• October preview: non-festival highlights for this month in Cardiff and Bristol

October’s schedules are dominated by Swn and Womex, two very different but equally exciting weekend festivals packed with intriguing and brilliant new music.  Cardiff has rarely been so spoiled for choice, and you should be there for both.  We’ll have some separate features on both events, but here’s a selection of the best of the month’s other treats.


Hang out the bunting for the welcome return of Lesson No. 1 to Cardiff’s live music schedules, bringing to you as always an impressively broad-ranging sweep of out-there gear. Headliners AUN are from Montreal, a shady duo working at the margins of chilly ambient electronics, spaced-out drone and beatless, drifting shoegaze. They remind me of Windy & Carl, Popol Vuh, Emeralds, Main and the last Slowdive record where they went off the map a bit, and if that sounds as good to you as it does me then you should get involved. The Cosmic Nod did the Cardiff Psych Fest gig a while back, and a fair idea of their approach can be gained from the half-hour jam they uploaded to Soundcloud; hairy, fuzz-drenched freeform psych riff madness in a Comets On Fire or Amon Düül vein, they should be very loud and very heavy indeed. Good. First up will be Kaskie from TDOHM in the guise of SVNTREADER, with some nicely atmospheric heavyweight bass gloom and treacly industrial drone-outs. These are all recommendations, by the way. Attend!


Can’t remember many more universally cheered award winners than RM Hubbert’s triumph at the Scottish Album of the Year awards this summer. The album he won with, Thirteen Lost & Found, saw him reconnect with old friends through collaboration on a set of gorgeous compositions based around his solo guitar. He’s sometimes alarmingly candid about his long-term battle with depression and the effect it’s had on his personal relationships, but this openness is leavened with such genuine warmth and sparkling, laugh-out-loud humour that it’s impossible not to feel affection towards him. Initially reliant largely on the instrumental pieces on Thirteen Lost & Found when playing live, his confidence and comfort in solo performance seems to have risen sharply; he now tries out a few vocals, with uncanny echoes of collaborators Alasdair Roberts and Aidan Moffat on the songs they performed together and some sung/spoken new tunes which broaden his range. Some of these will be on third album Breaks & Bone, out this month. Some of them may be about experimental drug cocktails and the personal lives of Girls Aloud. Or he might just be taking the piss again.


Heard the new Islet stuff yet?  It is tremendous.  Their second full-length album in not much more than 18 months comes out in the first week of October, trailed by a couple of tasters which ricochet between blissful falsetto-voiced dubwise pop and humming psychedelic grooviness.  There’s an unshakeable assurance and confidence to everything they do now; not that Wimmy, say, was short of it, but they’ve assimilated all the disparate shades of Islet into a concise, definable whole that’s as questing and adventurous as ever but just seems completely infallible.  They’re getting better.  Scary, no? It’s this mug’s opinion that if H. Hawkline’s Black Domino Box and Ghouls had been released as an 11-track album instead of two EPs it would have strolled off with the Welsh Music Prize no problem. Then again, I’ve demonstrated numerous times that I essentially know fuck all about such things so I’ll stick to the facts; this is the boy Evans’ first Cardiff gig of the year and as such is mandatory viewing. Hail! The Planes are one of those bands you sometimes fear will never actually get around to releasing anything, which would be a crying shame; their last short-run EP came out three years ago. They’ve evolved a good deal since then, and it’s excellent to read that there’s a new five-track EP ready to go. You can see them on the Barely Regal stage at Swn, too, but you should be at this one early if only to boo and catcall the Joy Collective DJs befouling the atmosphere before their set.


Hemmed in between the western side of the Andes and the Pacific and supposedly the best place on earth for stargazing, it’s probably unsurprising that countercultural outbursts in Chile should be particularly freaky.  Many were explicitly political, reactions to the Pinochet regime, but the country that produced Alejandro Jodorowsky also had a healthy garage/psych scene in the 60s, something the Santiago label Blow Your Mind has recreated lovingly in recent years.  Two of their roster have been picked up by shit-hot Brooklyn label Sacred Bones (Zola Jesus, The Men, Moon Duo et al); the first, wiggy Krautrock dudes Föllakzoid, trade in excellent longform bliss-outs from the darker end of the psych spectrum.  Their mirror images might be the Holydrug Couple.  Setting their controls back five years or so further than Föllakzoid, their focus is West Coast USA rather than West Germany, with a dreamy Byrds/Love trippiness that’s a more accessible and immediate hit but one still laden with trippy effects, half-buried hooks and hazy sunset psych-rock.  Calling a song ‘Paisley’ is a pretty big hint as to your intentions.  THC (ha!) also dabble a bit in Crazy Horse desert blues and Eastern-influenced figures on their excellent Noctuary, which is well worth your time.


Quite apart from being, in the opinion of this bulb, the greatest songwriter of his generation, John Darnielle is a brilliantly funny, warm, socially-conscious dude who pretty much validates the existence of Twitter on his own; follow him for frequent missives on boxing, team sports, extreme metal, arcane medieval legend and the head-slapping idiocy of the conservative right in America. Perhaps more pertinently, he has also issued a dauntingly large but endlessly rewarding series of records as The Mountain Goats since 1994, and while more of these albums than not have now been recorded with at least medium fidelity, much of the staunch love held for Darnielle’s work stems from the early boombox recordings where his brittle, beautiful, lyrical wordplay spilled out over trebly guitar and the omnipresent hum of budget recording technology. Current TMG drummer Jon Wurster is on Superchunk duty, which brings a pretty neat opportunity for Darnielle to tour in a duo configuration for the first time in ages, yielding the chance to revisit cities, songs and arrangements not seen live in some time.

The Sunset Tree, the 2005 album which addressed Darnielle’s own troubled childhood, can be seen as a watershed MGs release in that each album since invites observers to ponder the recurring themes of desperation, embattlement and attempted recovery not as being from the perspective of the unseen protagonists that dominated the likes of Tallahassee or All Hail West Texas but further revelations of the author’s own past.  That is a dangerous if unavoidable trap to fall into, because whatever the level of grounding in autobiography, Darnielle’s blackly humourous, page-turning lyrics should be revelled in as the work of a superior and gifted writer.  The quality control of recent albums like 2011’s All Eternals Deck, and the ratio of great to merely very good Goats songs, has remained remarkably high, and seeing the reaction of the faithful is a pretty inspiring sight.  Looking forward to this tremendously.

LAURA CANTRELL, St Bonaventure, 9th

It’s your standard Nashville success story; prospective Columbia law student gets job at Country Music Hall of Fame, becomes college radio DJ, presents long-running and much-celebrated cult country show on WFMU, works a full-time job as business manager VP at a major Wall Street bank, eventually quits to pursue her music career full-time. A ludicrously far-fetched biopic treatment, but the true tale of honey-voiced country siren Laura Cantrell, returning this month with No Way There From Here, her first full album of original material in eight years.  It’s obligatory to recall John Peel’s fulsome praise of her gorgeous, lonesome debut Not The Tremblin’ Kind – “my favourite album of the last ten years and possibly my life” – but that does a disservice to the defiant, flinty originals and well-crafted homages to country’s past elsewhere in her catalogue. Her status as an archivist and scholar of country music on WFMU translates to a kind of curatorial understanding of how the form should sound which she shares with Neko Case, though the similarities don’t continue musically for long; hers is a classic voice naturally gifted for songs of yearning and doughty, defiant responses, whether echoing Patsy Cline or Emmylou Harris on the steel guitars-and-heartbreak of Not The Tremblin’ Kind or a more muted, sonically varied city-dwelling reflection on Humming By The Flowered Vine which recalls Allison Krauss or Linda Ronstadt.


Earth mainman, unlikely Newcastle fan and full-time English folk obsessive Carlson returns a year or so after his first solo date in Bristol, and we’ve more to go on this time in figuring out what form proceedings will take. His album La Strega and the Cunning-Man in the Smoke manages a disarming sleight-of-hand every time I return to it; the crystalline voice of guest Teresa Colamonaco leads Carlson’s reverb-heavy desert-dry twang through a clutch of lupine, drowsy covers, reinterpreting the immutably English likes of Ray Davies, Richard Thompson and PJ Harvey. Elsewhere, a couple of longform instrumental pieces see Carlson pick out reverb-heavy, blissful chord clusters bathed in drone and shiver-inducing in their slow-burning beauty. The latter approach is carried over to a recent split 7″ with Dutch free improv drummer Rogier Smal, a Low Countries Chris Corsano who also plays in Soft Is and Dogara, in a duo with saxophonist Yedo Gibson and has played alongside Marshall Allen, Eugene Chadbourne, Sunburned Hand Of The Man and countless others. Carlson’s 2012 shows under the Drcarlsonalbion banner saw Smal and Colamonaco join him onstage to recreate the La Strega material; no idea if this will be repeated here, but a collaboration of sorts seems a fair shout. Should be excellent.


A Quietus-sponsored revolving bill tour comprised of three luminous, darkly psychedelic and shudderingly loud bands who’ve played together plenty of times in recent years, this would ordinarily be a steal; if I understand correctly, and a combined £10 ticket gets you into the Dylan Carlson gig downstairs as well, you’d be a buffoon not to take advantage.  Witchy goth-pop outfit Esben & The Witch wouldn’t be my first choice to be honest; the controlled maelstroms of guitar studded through songs like ‘Iceland Spar’ are nice enough but something’s missing, ironic for a band employing such gothic melodrama and kitchen-sink bombast.   It’s a shiny, controlled kind of chaos which while well-written and confidently compiled ultimately leaves me a little cold.  But!  One slight misstep on an otherwise excellent and reasonably-priced bill is small beer, so instead delight in the sound of multiple ominous weather systems colliding as portrayed by superior Bristolian psych-shoegazers Thought Forms, whose seemingly incurable penchant for touring has seen them hone their swooning, distortion-wreathed noise and beatific harmonies tantalisingly close to perfection.  Top draw, though, will be imposing kraut-prog-noise gimps TOTS, flexing unsettlingly in support of impending third album Monster.  Strobing keyboards, prickly-heat smears of trumpet and an omnipresent hum of unease hung over the masterful Your Mercury like a bucolic English version of Liars, and their stated touchstones for the new album suggest excursions further out into the margins.


Fair play to the Arnolfini, getting both of these pairings on the same bill for a tenner is just about the bargain of the month.  Violist Eyvind Kang and vocalist Jessica Kenney have released a series of works exploring Javanese and Persian musics for the Stephen O’Malley curated Ideologic Organ label.  The two have previously worked together with O’Malley’s Sunn 0))), and separately with Wolves In The Throne Room, John Zorn and Six Organs of Admittance among others, and Kenney’s incredibly expressive soprano voice and Kang’s sparse, beautiful arrangements of Eastern music seem to present traditional musics in the context of the broad range of other work they’ve contributed to.  Aestuarium, released in 2011, is spare and minimal but stunningly resonant, Kenney’s voice beautifully clear and haunting as it wraps around the tendrils of Eastern-tinged viola.  The Face Of The Earth, its follow-up, has fuller arrangements; staccato plucking from Kang, gamelan percussion and what sounds like mandolin are looped and chopped with Kenney’s vocals similarly reshaped into a chorus of repeated notes and phrases.  It’s heady, transcendent stuff, respectful of the cultures it visits but forward-looking and experimental.  Kang also features prominently on Oren Ambarchi’s glorious Audience Of One, whose half-hour centrepiece ‘Knots’ builds glacially on Ambarchi’s treated guitar drones with an ominous string and horn arrangement from Kang before Joe Talia’s hummingbird percussion enters the fray.  Ambarchi’s insanely deep body of work in drone, minimalism, modern electronics, avant-rock songwriting and (with Keiji Haino and Jim O’Rourke) gleeful power-trio noise is daunting indeed for the newcomer, but inevitably rewarding, and he’s joined here by Talia for what should be a pretty awesome set.

GRUMBLING FUR / SALOPE, Exchange, 21st

Grumbling Fur is the meeting of Daniel O’Sullivan (member of Guapo, Ulver, and the excellent Æthenor with Stephen O’Malley) and Alexander Tucker, and their second album Glynnaestra ranks among either’s finest work.  Tucker’s voice is used to the less immediate, slightly curdled harmonies of his complex yet hugely rewarding solo work, but he seems to relish the change in tone; set against the chugging synths that dominate Glynnaestra it recalls early Pink Floyd, late-period Robert Wyatt or, undeniably, the less portentous end of Depeche Mode.  Its closest sonic antecedent, though, is undoubtedly Richard Youngs’ glorious foray into cosmic pop balladry Beyond The Valley Of Ultrahits, another record that plots a starchart between pastoral English folk, warm electro-pop and a particular kind of lysergic experimentation.  It’s one of the loveliest things I’ve heard this year, and the first listen to Tucker crooning Rutger Hauer’s familiar Blade Runner monologue while astral synths soar behind him on ‘The Ballad Of Roy Batty’ could brighten the gloomiest hearts.

MARK STEWART in dub with DENNIS BOVELL / 23 SKIDOO / YOUNG ECHO, Trinity, 23rd

The coiled, hair-trigger rants and splenetic aggro-funk of old are still vividly present and correct with veteran agitator Mark Stewart, as seen on the recent Politics of Envy album, a head-spinning assault that is on-message with essentially everything he’s done since forming the Pop Group back in 1980.  Fractured dub, shuddering noise, splinters of post-punk guitar (care of PiL’s Keith Levene) and splenetic, freewheeling bursts of radical energy, polemic and dissent make Stewart circa 2013 as vital and defiant a voice in his 50s as he ever was.  The ‘Bristol Sound’ elements that have been constants with him remain in this short run of gigs.  Levene and Pop Group/Slits producer Dennis Bovell (who also oversees the crushingly heavy versions on Stewart’s companion album Exorcism of Envy) join him here, alongside reformed post-punk fusion pioneers 23 Skidoo; the latter charted a similarly maverick path through industrial, funk, claustrophobic exotica, breaks and hip-hop on a near parallel course to Stewart’s own.  The real coup (sorry) here comes with the addition of recent Wire cover stars Young Echo, an exclusive on this date, whose Nexus album itself works as a microcosm of Bristol’s musical history – dub, trip-hop, grime and hermetic, suffocating electronica that maps the shared territory of Massive Attack, Peverelist and On-U and points towards a bright future.

SHANGAAN ELECTRO / HEATSICK, Exchange / various locations, 23rd

Dance party!  Utterly killer night in prospect here as the full Shangaan experience comes to Bristol ahead of an appearance at the WOMEX showcase in Cardiff.  This means Shangaan mastermind, producer, composer, label boss, designer and most likely tea boy Nozinja along with, presumably, a cast of musicians, DJs and dancers for what ought to be an unforgettable, thrilling and very sweaty one-off experience.  The signature Shangaan sound – hyperspeed 180bpm rhythms underpinning joyous, freewheeling guitar and marimba melodies, budget-sounding fx and sweetly sung or sampled vocals.  You can hear undercurrents of African music you might have heard before – township jive, Zimbabwean guitar sounds – but this is a local, tribal sound distinctive to and beloved of Limpopo township in the northern part of South Africa, and once you’ve heard it and seen the viral Youtube clips of Shangaan dancers it’s impossible to hear it as anything other than unique to them.  This show is listed as part of the Out Of Place series, an ambitious programme put together by Qu Junktions and the Arnolfini wherein musicians perform in and respond to non-standard spaces in Bristol and the surrounding area.  It’s not quite clear what this means for the Shangaan show, as the main event will be in the Exchange, but don’t be surprised to encounter a blast of featherlight electro madness and a clutch of impossibly gymnastic dancers wiggling through central Bristol on the day.

JOHN WIZARDS, Moon Club, 27th

Staying in South Africa, and how often does that phrase pop up in this column, this low-key booking is a bit of a blinder for the Moon Club and should round off the week of WOMEX in excellent fashion.  Planet Mu have dedicated a fair bit of time to records that document a specific local scene or movement – the Bangs & Works series, Traxman, Anti-G – but John Wizards’ debut works differently, a whistle-stop tour of styles, locations and scenes that comes off like a lovingly compiled pick ‘n’ mixtape.  Chiefly the work of Cape Towner John Withers, with vocals from sweet-voiced Rwandan singer Emmanuel Nzaramba, it’s a relentlessly upbeat brew taking in dub, Afro-pop, highlife, infectious guitar lines and beats that range from Gold Panda-style hip-hop refixes to chattering 80s keyboard presets to chunky 8-bit r ‘n’ b.  John Wizards is also a six-piece band, presumably for playing Withers’ compositions live; if they’re touring with him on this occasion it really would be something to see, but either way this will be like mainlining sunshine and tartrazine.


It should be sufficient draw enough that the dude who wrote ‘It’s Not Funny Anymore’ and ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’ while in Hüsker Dü is playing a room roughly the size of his garage, but if not then Grant Hart’s album The Argument makes a strong case.  Based – wait for it – on an unfinished adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost by William Burroughs, a friend of Hart’s, it’s a highly ambitious conceptual shot even from the man behind Nova Mob’s nutso Last Days of Pompeii.  If it is a rock opera of sorts, then Hart tries on an impressive range of costumes; GBV-style Nuggets hooks and arcane lyrical contortions, plenty of Bowie melodrama, prime Summer of Love wide-eyed mysticism a la Roky Erickson or Arthur Lee and some slightly less palatable proggy conceptualism that’s at least endearing in its determination to cover all bases.  He’s in fine voice, with the Bowie similarity not for the first time the most noticeable but shades of solo Lennon and Robert Pollard in there too, and a few of the stronger pop moments are up there with some of his best work.  Jimmy from FOTL and Bedford Falls feature among the supports, too.  Ought to be at the very least interesting, very likely surprising, quite possibly brilliant.