• June preview: some live highlights this month for Cardiff, Bristol and Newport



Monumental Glaswegians TCD return to the Moon Club, kicking off the month in style atop a bill that may threaten to levitate the building.  Latest release Easterfaust explores the full range of their powers across two sprawling 20-minute tracks, a politely trippy opening 10 minutes of shuddering, disorientating echo-smothered vocals unfolding into a thrilling, propulsive morass of swerving basslines and monolithically groovy Krautrock drumming.  It all unfolds into a thrilling mess, with burbling,fuzzed-out synths and darkly shamanistic vocals; a freaky, urgent acid-drenched spacerock deviance somewhere between 13th Floor Elevators, Hawkwind, AMT and contemporaries like White Hills or Gnod. By the track’s last few exhilarating minutes everything’s a hypnotic washing-machine blur, the looped screams and churning guitars and synths as one, the lightspeed crashing of the drums the only thing keeping it on the road. Part two sets off at the same furious clip, all terrible curls of processed feedback; it doesn’t let up for its 20-minute duration, indeed fading rather than actually stopping. It’s probably still going on now. Check in for an hour’s worth here, you won’t regret it.  Inevitably, psychic brethren The Cosmic Nod join them here; less purposeful and more into their freeform spacerock/psych jams, they’ll set the tone nicely.


Tompkins Square’s exhaustive back catalogue of unearthed folk, gospel, blues and psychedelia is studded with prodigiously talented contemporary musicians whose interpretations of the past are so uncanny that it’s difficult to accept they’re not themselves a dusty relic lost to history. If Ryley Walker hadn’t existed, the Coen Brothers might eventually have invented him; his album cover is a classic troubadour shot, stood in a dilapidated doorway, clad in several shades of brown, guitar case at his side.  Fortunately the well-worn, crumpled folk-rock within stands up pretty well to the touchstones he evokes; Hardin, Buckley, Jansch, Martyn. He’s got the confidence to carry off such lofty comparisons, with a nice soaring, soulful voice, and the fuzzy drones and winding cellos behind him work a treat. He’s also a pretty excellent finger-picking guitarist, stirring up some stormy instrumentals and solos that have more in common with Jack Rose or his young labelmate Daniel Bachman, who joins him for this gig. There’s no shortage of American Primitive-style guitarists and folk-rock songwriters whose take on traditional styles stands up without much embellishment, and Bachman’s skill in conjuring some beautifully meditative, rolling porch blues that, like William Tyler, evokes precisely the spirit his titles suggest with little more than a single 12-string guitar.


Stephen Ellison trailed his second album as Flying Lotus, the still-astonishing Cosmogramma, as the kind of record he “dreamed about making”. Listen back to pretty much anything he’s done before or since and it’s clear the only question hasn’t been whether he’s capable of harnessing his ability but whether people can handle the results. Both Cosmogramma and Until The Quiet Comes are perfectly condensed, utterly boundless journeys into cosmic jazz, spaced-out electronica, stuttering dayglo synth-funk, compressed Atari-age techno and countless other forms, blended seamlessly into something challenging, unique and hypnotically exciting. His entirely justified self-confidence can handle big-room live shows no problem too, which bodes well for this already near-sold out gem. Support comes from Thundercat, the instrumental virtuoso (and FlyLo bassist) whose own Apocalypse album is a jaw-dropping melange of rainbow-striped electric soul and playful jazz and funk-inflected pop R’n'B that glides effortlessly by like the Grand Theft Auto soundtrack of your dreams. The Brainfeeder travelling circus vibe is extended to a supporting appearance from FlyLo’s own Quasimoto-style rap sideline Captain Murphy, wherein his own pitch-shifted, MF Doom-via-Odd Future rhymes ride a dense collage of weed-blitzed, lo-fi beats and daft horror samples. Seems he can turn his hand to pretty much anything. To top things off, Lapalux and guest Illum Sphere helm an afterparty at Start The Bus which would be worth attending on its own. Some night in prospect here.

EMA / COLLEEN GREEN, Colston Hall Lantern, 6th

This and the FlyLo gig happen in the same building on the same night! That’s better than most festivals manage.  Erika Anderson’s songs on Gowns’ Red State were somehow understated and beautiful while still being visceral and often crushingly dark, welding the chaotic beauty that Young People specialised in to the gritted-teeth catharsis Kim Gordon explored in Sonic Youth’s early years. The exquisite sadness and noise-drenched, desolate lullabies of Past Life Martyred Saints gave a sharper focus and more dramatic voice to Anderson’s writing, one that’s leapt further into the unknown on her latest release.  Among the stylistic departures on The Future’s Void there’s things that don’t work – lurching, mid-tempo Nine Inch Nails industrial strafed with processed noise – and things that do, with several sleek slabs of thumping percussion-heavy darkwave that suggests a tech-obsessed Zola Jesus.  ‘When She Comes’ arrives amidst all the booming low-end and 21st century paranoia as a true blindsider, a gorgeously strung-out acoustic strum with sweet multi-tracked vocals which would have lit up any of the last few Cat Power records.  ‘Solace’ repeats the multi-tracking trick atop a gleaming Rubik’s cube of martial drumming, throbbing synths and delicate, tumbling clicks and glitches; a late-album highlight, it forms a glorious Moebius strip effect with the record’s opening highlights before ‘Dead Celebrity’, a knowing but still touching lullaby to the travails and the connections of instant, universal digital culture.

BELFI-GRUBBS-PILIA, Arnolfini, 7th

Semi-improvisational trio comprised of Italians Andrea Belfi (drums, electronics) and Stefano Pilia (guitar) along with one-time Gastr del Sol, Bastro and Squirrel Bait member and exploratory composer and songwriter David Grubbs.  They’ve released two albums together, also working on Grubbs’ most recent solo work, and in each case explore intricate instrumental rock in a suitably academic, expressive manner that’ll be familiar to anyone who dug Grubbs’ early 2000s solo stuff like Rickets & Scurvy or The Spectrum Between, the more rarefied late-period Sonic Youth albums or the repetition of Steve Reich or Glenn Branca. Needling, processed electronic feedback strafes through Dust & Mirrors‘ title track, the twin guitars crackling and growling as Belfi pummels away gleefully. Elsewhere there’s frazzled, folk-inspired picking and transcendent semi-improvised sections that might recall Rangda’s False Flag.  Brooklyn College professor Grubbs will give a talk earlier on in the evening, drawing on his research and writing for his book Records Ruin The Landscape which studies the impact and influence of some of John Cage’s key recordings in light of Cage’s own apparent disapproval of the very concept of recorded sound. Don’t tell me you’re not even slightly intrigued.


OPN’s fine recent album R Plus Seven shifted focus a little, and it’s tempting to see it partly as Daniel Lopatin approaching the playful, accessible retro-electro of the Channel Pressure album he did with Joel Ford from a more esoteric, challenging angle; partly as him just being really pissed off with the sheer volume of half-baked Ross Geller chillwave being churned out by dudes with a Casio demo button and a box of VHS tapes. It swirls bracingly challenging stabs of concréte sound, eddying drones, blocky ‘Chime’ synth figures, Owen Pallett-esque strings and blurred and stretched human voices into a deeply satisfying, never comfortable whole that values melody and warmth as much as compositional theory and manages to be confoundingly accessible just as often is it’s disorientating and weird. It’s the logical extension of the sense of restless discovery you felt from listening to Replica‘s splicing of loops and samples with more insistent percussion, or the way Returnal stretched the possibilities of his early drone stuff to their furthest, wildest points.  This Qu Junktion puts together the month’s most intriguingly freaky line-up, also featuring Oscilanz (in which Charles Hayward, Ralph Bass Clef and early music violinist Laura Cannell interpret the music of a 12th century nun, composer and linguist) and a collaboration between hyper-prolific psych/dub voyager Sun Araw and New Age composer, mystic and noted laughter therapist Laraaji.  That’s right.  Laraaji’s work, mostly on zither, first found wider notice when Brian Eno worked with him in the late 70s; if his album with Blues Control for the FRKWYS label, and Sun Araw’s release with The Congos in the same series, are any indication then both will complement each other effortlessly.

ANGEL OLSEN / JAYE BARTELL, Colston Hall, 10th

Can’t really think of a debut album in recent years that’s arrived from nowhere and hit me so hard as Angel Olsen’s staggering Half Way Home. It second song, ‘The Waiting’, catches you off guard and quietly devastates; her keening, buttery voice delivers heartbreakingly lonesome, beautifully compact words in a way that takes your breath away. ‘Forgiven/Forgotten’, from her follow-up Burn Your Fire For No Witness, repeats the trick, jolting you from your reverie with a crashing three-minute bubblegum indie rock tune, albeit one whose refrain still hits like a fresh papercut: “I don’t know anything / but I love you”. Olsen continues to have fun unpicking the expectations of yer ‘freak-folk’ songwriter, venting the loneliness with a country quiver here, an uncanny Leonard Cohen approximation there. I don’t know if she’s heard Cate Le Bon, but on the chugging Velvets/psych of ‘High & Wild’ her timbre is a spooky ringer for something off CYRK. The knowledge that she cut her teeth in Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s retinue makes head-slappingly perfect sense, too.  There’s a disarming, clear-eyed confidence in Olsen’s writing considering how much of it appears to address solitude and uncertainty; Half Way Home dragged you up by the lapels and forced you to listen with a steely intent matched by few outside of Nina Nastasia or Sharon van Etten, and the noisier, full-band setting of Burn Your Fire deflects none of her clarity.  Looking forward to this one immensely.


If, like me, you blinked and missed the two-second window where tickets for Gruff’s Pentyrch show were on sale, this is a handy safety net.  American Interior delivers in different ways depending on how you access it – be that the film, book, album, app or powerpoint-based live show – the truest definition of a multiplatform event, his most roundly satisfying and conceptually tight solo venture to date, and as touching and genuinely educational as it is funny and cheekily subversive.  As a viewing experience, the film’s Russian doll-style narrative device sees Gruff tell the story of John Evans’ exploratory mission across the charted and uncharted America by retracing his steps, while the viewer’s journey is plotted by Gruff’s retelling of the tale to US audiences at various key locations.  We learn through others learning about how Gruff learned.  It’s beautifully simple, and in seeing him retell it live you’ll find yourself wearing a beatific grin not unlike his own.  This early (6.30) show is presented as part of the Festival of Ideas, appropriately enough; if you don’t know At-Bristol, it’s the Techniquest-style science and learning place opposite the Arnolfini.  Really hope they put this on in the planetarium.



Two more crypt gigs this month from team Cacophonous Sarcophagus (as if not busy enough, they also host Belgian stoner dudes Electric Moon at the Exchange).  First up, a double bill of full-tilt noise battery from Finland.  Hebosagil move from sturdy doom riffing to lurching post-hardcore, all leering vocals and grubby, fuzz-drenched bass muck.  Brevity and impact, not unlike Arabrot’s template, is the way on Lähtö; Melvins meets Unsane meets Mastodon, perhaps, if that’s not overselling it ‘slightly’. Throat lean more towards Shellac/Cows territory, flexing twisty noise-rock of a Touch & Go/AmRep stripe. Nadir are sludged-out psychey doom soaked in echo and queasy slow-fast changes, refreshingly weird and experimental stuff from members of Bismuth among others. HRMAG have a name like a Pop Will Eat Itself t-shirt slogan from 1989 but are thankfully less pungent, offering a psychotic grab-bag of influences from metronomic no-wave, itchy hardcore and Naked City-style jazz skronk. Last not certainly not least, do not miss the awesome seesawing pummel of The Hysterical Injury, for they are the business. Gig two is a punishingly doomy affair headed up by Denver freaks Primitive Man; suffocatingly heavy, monolithic sludge/doom, heavy on the bleak and pointedly nasty. Great grey clouds of feedback and despairingly wracked, guttural vocals. On Scorn they turn their hands to freezing ambient trudges and whiplash tempo shifts when they feel like it but without tempering the bludgeoning effect. Their version of ‘Sweet Leaf’ is horrifying, in a good way. Among the equally misanthropic fare elsewhere on the bill Brighton’s Grey Widow are especially brutal and effective, huge jagged riffs, swirling noise and muffled howling. Excellent work.

SSSNAKES / PIPEDREAM / TWISTED, Spit & Sawdust, 13th



Brand new DIY multi-purpose community space and gig venue in Cardiff shocker! Tucked in behind the furniture warehouses and drive-thru fast food outlets on Newport Road you’ll now find Spit & Sawdust, a not-for-profit indoor skate park with a shop, cafe and arts programme. Admirable, proactive and inclusive stuff, and the cafe space’s first gig is this month with Arteries side project Sssnakes (goofball instrument-swapping pop-punk), pretty fine melodic emo/post-hardcore types Pipedream and, of most interest, excellent Leeds/Porthcawl dudes Twisted, who released a couple of excellent EPs for Art For Blind a while back. They promptly split, reshuffled and a few months back dropped a cracking new demo EP of garagey powerpop/punk hybrids that still recall Shitty Limits, Buzzcocks or Jay Reatard but with a greater strung-out desperation than before. They’re busy this month, too, also hitting Newport (16th) alongside Epic Problem, likely the best thing out of New Mills since the Swizzels Matlow factory and providers of raw-throated Leatherface-style ramalama, and headliners The Slow Death, whose excellent barn-burning goodtimes punk ‘n’ roll should be installed permanently in Le Pub, they’re so right for it. Big hooks, big fun. Twisted also have a Bristol gig for Cheap Words On Handbills (1st) with Leagues Apart, confusingly from Salford but sonically rooted squarely in gruff-voiced East Coast pop-punk with a shot of yearning Americana and excellently stupid song titles.

PET SHOP BOYS, Motorpoint Arena, 15th

I try and set myself limits of about 200 words for these things.  How, then, to sum up succinctly the impact of a band you’ve loved since you were ten?  That’s a pretty long time.  For at least their first eight years PSB could do no wrong; they were the sort of group whose every economical utterance seemed well-chosen, who you sensed just knew pop music instinctively and could dispense genius with a raise of an eyebrow or flick of a wrist.  It’s thrilling to realise for the first time that your relationship with pop music can be so complex as to make you wonder at the workings of the minds that made it even as another glorious key change sends you reeling.  I finally got to see them live at Primavera in 2010, a brilliantly silly, self-reflexive rummage through their history that celebrated their past glories while nodding casually towards their enduring ability, that acknowledged the ridiculousness of the whole absurdly theatrical spectacle with every costume change, interpretive dance routine and jaw-droppingly expensive stage set.  The music, naturally, was flawless, peerless, timeless; a reshuffling of the essential two-disc Pop Art retrospective that refused to grant ‘It’s A Sin’ and ‘Suburbia’ any more or less importance than ‘Love Etc.’ or ‘New York City Boy’.  Last year they released Electric, their best album in twenty years and, in ‘Love Is A Bourgeois Construct’, a magnificently wry, touching, opulent thing that ranks among their best songs ever.  They’re nearly sixty years old.  If you don’t love the Pet Shop Boys, your soul is a husk.  There.


Blinder of a free gig here! Nope are a psychedelic krautrock combo from the Leeds/Bradford area with impressive provenance, being comprised of past or present Hookworks, That Fucking Tank and Cowtown personnel; they released an album, Revision, in 2012 which I had no idea existed until about an hour ago and it’s really great. Whirling, eddying psych guitars, gloriously catchy twisting riffs and thunderous motorik drumming. Vocals are spare and tend towards muffled Gibby Haynes muttering but that’s not important. The follow-up, Walker, arrives this month; one stupidly great three-minute air-punching biker rock monster, one nimble, danceable slab of chiming post-punk to close, and the thirty-minute title track. A sprawling, multi-faceted beast which chews up all their varied stylistic contributions and spews out ribbons of brightly-hued, blissfully exultant noise that’s as good as anything 2014 has offered yet. Support comes from Iran Iran (frenetic, complex math-rock), Downard (slanted riffs, seasick tempos and inchoate hollering) and enticing Jelas/Whitebelt/Model Boat alliance Another Neville. Repeat: free entry. Attend!


As a gig recommendation this is easy; the list of names above does the selling for me.  It’ll be Cate Le Bon’s first club-sized Cardiff gig in a good while, H. Hawkline’s first this year (I think?) and offers the possibility that Euros and Rich might even do a Gorkys song or two.  (DISCLAIMER: this is just wishful thinking on my part).  The reason for the gig is more important.  It’s a fundraiser for Mel Fung, whose battle with cancer is at the stage where traditional treatments have run their course, a challenging time that many more, myself included, will identify with from the struggles of their own friends or family.  You can read more on her excellent and very funny blog and there’s a treatment fund which can be found via Facebook which, like this gig, will raise funds for alternative, non-NHS therapies.  The gig will also, no doubt, be a massive and most likely messy party.  It’s on a Monday night but that’s your problem.  Dig deep, and don’t be tardy in getting tickets.



Samoans’ forthcoming full-length debut Rescue is trumpeted as a change of pace and direction, but, to these ears at least, the evidence is of a much more subtle evolution than that. ‘Dancing On The Sea Lion’ is more reflective than interim single ‘Antlers’, ditching the intricate math-rock guitars of old, but Dan’s measured vocals and the heart-quickening little accelerations of ‘Sea Lion’ retain the widescreen beauty and fuzzy intensity of Aereogramme, AC Acoustics or Nub. If you’re old and misty-eyed enough to recall those names with fondness, good news. Tourmates Olympians continue to confound, and perhaps their inability to settle on a sound is their best asset; at times a folkier Los Campesinos, all massed whoa-whoas and twinkling glockenspiel, they dabble with duelling math-rock guitars, punchy brass-and-synth-boosted pop and intimate folk rounds nicely enough too.  The Cardiff date is the album launch party, while the Bristol line-up, care of Cheap Words On Handbills, is a cracker. Algernon Doll has more in common with Trust Fund than anything else here; intimate, cathartic bedroom pop that addresses personal battles, wrapped in swooning Elliott Smith melodies and (in the case of Ewan Grant, who is AD) swirling fuzz-pop guitars.  Fellow Glaswegians Pinact are approximately the 700th Scottish band to worship/imitate Dinosaur Jr and no worse for that, drawling grunge-pop rushes of fuzz and beaming melody.


Look beyond the irresistible shoegaze crushes and huggable Ecstacy & Wine janglepop tributes of their 2009 debut and it’s clear that TPOBPAH (sorry) were always a bit more than just a Shop Assistants tribute act.  A bit of Ride’s early cherubic noise-pop, some knowingly quotable last-gang-in-town lyrics cribbed from Comet Gain and K Records, but mostly the kind of heartfelt love of your favourite obscure pop songs that you can’t fake.  Their early buzz threw them straight into mid-sized halls and attendant expectation quicker than might have been expected, and Belong perhaps suffered from an overcooked second album panic, but on Days Of Abandon Kip Berman might have found an ideal third way.  He might still allude to Felt in his lyrics, and the more delicate moments retain a Field Mice prettiness, but the new lineup sounds like the different band they now are.  ‘Eurydice’ pounds along with a mid-80s collegiate swing that’s all ‘Pretty In Pink’ and Pat Benatar, albeit viewed through the same filters Arcade Fire or Future Islands might use. ‘Simple And Sure’ is breezily confident, gossamer-light and, suggesting Berman’s increasing confidence and comfort in his writing, their most direct and unabashed declaration of love yet.  Tour support comes from Brighton’s Fear Of Men, whose scholarly, literate jangle-pop rush occupies a curious ground between The Sundays’ sparkling melodies and studious, crystalline gloom and Electrelane’s more elemental rush and darkly oblique lyricism.  Luminous and melancholic, debut album proper Loom balances a stately grandeur with sharp, focused songwriting that hits pretty much all its targets. They’ll be headlining venues this size in months, you sense.