What a beautiful world this is – Drakeford at Franklin Creative

Drakeford at Franklin Creative
Sorry, this is the only photo of Drakeford I managed to get that night.

I’ve listened to a lot of music in the last decade. Very rarely does any of it move me anymore. Yes, the music that’s been with me for decades, that accompanied me on my greatest adventures and carried me through my most difficult times—the songs that know me—still means the world to me. But rarely does anything new penetrate that deeply into my psyche anymore. What was my biggest fear when I first decided to study music full time 15 years ago and has ultimately proven to be one of the great tragedies of my life.

When I arrived at Franklin Creative, a new gallery space in Franklin, TN a few blocks off the beaten path but homey and comfortable, I expected to find a full house. Feeling particularly defeated and ready to call it quits after three two hours wandering in and out of galleries and three coffee breaks during the city’s monthly art crawl, I planned to drop in for a song or two by whatever band was playing and disappear again.

Instead of the packed house that had greeted me on my first visit, however, I found only the gallery owners and a few artists inside. Afraid I’d missed everything, I spent the next several minutes discussing the artwork with photographer Shelly Moore, when a voice from another room asked, “Would you like to hear the band? I’ll go get them.” There was no chance of slipping away unnoticed now.

The band was inter-continental husband and wife duo Drakeford (he from South Carolina, she from somewhere in England). It would be unfair of me to leave the description at that, however, especially in a town like Nashville where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a dozen songwriters, because even here (maybe especially here) there is something special about Drakeford.

I took a seat in the gallery and listened intently for a few songs. Yes, the playing was skillful, their voices were nice and my how that fella can cram a lot of words into a single song when he wants to. One might compare it to Ed Sheeran. I compare it to Waiting For My Rocket To Come era Jason Mraz (just listen to Drakeford’s recent single “Nashville” and tell me I’m wrong). But it was something else entirely that finally grabbed me and refused to let go.

If you knew me, and you almost certainly do not, you would know that I have long been preoccupied with the conflict between legacy and anonymity. Like so many others, I’ve spent my life haunted by the desire to be recognized. I know I am not alone in this. I think it is an inherently human thing to seek recognition, be it for good work, good looks, or Good Works. But the older I get, the more I am bothered by my unwillingness to be Nobody, by my inability to accept that there is beauty and honor in living a life that is unremarkable to all but the few who love us.

So, when they played another new song, “Beautiful World” and I heard the lines “From the ground where we buried our loved ones / Spring out willows and wildflowers. / Now new life is found. / What a beautiful world it is.” I froze and choked up a bit. I never asked if those lines meant what I heard. I could be miles off base, here, but it doesn’t matter. In that verse, I heard reflected not only my feelings in that moment, but an aesthetic I’ve been pursuing for ages. I rushed to write those lines down. If I were to forget everything else from this evening, I wanted to remember those lines.

But I haven’t forgotten them. Nor have I forgotten the feeling of hearing them for the first time, a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years and yet one which caught me multiple times that night. There’s a comfort in being known, a sense of belonging that comes from hearing our hopes and fears echoed in others. It’s a feeling we’re destined to spend our lives chasing and, when we’re fortunate, find, occasionally, in our loved ones, in a stranger—sometimes, even, in a song.

You can find Drakeford’s music in lots of places, like iTunes and Spotify. As far as I can tell, everything has been released digitally. I do, however, wish they has CDs, so my mom could listen to them too.

Stella Emmett – Admirer

cover Stella Emmett - AdmirerWhat is “Ikeacore”? No one really knows for sure. Just ask Twitter. According to Stella Kortchmar who spent the last two years working on the songs that now comprise Stella Emmett’s Admirer, it is “a sort of sound palette people could put on at parties, or listen to on a train, . . . or while shopping at IKEA”. Now, maybe I am overstepping my bounds, but I am going to contradict Kortchmar here, not because I think it isn’t any of those things, but because I think she’s selling herself short.

It is easy to read Kortchmar’s description of Admirer as “glorified background music”, but it is so much more than that. Rather than settling for the innate passivity that is the hallmark of background music, Admirer is a record that rewards deeper listening. To run with the IKEA metaphor a moment longer: far from the megalithic florescent vastness of your standard IKEA, Admirer is a more softly lit, intimate affair. For me, it is a record dripping with nostalgia.

Throughout Admirer, I, at least, get little glimpses of the past. Take the chorus effects employed on songs like “Done W U”. That’s vintage Speak For Yourself era Imogen Heap. The melodic contours of “Daydream” (video below), particularly the way the vocals leap into the suspension on the phrase “Oh God” (with no crescendo – that’s key) is reminiscent of those beautiful ballads on the first Venus Hum record. Personally, I am especially fond of the album opener “Out Of Town”. The vocal rhythms are so regular, like the swinging of a pendulum, that they are almost hypnotic. And yet, as the song continues to build, there is plenty of syncopation and rhythmic dissonance buried beneath the surface to keep the hypnotic melody from ever growing monotonous.

As human beings, we all find ourselves in the grip of nostalgia from time to time. Personally, I’ve been especially prone to it the last few years. When I listen to the wistful, almost whimsical sounds that comprise the accompaniment to “Done W U”, I can’t help but think of my old friends Swimming In Speakers. Was that the intent? Not likely, but I do think it may be the point.

Nostalgia is a powerful force. While we are often conditioned to shun nostalgia as some sort of inferior emotion, it lingers in all of us waiting to be released. Admirer is the kind of album that can unlock that door. To put it in strictly musical terms, to me, it sounds like the best bits of mid-aughts Imogen Heap combined with Gran Turismo era Cardigans and a voice reminiscent of Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura). More personally, Admirer sounds like old friends and a world that still made some sense.

Stella Emmett’s Admirer is available on CD, cassette, and download beginning August 23.

World Premier: Wu Fei’s Hello Gold Mountain at Ingram Hall

Soaked to the bone by the torrential rains that accompanied my walk to Vanderbilt’s Ingram Hall, I sank, rather damply, into my seat and began to scribble some notes on the topic of requiems in the now half disintegrated notebook that accompanied me to Chatterbird’s premier of Wu Fei‘s Hello Gold Mountain on Saturday, a piece the composer describes as “a requiem for the lost possibilities of the Jewish community in Shanghai”. Those notes I have since disregarded because too many words can, so easily, do a disservice to the truth and at this point in the experience they hang round my neck more like a millstone than a medal. And that is because Hello Gold Mountain is, at—and in—its heart, so simple.

I don’t mean simple in the sense that anyone off the street could play it. That is far from the truth. There’s an argument to be made that Hello Gold Mountain is as much a double concerto for oud and guzheng as it is a piece for chamber ensemble. Cadenza-like passages in multiple movements highlight the virtuoso touch and technique of oudist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and the composer herself at the guzheng. I mean “simple” in the sense that the truth behind the piece seems so basic, so fundamental, that it could be—perhaps should be—taken as a given.

For many years leading up to the Second World War, Shanghai was often one of the only ports open to Jewish refugees fleeing an increasingly troubled European continent. Those refugees, thousands of them, were all crammed into a small area in Shanghai which came to be known as the Shanghai Ghetto. The story is not familiar to many today, myself included, but it is the inspiration for Wu Fei’s most recent large-scale work. Of course, a requiem is, traditionally, a mass for the dead. The form may very from one tradition to another, sacred to secular, but the general purpose remains the same, whether dedicated to an individual, the victims of a tragedy, or humanity as a whole. But can one hold a requiem for that which never happened?

When thinking back on Hello Gold Mountain, it is hard for me not to draw comparisons to another “Jews in exile” piece of relatively recent memory, Osvaldo Golijov’s Grammy-nominated song cycle Ayre. But what I think is most interesting about that comparison is not what they have in common, but how they differ. Hello Gold Mountain does not dip heavily (or really at all) into the klezmer tradition the way Golijov did in Ayre (and just about everything else he was writing at the time). Perhaps those are just the quirks of the individuals who wrote them, maybe it’s the difference between a Jewish composer’s approach and a Chinese composer’s approach to the topic. But I’m inclined to believe there is more at play.

Hello Gold Mountain relies heavily on two instruments, the oud (a lute-like instrument with roots in the Middle East) and the guzheng (the Chinese take on the zither family, this one with 21 strings). (By now, I’m sure you’ve realized that the oud here represents the Jewish refugees and the guzheng their eventual destination in Shanghai.) Separately, in the hands of their respective players, the two featured instruments provide their share of memorable moments. Blumenkranz’s solo passages on the oud often approach the level of poetry, with just enough rhythmic flexibility to convey the fear and trepidation of a refugee bound for the unknown. One can feel the pull of gravity (or is that destiny?) in his runs. Wu’s playing is, as always, haunting, often with the weight of generations behind it. But where she truly sets herself apart is when she pushes the guzheng to its limits, attacking the strings in an aggressive, almost violent manner.

But where Hello Gold Mountain really hits its stride is not in the solo passages, remarkable though they may be. It is when the guzheng and the oud step back and melt into one another becoming, at times, nearly indiscernible from each other when I think the true depth of the piece is revealed. It is then, when the unique and beautiful characteristics of the individual instruments join together to create something new and exciting, that we get a glimpse of the elusive “possibilities” Wu refers to in her description of the piece. But those moments, like the Jewish refugee community of Shanghai, are fleeting. And it is their impermanence that we mourn here.

At one point, midway through the performance, it became evident that one of the strings on Blumencranz’s oud had been rendered somewhat out of tune. It was then that Wu appeared to hold a trill on her guzheng for quite some time while he worked to get back in tune and then, with a nod to the conductor, they were off again. It is perhaps a cheap metaphor, one performer supporting the piece while another regains his footing before continuing on together, but I’m going to run with it anyway.

With the war over and continuing political unrest in China, the Jewish community in Shanghai began to disperse. Some relocated to the newly formed Jewish state of Israel. Others continued on to San Francisco, known in Chinese as “Old Gold Mountain” to begin a new life in America. And even though it is now a much neglected story, the Shanghai Ghetto remains an important chapter in the Jewish wartime experience and warrants wider retelling. Hello Gold Mountain is an important step in the sharing of that story.

As the final movement of Hello Gold Mountain wound to a close, the house lights came up for a communal singing of a brief melody printed in the program. As the house lights dimmed once again and Chatterbird performed the final strains themselves, the stage lights changed to a golden hue. The color of “Old Gold Mountain”, to be sure, but also the color of sunrise and of the dawn of new possibilities.

New track – “Dead Rabbit Hopes” by The Shoe

The Shoe

Late last week, Jena Malone sent out (via Tumblr and Twitter) a link to a new song by The Shoe (her band with co-collaborator and improvisor Lem Jay Ignacio). The song, “Dead Rabbit Hopes” is a first look at the band’s new EP, coming out in late spring. And, upon listening, it seems to represent a pretty significant development for the band.

We’ve been following The Shoe for years. The Shoe has never been a celebrity vanity project (though you wouldn’t know that from the lazy print review I read in a magazine five years ago). The Shoe is a violon d’Ingres. The Shoe is a band. A band that had, up until now, always seemed to be built around the principles of portability and improvisation. (Perhaps you remember the song they sent us for Christmas a few years ago?) But “Dead Rabbit Hopes”, if it is any indication of what’s to come, is the work of a band taking a more measured approach. The result is still lo-fi, the lyrics still tinted with a touch of the surreal, but this is the work of a band who put their blood, sweat, and tears into their music (which, to be fair, is exactly what the tweet says). As opposed to their earlier EP, this is more reminiscent of Rose Dougall‘s earliest recordings post-Pipettes, or that first Parlours song I fell in love with all those years ago.

The new EP, apparently self-titled, will be released in the spring. No word yet on the format, or whether it will be released through Jena’s own label, There Was An Old Woman, which has handled almost everything up until now (The Bloodstains once had a 7-inch on another label), but I’ll be sure to find out as soon as I can.

Pen Pals 1: Appendix A – The Dutch

I don’t know how many of you were listening to Amazing Radio on Sunday afternoon. If you were, and you happened to catch the second half of Bethan Elfyn’s show, you may have also noticed the part where Beth took a break and some weird guy started talking about Dutch indie music. Well, I was that weird guy. In case you missed it and would like to hear it for yourself, you can listen again on the Bethan Elfyn Show page on amazingradio.co.uk (I start talking just before the 96 minute mark).

On the show, I covered some Dutch indie bands and one of my favorite Dutch labels. I only had time to talk about two bands, but if any of you remember our Dutch Week we had here a few years ago, you probably also remember that there are far more than two good Dutch bands. So, I promised I would write a post to highlight some of the other artists who, sadly, had to be left out of the final broadcast.

The first track I played was “Destroyers of Worlds” by The Sugarettes. Some of you may remember The Sugarettes from Dutch Week, at the time, they were pushing their first LP on Subroutine Records call Love and Other Perversities (a good album, which I still own, and one you should pick up). Earlier this year (March, I believe) The Sugarettes released a new LP, Destroyers of Worlds, which I’ve been listening to constantly for a couple of months now. If I were to pass judgment on it (which I will), I would say it’s a more mature work than Other Perversities was. They’ve really got the girl-fronted nerd rock thing down, and it’s working out nicely for them—kind of like if The Coathangers formed a Blondie tribute band. And if this sort of nerdy indie rock is your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out the various other projects The Sugarettes are involved with. Joep van Son has a few of them. We covered the boy-girl indie rock of The Very Sexuals a few years ago, but Joep is also a member of Nikoo a noise pop ensemble. He has also recently launched Waste No Fun, a collaborative indie pop project with Sydney-based illustrator Bas van Genugten, releasing a free lo-fi single every six weeks, which also offers limited edition prints of the artwork. The Sugarettes’ lead singer Mariska Louman also has a shoegaze-inspired band of her own called Iskaa and the Red Cars, who just recently released their first EP.

And while we’re on the subject of Subroutine Records, they have recently released the first LP from noise rockers Space Siren. When I first heard Space Siren a couple of years ago, they had only ever released a seven inch, and that several years before I heard them. I just assumed that they had disbanded. I never expected to see an LP from them, nor did I expect it to be so well-worth the wait. The band’s debut LP, Mr Wagner, Please Give Us A Call, is on the noisier side of the Subroutine spectrum, certainly more so than The Sugarettes, but it’s far from being noise for the sake of noise. There is almost a sort of shimmering violence with a glamorous tinge about the ten tracks that make up Mr. Wagner, which is apparent in the video for the single “Oh My God, Someone Killed Kelly”, for instance. It’s sort of a shoegaze ethos with a post-riot grrrl attitude (think My Bloody Valentine covers “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage).

Of course, it’s an unfortunate reality of the guest appearance business that you never have as much time as you want (or even need), especially if you’re as prone to enthusiasm as I am. (Seriously, I’ve written 600 words so far, and only really talked about two bands.) And one of the most heartbreaking cuts I had to make was an entire label, namely Snowstar Records. For those who prefer the softer side of DIY, Snowstar is a great place to look (though not always—you’ll also find things like the mid-’90s inspired indie rock of Lost Bear). We covered the lo-fi electronic folk of The Secret Love Parade a couple of years ago. Since then, in February, the girls released their second LP on Snowstar, Mary Looking Ready, which builds promisingly on their previous work, achieving a fuller and more singular sound than ever before while still maintaining the relaxed, almost conversational feel of their self-titled debut LP.

Also on Snowstar, you’ll find the frighteningly prolific and equally talented I Am Oak, who seems to have a new single or album out every time I check the label’s Bandcamp page. Usually, turning out music at such a pace would send up red flags all over the place, but there’s something about I Am Oak that keeps me coming back for more. Maybe it’s the melodies and sparse textures. Or it could be the harmonies and haunting vocals. Very rarely do you see someone do so much with so little. Here is a the first I Am Oak track I ever heard, “Gold and Porcelain”, which you can find on this free Snowstar compilation:

Which brings us to Kim Janssen of The Black Atlantic, whose most recent solo record, a beautiful folk concept album called Ancient Crime, which draws on the character and ethos of the northwest of England, was released on Snowstar Records in March of this year. And, speaking of The Black Atlantic, I have to come clean and admit that they released a new EP on Beep! Beep! Records early this year which I have failed to review here or even make sufficient public mention of. Which should not, in any way, be considered a reflection of the EP itself, which is, in fact, absolutely gorgeous. If you were listening to the Bethan Elfyn Show when we played the title track “Darkling, I Listen”, you have, most likely, already figured this out. If you missed it, head over to amazingtunes.com or to the band’s website. You can listen to the whole thing there and it’s well worth your undivided attention. The five tracks on Darkling, I Listen fit together so seamlessly, they function best as a single piece of music, featuring all of the lush harmonies that were the hallmark of the band’s Reverence For Fallen Trees, Geert and company also make fine use of the sort dramatic, subito dynamic changes that characterize the longer form choral works of Arvo Pärt, for instance, and which jar the listener to beautiful and hypnotic effect.

I should probably start wrapping this up. Congratulations if you’ve managed to read this far. You actually have an attention span, which is an increasingly rare thing. (You’re practically a collector’s item!). There’s plenty more to cover, but I’ve already kept you too long. If you’re curious, go back and read some of those old Dutch Week posts. There are a whole lot of other tips and leads in there that I didn’t even bother to rehash in this post (as much as I would have liked to). But as it stands, I’ve already given you about a day’s-worth of music to check out, and that’s enough for one night.

CMW Recap Day 2 – El Mocambo/Rancho Relaxo

Day two of Canadian Music Week and I’ve been glittered within an inch of my life by the Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party who, I am told by a man who caught a glimpse of my media wristband at another showcase earlier today, are Canada’s next top band. The folks at Rancho Relaxo likewise seem to share his enthusiasm. It’s the most energetic crowd I’ve seen all night despite the fact that it is 2:30 A.M. and Toronto has been awash with rain and freezing temperatures since I arrived 36 hours ago. In the end, I too was powerless to resist their wonky sex pop and fought my way to the front to experience my first Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party close up and personal with the rest of the glitterati.

[Download: Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party – ‘My Five’ mp3]

TLGLTP were a brilliant way to close my first full day at CMW, so much fun, in fact, that I left the show so full of energy that I opted to forgo a cab and walk 20 minutes back to my room through the steady winter rain. Day two began with the first of three days of Live Near Bellwoods living room sessions at the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music: a series of performances that proved to be so incredible, I’ll wait and dedicate a full week to them soon.

So, instead, fast forward a few hours and a few blocks to El Mocambo where a nice lady found my passport before I even realized I’d lost it and Familia (Maple Ridge, BC)—who bring so much soul to their hook-laden indie rock, it really ought to come with a warning label—played a blistering set with the tightest rhythms and powerful vocals I heard all night. It’s difficult to photograph a band like Familia, if I’m honest: far too easy to lose sight of things like focus and shutter speed with all that uncontrollable dancing and hip-shaking going on. So if my photos from this particular gig are a little blurry, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You’re just going to have to entice them down here to the States and out to Britain for a bit of a tour. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

And, if you can, get them to bring Some Community (São Paulo, Brazil) along with them. As I learned Thursday night, the combination of Familia’s soul pop and Some Community’s art pop makes for one undeniably sexy lineup. I’ve talked about Some Community here before, but suffice it to say that they are even more fun live than I had hoped they’d be leaving a small but enthusiastic audience completely shattered by the end of their high-octane set. I don’t know why someone hasn’t signed them yet. All this band really need is a little exposure north of the Equator (an iPad advert, perhaps) and this band could do quite well for themselves here. And I’ll be honest with you, I’ve definitely got a crush on guitarist/bassist/occasional melodica-ist Gabriela Gonzalez.

[Download: Some Community – ‘Random Words’ mp3]

From El Mocambo, it was on to Rancho Relaxo to meet up with members of Yunioshi and Spaceships Are Cool for a bit of Icelandic sex on a Kaoss Pad in the form of Bloodgroup (Reykjavik, Iceland). Now, I don’t know if you can recall the last time you saw two nonironic keytars on the same stage, but I reckon it was sometime around 1987 (and I can’t even promise I was privy to it then as I was only 3 years old). But it’s a phenomenon I’ve witnessed firsthand and I can tell you, Bloodgroup play those keytars like the electro-rockstars they are and everyone within earshot lapped it up excitedly. And by the time the band had worked their way up to their Facebook hit ‘My Arms’ (from Dry Land) it was clear the capacity crowd was ready and willing to take it in all night long. But seriously, when the beats and nerdgasms flow in torrents from the stage like that, can you really blame them? I mean, I’ve never really given much thought to becoming a groupie, but for Bloodgroup, I might reconsider. Anyone feel like joining me in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves in October?

You already know how the rest of the evening went. (Hint: it’s up there at the beginning. See that neat time-displacement thing that I did?) At the end of a day like this, the only question really left to ask is, how is it even possible that anything could match this? The answer is ‘Friday’.

A new single from Dimbleby & Capper – ‘Let You Go’ – and a bit of an old interview

I’ve just been in Toronto for Canadian Music Week (more on that in the coming days), but The Indie Handbook passed a handful of anniversaries whilst I was away. The most timely of those being the anniversary of my first Dimbleby & Capper show. Now, I’m sure most people don’t mark the anniversaries of even the most memorable gigs they’ve attended, but I don’t have a whole lot to look forward to in my life and besides, there’s more to it than that. A few weeks ago, I sent a writer out to her first ever D&C show (the review will be available soon enough). Then, and this really is the most pressing issue, there is the matter of ‘Let You Go’, the new single being released next Monday on TAPE Records. I’ve been in love with ‘Let You Go’—as well as the B-side ‘Raise It Right’—since I first heard the rough cuts back in November.

At this point, it would be a waste of time for me to tell you how much I love Dimbleby & Capper or how confident I am that Laura Bettinson and her ‘Boy Band’ will be carving out a permanent niche for themselves over the next 18 months or so. But if you’re new to this D&C business, you can go back and read those interviews we ran last year and these other posts. But what the rest of you may not know, there’s still a good bit of that interview from one year ago that I never published. What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to let you read it, eh?

 

The Indie Handbook: You’ve been getting a lot of support from the BBC, haven’t you?

Dimbleby & Capper: Yeah, Huw Stephens, really, which has been fab, but—have you heard ‘Beautiful But Boring’?

TIH: Yeah, I have.

D&C: Well, that was a track that was literally a demo, and I hooked up with this producer Liam Howe—he’s doing all the über-pop stuff at the moment, Marina and the Diamonds—well, we hooked up a year or maybe two years ago and did that demo in, like, three days then suddenly (and that’s the beautiful thing about the internet, but also kind of irritating is that you lose control of stuff really quickly), but basically another blogger texted him and said you should play this and Huw Stephens checked it out. And then he played. And he played it every week, for the whole summer, every show, which is awesome, but also it wasn’t really ready for that. It was just a demo and I hadn’t quite—I was straight out of uni and we went straight on to do the Great Escape, we did Glastonbury, we did Latitude, we did a Maida Vale session, and I went over to L.A. on another project I’m doing and it was too much. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you get to the Ellie Gouldings where it just kind of runs, but even on that little level where you get played every week on a little specialist show and people are listening—and I needed a bit more time to figure it out, because I was just messing around with producers and suddenly realised that I can produce my own stuff—and I would prefer to.

That’s what I’m doing now. And I think some of the ‘Beautiful But Boring’ lovers have since gone Yeah, you’re alright…but then, alongside that, we’ve got a lot more people who are really into it. And there’s a few more things in the pipeline….I mean, I’m not really interested in the massive record label. Essentially, there will be a record at some point, but I have no doubt that it will be recorded before there is a record deal.

TIH: Until then, I suppose it’s just a matter of playing out and writing more and just generally soldiering on. What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?

D&C: The best gig we’ve played was probably Latitude. If you’ve got mates who are around you—like in London I’ll have a load of good mates—yeah, it’s fun, but it’s not really a challenge, but at Latitude, no one was there that we knew. And we were just quite lucky that it rained just as we went on stage, which meant that everybody—everybody—that was standing on the grass just poured in and stayed there for the whole set and they really enjoyed it. And we got so many new fans, just from that little 20-minute set there and people were really really digging it and that was the most satisfaction I’ve gotten out of a gig, because, like I said, you know there is no one there that you know, but you can tell that the energy is really good and that was really fun. And Glastonbury was fun, but not quite on the same level. It was a bit more…I guess there was a bit more pressure, which sometimes can ruin things. If everyone goes in thinking This is going to be amazing—you just don’t need that, really. You’re just going to play what you normally do.

TIH: Would you rather people came with no expectations—that you be something of an accidental discovery?

D&C: Well, I think that’s when people like it more, almost. I mean, it’s slow. The progress is slow, but every gig, we do seem to come away with people who are absolutely hooked and then others who just think it’s alright. But it’s cool. Like you say, there seem to be a lot of people who come and they’re really grabbed by it and some people who really get—well, there’s not a lot to get, really, it’s just a little fun—I think some people think we’re taking ourselves a little bit too seriously, but I really don’t mean to come across that way [laughs]. We’re just having a laugh. Some people really get it, and others—we’ll work on them.

TIH: Exactly. Just give it some time. What about these other side projects?

D&C: Well, the main one—it’s not really in any state of coming out or being released yet—but I’m doing a project with Nigel Godrich and a couple of guys from America (you know, the guy that does all the Radiohead stuff). So I’m doing a project with him that’s really exciting, really cool music. I really dig it, but we haven’t got—I mean, there are a few tracks there, but again, you don’t have the time to put in and finish anything, so there are about ten half-baked tracks there, some that are more like three-quarters-baked and others are only just started. It’ll probably come out when I’m about 25 at this rate. I’m hoping, and he’s telling me, that it will come out before I’m 23 and that’s next year.

TIH: How did that get worked out?

D&C: That came about because Nigel came to one of my solo gigs—which is weird—ages ago, at The Queen’s Head, in Angel. They were looking for a singer, basically, because they’ve got all these beats (they’re amazing musicians), these wicked soundscapes and they’re looking for someone to write over the top of them and that’s kind of what I do, you know. I start with a beat or a loop in general and then I write a song over top of that and add everything afterward. And we saw the method in that and thought we’d give it a go and it’s working out for the moment. So, we’ll see. And I spent a little time in L.A. with him in April last year, which was fun—a complete eye-opener—and then come crashing back down to Deptford in southeast London and the realisation that, ok, this is my life.

TIH: They are somewhat different places.

D&C: Yeah, but I love that. It’s this weird thing that one minute you can be the toast of the party…and then the next I’m back working my minimum wage job. The weirdest thing and quite funny, when I left L.A. in April, I landed back in London at Heathrow and my manager immediately called me up saying ‘How was it? Was it great?’ and I just thought 20 minutes before I left to get on the plane, I was in Beck’s swimming pool with his kids [laughs] and now I’m getting back on the Tube to come home. What is that about?

TIH: No doubt working with someone like Nigel Godrich is bound to be an amazing learning experience, but what about your other influences? I know it sounds like a loaded question—like I want you to pigeonhole yourself—but obviously you don’t exist in a musical vacuum.

D&C: I think, as a kid—well, as a teenager, anyway—I listened to a lot more Smashing Pumpkins (I was a bit of a grunger), and the Crocketts and Placebo and all those kinds of bands. I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco, actually. I just listen to a massive range and I was—and still am, really—into all the Motown and soul stuff in a big way, which I think you can kind of hear in some of the harmonies that I put together. You get that a lot, they can be quite retro sometimes coupled with that kind of industrial crunch beat stuff makes for a kind of interesting combo. So, I listened to a lot of that, then I came across this band—I think they’re from New York originally, L.A. now—called White and the Writing, I think they might have actually split up, but I listened to them and I thought this is awesome. It’s kind of lo-fi but there’s really something in it, this melody—if you’ve got a good melody, you can put it over anything, really and it makes it stick. I’m a big fan of melody. And so now, I guess I listen to—I don’t know. You always find yourself, when you take your music more seriously that you don’t listen to that much stuff.

TIH: I hear that from a lot of musicians, actually, people who won’t listen to anything while in the process of writing or recording. I think, in listening to your music, I can hear a lot of diverse influences—not in the sense that it sounds like one thing in particular, but that it sounds like everything and nothing.

D&C: It’s like you put everything in a blender on a quite chunky kind of setting.

TIH: As if you’ve processed your entire listening background and poured it all into one place.

D&C: I think you’re bang on it, there. Yeah, because a lot of it is nursery rhyme-ish as well, some of the melodies are. I’ve got this one song, it’s called “Want This”. It’s almost afro—it’s got a lot of this African kind of feel to it, but also nursery rhyme-ish melody and, like I was saying, soul-like harmonies and this disgusting beat and it’s kind of—I don’t know. You get into your own bubble kind of, until you realise that it’s just me. I guess it will be interesting to see what other people think of it.

 

So, there you have it. Dimbleby & Capper—the whole D&C brand, for that matter—has come a long way in the last year. And now the rest of the digital world is falling in love with D&C like so many of us always knew they would. The added dimension of Tá Na Deptford to the D&C live experience is proving to be a fruitful and thought-provoking conceptual partnership. As far as traditional media is concerned, D&C is receiving some well-deserved attention from the NME these days, including the online premier of the new video for ‘Let You Go’ earlier this week.Things can really only get better from here. For my money, all the impending immense success couldn’t be more well-earned. And I’m thrilled to have been an insignificant witness to it all.

You can buy ‘Let You Go’ b/w ‘Raise It Right’ starting Monday, 21 March. You can watch the video and download these remixes now.

New Song: Those Dancing Days – ‘I’ll Be Yours’

Those Dancing DaysI was supposed to be taking some time off, you know, working on that opera I have due next month and about a hundred other projects. But then this happens. And who am I to deny my favourite band to ever leave a note for me in a country where I do not live?

Yeah, that’s right. Those Dancing Days are giving away another track from their upcoming album, Daydreams & Nightmares. The new song, ‘I’ll Be Yours’, is more in line with the melodic pop of their debut while at the same time markedly more mature, both musically and lyrically. But I’ll have to stop myself there (after all, I’ve got to save some metaphors for the actual album review…). Why don’t you listen for yourself instead?

Those Dancing Days – I’ll Be Yours by Radar Maker

With each new TDD track I hear, it becomes more apparent that these ladies, young though they may be, are growing increasingly comfortable with the niche they’ve been carving out for themselves, all the while exceeding all expectations and setting new standards along the way. That’s certainly one way to drum up interest in the new album: one I look forward to with greater anticipation each day.

Daydreams & Nightmares is released 7 March on Wichita Recordings. Also head over the band’s website to check out their upcoming European tour dates (and cross your fingers in the hope that they play some shows here in the States in the not-too-distant future).

Looking Ahead: Bands to Watch in 2011 (part 2)

If you missed part one, ’tis here.

Allo Darlin’ (London, UK)

Following a string of well-loved singles with an album that has proven to be a favorite of indie pop fans across the world, Allo Darlin’ have been winning hearts everywhere they go, all the while making ukulele-fronted pop bands sexy again. The future is looking bright for Elizabeth Morris and company, especially with the backing of a stellar label like FortunaPop who hit it big in 2009 with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Don’t be surprised to see a similar surge for Allo Darlin’ in the coming year. And if you haven’t bought their album yet, you really ought to give it a go.

The Lighthouse and the Whaler (Cleveland, Ohio)

These lads from Cleveland spent considerable time building a following all over the eastern half of the US before making their debut in the state capitol with The Black Atlantic back in October to a Wednesday evening record store audience who instantly fell for their own brand of what you might call melodic prog-folk. And after watching them return to town just a month later and absolutely killing at their first proper Columbus headline gig to a captive audience at Rumba Cafe, it’s pretty clear that TLATW are a band that have to be seen to be believed. Luckily, their debut LP is an equally solid performance. So download ‘White Days’ for free here, then go out and buy the rest of it. And if you can, catch them live. They’ll be at SXSW and numerous other places, no doubt, as their stock continues to rise.

Download: The Lighthouse and the Whaler – ‘White Days’ [mp3]

My Gold Mask (Chicago, Illinois)

I first heard that My Gold Mask were one of the most exciting bands in Chicago from a sound engineer who I met after he caught me interviewing Emilie Simon at a Starbucks on the North Side. About a year later, an article in the Sun-Times named them among a list of Chicago bands on the verge of blowing up. I have to say, I think they’re right. In 2010, the band released two super-sexy EPs and landed some major support slots, including a few shows with the New Pornographers. Check out the EPs on Bandcamp where you can also download (for free) the remix of ‘Bitches’ by the fabled Hood Internet. And, of course, catch them on tour this spring.

Dimbleby & Capper (London, UK)

Dimbleby & Capper

It seems like I talk about Dimbleby & Capper all the time and, for the most part, it’s true. But I can’t help myself. Since we were first introduced in March of last year, Laura Bettinson has been busy taking D&C from a one woman band to a full-fledged DIY brand with it’s own unique aesthetic. The first single for Tape Records is projected to be released 31 March, hopefully with a full length LP will be in production in the not-too-terribly-distant future. Oh, and did I mention that Laura also happens to be working on a project with producer Nigel Godrich (producer for Radiohead)?

Islet (Cardiff, UK)

You’d be hard-pressed to find any official information about Islet anywhere on the internets, and that is because, antithetical to yours truly, they do not exist online. Anywhere. But they’ve building an enthusiastic following based solely on their near-legendary local live shows around the small but wicked-talented Cardiff scene, selling out of their first album and no doubt approaching capacity on the second (the first purchase I made on my first ever visit to Wales). And honestly, with a reputation like that, who needs a website? Grab one of their records while you can. You’ll be hearing from them again. (And again. And again . . .)

Columbus loves independent musicians (and I’ve got the scars to prove it)

The Compressions (more on them later)

My calves, it appears, have gone on strike. I can’t say I blame them. I’ve subjected them to a great deal of work and odd photography stances the past two weekends, all in the name of local music. But with the combination of last week’s Pabst Blue Rendezvous and Independents’ Day this past weekend producing a combined 35 hours of the best independent music Columbus, OH has to offer, it punishment I am more than willingly to endure (so long as I am fit in time for Belle & Sebastian next month).

Super Desserts, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect, played two well-executed sets, one at each fest. Always the consummate professionals, the so-introduced “cutest band in America”, managed to woo the Independents’ Day crowd out of their pocket money despite a bit of questionable mixing from the sound booth and a noticeably thinner texture (banjo-ist Tyler Evans is currently on tour with The Black Swans).

Obviouslies at Pabst Blue Rendezvous

A week earlier, at Pabst Blue Rendezvous, Indie Handbook favourites Obviouslies played an adventurous and somewhat unorthodox set (1 guitar, 2 drumkits, 2 basses, 3 songs, 4 Obviouslies). I won’t go so far as to call their 30 minutes on stage a rampaging success, but I think I enjoyed it a little more than Columbus Alive’s Chris DeVille (more on him later). Obviouslies, never content to traipse about playing rock band, are always keen to try new things to varying degrees of brilliance. And such a laid-back event as the PBR fest with a beer-soaked audience of Columbus indie scene regulars willing to stand around in an abandoned parking lot through intermittent rainfall is the perfect place to experiment with an epic 10-minute number ending with three Obviouslies beating the drums and confirming, among other rumors, that guitarist Nick Schuld is a really good drummer.

Which reminds me, Obviouslies have added two new tracks to their Facebook page this week, including an absolutely brilliant recording of “Instead of Waiting” which I’ve been absolutely obsessed with since the moment it was posted. Listen to it. Relentlessly.

Pomegranates (bonus points for the Danelectro)

Other highlights from Pabst Blue Rendezvous included a great set from the Pomegranates from Cincinnati, who I had somehow not heard despite the fact that they’ve apparently made a bit of a splash with several of my friends, both in Ohio and at SXSW. It would be a great injustice if I did not also mention the brilliant Queen cover band Mr. Fahrenheit and the Loverboys. Of course, I had an appreciation for Queen before hearing MFL, but there is something about hearing the songs performed live by a solid group of musicians that injects a whole new vitality to the classics you grew up with.

Wonder Twin Powers (I suspect they don't always play with cars parked onstage)

Perhaps the most pleasant discovery of PBR day was local soul-pop duo Wonder Twin Powers who I encountered playing in the alley next to Mikey’s Late Nite Slice. Despite the fact that I had been on my feet for eight hours at that point and was comically exhausted, I managed to spend the rest of the evening standing in another parking lot listening to the sexiest band I saw all day (sorry, Loverboys). The lot filled quickly with passersby as Jenny Flory’s guitar case did with cash. I’d hoped to grab a copy of their CD to review for you, but those disappeared faster than I could crack open my wallet. Maybe they’ll send one my way if they read this. (If the internet is to be believed, Super Desserts cellist Alyssa Capps appears as part of the hip-hop orchestra on one track).

Unfortunately, road construction made me late for Independents’ Day, which meant I arrived just as the hotly tipped yet elusive (to me, at least) Lydia Loveless left the stage. Rumor has it that she is one of the most promising young talents in Columbus. Much to my dismay, I cannot confirm that from personal experience, but one of these days, I will catch up with Ms. Loveless and let you know whether or not the people in this town have any idea what they’re talking about.

Unfortunately, awesome is difficult to photograph
Flotation Walls

Speaking of “not to be missed” I did finally see Flotation Walls, who I’ve seen leaving several gigs (they’re hard to miss) though never managed to catch in flagrante delicto. They perform with even more energy and enthusiasm than their screaming-yellow stage attire suggests. The half-set that I witnessed was easily the most impassioned of the day and left the drenched in awesome. Hopefully, they record as well as they perform. Which reminds me: Compressions.

I had heard nothing of Compressions before last Saturday. I only stayed for their set because some friends were going. I had no idea what I was in for or that the girls clad in white and gold who I’d seen earlier would be on stage or that Chris DeVille (remember him from earlier?) would be up there, too. The band, I gather, have been around for a year or so. At the time of the last Independents’ Day, they had yet to play a gig. This time round, they took advantage of the event to launch their debut album. I was immediately sucked in—by the songs, the look, the energy, the crowd—by everything. In the end, they performed what proved to be the most memorable, electrifying show of the day in support of what’s proved to be a pretty good album. They’re certainly an act who put on a show not to be missed and your next opportunity to do so, as I recall, will be at Carabar on October 9.

As I’m sure you understand, there was a lot to take in and this post is by no means exhaustive. Head over to the Facebook page to see more photos from these events.

Justin Riley: action hero