• December preview: live highlights this month in Cardiff and Bristol

 

LOOP / THE KVB, Fleece, 2nd

Five years, several line-ups and three studio albums, yet the shadow cast by Robert Hampson’s Loop remains such that this weekend they reunite (in the A Gilded Eternity incarnation, their last) to co-curate the final ATP holiday camp weekender. In terms of standing and influence, they’re a natural choice, and certainly one ATP have been after for some time; with the exception of certain irrevocably damaged bands (the ever-compared Spacemen 3, say), Loop’s forbears (Stooges, Suicide, Pop Group), contemporaries and followers have gradually been coaxed into reformation. Hampson is sanguine about their demise, noting how they seemed to peter out unsatisfactorily after the shuddering, motorik-infused psych monster ‘Arc-Lite’ and the untethered mantras of A Gilded Eternity and how, finally short of reasons not to, the chance to lay the band to rest with a sense of completion and finality denied them first time round. If you want to see where Ride, Verve and countless shoegazers took their cues, and where the likes of Hookworms and splendidly dank, monotonous fuzz ‘n’ synth support duo The KVB among multitudinous current day bands still worship, do not miss this chance; ATP aside, it’s your last.

 

BLOUSE / FACE + HEEL, Start The Bus, 4th

Free gig alert! Presumably blissfully unaware of their unimpeachably brilliant 1997 namesake, a cursory listen to Portland’s Blouse would suggest they’re either equally oblivious of Broadcast, Beach House and Braids or just brazen as hell about their influences. The sweeping, confident pop highlights on second album Imperium see them pare back the retro synth fixations of its predecessor in favour of poised and, well, retro guitar-pop with a hint of 80s detachment to the vocals recalling Au Revoir Simone. Not bad at all, though the best reason to attend this will be to catch Face+Heel, now officially ex-pats in Bristol and fresh from the release of a second excellent EP. ‘Chipped Tooth’ itself welds Sinead’s most showstopping vocal to date to a gorgeous slice of futuristic soul, while ‘Fog & Night’ slows the pace to Massive Attack territory with icy atmospherics and a pulsing, chiming backbone. With the warped slo-mo electro and scalpel-like compositional sense of the first EP and an excellently giddy Islet remix not long behind them, F+H are rapidly becoming essential.

 

QUASI, Fleece, 5th

Given that they’ve been a regular going concern for pretty much two decades, the two recurring opinions held about Quasi – that they’re somehow an inferior side-project to whatever else Janet Weiss is doing, and that they shot their musical and lyrical bolt with 1998′s Featuring “Birds” and everything else is a footnote – both seem desperately unfair when you make even a cursory return to their back catalogue. Sam Coomes’ gift for nimble, driving two-minute pop songs and the combination of fuzz-driven organ, Weiss’ primal thump and Coomes’ clear, deceptively sunny-sounding powerpop voice made those early recordings so much fun, particularly considering the delicious venom and miserable bile slipping through his gritted teeth as he sang. But the lengthier, guitar-led jams on The Sword Of God and the fuck-this-shit political spleen-venting of Hot Shit are just a couple of examples of their range, and the way their other work folded back in Quasi’s sound on later albums (Coomes’ as Blues Goblins, Weiss on the louder, denser likes of Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods and the Jicks’ Real Emotional Trash) goes to illustrate that their longevity has been based on progress, not stasis. Far from regular visitors to the UK, the dynamism and fuzz-heavy volume of their new stuff suggests this will be a blast.

 

ESMERINE / WILL NEWSOME, Cube, 5th

I’ve always kind of swerved Esmerine’s music before, something of a mistake it turns out, but now’s the perfect time to discover them. The Constellation collective, featuring Godspeed, Silver Mt Zion and Set Fire To Flames members, undertook a Turkish tour in 2012 where their minimalist classical/chamber pieces for marimba, cello and percussion were augmented by local musicians. The resulting album-long collaboration, Dalmak, moves gracefully from more typical sections into hot, swirling exoticism on ‘Barn Board Fire’ or ‘Translator’s Clos I’, where saz and duduk create a wall of fuzz that Becky Hoon’s cello weaves gloriously through and the more insistent and energetic Turkish rhythms lift Esmerine into unexpectedly vivid new territory. This tour will see the Dalmak incarnation play the new material alongside reworked versions of old material, which in the Cube’s intimate space should be a treat. Bristolian songwriter and kora virtuoso Will Newsome supports.

 

NEKO CASE / LUCY WAINWRIGHT ROCHE, Trinity, 6th

The force of nature that narrated Neko Case’s 2009 album-opener ‘This Tornado Loves You’ may be the most autobiographical moment in a mid-career move towards ever more personal themes. Her voice casts a tremendous arcing shadow across everything it touches, inevitable and magnetic, and whether allayed to the powerpop nuggets A.C. Newman penned for the New Pornographers, her early country classics like ‘Twist The Knife’ or the mature, dark and deliciously lyrical style she’s followed for the best part of the last decade, it’s been the one constant tying her clutch of narrative voices together. The Worse Things Get is the best set of songs she’s released yet, at times quietly devastating with its lyrical sting, or gleefully, profanely funny in dishing out the treatment.

 

EAGULLS / HEAVY PETTING ZOO / AUTOBAHN / DIRDSBEAD, Moon Club, 6th

Reliably excellent live performers, Eagulls are a loud, viscerally heavy and pleasingly shambling bunch of Leeds miscreants whose recent releases have suggested a certain Cure/Killing Joke-like strain of gloomy raincoat misanthropy has permeated their usual leery, discordant rage. Indeed, they’ve a decent take on KJ’s ‘Requiem’ on the reverse of last single ‘Nerve Endings’, a fact I’ve just realised having already felt pretty pleased with myself at noticing the similarity. Bah. Their stock in trade largely remains a burly take on strung-out Flipper/Wipers punk, dense and knotty but still direct in a way that variously recalls Fucked Up, recent tourmates Merchandise or our own Saturday’s Kids. Top-drawer supporting bill here, taking in HPZ’s lean post-punk sleaze, Eagulls cohorts Autobahn, whose similarly driving and bass-heavy clang is certainly cut from the same cloth and who might consider a name change lest they want to evermore be associated with a bunch of fictional German nihilists, and most intriguing of the lot, tremulous and pretty folk-blues dexterity from Sheffield-based Dirdsbead. Sack off your works do for this one.

 

JAMES PANTS / VEX RUFFIN, Clwb, 6th

A double bill of Stones Throw artists that demonstrates the surprisingly wide stylistic net cast by a label traditionally held to be the preserve of hip-hop classicists and obsessive-compulsive crate-diggers like Madlib, the late great J Dilla and founder Peanut Butter Wolf. Stones Throw circa 2013 still deals in the sonic descendants of those dudes, but also covers among others Mayer Hawthorne’s preppy yacht-rock/soul, Dam-Funk’s epic funk revivalism, and these two oddballs. James Pants’ three albums for the label to date hoover up much of the weird and disparate music that you might find splintered and repurposed on one of Madlib’s Beat Kollecta anthologies; slurred 80s R&B, video game FX, darkwave synthpop curios recalling both Suicide and Silicon Teens at the same time, proto-garage rock and the queasy plastic soul of Gary Wilson or Ariel Pink. Vex Ruffin, meanwhile, ploughs a more singular furrow on his debut for the label, a rough-arsed minimal electro grind recalling Alan Vega (again) with a little of the playfulness of Bruce Haack or early Max Tundra in its lighter moments. Pants takes the plaudits, but both will make for a curious and refreshing night.

 

ED ASKEW / WAY THROUGH / HACKER FARM PRESENT ‘WITCHES’, Cube, 8th

An intriguing three-way here care of Qu Junktions and the Cube. Brought to the UK for the first time by his current label and all-purpose Coventry arts hydra Tin Angel, Ed Askew’s story is a familiar one; New York-bases troubadour makes well-received debut of post-Dylan ruminations (for ESP Disk, no less), sees second album shelved, enters decades of obscurity, is rediscovered and rehabilitated commercially in 21st century. De Stijl reissued Askew’s gorgeous 1970 album Little Eyes in 2007, kick-starting his return to recording from a life of painting and writing, and this year’s For The World casts the now seventy-something Askew as a mature, reflective voice exploring the darkness in a way you wish Vic Chesnutt was still around to do. Way Through are the truly excellent musical outlet of Upset The Rhythm founders Claire Titley and Chris Tipton, and their second release Clapper Is Still is a strange and incomparable psychogeographical travelogue across an alternative and deeply personal English landscape. They call it ‘pastoral punk’, which is fair enough, though its off-kilter collage of chilly String Band keening, skeletal post-punk and field recordings goes way further than that suggests. You should make the effort to see ‘Witches’ too; a playful and creative repurposing of obscure source material wherein Westcountry DIY electronic collective and former guests of Qu’s ‘Out Of Place’ series Hacker Farm team up with shady London noise unit Libbe Matz Gang, carve up an infamous Nigerian psychedelic voodoo hex DVD and apply their own soundtrack.

 

DEUX BOULES VANILLE / Y CVN, Mothers Ruin, 9th

Clearly it’s free gigs month in Bristol, so no excuse not to get on the train. This one may even be the best of the lot. A double-drummer duo who trigger jerry-built synths and an arsenal of trippy electro-noise by drumming, Saint Etienne-based nutbars Deux Boules Vanille would appear from the exhilarating Youtube footage available to be the best fun since sliced Lightning Bolt. Their biog proclaims “an idiotic music, lonely, danceable, that fits as much in the pit, in a disco or at the supermarket”, and I hope you don’t think me too lazy for quoting that verbatim as short of forcing you to watch this or this there really isn’t much more I can add. Y CVn, meanwhile, sees Aron Ward (Raiders/Color Of The Sun/Vostok) and John Bell (Raiders/Model Boat) in cosmic electronica mode, a synth/drum duo whose percussive battery, squelchy robo-disco and head-nodding, compact no-wave pop recalls Secret Wars-era Oneida or a goofier Battles. Nice.

 

Out Of Place – WET SOUNDS: JOEL CAHEN / H / HENRY COLLINS / ROD MCLACHLAN, Bristol South Swimming Pool, Bedminster, 15th

Upsettingly, both early evening and late sessions of this remarkable and literally immersive sound-art experience have already sold out, but it merits mention nonetheless. The brainchild of Joel Cahen, whose Aquadelica audio collage is the constant at the installations, the soundscapes can be heard through one of three channels; one outside the water, one sub-aquatic soundsystem, and one effectively combining the two as the listener floats on the surface. The much faster pace at which sound travels, and is perceived, in water than in air allows for uniquely different perceptions of the music depending on the individual listener’s experience. Guesting with Cahen at the Bristol sessions are ZamZam Records collagist H, Henry Collins (formerly Shitmat, you’ll recall, and now a prolific sound artist whose Creating Friction installation and collaborations for Bang The Bore seem pretty fascinating) and visual artist Rod McLachlan, who amongst other ventures filmed a unique collaboration with Hauschka for the Bristol Proms which I mentioned here a while back.

 

BEAUTY PAGEANT / ROSEANNE BARRR / BELLIES! / TRUST FUND, Roll For The Soul, 17th

Intense Bristol jealousy continues with yet another blinding gig in a DIY live space, this time a ‘community bike cafe’ on Quay St (a few minutes’ stroll from Colston Hall, if like me your orientation is hopeless). Beauty Pageant are a brilliant fucking revelation of a band, a supremely great no-wave/skronk trio from Newcastle built on lurching, lunging tempos, feral vocal incantations and wave after wave of awesome alto and baritone sax. Think Contortions, Essential Logic, early Mae Shi, Ponytail and other wonderful things. YES. It broke our tiny blackened hearts when Roseanne Barrr had to withdraw last-minute from our Queer’d Science show last year; the Woolf-affiliated bass/drum power duo are a treat indeed, wild and furious like prime Huggy Bear across the grinding, pummeling Repulsion LP. You should know and adore Bellies! by now, deliciously funny, poignant, brittle and furious by turns and sometimes within a single clipped two-minute song. A force of nature and a titanically great live band. Finally there’s Trust Fund, whose gorgeously open, intimate songs were last heard opening the Joanna Gruesome album launch gig, and whose Reeks Of Effort-released EP suggests something pretty special. There is a fantastic night in prospect here. Attend!

 

THE COSMIC DEAD / LUMINOUS BODIES / PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS / EKOPLEKZ / REPO MAN, St John The Baptist Crypt, 21st

This is the fifth in a series excellently dubbed Cacophonous Sarcophagus, and really does occur in an actual 14th century crypt – recent guests have included Gnod, Shield Your Eyes and, most appropriately, Moss. Cosmic Dead, you’ll recall, headlined the inaugural Cardiff Psych Fest in the summer; the super-prolific Glaswegians return here with more whacked-out space rock, brown-acid prog twiddling and a dense fog of kosmiche noise recalling AMT, Hawkwind, Amon Duul and the trippiest Oneida sides amongst others. Their latest release (produced by sometime Scorn/Khanate dude James Plotkin) is a mammoth long-form split single with Pigs x 7, who take the laurels for name of the month and deliver abundantly with grimy motorik, deafening fuzz-wash monster boogie and desperate bellowing that fans of Hey Colossus or Gnod would be bang into. In between these you get Luminous Bodies, who feature Terminal Cheesecake, Gum Takes Tooth and Part Chimp alumni for starters, and if all this weren’t enough the dank horror-ambience of Ekoplekz and the swingeing stream-of-consciousness verbiage and honking post-punk splatter of Repo Man have just been added. Highly recommended, as is getting a ticket given the Crypt only fits 60 lucky punters.

 

FIST OF THE FIRST MAN / GULP / THE LOVELY EGGS / ALEX DINGLEY BAND / QUIET MARAUDER / BABY QUEENS, Chapter, 31st

New Year’s Eve in Cardiff is, the redoubtable and ever-living Twisted By Design apart, traditionally a barren wasteland for actual going-out entertainment. Not so this year, as Chapter take the plunge and programme a proper year-end blow-out curated by Mel Fung (née Daley). She’s played a blinder, as you can see; FOTFM were planet-smashingly loud at Swn this year, building incredibly quickly on the excellence of their self-titled album, while the supporting cast takes in the reliably raucous, skewed pop-noise of Dingley, Gulp’s swooning take on the cosmic poise of United States of America and Broadcast and the puzzlingly enjoyable Lovely Eggs. Martin Carr on the decks and a doubtless impressive (and reassuringly expensive) bar make this the ideal precursor to your early-hours house party and two-day regret binge. Beats Jools Holland into a cocked hat.