Thursday, 27 September 2007

Live: Model Morning - London

Model Morning
The Luminaire, Kilburn, London, UK
Thursday 27 September 2007

In the early ‘90’s, a certain weekly UK music magazine controversially put then unsigned Suede on the cover with the caption "the best new band in Britain". Nowadays there is only one music paper, so there’s no competition, and no reason to look beyond the latest instalment of the Doherty saga. Then why should an Australian paper publish a review of an unknown British band when there are so many local acts that it could be covering instead? Well simply because Model Morning are creating something truly special, and the tired UK rock press hasn't even noticed them, as they don't fit into the current flavour of the day.

The set they play tonight is nearly identical to the one that first floored me around 18 months ago. Although many of the songs are now familiar, there have been significant changes in the interim. Most markedly, there’s been a near Spinal Tap procession of drummers, but with Ed Keenan they’ve found a driven player who pushes them further than before. This change has had reverberations throughout the band. The most noticeable hardening of their sound comes with Richard Davidson’s bass on We Are Gone, which now whacks you around the head and demands you pay due attention. There’s barely a pause between songs - they power along as though the world will end if they stop long enough for applause. While the songs have toughened up, some of the rock theatrics have calmed down, and the band is more powerful and impressive as a result.

Peter Morley has also developed as a frontman, and his voice is stronger than ever. When he sings his own backing vocals on Everybody's Drunken Friend, it seems so natural, and appropriate in the context of the inner voices of the song. He only really speaks to introduce This Town, which is a depiction of fear on the darker streets of their native Nottingham. Model Morning demonstrate that anthemic rock need not be embarrassing. Their music is clever, but not too showy; the atmospherics of Chris Moore’s guitars nicely complementing the more traditional attack of Rob McCleary’s playing. Their debut mini-album Your Worst Enemy only hinted at what they could do; their live performance is genuinely exciting and tonight they seem to have a new-found purpose and determination. The best new band in Britain? Perhaps…

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 24 October 2007

Everybody's Drunken Friend
We Are Gone
Harry Haller Suicide
Whenever I Can
This Town
Without You I'm Lost
As Guilty As

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Live: Devastations and Josh T Pearson - London

Monto at The Water Rats, London
Tuesday 18 September 2007

Josh T Pearson may be just one man, but live he sounds like a band. The ex-Lift To Experience frontman cuts a startling figure - an enormous beard appearing below the brim of his hat. His footstomp is a match for any kick drum and somehow that single acoustic guitar sounds like a three-man assault. His voice can jump from a barely audible whisper to a deafening howl, in a mesmerising performance where he fights genuine battles between angels and demons. The world he creates is as beautiful as it is horrifying. Love has torn him apart, but something special is rising from the ruins. He sends messages out from his own private hell; his songs are long, and moving. That’s Just The Way That Life Goes is a clear highlight. He asks if he has time for another song – everyone cheers in agreement. He responds “This ain’t a democracy”, but finds time to close his set with The Devil’s On The Run, which sees even the most cynical lose their cool and sing along.

Devastations are now back to the core three members; “three is the magic number – for us” drummer Hugo tells me before the show. With many songs having a strong keyboard basis, it’s going to be interesting to see how they achieve their sound with guitar, bass and drums. As with their shows earlier this year, Conrad no longer takes centre stage, but his mane tossing and depreciating humour still make him a magnetic figure on stage. As a three piece, the individual personalities shine more, and somehow they feel more like a band.

They open with early favourite We Will Never Drink Again but the vocals don’t mesh as they should. In fact, it’s their sound mix that lets them down tonight. Tom’s songs probably suffer the most – both The Pest and Black Ice rely on their sequencers, but they’re loud and distorted, taking the subtle nuances of the songs with them. In fact it’s not until Mistakes that things really bed down. Then Conrad’s vocals excel on The Saddest Sound and they end they set with an apocalyptic Rosa.

It’s by no means a bad show, but perhaps lacking something of the magic that makes Yes, U such a special record. Last October, at the Camden Barfly, Conrad was literally dripping blood onto his fretboard. While tonight’s show was lacking that intensity it did show a band prepared to take risks and try new things. They may fall flat on their collective face, but you can’t help but admire their faith. There were moments of brilliance tonight. Once they iron these bugs out, they’ll be truly dangerous. I can’t wait to see them again in November

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 26 September 2007

Monday, 17 September 2007

Album: Devastations - Yes, U


Until this year I really admired Devastations. Their first two albums were solid, and live Conrad Standish was an enigmatic and sensual frontman. Inexplicably, their performance at All Tomorrows Parties festival in April saw him leaving many of the vocal duties to guitarist Tom Carlyon. Additionally their sound had changed drastically, leaving even favourites like Previous Crimes behind.

Even on my first listen to Yes, U, I was convinced the band had shot itself in the foot. But then I was enraptured by The Pest, and slowly their new world opened to me as I realised my mistake - the band had progressed and moved on, while I had not. They’ve moved away from the sound that led to comparisons to Nick Cave or Tindersticks to a sound more akin to Shriekback, or The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds. They‘ve dumped their original template to create a wholly original work - instead of Coal II they’ve opted for something braver and far more adventurous.

The album is hypnotic and powerful, considered and intelligent and improves with every listen. It’s made up of long tracks, which fall and lock into a relentless groove. While it could meander and lose its way, drummer Hugo Cran keeps a tight rein on proceedings with his considered and timely work. Carlyon’s guitar spirals over lyrics that at first feel improvised, but then reveal their purpose. It’s immediately dreamlike and beautiful, a glimpse into a dark, sexual world. The album tells tales of love and acceptance, desire, marriage proposals, and the death of a parent.

Their stay in Berlin has influenced them, for Yes, U is the sound of a twenty-four hour city whose virtual heartbeat underlies the whole work. It may not grab on first listen, but it’s such a mature, considered and intelligent work that it warrants, nay demands, that you spend time with it, taking the time to learn its curves and intimate places, much like a new lover.

Both engineering and production are superb. The sound is at once both sparse and densely packed. The bottom end is weighty but never ponderous; the electronica meshing seamlessly with the organic, possibly partially due to the contributions of HTRK’s Nigel Yang and new(ish) member Andrea Lee.

This album is a brave and humanly-flawed statement from a band taking risks and exploring new avenues. At its best, it’s nigh on brilliant. With Yes, U, Devastations have risen above mere casual admiration; they’ve shown themselves to be worthy of our love and respect. I hope they find it.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review was published in Inpress, Melbourne on 19 September 2007

Friday, 14 September 2007

Live: David Sylvian - Manchester

David Sylvian – The World Is Everything Tour
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK
Friday 14 September 2007

David Sylvian is an enigma. Since Japan split at the height of their popularity nearly 25 years ago, his career has been a continuing search for self, crossing many musical genres in the process. Tours from him are comparatively rare, and reports say this is the last time he will perform his older material, so it’s an expectant audience waiting to greet him.

As always there’s an initial shock - that voice shouldn’t be coming from that man. There’s a stillness to him on stage - there is no sudden movement or motion; the whole performance resembles some deep meditation. He remains seated on a high stool throughout, his guitar resting across his lap. For songs without guitar, he carefully and slowly uncoils the microphone from its stand, and holds it close and still to his lips.

Sylvian’s singing has possibly never been finer and his voice is an instrument of singular beauty, its timbre having the resonance that can rend the very fabric of the universe. When it dips and soars, it’s magnificent. Playground Martyrs sees that voice weaving round a simple piano accompaniment, and ends with the kilt-wearing Keith Lowe bowing his electric double bass so high up the neck that it sounds like a deeper, mournful cello. It’s for these moments of pure transcendence alone that he’s always worth seeing, no matter what he’s doing.

But sometimes that is not enough. The PA is ridiculously small, meaning you’re aware that the vocals are coming from small speakers a good twenty-five feet away from the singer. While Steve Jansen is a truly wonderful drummer, he’s given little chance to be the powerhouse that gave a backbone to the Rain Tree Crow project. Keith Lowe shows his skill on a variety of basses and styles while Takuma Watanabe provides solid support on piano and keyboards.

But the biggest problem with this tour is Sylvian himself. Reinvention and reinterpretation are sometimes vital, but here at times he seemed to have lost the essence of what made the songs so special in the first place. Brilliant Trees opens wonderfully, with Theo Travis’ flute superbly recreating Jon Hassell’s eerie horn sounds. But when it segues into Before The Bullfight and Nostalgia, the tempo doesn’t change, and Sylvian’s guitar work seems unnecessary and cloying. At its worse it’s noodling, and it’s an effort to appreciate the beauty over the fill. Sylvian’s often dipped into jazz, but this for me was a step too far.

When he next tours, I’ll be there. But I’ll be hoping his muse has taken him on a somewhat different direction.

© James McGalliard 2007
A version of this review appeared in Inpress, Melbourne, on 17 October 2007

Wonderful World
It’ll Never Happen Again
World Citizen / I Won't Be Disappointed
The Day the Earth Stole Heaven
Playground Martyrs / Transit
Fire in the Forest / Ghosts
Snow Borne Sorrow
Mother & Child
Atom & Cell
Sugar Fuel
Brilliant Trees / Before the Bullfight / Nostalgia / Before the Bullfight
The Librarian

Every Colour You Are / Riverman / Every Colour You Are