• May preview: live highlights this month for Cardiff and Bristol

NEON NEON & NATIONAL THEATRE WALES: Praxis Makes Perfect, secret Cardiff location, 2nd-5th and Motion, 23rd

Never one to approach a new release without a degree of conceptual élan, Gruff Rhys has excelled himself here.  Neon Neon’s debut Stainless Style revelled in its exquisite chrome elegance and romantic Don Johnson musk, a meticulously drawn study of the unreal real-life tale of John DeLorean.  Launched with a showroom-style gig at the WMC, the more theatrically staged elements of the project presaged Rhys’ trips to Brazil (The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness) and Patagonia (Separado); for his second collaboration with Boom Bip, the setting is Italy, the concept grander still and its unveiling a full-blown interactive gig-cum-theatre experience.  Praxis Makes Perfect fixes its gaze on radical publisher and left-wing activist Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, reimagining his remarkable life as a hyper-connected playboy Communist with a Zelig-like presence in mid-century drama.  The whole thing plays out in a secret location across four nights, with a Bristol event taking place as part of the Mayfest arts festival later in the month.  The album’s out to coincide, early listens suggesting the duo’s gleaming electro-pop acuity remains strong; there won’t be many launch gigs like this, though, so don’t miss out.


NEXT JOY PRESENTATION!  Somewhere between Harvey Milk’s grim riffmonsters and Butthole Surfers’ acid-crazed heart-of-darkness murk lie London goons Hey Colossus, an amp-torturing live unit akin to pals Part Chimp’s splendidly gonzo sonic attack (indeed, Chimp vocalist/guitarist Tim Cedar is HC’s new drummer).  Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckootheir eighth full-length, sucks on the ominous, leery drones, masked incantations and limping psychedelic grimoire of immediate precursor RRR and Happy Birthday‘s deliciously gonzo wall of gleeful white-noise howling but is a more refined, dynamic beast marshalling loops and synths in the attack.  Monstrous, gnashing gonzo sludge riffs with Melvins-esque determination and absurd volume, and the vocal mutterings of a paint-huffing bus station madman.  The dense ur-mantras of Oneida’s Each One Teach One, but clammier, messier and uglier.  Bleeding amp torture and calm, heavyweight precision.  Their initial ultimate aim: “Fudge Tunnel v Can”.  Right on.  Support comes from the hulking doom heft of ex-Zonderhoof and Shaped By Fate types Hogslayer and sludgegaze titans TDOHM.  Perfect bedfellows for a night of leery noise.


Haiku Salut are one of the more unlikely candidates for one-to-watch status, being as they are ex-members of empirically terrible sixth-form twee shower The Deirdres, but they’ve as little in common with their early youthful stumblings as you could possibly imagine.  Delivering impeccably on their published influences of múm and Yann Tiersen, Tricolore flits between waltz-time accordian and keyboard vignettes recalling Tiersen or Beirut and twinkling folktronica employing pianos, glockenspiels, harpsichords, burbling synths and stuttering laptop beats.  The effect is as breezy and playful as their indiepop roots but its sleepy charm is fully-formed, stirring and warmly romantic.


An excellent late addition to the month’s schedules care of Liz from Loose/Fullfat, this Saturday night treat is a handy stop-off for two of the Fence Records turns adding a little musical colour to the lovely Machynlleth Comedy Festival over the weekend. Kid Canaveral were a highlight of Wales Goes Pop for me, rollicking, hook-filled indie pop with a lyrical eye recalling Gordon McIntyre out of Ballboy; pointed dissections of the social mores of the drinking male, pithy humour and reflective, sometimes lacerating analysis of twentysomething relationships.  Messy, jubilant air-punching music for dancing.  Fence’s cheery impresario Jonny Lynch, as pointed out in this over-wordy and slapdash column just last month, is a one-man jukebox of fidgety electronic pop whose recent Secret Soundz Vol 2 sees his warm, intimate songwriting shine through endless layers of twinkling synth, hand-cranked effects and oddball interstitial sound cues.


There’s a good number of unique one-off variations on your standard live music event happening this month, but trust Qu Junktions and ShieldShaped to go the extra mile; witness a bank holiday Monday shindig in a to-be-revealed secret location in which, across two separate afternoon and late-night sessions, you may enjoy a menu of intimate and out-there music served up with complimentary home-cooked food care of Katie & Kim, two Scottish cooks whose pop-up kitchen has tempted Bristolian taste buds for the last few years.  Musical treats across the day include the highly recommended Avarus, whose wide-eyed prog-folk jams will go down a treat with anyone into the Finnish improv/psych of Kemialliset Ystävät; Dan Haywood, just your standard poet/singer/ornithologist with a triple-album debut of countrified folk crooning recorded on a Scottish odyssey; mysterious late additions Timberwolf, likened to FSA and Third Eye Foundation in the blurb and thus to be watched; and headlining, personable walking compendium of outsider folk song Michael Hurley, returning to Bristol a year after his first tour in a decade with two sets drawn from a daunting catalogue of politicised, humourous, world-weary gems.  Ticket details and info here, and I would not recommend hanging around if you fancy this one.


John Dwyer’s first and only previous appearance in Cardiff lives long in the memory, a genuinely thrilling and palpably dangerous Dempseys show with his old trio Coachwhips back in 2005.  Lesson Number One, as usual, ahead of the curve with that one.  Back then, Oh Sees or OCS or The Oh Sees or whatever acted primarily as a breather from the demented garage-punk racket of his other bands, coughing out several albums of smudged lo-fi murk and fractured folk jams.  After Coachwhips and Pink & Brown’s demise Thee Oh Sees became Dwyer’s prime focus, with renewed intent; Floating Coffin, their seventh album of new material since 2008, retains the phenomenal quality control and eager delving into innumerable genres that has characterised his work since then.  Garage, frazzled psychedelia, campy schlockabilly, rough-arsed punk and humming Krautrock are splattered across their albums, but on Coffin it’s coalesced and refined into a brighter, tighter set of psych-pop nuggets that beat out pretty much anything else I’ve heard so far this year.  This is a storming bit of business by Shape and Balderdash and it’s cheering to see people stoked about it – get tickets upfront is my tip.  Also, be kind to the DJ mooks because they are your Joy Collective pals, and because it will be my birthday.  Party!


Few things in music are more transcendentally glorious when done well than instrumental 12-string guitar.  There’s a fairly clear lineage for this stuff to all but the most knowledgable; Fahey, Basho, Rose, Chasny, James Blackshaw, all expert players but with their own takes on the style.  Add to that William Tyler, known chiefly as a member of Lambchop but, as it happened, a prodigious collaborator with Silver Jews, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Wooden Wand and performer on Tompkins Square’s latter-day albums by country original Charlie Louvin.  Tyler’s 2010 debut album Behold The Spirit worked in joyous fingerpicked solo pieces with dronier sections and more expansive arrangements, and it was bloody magnificent.  Now signed to Merge and with an appropriately broader profile, follow-up Impossible Truth sees Tyler’s skills as an arranger more to the fore than ever, the glorious head-rush of his songs’ central melodies embellished by subtle Nashville twang, smudged horns and bowed basses.  Hats off to Gathered In Song for bringing him to Cardiff and for pairing him with Hiss Golden Messenger, who we put on last time he was in town.  HGM is basically M.C. Taylor, who some (ok, just me) might recall from stately country-soul outfit The Court & Spark and who deals in classic troubled country blues, Southern soul and gospel-inflected Americana.  We’re talking Gene Clark circa No Other, basically, and we’re suggesting you should probably go to this gig.


Bobby Krlic’s second album as The Haxan Cloak, the universally acclaimed Excavation, is a remarkable thing; a hermetic, malevolent beast whose every ominous rumble and click sounds like distilled paranoia.  It’s not without parallel, sharing a bleak, dread-terror corner with Raime’s Quarter Turns On A Living Line. Roly Porter’s stricken, static-howl monolith Aftertime and the exquisitely turned electroacoustic horrorcore of Kreng among other recent offerings. The metronomic thud of percussion, ominous treated strings and often absurdly claustrophobic prickly-heat bass weight might evoke a more pared-down, monochrome version of fellow witchcraft enthusiasts Demdike Stare too, though the crushing dynamics and funereal drones of Krlic’s work bear equal kinship with Sunn 0))) or Earth. Connecticut-via-Brooklyn duo ERAAS, meanwhile, boil down the atmospheric post-rock of their former band Apse into darker, more rhythmic shapes with a suitably queasy ambience and unlikely detours into juddering, off-centre electro-pop. There’s also icy, Scorn/Techno Animal influenced laptop doom excellence from Necro Deathmort, whose album The Colonial Script I have just been listening to and which is utterly ace, while Blakk Metal is – really – a mash-up of endless black metal samples constructed by Invada founder Fat Paul.  Cracking line-up and a headliner whose live set is purportedly aloof and confrontational in equal measure; be afraid.


I’ve already written more about Sweet Baboo than anyone who knows him and has helped release his records probably should, but impartiality be damned; the response to ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’ was a genuinely wonderful thing to behold, just rewards not just for the tireless work Steve Black has put in over years of unrewarding provincial solo gigs but as recognition of a talent whose gradual steps to a higher profile have been backed up by ever-more impressive songwriting and justifiable self-confidence.  Ships is his best album to date, seeing him more at ease than ever even while there’s more going on under the surface; for such accessible songs there’s a phenomenal amount happening.   The arrangements on the album are fantastically well-chosen, giving his most consistent set of songs a plush, warm and – importantly – inventive setting.  Black and Rob Jones show an uncanny knack for choosing exactly the right instrument for the right spot, and by no means the obvious ones; clarinet peeks out from the sunburst horns of ‘C’mon Let’s Mosh’, and elsewhere the expected solos arrive not on guitar but fairground organ or the excellent Speak & Spell keyboard in ‘If I Die’.  The album’s long-mooted nautical concept – a device to stop writing songs about girls, supposedly – takes over its second half, where his enduring taste for fanciful storytelling comes to the fore, until the giddy, ecstatic Neutral Milk Hotel rush of ‘Build You A Butterfly’ careers past underpinned by clarion horns.  Love, sex, friendship and gulper eels; the archetypal Baboo topics.  This date ends his first full-band headline tour, with sold-out gigs all over, and it’s recommended in the strongest terms.

WOLF PEOPLE, Exchange, 11th

There’s plenty of stuff on this month that borrows tastefully, even successfully from disparate sources (Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s tuneful AM pop retreads, lost in formless whitewashed chugging) or, in some cases, very specific ones (Suuns, who replicate Clinic so closely it’s frankly unnatural) but bring little of their own to bear.  In light of this, instead doff the cap to a band like Wolf People; so immersed in the minutiae of obscure early-70s folk-rock that accusations of pastiche become immaterial, it’s disarming to find they’re four twentysomethings from exotic modern-day Bedford.  Immersed in a murky record-collector void for a decade or so, their dedication to the form keeps them somehow sounding alive and relevant, even though their spacey, clinically tight rock could slip in unnoticed on a lost nuggets compilation alongside the likes of Mighty Baby.  ’Tiny Circle’ off Steeple is their double-take-inducing shot at greatness, a sample-worthy drum track of absurd funkiness with Tull flute and spacey Hendrix vocals, yet so, SO much better than that suggests.  It’s so clearly walked off a Finders Keepers compilation that to find it’s a 2010 original is remarkable.  Elsewhere Black Water (off Tidings) is all drawled vocals and backwards guitar wash.  Their whipcrack tautness has an almost post-rock metronomic skill though, and they’re open-minded enough to pick up other subtle shades from pre- and post-punk eras.  Their label Jagjaguwar released Black Mountain, too; see Wolf People as their spiritual UK equivalent.


More fantastic booking from Shape here!  Mount Eerie is one man, Phil Elverum of Anacortes, Washington, and Mt. Erie is the dominating focal point of his hometown’s landscape.  Elverum released a string of hushed, troubled and beautiful albums of lo-fi folk, noise-rock and drone as The Microphones before adopting the Mount Eerie name in 2003, since when he’s released a prolific series of records reaching deeper into his surroundings and relation to them.  Sometimes sparse and ruminative, with just an acoustic guitar, a sticky, static hum and Elverum’s fragile vocals, the Mount Eerie sound-world has also been dark and enveloping, the complex sounds and narratives inhabiting a world within a world.  His latest pair of albums, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar, explore both sides of Mount Eerie; brooding, elemental laments delivered with dread and wonder.  Live, he has tended towards his more sparse, folky work; humble, friendly but intense, with a little of the claustrophobic lo-fi dank of his black metal-influenced Wind’s Poem album.  This is a rare UK tour (through he visited Bristol with Earth last year, he doesn’t tour solo often) and his intimate, awestruck and personal music should not be missed.


FUTURE JOY PRESENTATION!  We spoil you.  Our second show of the month, again impossible without the FYB and Lesson No. 1 heroes, this is a splendidly opportune time to acquaint yourself with the fuzzed-up psych-blues-grunge swagger of Philly mainstay Mike Polizze and friends.  Previously Purling Hiss acted as the bracingly no-fi, static-stricken side-project Polizze started while in thumping scorched-earth garage fuzzballs Birds Of Maya.  Fourth album Water On Mars, though, refines their style with cleaner production, Dinosaur/Kurt Vile hooks and gnarled Comets on Fire soloing.  It’s disarmingly direct and catchy in places, tackling the same jangle-friendly, country-leaning indie rock that Pavement, Silver Jews or Meat Puppets turned their hands to, credentials you might rightly expect given their releases on the likes of Woodsist and Mexican Summer before WOM appeared this year on Drag City.  Lyrically running the whole gamut from A to B – drug songs, party songs, slacker philosophising – they do the classic Dinosaur trick of verse/solo/verse songs still being perversely catchy.  Great stuff.  We’ve excellent support for this one, too; Chain Of Flowers’ moody, reverbed Joy Division/Cure influenced noise and the ripping math-pop zingers of Rough Music.  Come join us!

Mayfest closing party: HEATSICK, Cube, 26th

A stunning-sounding closer for the sprawling festival of contemporary theatre that brings bold, interactive arts and theatre productions out of the theatres and into smaller, more unique spaces.  Heatsick (Berlin-based producer Steven Warwick) was notably absent from the recent PAN showcase at Arnolfini but his Extended Play A/V project could hardly have shared a bill with anyone else.  It’s pretty much a natural conclusion for his sumptuous, slow-build casio-disco, a hypnotic minimalist grind that refracts Li’l Louis and Todd Terry grooves through the modern day cosmic jams of Hieroglyphic Being, Not Not Fun-style reliance on lo-fi synth patterns and even the insistent, chaotic rush of Omar Souleyman.  It’s a teasing, repetitive and ultimately ecstatic form of house music built from modest components and best enjoyed on the ace Déviation EP.  The live show stretches a single, unrelenting piece out for hours on end, with Warwick using and inhabiting the whole building as part of the work; part club set, part installation, encouraging interactivity from the surroundings and the audience.


A generation or two apart but the most natural friends and collaborators.  Jeff Lewis’ itinerant, guitar-sketchbook-rucksack troubadour nature always seemed of another time, and not entirely suited to the big-room headline status his growing popularity afforded him a couple of years back.  Funny, wordy, thoughtful and reflective, his verbose, scrappy antifolk keeps its charm even with superficially enhanced production and bolder arrangements but there’s a glee to the early stuff, or the Crass covers LP, that’s hard to beat.  The same goes for Come On Board, the 2011 album he recorded with ex-Holy Modal Rounder Stampfel, lifelong psych-folk doyen, chum of Michael Hurley and one-time Fugs sideman.  Stampfel’s fiddle, mandolin and enthusiastic vocals tumble all over that record and inspire an obvious delight in Lewis too.  They’re touring as a five-piece band including Franic out of the Wave Pictures on mandolin, and there’s a second volume of collaborations out to coincide.  Probably the smallest venue Lewis has played in Cardiff since the pre-refurb Buffalo in 2005, it’ll be a packed out, joyous occasion.