Between the 13th – 15th of October, Manchester plays host to the annual In the City festival. This year, it’s relocating to the Northern Quarter, and looks set to play host to it’#s most exciting line-up in years, giving both the industry professionals and the normal gig goers a chance to get involved with it’s unique mix of exciting concerts and engaging keynote speakers. Wristbands are currently priced at £29, which gets you access to some of the most exciting shows the city will see this year. If you’re not quite sure who to see yet, here’s some help:
It’s a cliché, but up north there’s still a lingering perception that London’s streets are paved with gold, figuratively of course. And whilst the walkways are grimy and slate, one thing that can be ensured is that the basement’s of the capital city are always going to be offering up some of the hottest new talent in the country. Case in point: New Cross’ Labyrinth Ear. Formed just a few months ago, the duo have already seen their expansive array of demos talked about all across the web. Their remix of Local Natives’ World News may be the headline grabber, but it’s their own work that gives the biggest hints of the talent beneath.
This is undeniably pop music, but not quite as we know it. The last couple of years have seen a huge shift and diversification in what the public at large listen to, and that’s something echoed in the band’s sound. Comprised of Tom and Emily, the two possess the ability to make glitzy electro music that dazzles, a more knowing take on the miniature La Roux front revival a year or so back. But there’s more than shimmering beats and neon rhythms here, with notes stolen from Crystal Castles, arguably the masters of the genre. It’s almost as if a stereotypically English slant has been put upon the works of the Ontario twosome with a quaint type of reserve placed upon the hallmark sound teamed with an instant accessibility, which makes for an enthralling listen. Comparisons are easy to draw given the boy/girl, synth/vocalist set up of both acts, but Labyrinth Ear seem to actively court them, echoing the distortion of Glass’ voice throughout their earlier recordings, even if her viscera has been left out. They’re truly a juxtaposition in terms – glamorous yet gritty, ambitious and almost brash but staying strangely detatched, echoing the past whilst ultimately being forward thinking.
It’s one thing to write about the best new bands, and it’s another thing entirely to put their records out. On top of that, it’s taking it to a completely new level if you’re giving away their stuff for free. Corporations have been jumping on the free downloads bandwagon, but they rarely give away tracks with the intensity and brilliance of AMDiscs, the self proclaimed ‘futures reserve label’ that has already given away EPs by the obscenely talented unouomedude, Ghost Animal, Tearist and Young Adults amongst many others. The fact that one of their latest acts, DannielRadall is so brilliant isn’t nothing short of expected, then.
Neither should be the fact that his MySpace top friends list saves it’s third place for Washed Out, given the blissful way the beats on this year’s ‘La femme’ EP burst in faded harmony. There’s a large portion of this that could and will be described as chillwave, but there’s far too much depth on show here for it be written off as derivative. The ebb and flow of the electronica is offset by some fuzzy guitar work, rocky riffs seemingly plundered from the golden age of slacker rock a glorious accompaniment on a few of the tracks. There’s also the usual mix of samples and sun bleached melodyto get you hooked. God knows where AMDiscs finds them, especially given that DannielRadall hails from Mexico, but whatever methods they use are certainly working – this is another act to add to their heady list of would-be stars, for sure.
When it’s responsible for adults dressing up in children’s clothing and bland, inoffensive music, the whole twee pop movement seems like it was one of the worst things that ever happened to music. When it’s adding flavour to the likes of Brooklyn’s Soda Shop, it almost makes even the worst crimes of the c86 generation forgiveable. The work of Horse shoes’ Drew Diver and Maria Usbeck, the duo have put together a song that aches with jangle, even fitting in some glockenspiel for posterity, but there’s a lot more to their noise than being fey. The echoes of the 1950’s in their name bleeds over into their sound, all windswept and distant, the soundtrack to some long forgotten matinee show.
There’s only been one song so far so there’s not too much to get excited about just yet, but there’s enough to suggest that Summer Camp may have found an American equivalent. ‘Farewell’ is enough for the moment, though given that Drew is part of the Holiday Records crew, we can remain hopeful of another few tracks to download yet. With a little bit of luck. Soda Shop’s bumbling, summery sound is one that might just linger about to soundtrack the sunnier months of 2011.
There are two bands called the Beets. The first were a fictional take on the mega-stardom and music of The Beatles, as seen in best-forgotten 90’s cartoon Doug. They sang songs about killer tofu and breakfast rotting your teeth. The second are three men from New York who make fuzzy rock and roll records and generally sound like they’re amongst the hippest people in the world. Whilst ‘I eat sugar cereal, but it makes my teeth bacterial’ was undeniably a great tune from a somewhat drab animated series, it’s easily the second band that are more exciting.
The garage rock sound is hardly one that has been patented, and Thee Oh Sees and Black Lips have trod similar ground in the past. Thankfully, it’s in plentiful supply, and any act that can combine the drowsy swishing of guitar with a drenching of reverb is always going to be halfway to success, but The Beets are in a different league. Their brilliance sounds effortless, with the laid back attitude to match – something mockingly referenced in the title of their debut album ‘The Beets spit on the face of people who don’t want to be cool’. Put out on Blank Dog’s Captured Tracks label last year on CD and limited to 200 hundred physical copies, it should come as no surprise that the only way you’re going to be able to own a copy now is digitally.
For the many crimes that lo-fi culture has committed against good taste, this comes some way close to an apology. Loose and far from technically proficient, the threesome get by on good tunes strummed messily. Even if it’s not enough to get well more known than a made-up group from Nickelodeon, they’re still superb.
Despite the world doing everything it can to make it an unviable career choice, there are still thousands upon thousands of people still desperately trying to make it as musicians. And then, there is Somersault. A duo who label themselves as being from the North West of England, they recently played a show at Manchester’s Deaf Institute supporting Neon Indian. And that, according to the band, as well as being their debut show, could be the last time they’re ever exposed to the public – word has it that the opening up for a touring chillwave act could be the only performance the band make before giving up.
Typically understated, the band’s myspace page showcases the only material the twosome have currently recorded, and even that’s enough to get excited about. Supposedly done as it was the easiest thiong to record, Shinduku Boys offers a mere glimpse into the bewildering spectacle of seeing them live. Comprised of Michael Hart and Andrew John Hillcock, the form strums and loops his guitar whilst the latter hunches over a laptop and together they make fraught, sparse experiments in pop music that genuinely feels as though it’s pushing boundaries. There’s certainly a lot taken from Derrhunter and the various side projects that have sprouted from it, but there are just as many echoes of the likes of Gold Panda, Seams and even glimpses of latter-day shoegaze acts that it almost feels irrelevant to try and cast comparisons.
For those able to navigate the wilds of Facebook’s inbuilt music player, there’s a lot more to sink your teeth into via handful of demos recorded and uploaded via an iPhone. However, it’d be a huge shame if one of the more interesting acts to rear it’s head in Manchester was only to live on through a series of hastily recorded tracks on a mobile phone. This effort offers a slice of what might come in the future if they choose to continue – a recording contract and huge riches might not exactly be on their way, but someone should at least be able to give them a limited edition 7″ somewhere at the very least.
Owen Ashworth might be calling time on his Casiotone for the Painfully Alone moniker, and, with that, he may even be changing his musical direction. Thankfully his imprint upon music will take a lot longer to shrug off. Though the name might be absent from their influences list, Plastic Flowers could be the man to take the absent throne of lo-fi keyboard king.
The work of the gloriously named Sean Earl Beard, the two songs available on myspace have already convinced Beko DSL to commission a single – amongst the highest honours that can be bestowed to any emerging electronic artist, and within thirty seconds of ‘Drive Me Home’ it’s not difficult to hear why. A carefully measured exercise in loner-pop, it’s a tender exploration of a relationship that shouldn’t be explored, it masterfully avoids being the cliché that lesser hands could’ve made it. Delicate and warm, it feels like the kind of personal narrative that Casiotone became renowned for, whilst absolutely begging for repeat plays. Whilst the other track up for streaming might not be as arresting, there’s definitely potential – as there always is with a man so drawn to garish flowery shirts. Thanfully, for all those finally starting to bore of chillwave, there’s a lack of post-Balearic beats on show, which means that this is more humble than anthemic, and brilliantly so.
The Beko single comes out on October 4th, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be tired of this before then.
For those lurking around the Manchester nightlife in the last couple of months, there have been many, many bright spots, with uncorrelating pockets of talent springing up all over the place to make turning up early to see support acts ever more interesting. And whilst it might’ve been a bumper year so far, there’s still more than enough room on the bandwagon for a couple of new faces – even if those new faces have been lurking about since 2007.
Warm Widow know more than most what momentum can do for a band – their sound is one of pent up energy released in five minute, distorted bursts, no-fi rock that sounds tailor made to be played in grotty basements. Since their inception 3 years ago though, they’ve had more than enough set-backs that would’ve been the end of many other acts. Despite putting out an EP in January of last year, they’ve since had their ascent curtailed by the loss of two band members and an injury that kept one of those that remained unable to play for 8 months. However, by hook or by crook, the band have managed to cobble together some demos which have been turned into their debut album, Widower, which is very good news indeed. being released this October through White Box records, it promises to be one of the most grimiest, exhilarating records of the year.
Angular and scuzzy, the band make a darkly driven take on blues rock, related but somewhat divorced to the brilliance that Brown Brogues have been pumping out of late. There are nods to noise rock and splashes of drone all over, fused together by a scarcely veiled aggression that makes the band such an engaging prospect. There are already many great up-and-coming acts doing the rounds in the city at the minute, but none quite like this.
There might not have been many people who managed to stay attentive during history lessons, but those who did can broadly be split into two groups. Firstly were those who became fixated with the atrocities of war, the needless loss of the life, the broad arching politics that made such devastation seem both inevitable and necessary. And then there were those who spent their time flicking through textbooks, looking for the weirder stuff. If you fit into the latter, it’s probable that you’ve already come across the wonderful quirk that were Dazzle Ships before.
If you’re the kind of person who spends the quieter moments of their afternoon flicking round the backwaters of the internet for good new music, it’s likely that you’ve already come across the band Dazzle Ships before, as the best blogs from around the web have already been hot on their tail. Boyfriend/Girlfriend combos have become about as regular as mysterious electronic acts, but rarely do they produce anything like Tyler Haran and Hatii de Leon. Given the quality of their music, the rave reviews are highly unsurprising – as the duo utilise the kind of angular riffs it was thought had died with The Stranglers heyday in the early 80’s, teaming them with neon melodies and brooding vocal work. Hints of appreciation of those that have come before and in abundance, but these are bright, vivid songs that demand attention.
Technological advances pretty much made the camouflage technique of Dazzle all but useless by the time of the Second World War, whereas a lot of bands these days are just about useless before they reach a second post on pitchfork. Wonderfully, Dazzle Ships sound a bit more immune to this throwaway culture by making a racket that’s both arresting and layered, one of the dwindling amount of acts about still doing anything innovative that’s even remotely guitar-led. Probably not as inventive as putting stripes on a warship, but still.
Using your own name as the title for your solo project intrinsically implies a lot of things. A humble, earthly honesty and the ability to wield an acoustic guitar around a campfire without irony being a few of the connotations. But putting an animal in the name of your work instantly makes it something that the likes of Pitchfork are going to be eager to hype up. even if Warren Hildebrand had opted to use his birth name instead of the Foxes in Fiction option he’s sided with, it’s likely that there’d still be a wave of expectation following the young Canadian following his joyously excellent cassette release ‘Swung from the Branches’ earlier in the year.
Since the tracks from the tape were given away on his blog a few months ago, fans have been increasing by the day. Epitomising the best of the current bedroom pop scene that’s emerging, Hildebrand takes dream pop and makes it ambient, throwing samples and elements of drone into the mix. It’s a sound that becomes all encompassing, a warm wave of noise that washes over you, it’s a noise removed from pop in all the right ways. Any electronic artist that tries to push the boundaries of sound is going to be compared to Animal Collective or Atlas Sound, but in this case it’s more true than most. It’s never a bad thing to be compared to Bradford Cox, but that Foxes in Fiction manages to find some new, interesting ground up against such a visionary is perhaps the most striking thing about the whole project.
The first thing to come up when you google search “Ghost Animal” is a pop band from California. The second result is a website called ‘psychics.co.uk’ that claims to have pictures of ghost animals. sadly, it’s the former that is to be discussed here, something equally due to the excellent lo-fo drizzle of the two piece and the many thousands of words it would take to dissect psychic.co.uk’s ‘real ghost picture’ of a cat called ‘the dude’.
So, the band. The ingredients are all there for a hype band, even if the animal name/from the west coast combo peaked back in 2009. Though it’s a boy/girl duo, you couldn’t get much further from the standard archetype of twee harmonies and acoustic guitar. In fact, though it’d be most sensible to file them under lo-fi, there’s more depth to Ghost Animal, having a sound more akin to a 4 piece going at full pelt rather than two twenty somethings in a rehearsal space. Michael’s unerring monotone a change from the self-consciously awkward singing that dominates the genre, looped over a sea of crashing cymbals. The whole thing is swamped with reverb, though the distortion doesn’t take away from the richness of the tracks, nor the quality that it central to them. There’s a feeling – somewhat justified – that noise pop is somewhat of a one trick pony, but at the heart of these songs is a tune that you feel could stand up to good production without sounding like weak or fickle like many of their contemporaries. Garage rock might be ages old and strongly averse to growing up, but there are clues in Ghost Animal as to how the scene might be able to evolve, without having to sell out in the slightest.
Some artists crumble under the pressure from critics, others find the competition from similar acts too much to deal with. This might be the first time that a band has ever had genuine pressure from a picture of a cat sat on a kitchen floor. Sadly for the recently deceased ‘dude’, it’s a battle to twosome just about win.