PONTIAK / KOGUMAZA, Exchange, 2nd
First up this month is this eardum-rattling double header and Holy Boredom warm-up (hi Adam!). Pontiak are Van, Jennings and Lain Carney, multi-instrumentalists and beard farmers from rural Virginia who also happen to be a prolific and consistently intriguing rock band. The brothers’ latest, Innocence, is their leanest and most refined yet – nothing over four minutes – but demonstrates alarming variety, from burly classic rock to Nuggets-dipped psych to trippy art-rock to three-part harmony balladry. Try a proggy Sabbath, a sunlit Comets on Fire or a Flaming Lips that only do the bits that sound like Pink Floyd. The gorgeously evocative footage shot to accompany 2012′s Heat Leisure single illustrates their outlook better than anything I could say here. They’re joined by Nottingham’s Kogumaza, East Midlands royalty (time served in Lords, Bob Tilton, Wolves! Of Greece, Felix et al) who specialise in great blown-out song cycles taking in epic, slo-mo psychedelic drone shapes, walls of trembling fuzz and blissed-out apocalyptic chamber music.
BETWEEN HELLO AND GOODBYE: THE SECRET WORLD OF SARAH RECORDS feat. THE ORCHIDS / SECRET SHINE / AMELIA FLETCHER & ROB PURSEY, Arnolfini, 3rd
Sarah Records seems like the product of a bygone age for several reasons, only some of which were true 25 years ago. A romantic notion strengthened by a very left-wing, anti-industry asceticism, they embodied much about a UK independent scene whose beliefs were far more disparate, often contrary, than history sometimes concedes. Their memorable aesthetic – black and white sleeves, impassioned sleevenotes from the label rather than the band – and a fierce sense of regional pride, with strings of releases carrying photos of local bus routes and compilations named after Bristol landmarks, lent them as unique an appearance as the music they released, a sense of identity not seen since Factory. The iconography may endure through generations of DIY bands and labels clutching Talulah Gosh reissues to their hearts, but the romantic, revolutionary dialectic Sarah stood for seldom burns as brightly. Their infamous final press release claimed “we don’t do encores”, and this is no Factory 2; rather, a three-day retrospective/celebration which premieres Lucy Dawkins’ Sarah documentary My Secret World alongside an exhibition of Sarah memorabilia, themed walking tours (of course) and live performances from label mainstays The Orchids, Secret Shine and Heavenly’s Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey. A day, or three, for cherishing things, and a window into a beloved world.
HOLY BOREDOM FEST, Clwb, 4th – 5th
I could bollock on at length (again) about how awesome it is when promoters take risks and book adventurous, risky stuff for a place like Cardiff but instead let’s just agree that everyone’s going to this, yes? Adam is an utter prince and potential madman for going at this Bank Holiday two-dayer with such enthusiasm. As with From Now On and Wales Goes Pop, it offers a clutch of higher-profile headliners but leads with quality right down the bill; it’s so stuffed with good things you won’t have time for dinner. Gin and crisps can be dinner, right? Sunday packs in 13 bands across two floors of Clwb, with the aforementioned KOGUMAZA and PONTIAK leading up to the utterly life-affirming punk-funk-Afrobeat party mess of ZUN ZUN EGUI. Look out for SJ ESAU’s magpie cut & paste avant-pop, THE WHARVES’ spiky blend of Sons & Daughters’ lupine pop and salty folk harmonies and TRUST FUND’s bashful bedroom heartbreak amid familiar treats from Y PENCADLYS, THREATMANTICS, HIS NAKED TORSO and more. Like a house party that’s too much fun to call time on, proceedings tumble exuberantly over into Monday with the very welcome return of LAS KELLIES, whose hyper-catchy and supremely danceable take on ESG, Liliput and Slits-style post-punk and wonky garage grooviness first won our hearts at a Joy show in 2011, and the crunchy post-rave bliss-outs of FAIRHORNS. Expertly-tuned support for those two comes with brutalist post-rock and gleaming robo-grind electro (FIST OF THE FIRST MAN, MACHO CITY), dreamy unpicked lo-fi sketches and caustic pop smarts (OH PEAS) and GINDRINKER’s bilious Sermon on the Mount among many others. Book the Tuesday off work. Book the whole week.
CHARLES HAYWARD / GUM TAKES TOOTH / BARBEROS, St John The Baptist Crypt, 11th
Legendary drummer with astoundingly prescient prog/industrial/post-punk soundscapers and electronic pioneers This Heat, later working with Fred Frith and Bill Laswell in Massacre and more recently a key contributor to improv kraut/jazz/pop quartet About Group, Charles Hayward has also been a tireless collaborator, prolific solo artist and performance artist for well over 30 years. Evidence places his solo sets at the confluence of post-punk abstraction, percussion workshop and spoken-word agit-prop; minimalist fragments eked out on drums, loops and voice broken up by spells of hypnotic solo drumming and Hayward pacing the stage, intoning gravely to the box seats. This one’s a left turn even by the usual standards of Cacophonous Sarcophagus gigs, and they rightly assume the only sensible thing is to get weirder; hence the presence of Gum Takes Tooth’s nutso pile-up of rusted, twitching no-wave, noise-punk and shuddering electronic scree. Picture a robotic Lightning Bolt stamping on an ecstatic human face, forever. Barberos are fast becoming CS’ house band, which says much for the kind of house they keep. The incessant double-drummer battery and doom-klaxon electronics are marshalled in roughly similar ways to GTT, but with hectic jazz/prog time signatures, Theatre of the Absurd stagecraft and a metric tonne of silver lycra.
WHITE LUNG / LUVV, Undertone, 11th
Excellently visceral collision of hardcore tempos and the skull-cracking, paint-peeling fury of prime riot grrrl from this Vancouver quartet. Mish Way is a total force of nature on record, channelling Kat Bjelland and Courtney Love while her bandmates echo classic West Coast punk (Wipers, X, Germs) with a touch of UK new wave gloom (Magazine, in particular) and a stupidly great lead guitarist who tears between post-punk tricksiness and thrash-paced leads. Way takes on body dysmorphia, the beauty industry and sexual politics in a way that’s classically quotable and nods to feminist punk forbears but stays relevant, contemporary and relatable. Just signed to Domino for new album Deep Fantasy, recent singles suggest a sharper, punchier White Lung than on their self-titled debut or 2012′s Sorry; Way’s, er, way with melody and piercing intensity is improving exponentially. This should be an absolute cracker.
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT / THE DHARMA VIOLETS, Moon Club, 13th
How to stand out from the crowd when you’re a post-rock/electronica band playing potentially your biggest UK gig to date at a festival where half the bill is post-rock and electronica bands? The Octopus Project, called up for Explosions In The Sky’s ATP bash in 2008, opted for six-foot ghostly rabbits, balloons filled with light and a willingness to hurl themselves around the stage which elevated the arpeggiated 8-bit rhythms and punchy, head-bobbing post-rock a crucial couple of notches. Extra points for the most prominent use of theremin onstage since Add N To X, too. The Austin quartet hit similar buttons to Holy Fuck or Errors, the chattering synth pulses and Nintendo bleeps augmenting flailing, hyper-fast drummer Tito Miranda; the result is engaging, immersive stuff. A delve into their most recent album Fever Forms suggests they’ve hit on their most concise, pop-friendly writing, too, without sacrificing the kitchen-sink quirks that set them apart. This one cries out for the similarly kinetic thrills of Fist Of The First Man to support, though spacerock newbies Dharma Violets, who debuted live at Psych Fest the other week, are a decent mood-setter before the pace is stepped up.
JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, Thekla, 17th
First thing to note: they’ve still got it. Pushing 50, dormant for five years (eight on record) and with a celebrated garage rock revival coinciding unfortunately with their two least effective records (Plastic Fang, in particular, was as sadly toothless as its title), JSBX nevertheless staged their own rock ‘n’ roll revivalist show with 2012’s comeback Meat + Bone. Spencer kept his knives sharp with Heavy Trash in the interim, so the relish with which JSBX tore into their most primal, bloodthirsty set of songs since the magnificent lunacy of Now I Got Worry was as unsurprising as it was welcome. Live, the experimental tendencies, studio trickery and rudimentary hip-hop touches worked out on record evaporate in a heat haze of righteous bluesy swagger and switchblade rock ‘n’ roll theatricality. Songs run headlong into each other, relentless, bastardised medleys which pummel their way through their catalogue with no setlist and utter sweaty abandon. The band name may have been a knowing smirk once, and the Bo Diddley-style brand reinforcement for which Spencer’s become known may carry the thinnest patina of irony, but JSBX always evaded simplification – they blitzed up grimy, scuzzed-up funk, falsetto loverman soul, pro-am hip-hop, furious garage punk and, yeah, the blues. Spencer’s a hopeless music obsessive and a deathless showman, and it’s good to see he’s not lying down yet.
DAMON & NAOMI: ‘FORTUNE’, Clwb, 19th
Four years in a band and twenty-three without, Damon & Naomi will probably never be free of the association with Galaxie 500 – not least while that band are repackaged for rediscovery every so often – but their work over the years since G500′s untimely split richly rewards investigation. Basically a displaced rhythm section at their outset, much of their solo work has paradoxically been acoustic, rich psychedelic folk that unfurls at a stately, gorgeously slow pace with baroque orchestral flourishes, helped along by recurring collaborators Michio Kurihara (of Ghost, whose languid psych soloing burns bright on The Earth Is Blue and full-blown collaboration With Ghost) and the pealing, expressionistic trumpet of Greg Kelley. When Yang and Krukowski’s voices entwine the ghosts of Galaxie 500 loom largest; left to soar alone, Yang’s tenor evokes psych-folk doyens like Vashti Bunyan and the lonesome country soul of prime 70s Neil Young. Active across various media for some years, the duo release an occasional e-zine, Exact Change, that includes literature, music, art, film and video; Yang has also directed videos for Marissa Nadler and Julia Holter, and here presents her directorial film debut Fortune. The 30-minute silent film will be the centrepiece of this show, on Clwb’s middle floor, and D&N will play a specially composed 11-song score along with a separate, more conventional set.
DEAN WAREHAM, Exchange, 20th
As fate would have it, passing Damon & Naomi on the M4 will be their erstwhile bandmate Dean Wareham, whose glorious half-dozen albums with Luna are at least as worthy of praise in my book. Wareham’s voice is an audible shrug, a singing wrinkle, his lyrics a blend of noirish poetry, gnomic statements and unabashed, playful romanticism. Theirs was an uncommonly inimitable sound, Wareham’s modest, wistful croon and sprawling guitar backed by a band that sounded like the Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers playing wedding dances. Wareham and band played a few Galaxie 500 sets for the first time in 2010; I saw them play ATP that year, increasingly a kind of clearing house for indie rock reunion projects, and while it was lovely to hear life breathed into those songs it felt strange to see them become one person’s property. As if drawing a line under several iterations of his past, Wareham moved on to record under his own name for the first time. His self-titled album from earlier this year offers pleasingly little divergence from the path he’s taken for the last twenty years; hazy dream-pop waltzes without parallel this side of Kurt Wagner, and a handful of rumpled mid-tempo story-songs worthy of the late Grant McLennan. Keyboards shimmer and twinkle, solos unfurl politely and all is well with the world. Chance may have the long-estranged Galaxie 500 members within hours of each other, but both should be celebrated for far more than just a few years’ work.
SPEEDY ORTIZ / EMPTY POOLS / PERSONAL BEST, Exchange, 21st
Is there a name for the peculiar ennui that comes with the realisation that young bands are discovering and reviving music made when you were already legally old enough to drink? Asking for a friend. I think it’s just age, and a lasting nostalgia for idiosyncratic college rock written from a female perspective, but I’d take one Speedy Ortiz album over a dozen guy bands. Sadie Dupuis has a voice like a salty breeze and, crucially, writes with a similar personality, sensitivity and quotable, witty charm as contemporaries like Katie Crutchfield or Courtney Barnett. (Katie from Personal Best, too, while I’m on. If they’re not playing this show, they should be). (EDIT: THEY ARE! What do you know, the power of positive thinking). The smutty, gender-flipping kiss-offs of debut single ‘Taylor Swift’ and Major Arcana track ‘Fun’ provoked inevitable and flattering comparisons to Liz Phair, while the seesawing rhythms and crunchy powerpop production fondly recall 90s major- and minor-leaguers from Tsunami to Pavement. You can visualise the crappy homemade videos airing on MTV2 as you hear songs like the deliciously caustic ‘Cash Cab’, and while that makes SO sound like revivalist catnip for tragic older dudes the truth is they’re head and shoulders above 99% of like-minded bands because they’ve got sharp, funny, stingingly relatable songs and they know it’s more than a shrug and a pose.
MINIMAL BOUGÉ / PHEENUS / WRONGS, Moon Club, 21st
Whoa. This comes right out of left field, but top tip of the month goes to the hypnotic, fascinatingly detailed whirl of jazz-inflected post-rock and beat poetry from Bordeaux quartet Minimal Bougé. Using percussion, double bass, steel drums, prepared guitars, theremin, synths and tense, occasionally violent prose in English and French, they sound at once meticulously prepared and yet loose and improvisational. Eric from Minimal Bougé was/is in an excellent math-rock band called Sincabeza who played Mezefest in Newport in 2009; MB takes some of that band’s power but are thrillingly freeform, at times recalling Tortoise or Can at their wildest with Romain Jarry’s readings of Racine, Artaud, Rimbaud and other intellectual heavyweights stretched across the seesawing compositions. They’re over here for Fat Out Festival in Manchester (where Charles Hayward and Gum Takes Tooth, among many others, also appear) and Alex from FYB has snagged this Cardiff date; chances are you won’t get another opportunity, so don’t miss out. Excellent support choices, too; Pheenus are a different, weirder band every time I see them, and Wrongs’ dark, percussive spin on krautrock minimalism and post-rock spikiness keeps getting better.
DAEDELUS / DARKHOUSE FAMILY / MODULA BEATS, Clwb, 22nd
You don’t see many producers with both the insanely creative, anything-goes zeal Daedelus exhibits on record and the instinctive ability to relate what he does effectively to the dancefloor. On paper, the wonderfully bonkers Heath Robinson creations spliced together on Drown Out – the furious snare fills and zigzagging synth hums of ‘Frisson’, the Fifth Element operatic samples on ‘Tiptoes’ or the demented collision of finger-snapping Motown and comedown rave on ‘Perpetually’ – could never work in the context of a club set like this one. But the way he tweaks and shifts these experiments, the disjointed downtempo shuffles and half-speed beats on Righteous Fists of Harmony, the cut-and-paste lounge samples and exuberant genre-splicing of Denies The Day’s Demise and everything else in his ADD repertoire into the utterly exultant, propulsive Daedelus live experience is a wonder to behold. Stitching together a patchwork of studio material over ultra-bassy, pitched-up house and techno, he tweaks and finesses the frenzied, unfocused but brilliant albums into one of the most exhausting and fun nights out you’ll have. Find his 2007 live set from Low End Theory for evidence.
DOT TO DOT FESTIVAL, various Bristol venues, 24th
It’d be remiss of me not to flag up the seventh annual Dot To Dot here, given that it’s a pretty cheap (£20) way to see as many bands as you can while sprinting around Bristol on a bank holiday Sunday. It doesn’t have the communal charm of Swn, or the festival village feel affoded by a chaotic Womanby Street. It’s also top-heavy on quartets of polished young lads with guitars, and oddly short on the many excellent Bristol bands. The line-up has some treats, though, and the value-for-money quotient is there for anyone prepared to put the work in. Eschew the regrettable T4 On The Beach fodder towards the top of the bill and make an immediate beeline for wherever COURTNEY BARNETT is playing; fantastically quotable, literate, funny and heartbreakingly honest indie-folk slacker-pop pitched somewhere between Evan Dando’s lovability and Eleanor Friedberger’s storytelling. REAL ESTATE keep getting incrementally better with every release, feeling like heirs to the legacy the Shins blew when James Mercer fired everyone. WHITE LUNG, as mentioned already in this column, are tremendous excoriating punk fun. DRENGE fire out three-minute nuggets of grubby backwater blues-punk with a refreshing lack of pretence, while EZRA FURMAN does sweetly roguish greaser folk-punk with charm. Also worth checking are YOUNG ROMANCE, whose crystalline two-dollar Spectorisms won hearts at Wales Goes Pop, MARIKA HACKMAN‘s doleful voice and twinkling loops and WOLF ALICE‘s neatly poised pop. Oh, and Macaulay Culkin singing about pizza over Velvet Underground songs. Is that £20 worth yet? I reckon so.
SWANS / JENNY HVAL, Trinity, 28th
Given that Michael Gira assessed The Seer as the culmination of his every note and musical thought from a 30-year career, that he’s produced a further two-hour follow-up within 18 months is a staggering thing, and the hints of what To Be Kind holds so far released suggest it’s every bit as punishing, monstrous and beautiful as its predecessor. Debuted on live album Not Here, Not Now, ‘She Loves Us!’ drags you feet-first through seven minutes of churning, swirling drones before Gira’s vocal appears and the song coalesces into an ugly, gut-punchingly heavy sensory assault like a steroidal Melvins. ‘Oxygen’ is its sinister, lascivious brother, a voodoo blues borne on stabs of guitar and a dextrous groove which only a top-of-their-game Jesus Lizard or Grinderman could come remotely close to. How they ended up at Green Man last year is still a remarkable thing, though the sheer volume unleashed and the psychotic, shamanistic intensity of their set is probably the most genuinely freaky, psychedelic thing seen there in years. Last time out in Bristol they were ‘upgraded’ from the Arnolfini to the unlovely Academy; the reupholstered Trinity is therefore a decent compromise. Likely to sell out, so ensure you’re there for when the walls start crumbling.
MATMOS / JEFF CAREY, Colston Hall Lantern, 29th
I just thought of the phrase ‘Gilbert and George play Sparks’ with reference to Matmos and it seems kind of apposite. That, or hopelessy glib, but y’know. Plenty of electronic artists are prone to manipulating and shaping sampled sound in an anything-is-music manner, but few have the notoriety that Matmos so gleefully enjoy. The conceptual playfulness of their past releases – sampled surgery, medieval folk instrumentation, heady sonic tributes to influential figures from Valerie Solanas to Larry Levan and, on the hugely satisfying Supreme Balloon, a relatively simple all-synths, no-microphones policy – can inspire wariness for some, but they’d be of little more than academic interest were the music Matmos creates not so insidiously enjoyable. ‘You’ opens their latest album The Marriage Of True Minds (concept: Matmos attempt to psychically communicate their ideas to test subjects, whose resultant visions are sampled on the record) with pitter-patter rhythms and piano twinkles recalling Aphex’s ‘Girl/Boy’, as the first of the album’s participants, a disconcertingly double-tracked female voice, intones oblique dream-interpretation mutterings. It’s hypnotic, teasing, with slivers of pitch-bent and spliced sound flickering at its edges as though it’s been recorded over a loop of concréte orchestration and the two are bleeding together. Elsewhere there’s ticklish electro-pop, twitchy acid stompers, ringing phones, actual singing and lots of talk about triangles. Par for the course, in that you’ll be surprised and delighted. Like a Bacchanalian Royal Society Christmas Lecture.
MELT-BANANA, Fleece, 30th
Is it really three and a half years since Melt-Banana last graced Bristol with their presence? Apparently so. That was a fine evening of blistering gabba-tempo blastbeats, trepanning guitar scree, wearable strobes and shrieking aboard the Thekla, and this time proceedings move to the equally sweaty if slightly less charming Fleece. Yako and Agata dispensed with a human rhythm section in 2012, which hasn’t been to everyone’s taste, but (a) they’ve been Melt-Banana for 20 years, so they’ve every right to mix things up a bit and (b) the giddy thrill of M-B is in the harnessing and deployment of noise, an army of cyberpunk Ramones churning out ribbons of ultra-bright siren-pitch guitar and blurred, processed machine burble. I get that the slimline touring version might draw back the curtain on the means of production somewhat, and that might be a bummer for some fans, but the visceral whiplash thrills that come barrelling towards you on Fetch are every bit as gleeful as Teeny Shiny, and the lengthier moments of respite like ‘Infection Defective’ stack up well next to Cell-Scape’s rumbling, proggy breakdowns. Fetch is the sound of Melt-Banana integrating messily with their machines, a relentless splattercore euphoria that leaves you headspun and grinning giddily every time. Can’t wait.