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

Joy Collective & FYB present GUARDIAN ALIEN / MxLx / HIS NAKED TORSO, Undertone, 2nd

I’m not a man much given to unedifying displays of pleading, nor (unhelpfully, for someone who occasionally ‘promotes’ gigs) one for making insistent, cast-iron recommendations.  HOWEVER.  If you have any capacity for enjoying the music of Boredoms, Oneida, Ponytail, Om, Foot Village, Can or Olivia Tremor Control; if you recall with any fondness Mercury Rev side-project Harmony Rockets’ Paralyzed Mind Of The Archangel Void; or if you just enjoy the spectacle of a full-blown technicolour psych-noise freakout anchored by blistering, exultant drumming that rains down rippling, transcendent crescendos of lightning-fast speed and unbelievable dexterity, then, um, you are going to love this Guardian Alien gig.  The drummer is Greg Fox, previously of Liturgy, which should give you a pointer, and the swirling mass of guitars, drones, shaahi baja (it’s an electric zither, innit) and shuddering electronics in front of him on GA’s 37-minute opus See The World Given To A One Love Entity hits similar heights of pulverising ecstacy as his old band while also delving into dense, sweat-drenched psychedelia and passages of tripped-out meditative bliss.  Exemplary supports too, if we say so ourselves; Matt Loveridge aka MxLx returns to Undertone pledging what he calls ‘black metal saz action’ and schizo skronk dudes HNT serve up their appealing mess of queasy, staticky noise, abrasive Wolf Eyes clatter and creeped-out Residents playfulness.  You will love this.  COME.


The closest thing to a simultaneous aural representation of a high five, bear hug and double thumbs-up happening simultaneously, the music of Marnie Stern is total nutso enthusiastic joy.  The pattern established on In Advance Of The Broken Arm – hypnotic fret-tapping wizardry, cooing, clarion-call vocals and the thunderous freeform drumming – has stayed remarkably fresh across the three albums since, and gets a shot in the arm on this year’s awesomely titled The Chronicles of Marnia where Oneida megadude Kid Millions takes over from Zach Hill on drums.  The effect of the switch is clear without being jarring, as the biggest, brightest hooks (the swooning, stuttering melodies of ‘Year Of The Glad’, say) become danceable and anthemic with Millions’ input.  If the effect is less like a whole box of fireworks going off at once than on her early records, the admissions of doubt and forceful, imploring messages of hope are even more skyscraping and primary-coloured now.  Fantastic supports here too; the still-underrated Sky Larkin will have a third album this year, and their intimate, personal pop and Sleater-Kinney grit will work just fine here.


A kind of unsung one-man Radiophonic Workshop, Fred Judd was a true pioneer; an ex-RAF radio operator with a deep interest in musique concrete and tape manipulation who documented his experiments on library records, scored for film and TV and wrote extensively on both electronic music and the machinery used in its construction.  Decades on, Public Information compiled his experiments in rhythm, effects and tape on 2012’s beautifully annotated Electronics Without Tears compilation, and now biographer and instrument builder Ian Helliwell has helmed an album of ‘Interpretations’ where the likes of Peter Rehberg, Leyland Kirby, Pye Corner Audio and The Boats are given free rein to explore Judd’s sound archive and use it to compose pieces in tribute.  This launch event sees live sets from three (well, four) other contributors; brutalist industrial techno bruiser Perc, Karen Gwyer’s undulating psychedelia (a pixellated cosmic hum recalling Oneohtrix and Throbbing Gristle in equal measure), and a one-off collaboration between Ekoplekz’s dank, dubbed-out horror ambience and Mordant Music’s complex knot of cobwebbed drones and hissing post-punk experimentation.

ISLET / CHAIN OF FLOWERS / LITTLE ARROW, Chapter, 8th and ISLET, Exchange, 7th

Seems a bit lame to reduce this to a footnote, but even though you don’t need telling how good they are it should be considered a highlight of any month to see Islet do their thing.  So here we are.  Their second full-length LP, Released By The Movement, will be with us later this year, and as a taster we have ‘Triangulation Station’, a typically heady blast of manic kinetic energy crammed with ideas and giddy with the sheer joy of sound.  The Chapter event is to celebrate its release and should be mandatory viewing, not least for the addition of Chain of Flowers whose fantastic and bracingly loud set of muffled, glowering Joy Division noise and flailing Spacemen 3 psych moments was a total blast at our Purling Hiss show the other week.  They rip through a storming version of Spectrum’s ‘How You Satisfy Me’ which will leave you grinning like a chump.  Yes!


Huge alldayer bringing the spirit of the highly impressive Liverpool weekender to Cardiff for the first time.  The Cosmic Dead, monumental longform space-rock quartet from Glasgow, are your headliners; over three albums and a bunch of live recordings to date they bring stretched-out, slow, rumbling grooves, bubbling prog, scorched-earth guitar burn and kosmische fx, the latter cheekily alluded to by the title ‘Mother Earth, Father Sky’.  Recent cassette-only release Inner Sanctum continues to mine Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, spacey contemporaries like White Hills and the windier end of krautrock.  S&TFD favour the old classic drums+synths+processed cassettes approach, offering up epic slabs of dark improv rhythmic chaos like the bits where Shit & Shine really disappear down the rabbit hole.  “There is no place for guitars in this band”, they declare, which is pretty radical thinking at a psych festival.  Also Glaswegian, though clearly longing to be in west Texas in 1966, Los Tentakills’ psychedelic voodoo surf stomp is so perfectly realised you’d swear it’d walked straight off an obscuro garage compilation; twangy, leering excursions beyond the third eye that Roky Erickson would have dug, they’re the most out-and-out fun here by some distance.  Elsewhere on the bill there’s a Witches Drum sideproject, Swansea space-rock and at least one band who take the inevitable sweaty blokeishness of this stuff beyond a joke with the shittest band name of the month.  You might want a shower after this, but you’ll have got your money’s worth.

MUDHONEY / METZ, o2 Academy, 9th

After some middling reviews for a couple of actually pretty damn solid mid-period albums that dabbled in longer, hairier psych arrangements and typically pithy political sloganeering, Mudhoney might be forgiven for retreating into middle age with the occasional retread of past glories.  Not so; Vanishing Point revels in a middle-aged grouchy juvenilia that sees Mark Arm flip a greasy middle digit to, well, just about everyone, in a manner not matched since Iggy Pop’s splendid Moby-dissing rant ‘New York Is Beating Its Chest Again’.  Look that one up, it’s great.  Anyway, everyone’s fair game in Arm’s current mood; people who expect him to party too hard, jerks hanging out backstage, people who are over-famililar in the supermarket.  This gleeful churlishness and Arm’s familiar paint-stripping yowl are alloyed to classic Mudhoney garage nuggets and it all sounds like it’s still the most fun in the world to play.  Pretty much the most fun you can have this month after a couple of cans on the post-work train to Bristol, it could stand to be somewhere more compact and loud (Thekla? Fiddlers? Fleece?) but this’ll do.

SCOUT NIBLETT, Buffalo, 19th

Mild hyperbole warning: Scout Niblett is among the most amazingly powerful and elemental live performers I’ve ever seen.  First time was downstairs in Clwb, hemmed in on all sides by neck-craning fanboys; most of whom, embarrassingly for them, were there to leer at her then drummer Todd Trainer’s sinewy carcass.  It was a mesmerising gig, anyway, as was the last time I saw her, again just her voice, bleeding, bluesy, her guitar and an occasional drummer, marooned on a huge seafront stage at Primavera.  Same result, a genuinely elevating experience that made you want to take a rare pause to recover during an endless festival day.  Her raw, alchemical songwriting, often performed in bare-bones arrangements of skeletal drums, guitar and her utterly captivating voice, has flickered and flared like burning copper across six albums now, all brilliant.  The songs are very often intensely personal, heartbroken, as if wrenched from some pit of desperation.  It’s Up To Emma the new one, refers (like numerous other song and album titles) to her by name, albeit – notably – her real name for once.  Scout sounds like she’s working steadily through the five stages of grief on this one, nakedly personal almost to a fault – it’s a hard listen lyrically at times, if her least musically stark since Sweet Heart Fever – though she’ll still throw in a disarmingly funny lyrical curveball or cover TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ as if to deflate any half-baked psychoanalysis.  Only PJ Harvey has ever harnessed the power to flash from loud to quiet with the emphasis Scout does, and it’s really something to see.

BOBBY CONN / JEMMA ROPER, Clwb Ifor Bach, 20th

What the hell is going on in Cardiff this month?  Three excellent, ordinarily must-see gigs on one night, it’ll be a wrench to miss any of them.  Fanfares should rightly herald the return to these parts of Bobby Conn; chameleon, comedian, Corinthian, caricature, the pocket-sized showman takes the red velour tracksuit out of the walk-in wardrobe one more time, steps on a moving treadmill to apply his make-up and returns to meet his public.  An unapologetically jumbled grab-bag of 70s and early 80s styles both musically and visually (his Glass Gypsies decked out like a third-tier brickies-in-eyeliner glam outfit), since the relatively pared-down, taut John McEntire-produced funk of career high The Golden Age he’s veered between windmilling concept-album prog, straight-faced Todd Rundgren (hey!) balladry, overstretched Prince falsetto and a string-driven take on Parliament funk and Philly soul.  Usually on the same record.  Visually heavy on the mock-theatrics of the down-at-heel cabaret singer, Conn’s meticulously practiced shtick hides an often lacerating socio-political lyrical content, the flaws and strained desperation in the whole often making it all the more satisfying.  If you were at any of his previous Clwb gigs – stacking it over the monitors at Swn, posing for camera phone photos mid-song while weaving through the crowd – you’ll want to see him again.


A whirling mess of taut post-punk basslines, dense rhythmic clatter, pressurised funk and blaring, shuddering sax, MYD variously recall Congotronics, the Ethio jazz of Mulatu Astatke or Salah Ragab, the tumultuous neo-jazz noise of The Thing and an aggressive, breathless funk with clear lineage back to the Pop Group and Tackhead.  It’s a very fine racket indeed, displaying all the frantic eclecticism you might expect from a loose agglomeration of Zun Zun Egui, Acoustic Ladyland and Heliocentrics members, and if it’s hard to imagine 10 Feet Tall as a natural venue for them (they’d destroy on Clwb’s upstairs soundsystem) it’s still excellent to see their first tour make it across the bridge.  They seem pretty well placed in a climate where unashamed jazz, funk and afrobeat influences are seeping into all kinds of much-lauded music (Goat, for example) rather than treated with clueless suspicion, and the brace of singles for the Leaf label suggest their soon-come debut will be killer.  Bristol heads get a proper bonus as disgracefully unkempt squat-rock nasties Fat White Family support; their Champagne Holocaust LP is a greasy treat that delivers far beyond the expectations their lurid press might leave you with.

MARIA MINERVA / DAU CEFN / GWENNO, Jacobs Market, 20th

Exclusive!  Peski’s increasingly regular multi-disciplinary nights up in the rafters at Jacobs are a great idea brilliantly executed and the sort of thing Cardiff needs to see more of; there’s a feeling you’ve stumbled upon a secret club, but one that’s totally inclusive and fun to hang out in.  Weird and interesting film curios, showcases of local art, great DJs and some eclectic and excellent music have made these nights to look out for, and after stepping it up a notch or ten with R. Stevie Moore’s second command performance the other week they’ve really landed a bit of a coup here.  Estonian producer and synth-pop chanteuse Minerva’s early recordings for 100% Silk and Not Not Fun showcased an unusual and exotic approach, filtering modernist disco and classic house through 90s euro-dance, brittle Baltic electronica and quasi-Eastern samples. Her releases have been gradually less rough and ready, while still favouring the Not Not Fun house style; think a taped-over VHS of MTV Europe overlaid with fidgety digital beats, Minerva’s intoxicating and personal blend of slo-mo pop seduction and defiant DIY individualism lifting it head and shoulders above her peers.  Typically well-chosen support too, with Gwenno’s first-language pop-experimental hybrids a perfect mirror to Minerva, while Abergele duo Dau Cefn offer a well-practiced blend of electronic pranksterism, akward pop and unexpectedly poignant songwriting that fans of Nectarine No. 9 or Datblygu would get on board with.


First fruits of Harriet out of Them Squirrels’ new promotions outing Golden Horseshoe (in tandem with Shape), this promises much; an underused venue with a lovely natural theatre cosiness, and some quietly revelatory, experimental music of a type little seen since the Rusty Trombone boys left town.  Nancy Elizabeth’s third album, Dancing, uses the solitary nature of its recording as a virtue, her multi-tracked vocals rippling like The Power Out-era Electrelane over an expanded palette of sound that adds stuttering electronics to her folk/country songs.  There’s a Laura Marling clarity and depth to her voice, though the use of more traditional instrumentation and arrangements recall Mary Hampton or, inevitably, the likes of Anne Briggs or Kath Bloom.  Beautiful, mysterious stuff.  In Bristol she’s supported by the creaking, rustic Dorset folk of Directorsound, while in Cardiff she’s joined by Isnaj Dui, aka Katie English, who also plays as part of Directorsound.  Do keep up.  Her pieces for flute, dulcimer and electronics are subtle, intricate things, hypnotic and beautifully constructed thickets of sound.  It might remind you of Colleen or the subtler side of Mira Calix, if you need a reference point; better, pick up a ticket and explore it for yourself.


For those lucky enough to attend the Jeff Mangum-curated ATP event last March, few if any people epitomised its spirit more than Julian Koster.  The Music Tapes played their own set, but Koster’s ubiquitous presence, clad in daft pixie hat and with musical saw close at hand, embellished sets from Mangum himself, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Olivia Tremor Control and countless others.  It’s this giddy, almost spiritual enthusiasm that effervesces throughout Koster’s own music, and it’s as a live band that Music Tapes become truly, unmissably brilliant.  Not that their sporadic releases – last year’s Mary’s Voice was only the third album of a near two-decade career – isn’t worth losing yourself in.  Never knowingly holding back in terms of instrumentation, arrangement or emotional investment, Koster’s meticulously spun psych-folk symphonies revel in a lushly cinematic, swooning take on friends Neutral Milk Hotel or Olivia Tremor Control’s Elephant 6 house style.  The occasionally teetering concepts come off charming, secondary to the sweet, timeless century-old sound.  As for that live set-up, expect a circus tent backdrop, a ‘talking television’, and an organ with mechanical hands attached.  You may well grin your face off.  We’ve booked a couple of nicely diverse supports; Haydon Hughes’ oddball electro torch songs as Y Pencadlys are compelling and madly insidious, and LST’s spiky indie-rock and prickly humour highly enjoyable.  COME!


A mere two of the many superb turns playing the tiny yet excellent-looking Sin-Eater Festival this month (at a country pub in Shropshire, essentially, and also featuring Trembling Bells, Alexander Tucker, Richard Dawson, Kogumaza, RM Hubbert…), these two gentlemen interpret traditional acoustic folk guitar styles in different but equally effective ways.  Upsettingly young Virginian Bachman captures the familiar spirit of American Primitivists like Fahey and Jack Rose, with a rolling, faintly psychedelic sound neatly and confidently evoking a sense of unrest and displacement appropriate to his move to the city during recordings.  He’s a little more traditional and less wildly lyrical than some contemporaries – Cian Nugent, in particular, has a more elemental, stirring take on the form – but Seven Pines, his recent album for Tompkins Square, is still pretty neat.  Steve Malley, who goes by The Horse Loom, was formerly in The Unit Ama, who released a single self-titled album of fierce, compact, Shellac-informed rock for Gringo a few years back.  His solo work is no less intense, applying the same strictures to a long-standing love of classic British folk in the lineage of Bert Jansch and Davy Graham.  UPDATE! It also looks like he’s been replaced on the listings by My Two Toms.  So, um, call ahead or something.