Winter, it seems, is upon us. Freezing fog, black ice and pummelling hail beckon us into the streets, all the better to mock us as we shuffle towards the dank, unforgiving sound-holes of the city in search of musical salve. There might be a light dusting of snow this month, basically, but is that bullshit going to keep us from February’s live music highlights? Yes. OK, no.
It’s the smaller, lower-key nights that hold the most appeal in Cardiff this month, as – with the exception of the long-since sold-out JONATHAN RICHMAN shindig in Clwb (28th) the medium-scale and up shows favour duller, worthier fare. The always-excellent ERRORS return once more, their splendidly crunchy, danceable post-rock/electro ever a treat. Top bill for their Clwb show (13th) where top-drawer Rock Action labelmate REMEMBER REMEMBER and Three Trapped Tigers man TOM ROGERSON support. Errors move on to the Fleece (14th) but y’know, Clwb will be way better. GENTLE FRIENDLY will hopefully make it this time, having pulled their Swn show; the dayglo No Age/Japanther thump is scrappy, life-afffirming fun (Undertone, 5th), as are awesome brother-sister noise outfit THE HYSTERICAL INJURY (10 Feet Tall, 16th). Denver-based pair GAUNTLET HAIR mine a similar seam to Gentle Friendly, albeit a less euphoric, grubbier one, and should be checked out at Buffalo (18th). Speaking of euphoric, there’s primary-coloured cheeky house fun from Raf Daddy out of THE 2 BEARS at Clwb (16th), where entry is free if you bring a radiator or something; get there early for the witchy Knife-style electronica of FACE + HEEL.
The laudable recent trend for booking return visits for friends of Swn weekends past and present continues, with THOMAS TRUAX (10 Feet Tall, 8th) and his mechanical menagerie back for his 768th Cardiff date, the battering ram two-man hardcore fun of RUN, WALK returning at Buffalo (3rd, or Louisiana, 2nd), promising Barely Regal signees HOLLAND (Undertone, 24th) and folkies both indie-fied (ROSIE TAYLOR PROJECT, 10 Feet Tall, 19th) and Jefferson Airplane fuzzy (HAIGHT-ASHBURY, Gwdihw, 23rd). Indiepop good and less good is back amongst us too, care of the winningly punchy ALLO DARLIN’ (Buffalo, 29th and Fleece, 28th) and the tiresome Shrag (Undertone, 25th) who are at least supported by clattering noise-pop kids TUNABUNNY.
Bristol, meanwhile, gets the plaudits for breadth of genre, gig size and eye-catching names this month. There’s an implausibly great-looking rash of shows at the o2 Academy, whose cavernous non-charms welcome LEE ‘SCRATCH’ PERRY (4th), as focused and on-point as you could reasonably expect at last May’s ATP and with an excellent band to boot; JUSTICE (9th), whose terribly overcooked second album will be bolstered live by their classic material and a shit-hot live show; the fantastically goofy ur-stadium rock of MASTODON (5th), fast becoming the Metallica it’s ok to not push off a cliff; and GZA (18th), possibly the third best living Wu-Tang member and most likely ambling through the best bits of ‘Liquid Swords’ on a bill with brit-hop lifers SKITZ & RODNEY P. The Academy (20th) and Cardiff Uni (19th) also host the NME Awards Tour, which is worth a punt for METRONOMY’s arch electropop gems and, in particular, the deliciously filthy electro-boosted hip-hop of AZEALIA BANKS. Both will make the rank indie rock losers on the bill look like eternal dullards.
Elsewhere, Bristol has some tidy-looking gems, not least at the Cube. There, MARY HAMPTON’s disquieting subject matter and crystalline vocals make for superbly warped alt-folk which will be a highlight of the month’s listings (11th). The same venue also hosts an ace triple-bill of experimental duos (17th) headlined by Brooklyn’s HIGH PLACES, whose bleached-out psychedelic pop is ably supported by THE HYSTERICAL INJURY and Zun Zun Egui / SJ Esau side-project HESOMAGARI. I know, right? Hyper-literate pop polymath MOMUS is at the Cube too (10th), while around the grounds Bristol rounds up varied treats care of beloved agit-folk-punk duo VIALKA (Café Kino, 17th), the mighty post-hardcore screamalong fun of Leeds nutbars PULLED APART BY HORSES (Fleece, 18th), ex-Cul de Sac man and 12-string picker par excellence GLENN JONES (Arnolfini, 23rd, with SHARRON KRAUS), RM HUBBERT, formerly of unsung Glaswegian post-rock outfit El Hombre Trajeado (seriously, look them up) and now solo (Cube, 2nd with Cardiff’s THINGS MAKE ELECTRIC), STILL CORNERS’ poised detachment and brittle Broadcast melodies (Louisiana, 9th), glorious Fence Records drone-folk from KING CREOSOTE & JON HOPKINS and the fine WITHERED HAND (Fleece, 5th) and the perennially underrated and beautifully crafted pop of FIELD MUSIC (Fleece, 23rd)..
Qu Junktions are back, bringing intriguing and playful experiments in techno from ITAL (formerly of solid Dischord kids Black Eyes, still half of no-wave freaksters Mi Ami) to Bristol’s Take 5 Café (10th). Diogenes have a couple of excellent shows, with exploratory psych lifers ASHTRAY NAVIGATIONS (Croft, 9th) and slow-crawling doom from PUS and others (Croft, 2nd). Blinding scenes at the Cube (25th); “experimental tuba trio” ORE offer a wall of numbing low-end and, well, shitloads of whacked-out brass. Come on, that sounds amazing. ANTA, FAIRHORNS and SKJOLBROT make up a corking bill. This month’s obligatory SATURDAY’S KIDS mention: they’re at the Croft on the 16th before a launch gig for the new ‘Grey On White’ 7″ which takes place in the basement of Newport’s Barnabas Arts Centre (23rd).
What have I missed? Not a lot, although I heard DJANGO DJANGO’s assured late-period Beta Band single on the radio this morning and it was pretty good (Cooler, 25th). THE DEATH OF HER MONEY appear with AXIS OF at Buffalo (26th), always good. THE AFTERNOONS, presumably cryogenically frozen since 2001, are back and playing Buffalo (25th); sweet South Walian Sarah Records pop, as I recall. LONEY, DEAR does sad-eyed Swedish melancholia (Louisiana, 19th) and CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH, who must be gutted to be in the round-up, tour their sadly flat recent material at the Thekla (4th). Nice surf one-two at the Cube (4th) with MUSTARD ALLEGRO and HANGMEN, who I should get around to seeing. Gathered In Song have OX playing Le Pub (8th) and FANFARLO do brass-assisted junior Arcade Fire-isms (Thekla, 27th). Think that’s about it. Time for my cocoa.