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

LOSERPALOOZA: SPIDER KITTEN / THE WITCHES DRUM / THORUN / ZINC BUKOWSKI / ATOMCK / RECLUSE, Buffalo, 1st

HARK / ART OF BURNING WATER / THE DEATH OF HER MONEY / SPIDER KITTEN, Moon Club, 11th

What better way to start a month of flatulent excess on the right foot than this? None, that’s right. A budget-priced mini-festival crammed to the gills with excellent local bands covering a strikingly broad stylistic spread, Loserpalooza returns for a second year thanks to Chi from monolithic sludge monsters Spider Kitten, whose killer PR blurb for the event makes me never want to attempt this column again. SK headline, trailing (and selling) new LP Cougar Club ahead of its January release. Enormous, fuzzed-up riffs and slurred bad-acid vocals left to drown in molten treacle. They’re a bit good. Thorun rep for the low-end crowd too, dragging in lovely great slabs of instrumental stoner gear. There’s an interesting contrast elsewhere though; The Witches Drum are the house band for your Jonestown theme party, all grubby psych heaviness and leering Iggy come-ons, while Zinc Bukowski bring excellently thuggish sludged-out Flipper/Mudhoney punk and the now Bristol-dwelling Atomck, actual human drummer and all, do flailing, fiercely tight grind madness better than pretty much anyone. Noel Lesson No. 1 DJs, leading me nicely into his co-promotion with Kaskie from immersive, brilliant post-metallers Death Of Her Money on the 11th, where the latter and Spider Kitten team up with the creeping, maniacal riff terror of Art Of Burning Water in support of the long-awaited Cardiff debut for Sabbath-heavy ex-Taint dudes Hark.

 

MONO, Exchange, 1st

Mono’s career, seven albums deep, can be seen as a gradual, nuanced evolution, a delicate and lengthy attritional process. It may never quite achieve the perfect state you sense Taka Goto yearns to convey but it’s delivered some staggeringly beautiful music along the way. Post-rock’s key tropes invite the suggestion that it’s compositionally formulaic, and Mono have had the odd snarky review since ramping up the dynamics and adding huge layers of bruised, swelling strings on 2007’s Hymn To The Immortal Wind, but their widescreen orchestral sweeps are meticulously layered, deliberately built, not mere button-pushing. The dizzying peaks of their quiet-loud epics still retain the power to deafen, never more than when seen live, and this short post-ATP tour will see the core quartet drop the strings and concentrate on teasing out the gorgeous, glacial melodies and crushing guitar roar. Knowing what’s coming is one thing, but resisting its power to transcend is something else entirely.

 

MISSION OF BURMA / FUTURE OF THE LEFT / CURSOR MAJOR, Thekla, 3rd

FUTURE OF THE LEFT, Clwb, 12th

Nepotism aside, nothing on this page excites as much as the prospect of seeing Mission of Burma again. Intense, brooding, arty post-punk delivered with a no-bullshit matter-of-factness, the one full-length Boston’s finest managed before their 1985 split (the ominous, dense, unnerringly prescient Vs) laid the groundwork for countless indie-rock big-hitters of the late ’80s and ’90s. Given their health-related burnout it was remarkable enough that they returned in such fine fettle in 2002, but the consistency of the four albums of new material released since then is incredible – the three songwriters continue to work in their own inimitable styles, Roger Miller’s pithy, abstract clarion calls and Clint Conley’s more considered mid-tempo hooks offsetting each other as perfectly as ever. Contrarian, unlikely genius. A top bonus treat here is the supporting appearance of Future of the Left, who also round off perhaps their most successful (or least underrated) 12 months to date with a headline gig at Clwb on the 12th. The Plot Against Common Sense’s freewheeling glee and gallows humour were a pretty seamless bridge from the glories of Curses and Travels, albeit with an even leaner, sharper focus and willingness to experiment with structure – see ‘Notes On Achieving Orbit’, an album-closing release of bilious, righteous tension worthy of Nigel Blackwell. Words not chosen lightly, frankly.

 

MATTHEW DEAR, Exchange, 3rd

Detroit-via-Texas electronic polymath Matthew Dear has spent the best part of a decade in split personality. As Ghostly label founder, as minimal techno producer Audion, as a DJ, remixer and practitioner of a clutch of classic Detroit techno sides, he’s flipped convention and expectation the bird. As Matthew Dear, recording artist, though, his evolution has been more considered, particularly since 2007′s eye-openingly accessible Asa Breed. A hypnotic, robotic sleaze-funk take on the same Bowie/Eno moves that James Murphy copped, the playful neon accessibility of that album’s linchpin ‘Don And Sherri’ gave way to the rubbery noir seediness of Black City, a lithe and lascivious beast somewhere between Green Velvet, LCD’s darkest soul-searching moments and a priapic Soft Cell. He’s a suave, confident entertainer with a supreme compositional touch and a vast palette of influences, and it’s hard to know why he’s not crossed over more widely; this tour sees his latest live incarnation with an expanded live band and, you suspect, will provide a sweaty, delirious and ecstatic proper night out.

 

PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING / FIST OF THE FIRST MAN, Buffalo, 5th

FIST OF THE FIRST MAN / R.SEILIOG / ALEX DINGLEY / H. HAWKLINE, Chapter Studio, 14th

Their MO is simple but effective, sampling public information film dialogue and BFI-style vintage documentary footage and overlaying it with lithe, liminal post-rock with a little of Errors’ malleability, Lemon Jelly’s bucolic playfulness and a dash of the country lanes Krautrock of Warm Digits. It works best on the towering (sorry) Everest, which ascends through warm, uplifting rhythm patterns and stoic brass to a pretty glorious apex. There’s a clear conceptual border with Ghost Box and Boards of Canada (PSB have a tune called Roygbiv, so the latter is an inevitable reference point), and the shady operative personae remind me of the excellent Reigns, but their limited output to date has already seen huge strides forward in their own unique direction and promises much. Tom Raybould’s new post-rock project Fist Of The First Man are everywhere this month; fresh from supporting Thought Forms last week they open this show before a belated launch event for their self-titled album at Chapter. Throbbing basslines, spidery guitar and nagging, insistent kraut-pop rhythms cut the familiar into fresh shapes, and with Casey Raymond and Nic Finch providing visual accompaniment the palpable sense of remote car-chase unease is perversely enjoyable. Cracking supporting bill here too, early arrival suggested.

CATE LE BON / PERFUME GENIUS / C.A. SMITH, Clwb, 6th

It’s been hugely rewarding to see Cate Le Bon’s appeal broaden and blossom far beyond Cardiff over the last year or so, a year that saw should-have-been Welsh Music prize winner CYRK justly lauded on an international scale and a series of well-received (and occasionally very messy, it seems) North American tours undertaken. Not that it’s a surprise; the alternately tender and oblique lyricism and fantastically wiggy, fuzz-heavy psych-folk excursions hinted at in Me Oh My’s high points go stratospheric on CYRK, rich with joyful experimentation and gorgeously bittersweet, chiming hooks. This will be her last Cardiff gig for some time, and sees a reunion with former touring partner Perfume Genius. He returns to Cardiff after August’s Globe gig, bearing two brief, intimate albums of scarred, unflinching and beautiful songs essaying third-person tales of suffering and redemption, recalling Antony Hegarty, Elliott Smith or Sufjan Stevens’ quieter moments. It’s powerful and affecting stuff assuming you can hear him. The former Mayor McCa, a one-man band, troubadour and mayoral candidate in his home town of Hamilton, Ontario, C.A. Smith has now set aside the many coats of his former identity but retained a charming, courtly appeal and an easy knack for sweet, affecting songwriting.

 

SHARON VAN ETTEN / THIS IS THE KIT / GEORGIA RUTH, Glee, 9th

Her confidential, often disarmingly personal lyrics might inevitably garner comparison with Kristin Hersh or Cat Power, but the gut-punch intimacy and emotional impact of Sharon Van Etten’s defiant, bruised confessionals vaulted her far ahead of the pack when 2010′s Epic emerged. Its follow-up Tramp was all the more remarkable for delivering on increased expectation in a completely natural, steadily confident way; the sympathetic, coaxing production by the National’s Bryce Dessner and the small ensemble cast present her questing, determined songs with the perfect amount of restraint, power and care. Whether or not the words are autobiographical, the taut, haunting folk- and country-tinged songs demand the attention in the way of, say, Nina Nastasia, Marissa Nadler or Shannon Wright. Fine and deserved company. Kate Stables’ Bristol/Paris collective This Is The Kit offer beautifully poised jazz-tinged Canterbury folk beamed direct from Robert Wyatt’s back garden in 1971, while Newsom-inspired folkie Georgia Ruth’s bell-clear voice and twinkling harp ditties open this one in homelier but no less affecting style.

 

A SPECIAL SUNDAY SOAK: ROZI PLAIN / MIKE HERON BAND / CRYBABY / MARISA ANDERSON, Colston Hall 2, 9th

Each time I’ve previewed a Rozi Plain gig I’ve considered whether she’d appear accompanied by a full band, and each time she’s been solo; a fizzing, sharp-eyed presence, tying the room in knots with crackling humour, spindly folk guitar and tender, brittle songs. Maybe this time, as she headlines Qu Junktions’ Sunday Soak – if not a Christmas show, then a reflective, quietly celebratory year-end night of intimate, folk-tinged joys. In stripped-down mode, the hushed lullabies and impressionistic imagery are like being presented with the constituent parts of something beautiful, deconstructed for your own interpretation. Backed by members of Francois & The Atlas Mountains, as on the glorious Joined Sometimes Unjoined, they soar, skittering percussion, volume and massed vocals creating something unique and special. Forty years plus since forming the Incredible String Band, Mike Heron continues to play, with a current ensemble including members of recent collaborators and spiritual heirs Trembling Bells; expect, I would imagine, selections from an exhaustive back catalogue in this more intimate setting. Crybaby are worth a look too, based on the set I caught almost by accident at Green Man; relaxed, ornate epics in the vein of Richard Hawley and lip-trembling 50s crooners.

 

LOWER DENS, Louisiana, 10th

Jana Hunter’s 2005 album Blank Unstaring Heirs Of Doom, released by Devendra Banhart following a collaborative split album, presented a compelling talent flitting between folk, country and lo-fi oddities. You might have expected several things of Hunter after hearing her solo work, but the chugging, amniotic motorik pop of Lower Dens’ ‘Brains’ probably wouldn’t have been one; teasing out a simple, nagging riff over five minutes, smothering it in icy keyboards and adding a cooing, androgynous vocal, it was more akin to Deerhunter’s recent triumphs than the rippling, anachronistic folk of old. In truth, though, the nagging, white-line tension of Lower Dens’ two albums to date, brittle and gloomy and lit up by bursts of brilliant, needling guitar, just serves to allow Hunter’s restless writing to settle in a more urgent and flexible setting. There’s a languid beauty to parts of this year’s Nootropics that broaden the group still further, from bare-bones, trebly new wave to Beach House’s heat-haze dreaminess. Moody, evocative but oddly distant and undelineated, you get the feeling they’re just getting going.

 

*CANCELLED* SINGING ADAMS, Undertone, 13th

Some of Steven Adams’ greatest qualities as a songwriter are the very things that, exasperatingly, conspire to keep him from the kind of chummy mid-table success that sees routine appearances on Later and bill-paying 7pm slots opening up for some identikit MOR folk neophytes. Maybe it’s for the best. The Broken Family Band’s half-dozen albums of plaintive, heart-tugging Americana and chippy, acerbic indie-rock never shied from addressing the banalities and frustrations of life as an after-work musician trying to do what you love without too much of a struggle. Two albums along as Singing Adams, it’s the little pent-up frustrations that remain the grit in the eye of Adams’ rollicking, streamlined indie rock and pithy observational balladry; his pen remains acerbic and affectionate in equal measure, never wasting a single syllable. The indelible pop hooks and inability to resist a singalong are still second nature, too. Moves is out to coincide with this tour, and its rousing, low-key miniatures are, two plays in, some of my favourite moments of the year. Go to this. (Or don’t, because it’s not happening sadly – one of the band couldn’t make the date.  Hopefully it’ll happen in 2013)

 

PINKUNOIZU / HAIL! THE PLANES / RHODRI BROOKS, Buffalo, 13th

With a name taken from the Japanese expression ‘pink noise’, the playful experimental spirit bursting forth from Pinkunoizu is about their only remotely predictable element. This Danish mob’s debut Free Time! offers slow-burning, ebbing psychedelic pop soaked in reverb, half-submerged noise loops and shuffling, skittering percussion. There’s a nicely Lynchian quality to the likes of ‘Cyborg Manifesto’, the hushed M. Ward croon of Andreas Pallisgard adrift in an echo chamber with fragments of pedal steel twang and incongruous Latin rhythms. Elsewhere their indefinable magpie approach veers off into celebratory pop worthy of Strawberry Jam-era Animal Collective, syrupy Fleet Foxes harmony and virtuoso prog noodling. Free Time! is perhaps best summed up by the moment the moody psych balladry of ‘Everything Is Broken Or Stolen’ stops on a dime as a radio switches down the dial through static and hiss, emerging the other side in a windy Wooden Shjips keyboard solo accompanied on rickety African percussion. It’s a fun, disorientating, freeform grab-bag of influences, sellotaped together with affection and endearing sloppiness, and seeing it performed live should be a total treat.

 

INVADA presents APOCATASTASIS: BEAK> / SAVAGES / DROKK / FAUNS / FAIRHORNS / SCARLET RASCAL & THE TRAINWRECK, Exchange, 19th

It’s a theological expression, describing a process of restoration or realignment as a precedent to a cataclysmic event. Something like that, anyway. What this suggests the good folk at Invada know about the remaining days of 2012, only they and the Mayans can tell us; meanwhile, act fast in order to catch this excellent festive label shindig in the cosy confines of the Exchange. Boss man Geoff Barrow appears twice; his Beak> project dragging Silver Apples through a dread-suffused thicket of Popol Vuh atmospherics and frazzled, sticky, keyboard-heavy psychedelia, while the biggest treat might be a live run-out for Drokk, his Mega City One-inspired collaboration with Ben Salisbury. A period-pristine revision of classic John Carpenter and Vangelis scores, turned out on vintage gear with hints of chugging Moroder synth and oppressive, throat-clawing Ben Frost drone, its luminous, glowering brilliance sits perfectly alongside Beak> cohort and all-round dude Matt Williams’ exultant, ritualistic un-Kraut head music persona Fairhorns on this bill. Rich in queasy electro-throbs, out-there drone-pop and shuddering machine noise, his Doki Doki Run is a belter, and if this plum of a ‘writer’ ever sorts himself out it might get reviewed here properly. Ramping up the claustrophobia still further, there’s the handsome, pent-up post-punk of Savages, all Slits basslines and attitude, Birthday Party contortions and casual menace. There’s loads more too, and not the room here; if this is a final reconciliation, we may as well go out in style. Speaking of which…

 

JOY COLLECTIVE XMAS BONANZA! MEANS HEINZ / THE JELAS / R.SEILIOG / BRANDYMAN / DJ RICHARD S JONES, Undertone, 20th

*NODDY HOLDER KLAXON* We’re only putting on a Christmas gig! It’s basically going to be a shambolic, noisy, brilliant party. You should totally come. Four bands! Yes. Headliners are all-star Cardiff krautrock hydra Means Heinz, last seen emerging partially clad from retirement to play an afternoon set of heat-damaged fuzz-psych jams on a singular, winding riff. You’ll know them better as Cate Le Bon, H. Hawkline, Sweet Baboo and R. Seiliog. Make the most of this, because it may not happen again. Robin, heroically, will also play an R. Seiliog set, most likely in the full-band format where the blissed-out sketches of his Shuffles EP stretch out into giddy, beatific Neu!-go-electro epics. The Jelas are a Bristolian national treasure, with more spark and mangled invention in their brief bursts of clattering, angular no-wave joy-pop than most of the rubes lolling about the place manage in their whole careers. And then there’s Brandyman. Ah, Brandyman; the Jesus Lizard you can talk about David Niven and Girlschool with. Caustic, hilarious prose and roiling, controlled riff power. They will, one day, take over the world. In the meantime, like all these bands, we will clutch them to our feeble hearts and celebrate them in our own sloppy nativity. Come one, come all!