Twenty Fifteen

Very "I'm in a band"

Interview: Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

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If music is transcendent at some point it depends completely on the listener, not on the artist.” These words of Alberto González might seem somewhat at odds with his band’s status within the burgeoning movement of New Psych. For, psychedelic music’s utopian vision of escape from the physical has always seemed paramount to its unity as a genre, an ideology as central to its definition as the layers of reverb, drones or the requisite hallucinogens. That said, it’s a point on which Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s members are in agreement, with the group’s other half, Lorena Quintanilla, elaborating: “I think an artist shouldn’t attempt for transcendence. We as musicians don’t when we write music because we are not trying to change anything. We’re just trying to communicate.”

These sentiments were relayed via email a couple of days after I spoke to Alberto on the phone ahead of the group’s European tour in support of their third full-length record ‘Chambers’. We had been discussing Albert Camus’ essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, a work cited by Lorena as an important touchstone for the group’s music. “I’d say its influence might be all over the record,” she told me, “I always keep coming back to his books on a regular basis so I think he has influenced us not only in the music but also in how we work as a band.” Central to Camus’ thesis is the contention that art should refrain from offering any false sense of unity, clarity, or indeed transcendence. Instead an artist should aim simply to describe the irreconcilable meeting of the human mind, which above all desires rational explanation, and an irrational and chaotic world: that which Camus refers to as “the absurd”.

Our records fit that description in a very precise way,” Lorena explains, “I also really like when Camus describes ‘the absurd’ as ‘this discomfort in the face of man’s own inhumanity, this incalculable tumble before the image of what we are…’” It’s an especially ambiguous description, but one which seems to capture something intangible, some ineffable feeling, in Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s evocative, yet somehow aloof, music. Hailing from Mexico, the group’s music is a heady fusion of expansive psych jams, kosmische repetition, and the ragged bubblegum of garage pop. This is art that continually fragments and distorts known forms only to reconstruct them into something that simultaneously conjures both nostalgia and surreal unease.

And the interaction between these two affects is particularly prominent on ‘Chambers’, the first of the group’s albums to be distributed widely in Europe thanks to London-based label Sonic Cathedral. Towards the end of second track ‘The Myth of the Wise’, for example, the claustrophobic fug of noise recedes to reveal Alberto’s drums, quoting the instantly recognisable beat first used in The Ronettes’ classic ‘Be My Baby’, only to be subsumed once more by Lorena’s vocals and phasered guitars. “That’s what is very interesting about the first Jesus and Mary Chain album,” Alberto tells me, citing another album which, incidentally, employs this very drum beat, “because it could be a record from the sixties – actually from The Ronettes – but with a lot of noise on the top. That’s very interesting.”

It’s this nuanced approach to past music that should preclude any categorisation of Lorelle Meets The Obsolete as lazy pastiche: rather than simply providing comfort, the halcyon strains of the familiar are made strange through continual processes of recontextualisation and obfuscation. It might seem unfair, then, that the duo have often been placed so neatly into the psych revival movement, a classification encouraged by their performance at last year’s Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia and their contribution to Sonic Cathedral’s influential ‘Psych For Sore Eyes’ compilation. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the duo are decidedly enthusiastic about their place within this community of contemporary psychedelic music. “Last year when we were playing at the Liverpool Psych Fest, I remember Nat from Sonic Cathedral was spinning some records between the bands … It felt like suddenly as if you share a lot of background with all these people gathered in this huge festival,” Alberto recalls, marvelling at music’s uncanny ability to draw together otherwise disparate, unconnected lives.

Yet, he is sure to distance New Psych from accusations of retromania or obsolescence: “For me, it’s like every individual has something to offer. If, let’s say, you listened to 13th Floor Elevators and I listened to them as well and both of us make a band – we will have different interpretations of those influences. It’s like every individual is a different filter,” he tells me. “So I don’t agree with people who say ‘I already listened to that band, I liked them more when they were called The Doors, or I liked them more when they were called Pink Floyd’. For me, it always has something new to bring.”

This emphasis on reinvention, over and above invention itself and distinct from simple re-creation, seems central to this duo’s ambitions as artists in the contemporary moment. After all, it’s through this process of deforming and misremembering the past that tracks like ‘The Myth of the Wise’ are able to evoke such complex interactions of construction and destruction, memory and amnesia. Certainly, as both Alberto and Lorena contest, this music isn’t transcendent; rather, the seductive mystique of Lorelle Meets The Obsolete’s work arises directly from its very failure to transcend those spectres of the musical past that continue to haunt and define its entire fabric.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Spent The Afternoon, Full Ugly

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It’d probably be fair to call Spent The Afternoon a “summer record”, laden as it is with all the bounce and melodic immediacy, not to mention vacuity, implied by such a label. Not that the latter is necessarily a bad thing. Same as all self-respecting twee-inclined songwriters, Full Ugly’s Nathan Burgess treats shallowness as something of a virtue. Accordingly, the record’s shabby indie pop locates profundity in the meek and mundane: going to town to run some errands is deemed suitable subject-matter for a chorus. And that’s fine in its way, just don’t get him started on watering the plants or opening the fridge, or you’ll probably find all this hyper-sensitivity becoming tiresome. Spent The Afternoon’s cutesiness can be traced back to the likes of Beat Happening, even if the chiming guitars and youthful straining of Burgess’ vocals owe as much to Lies-era New Order. And whilst the prevalence of such reference points shouldn’t be taken to be a deficiency in itself, the fact that none of the comparisons are particularly favourable probably should.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Hot Dreams, Timber Timbre

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In accentuating both the latent Antony Hegarty and Nick Cave in his music, Taylor Kirk’s folksy-noir has come over all cabaret-noir on his latest album as Timber Timbre. A small shift, perhaps, but a significant one from an artist for whom the devil has always lurked in the details of tone and atmosphere. And atmosphere is something Hot Dreams has in abundance: sepia-toned and weighty, this album is shrouded in a near-Lynchian veil of dark eroticism, haunted by an alien sexuality emerging from the depths of the subconcious. Sultry keys and strings lend a sense of faded grandeur to Kirk’s bluesy ballads, undercut only by the motel seediness of Colin Stetson’s unusually mellow saxophone. But for all their seductive gravitas both Cave’s majestic Push The Sky Away and Hegarty’s I Am A Bird Now also had quirk, a more generous helping of which could have considerably invigorated Hot Dreams. Kirk’s lyrics mine a mostly uninteresting abstraction, as do the melodies which rarely break from their pedestrian meandering to infiltrate the long-term memory. That’s not to say the album’s languor doesn’t produce moments of evocative ambiguity, the dreamlike slink of the title track being a particularly convincing illustration: “I wanna dance, I wanna dance, I wanna dance with a black woman,” goes the disarming opening line. But too often Hot Dreams feels laboured, its finely rendered, musty arrangements barely mitigating its compositional inertia.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Eagulls at Electrowerkz, London, 5/3/2014

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Yet another band that’s gonna wrest UK guitar music from its (supposedly) flaccid, apolitical malaise. Despite their media-conjured mantle as the noisy, pissed-off saviours of all things noisy and pissed-off, Eagulls’ live incarnation comes as much shrouded in a façade of studied detachment as it is invigorated with visceral immediacy. But that was probably to be expected. After all, it’s that sense of dead-eyed nihilism running through the group’s self-titled debut album that so starkly evokes the hopelessness of an already-defeated generation – raging, yes, but also jaded, almost elegiac. Whether such a cultivated blankness translates particularly well to the live setting is another question, though. Sure, career-highlights like ‘Possessed’ and ‘Nerve Endings’ thrashed with the requisite post-punk moodiness and aggression, but all too often the group’s bald cynicism could have been mistaken for mere muted indifference. It certainly could’ve been louder, in any case.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

 

Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs

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It was perhaps inevitable that The War On Drugs would begin to distance themselves from their once-voguish brand of post-Chillwave Springsteen. Lost In The Dream’s lead single ‘Red Eyes’ doesn’t so much emerge out of the bedroomy fog of sophomore album Slave Ambient as burn it off in the midday sun of the American midwest; singer Adam Granduciel’s vocals dominate a robust rock arrangement, the motorik-haunted stoicism of the group’s past music dispelled in a burst of compact hooks and visceral gear changes. Just plain-old Springsteen then, or it would be were the political urgency of trad-Heartland rock not eschewed in favour of ambiguity. Throughout, Granduciel’s lyrics construct wisdom from evocative incomprehensibility, and when grand themes do surface, they’re cast as distant abstractions: “Will you be here, suffering?”, he croons. But if that all seems a little evasive, it’s only because The War On Drugs are aiming for something altogether more lofty: Lost In The Dream embodies a big-hearted Americana, one which trades the knotted complexity of the quotidian for a wistful, widescreen beauty.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Sound/Track, Headland

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Conceived as a soundtrack to a “non-existent 1970s surf-film”, this is a record predicated on a longing that can never be satiated: a nostalgia not simply for that which is lost, but for that which has never been. Murray Paterson’s Headland project takes its constitutive incompleteness as its central theme, with Sound/Track proceeding as a series of haiku-like miniatures: mostly wordless and acoustic, uniformly embryonic. Despite its near-ascetic modesty, Sound/Track’s reference points are nonetheless plentiful: echoes of Pink Floyd at their most pastoral, the rustic post-rock of Do Make Say Think, The Beta Band’s understated melodicism – all are subsumed into a spacious, folksy sonic fabric. Lean in and this is a record coloured by a muted spirituality, but the music’s meekness isn’t immune from seeming contrived. Perhaps it’s too prim – its lo-fi recording more homely than ragged. Or perhaps it’s just overly po-faced. In any case, by its close Sound/Track seems less concerned with evoking the mystery of its phantom subject (Paterson ended up making an accompanying film, anyway) than it is with decorating the walls.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Young Fathers at Electrowerkz, London, 13/2/2014

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Despite often being labelled as such, Young Fathers aren’t exactly hip hop, or even hipster hop. But nor are the Edinburgh-based group as “genre defying” as equally many have come to claim. What Young Fathers are are a great boy band. This is music that thrives on personality, a quality in which the group’s performance at Electrowerkz was steeped. Yet, in the same way that Young Fathers’ stylistic eclecticism coheres to form an unpretentiously vibrant pop music, the group’s trio of front-men individualise themselves only to invigorate their unified whole. Melodies and rhymes were traded with aplomb, as were the bedroom-mirror dance moves which surfaced in suitably ramshackle droves. And even if the façade of unkempt spontaneity was eroded momentarily during the precisely choreographed tableau at the climax of set closer ‘I Heard’, the preceding performance was of such humour and zeal that you’d have been hard pressed to care.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

East India Youth at The Lexington, London, 6/2/2014

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It’s perhaps fitting that the plaintive strains of Arvo Pärt’s stately minimalism were chosen to herald William Doyle’s appearance on stage at The Lexington. But if this is alt. pop’s New Simplicity, then East India Youth’s blocky textures also flirt with the simplistic in a way that Pärt’s avoid. Although this limitation is mitigated by the stand-offish precision of debut album Total Strife Forever, the tracks’ live transformation into head-banging/fist-pumping/guitar-thrashing anthems only served to accentuate their latent sentimentalism. Certainly, the surging climax of set highlight ‘Heaven, How Long’ – with its soaring vocals impeccably evoking a post-Person Pitch late-noughties – was undeniably rousing, but probably only superficially so. And whilst Doyle is doubtless a talented performer, carrying off an eclectic set with ease and panache, I can’t help but wonder whether East India Youth’s live incarnation might be considerably invigorated by an eensy concession to irony amidst its all-encompassing earnestness.

Originally published by Loud & Quiet

Innocence Is Kinky, Jenny Hval

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Can innocence be kinky? It’s certainly true that these categories are generally presented as disjoint and incompatible, the former prized whilst the latter is denigrated or, at least, suppressed, hidden away. Yet, the relationship between the two is, of course, infinitely more complex than a simple binary opposition. At one point during the sound and light installation that formed an early incarnation of Jenny Hval’s Innocence Is Kinky project, the Norwegian artist’s film-based study of Joan of Arc was interrupted by a close-up of pornstar Sasha Grey’s face with the accompanying text: “There’s a big market for the ‘young girl’ type fetish…” With this single gesture Hvalsuccessfully undermines any sense of a clearly delineated distinction between these concepts. The meaning of the text is clear: a lot of money has been made from the fact that innocence not only can be, but often is, kinky.

It’s a fascinating dynamic, and one that clearly exerts an irresistible pull on Hval whose work as a musician has continually sought to deconstruct any boundary between the two categories. On 2011’s Viscera, her debut album under her own name, Hval’s sexually charged lyrics were delivered with an overtone of naive childishness, her Joanna Newsom-like vocals cloaked in ephemeral clouds of acoustic sound – the album’s opening line: “I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris”. And what was so arresting about this juxtaposition didn’t lie in the contrast but rather the sense of fusion, of alchemy, between these signifiers of the pure and the impure: Viscera exuded both innocence and sexuality yet, at the same time, something else, something altogether more elusive.

That such supposedly antithetical categories can be shown to be so inextricably entwined shouldn’t be a surprise. Just as any concept of light would be nonsensical without an attendant knowledge of darkness, so too is any understanding of innocence reliant on notions of guilt and sin. Thus, like two sides of the same coin, purity is, almost by definition, implicated alongside impurity: or, more abstractly, the positive side of any such dichotomy is destined to retain a trace of – to remain tied to, however intangibly – the negative.

It’s on this level that the title of Jenny Hval’s captivating second album should be understood. Innocence Is Kinky doesn’t just explore the interaction between its two titular categories; rather, this album emanates from a place where all distinctions have been eroded, where the perpetual slippage of meaning has left only a heady swirl of evocative images and impressions. It’s a faintly surreal listening experience, in that sense. Hval’s lyrics continually defamiliarise the familiar. The body becomes an alien entity, repellent and lying beyond the agency of the individual (“I can smell what’s there on the inside”). And the private space of Hval’s bedroom is infiltrated by over-exposed images of “people fucking on [her] computer”.

With frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish behind the mixing desk, Hval’s lean four-piece thrashes between opposing musical poles, questioning any divisions between the visceral and the cerebral, the beautiful and the ugly: taut post-punk melts into weightless ambient-pop, which in turn erupts into muscular out-rock. Yet, rather than feeling expansive or eclectic, Innocence Is Kinky retains a knotted, claustrophobic demeanour, labyrinthine and impenetrable in its complexity. This is music born of a destructive urge, but there’s an ecstasy in such destruction: in a motif that recurs throughout the album, Hval fantasises about being burned alive and it is only as her body fragments and dissolves, as all stability and order disappears, that she achieves her long yearned-for transcendence.

It’s no coincidence that Hval chooses to quote David Lynch’s Twin Peaks midway through the record, intoning “Fire, walk with me!” at the surging climax of centrepiece ‘I Got No Strings’. Certainly, the suggestive world inhabited by Innocence Is Kinky could well be labelled with that most liberally applied of aesthetic descriptors: Lynchian. In the same way that the American director exposed the seedy and nightmarish underbelly of that sleepy town on the Canadian border, Hval has created a work that tears down our neatly demarcated distinctions – between good and bad, pleasure and horror, innocence and kink. Innocence Is Kinky is a remarkable album, one which delves beneath the surface and returns with something both seductive and strange.

Originally published The Quietus

Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile, Matana Roberts

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“There’s some things I just can’t tell you ‘bout, honey.” This unassuming lyrical fragment permeates the very fabric of Matana Roberts’Mississippi Moonchile. Not only are the words uttered by Roberts numerous times throughout its duration, but they seem to capture the entire aesthetic – the ineffable feel – of this remarkable album. Taken from an interview that the New York-based saxophonist conducted with her grandmother, this snippet of speech surfaces throughout the latter’s scattershot reminiscences of her childhood growing up in Mississippi. It’s as quotidian as it is suggestively elusive: is it simply a discarded turn of phrase, arising from the natural ebb and flow of everyday conversation? Or does it carry greater significance, bespeaking a wistfulness in the face of half-lost memory?

The centrality afforded to this phrase throughout Mississippi Moonchile suggests the latter, with Roberts’ nimble sing-speak examining the words from all angles – elongating, shortening, disrupting the flow of syllables. As such, the words are bestowed with a near-mystical gravity, forming the nexus from which all else on the album unfurls: Mississippi Moonchile emanates from a place where memory becomes nostalgia and nostalgia melts into fantasy.

Mississippi Moonchile is the second in a projected twelve-album cycle entitled Coin Coin. And throughout the project thus far, Robertshas used her music as a medium through which to explore the liminal zones between lore and history that define the ways in which we understand ourselves in the present. Primarily interrogating her own sense of identity as an African American woman, Roberts calls upon numerous other voices – from her family’s history, her culture’s mythology – to create not historical documents but living artefacts of collective cultural memory: simultaneously disorienting and exhilarating in their chaotic multiplicity.

The first album in the Coin Coin series – 2011’s Gens de couleur libres – was brutally visceral in its direct confrontation the America’s history of slavery, the knotted atonality of its free jazz embodying the stark horror relayed by Roberts’ lyrics. Mississippi Moonchile, by contrast, is airy and mellifluous. In the place of vivid images of sexual and racial oppression, Mississippi Moonchile’s lyrics are instead laden with hazy nostalgia, painting vague snapshots of life in the Southern states in the mid-twentieth century. Roberts’ ensemble has downsized from a ramshackle big band to an economical five-piece, the unity of which is broken only by the occasional intrusion of an operatic tenor. And her voice on the saxophone, once caustic and incendiary, has mellowed to exude elegant melodic contours.

Yet, that’s not to say that Mississippi Moonchile’s comparable restraint has resulted in an album of less dramatic potency than its predecessor. Rather, the evocative majesty of this record lies in that which Roberts allows to remain unsaid and unplayed. The music is hesitant, cautious – at times surging with momentum and luminous melody before quickly collapsing in on itself, unable to sustain such a state of unchecked abandon. And the same fraught lyrical themes of racial and gender inequality that were so dominant on Gens de couleur libres weigh heavily on Mississippi Moonchile, although they’re often obscured behind its contented, almost joyous, facade.Roberts’ spoken soliloquies are abstract and erratic, juxtaposing the words of her grandmother against passages from the Bible and Civil Rights speeches. Fleeting, incomplete references to the reality of racial inequality in mid-twentieth century Mississippi appear amidst the stream of consciousness (“Can you say ‘yes sir’, nigger? Can you say ‘yes sir’?”), only to be instantly dispersed as the music skitters off in other directions (Roberts breaking into song, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free”).

It is during such moments that Mississippi Moonchile appears to be striving towards a meaning, a significance, that lies perpetually out of reach: just like her grandmother, Roberts has so much that she can’t quite articulate, opting instead to conjure only ambiguity, to speak only in impressions. With Mississippi Moonchile, Mantana Roberts’ Coin Coin project continues to resonate with the complexity, multiplicity and, occasionally, the horror of the contemporary world, whilst remaining steadfast in its belief in the ability of individual voices to rise – albeit momentarily – above the noise.

Originally published by The Quietus

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