• Monthly preview: Cardiff and Bristol highlights for January 2012

Let’s not pretend January is a vintage month for gigs. It’s not. It is, though, a good time to discover some bands you might end up seeing more often over the coming year, usually without spending much money; venues pack the listings with local up ‘n’ comers and ramp up the value for money. All that’s missing, dear passing browser, is you.

Buffalo, Undertone and 10 Feet Tall lead the way in the January sales, as usual, giving curatorial duties to bands, labels and promoters wanting to put on a cheap night. New kids on the block, the Moon Club (space above the Full Moon, formerly Y Fuwch Goch/Kaz Bar etc) go one better with a full month of completely free shows. Highlights, you say? Well, the Joy Collective Hot Boyz DJ Team fully endorse MARIA & THE MIRRORS’ rescheduled Buffalo show (4th), with an excellent support bill of GINDRINKER, TOTEM TERRORS (formerly Joy of Sex) and WRONGS (formerly James James, now about 3% more easily searched online). Y NIWL and H. HAWKLINE are the party-starting dream team the kids all crave, and they team up with Harvest (Buffalo, 28th) while Y Niwl also play Bristol’s Café Kino on the 7th. Lesson No. 1 bring the return of Liverpudlian sludge monsters CONAN (Buffalo, 22nd, with co-hosts PUS), while long-missing hardcore types THE KEEP return alongside supergroup of sorts (members of Night & The City Of Broken Promises, Ironclad etc) NATURAL ORDER (Clwb, 20th). It would be remiss of us not to insist you keep your diary free on the 31st, too; FLOWER OF PHONG, a new CD-R record label brought to you by some local miscreants including our own Vivers, hold a launch gig at Undertone. Details here shortly. Meanwhile, Moon Club freebies, still very much subject to additions, include STRANGE NEWS FROM ANOTHER STAR (28th, with HIS NAKED TORSO), THE DEATH OF HER MONEY (13th), BEDFORD FALLS (26th, with Swansea surf dudes HANGMEN), A THOUSAND ARROWS (22nd) and WITCHES DRUM and THORUN (27th).

As you might expect, there aren’t a great deal of tours calling this way so early in the new year, although a few bigger names do pop up. The city’s club nights score big, with JOY ORBISON and JACKMASTER returning for another B2B set following last year’s blinder (Clwb, 27th) and Signature bagging totally ace Dutch dubstep/techno chap Dave Huismans, aka 2562 (Buffalo, 12th). Don’t miss that one. Swn hit the ground running with three shows varied in nature, if (personally) not so thrilling; dig if you will this year’s “new Strokes” HOWLER (Clwb, 27th with KUTOSIS or Louisiana, 23rd, without), EVERYTHING EVERYTHING (Globe, 17th) and 1996’s favourite misanthrope BABYBIRD (Globe, 26th). Hmm. Better, Barely Regal team their promising recent signings OLYMPIANS with the excellent SAMOANS and perma-touring grunge kids TUBELORD (Undertone, 8th), while JOANNA GRUESOME head up a neat-looking bill at Gwdihw (25th) with LITTLE ARROW and RATATOSK. Nice. Finally, there’s highly promising moody electro atmospherics from FACE + HEEL, whose third attempt at a debut gig will hopefully happen at Buffalo (24th), hook-filled Welsh pop classicism from JEN JENIRO (Clwb, 21st) and a US folky double bill of THE TOY HEARTS and REBECCA PRONSKY care of Gathered In Song (10 Feet Tall, 22nd).

Fewer things jumping out of the Bristol listings for the month ahead, and it’s particularly galling that three blinders occur on the same ruddy night. Top recommendation anywhere this month is WILD FLAG, whose debut album of playful, aware and hopelessly cool indie-rock was one of 2011’s best. Their first full UK tour calls at the Thekla (27th), while across town FRANCOIS & THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS launch their first album since springing from Bristolian cult status to fully-fledged indiepop contenders at the Motorcycle Showroom in Stokes Croft (27th again, with THE LIFTMEN). Meanwhile, same night, there’s a corker of a free gig at the Cube featuring total babes THE JELAS alongside MATT LOVERIDGE and LINE. It’s just not fair, Bristol. Elsewhere in Bristol, VIC GODARD & SUBWAY SECT return early doors (Thunderbolt, 7th), the increasingly proggy, increasingly feted and increasingly dull M83 play the pretty sizey Trinity (17th), THE HORRORS do the same venue (20th, sold out – they’ll play Cardiff in May) and smiling hardcore raconteur HENRY ROLLINS’ latest spoken word show The Long March visits St Georges Hall (17th). Also worth seeing are SCHNAUSER (Grain Barge, 13th), ANTA (Croft, 14th), the CAVES/BEDFORD FALLS bill at the Croft (29th) and the tireless and always fun MR SCRUFF (o2 Academy, 28th). Those are the headlines, god I wish they weren’t.