid back than before, it ramps up the glammy rock n’ roll posturing at the expense of Outside Love’s more minimal arrangements in a way that suggests ears will ring after this one.


Shape Records last brought the pan-global psychedelic pop swirl of London-via-Bahrain troupe Flamingods to our attention at a Gwdihw show 18 months or so ago, and it’s cheering to see them return as fully-fledged members of the Shape family. Second album Hyperborea arrives this month through the label and despite its challenging gestation (leader Kamal Rasool contributing parts online from Dubai after visa law issues prevented his return to the UK) they’ve built something which suggests utter free-spirited experimentation while remaining sharply focused. In a whipsmart 35 minutes its cross-cultural tapestry weaves in Sung Tongs oddball pop, eddying psychedelia, tumbling tribal percussion, twinkling Afropop guitars, gamelan chimes and whatever else they can lay their hands on. What’s so impressive is the way it’s all tightly marshalled into something that flows almost as a single piece, never overwhelms or loses focus and gives equal, generous time to its weirder and most immediate impulses. This isn’t half an hour spun around one or two great moments, it’s a whole series of tiny ones.  Some excellent supports too; Macho City’s chunky retro-electro filth and Form Constants, Aidan Taylor and Kim Da Costa’s splicing of custom-built analogue electronics and sine wave-driven live projections.


Not AMT’s first visit to Cardiff – anyone remember their Point gig with Ruins in 2008? – but most likely their loudest and cosiest, in a venue that will put you eyeball to eyeball with hyperactive guitar crazy Kawabata Makoto and his legion of collaborators. Exploratory psych noise, intimidating improv scree, cosmic flower-power grooves, vast two-hour sets of out-there Sun Ra skronk and wiggy electronic excursions… AMT are a walking Japrocksampler and much more, channelling whole histories of disparate Western and Japanese musics into an all-encompassing ‘trip music’ across nearly 30 years and something like 70 albums.  Them Squirrels’ leisurely journey towards a proper album has been a long one; their live debut narrowly predates Islet’s, and it’s natural that focus has been there, but it’s excellent to hear that the album’s (pretty much) finished and on its way.  They’re a parallel universe alter-ego of Islet, a kitchen-sink jumble of percussion, violin, frenzied tempo shifts and knotty prog/pop wonder which reappears only fleetingly but is always hugely welcome.  FOTFM’s ace strobing math-rock and HNT’s careering blend of stop-start post-hardcore and perplexing oddball noise make up a stellar bill care of Holy Boredom.  You need to be at this.

BLACK LIPS, Fleece, 29th

The bad kids who never grew up, Black Lips’ sloppy charm endures because of, not despite, their limitations; the cheeky fratboy delinquency and Pebbles-grade garage knock-offs are just as loveable when buffed to a fine shine by Mark Ronson (as on Arabia Mountain) as when strafed with feedback and rudimentary production on Let It Bloom or the John Reis-helmed live album.  Smart enough to know where their strengths are, restless enough to mess around with the form (jangly acoustic guitars, surf rock, warped country, loveably sloppy Jacques Dutronc covers), they may never have strayed further from the garage than the Ramones’ practice room but they’ve kept up a fine hit rate, good for a handful of brilliantly catchy two-minute pop hits (‘Raw Meat’, ‘Smiling’, ‘Veni Vidi Vici’) and the odd nailed-down 13th Floor Elevators psych freak-out on every record.  There’s a fantastic best-of in them some day, which says as much for their dedication to the genre as anything.  Expect loud, messy, disreputable fun.


Polish-born, Glasgow-based composer and musician Ela Orleans crams so much into her work it’s a wonder it remains as poised and coolly controlled as it does.  A composer for theatre, film and Polish TV, she’s a prolific collaborator (Skitter, Dan Melchior, Dirty Beaches), dabbler in electronics (as TRACT) and remixer (a spry gamelan-hued Laraaji reworking for Warp).  Her albums take some cues from popular Ghost Box/Radiophonic Workshop themes, but dabble widely in experimental electronics, modern composition, library music, film scores and art-rock; High Moon, Low Sun is a dark and dreamy blue of the filmic ballroom-music cues of the Caretaker, layers of ghostly girl group / doo-wop harmony and Orleans’ evocative sigh of a vocal, a burnt-caramel hybrid of Trish Keenan and Nico.  Tumult In Clouds, recently reissued on her own label, places foggy out-rock experiments alongside mournful ballads, playful sample collages and eerie concréte soundscaping; a rare example of disparate cross-discipline influences having a notable impact while still sounding original, an artistic outlook that’s fearless, literate and exploratory but remains steeped in otherworldly melody.