Monday, 27 September 2010

Themselves - Crownsdown&company review

Remix albums are by their nature, inherently fraught. In the event they’re successful, one can cite the collaborative effort between band and remix DJ as something approaching a meeting of minds, subversion or a coercion of the original’s material into the remixer’s aesthetic. Should the remix album flop, invariably it’s the band that get the blame, having commissioned, edited, sequenced the LP.

Themselves dodge this argument by opening Crownsdown&company, their second remix album, with the self-mixed Back II Burn- an intensely rhythmic number featuring distorted vocals and in-vogue glitchy synth stabs which replace the original’s orchestral hits. Besides the creative angle of remixing your own work, it is an astute move to open the record this way- but one that seemingly sets the stage for open floodgates of remixes.

The remixes are sourced entirely from the 2009 album Crownsdown: Crownsdown&company seeks to take Themselves’ avant-garde material and repackage it for dancefloors and warehouse parties worldwide. So where paranoid multitracking and disorientation were calling cards of the original material, here the effect is unmistakable. Similarly avant-enamoured hip hop artists Dalek take on Oversleeping, producing a relentless scattershot sound- a style which is repeated across the record. Gangster Of Disbelief is assimilated by Alias to more melodic effect, but again the drumbeats are intimidatingly huge. A feeling of taught pressure exudes from the record, the notion that playing it at home just doesn’t do the material justice: this are remixes with one context in mind.

It’s fair to say the album gets more melodic as it unfurls -the more straightforward melody of You Ain’t It (Lazer Sword rmx) could almost be the hook to a pop song, but for the playful insistence on glitch and arpeggiated synth chords.There’s a consistent sound throughout though, despite the many producers and remix artists on board. That’s to the record’s credit, that at no moment does the sound feel out of place or too disparate. Crownsdown&company will probably appeal more to the partisan audience than new listeners searching for an entrance point into Themselves’ canon, but it represents a fine addition to that collection, and will no doubt give fans and club-goers many moments of happiness, curiosity and dancing.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fang Island - Madame Jojo's 07/09/10 review

There was palpable excitement inside the cramped but beautifully designed Soho venue that was to beckon Fang Island to the stage on Tuesday night. Embarking on their first UK tour proper since humbling SXSQW and releasing their fantastic eponymous debut, Fang Island were greeted by a crowd of devotees, who had snapped up the tickets for this intimate concert. Madame Jojo’s is an interesting venue for concerts, having it’s history entwined with Soho’s fondness for cabaret and performance. While it still addresses this audience, club night White Heat does a marvellous job of bringing up and coming US bands to it’s raised platform stage.

It’s rare that for a debut album to sound both so musically accomplished, carefree and confident of itself- but this is what Fang Island acheived, labelling their music as ‘for people who like music’. Blanket statements aside, that’s not far off the mark. Their sound traverses technical musicality and indie-pop accessibility, and in truth it’s hard to refuse their infectious melodies. The opening salvo ‘Dream of dreams’ and ‘Careful Crossers’ sets the tone, a cascading wall of arpeggiated fretwork building to a rousing choral chant, before descending into a power-riffing and headbanging. These moments took in all the joyous elements of classic rock, reperformed with elation. The shared vocal duties of ‘Daisy’’s lyrical ambiguity brought all four guitarists to the fore, whipping the crowd into a joyous frenzy with it’s indecipherable ‘ooh’s and ‘woah’s.

Fang Island’s appeal is simple: it’s enjoyable music, both to listen to, to watch, and seemingly to play. The band smile gleefully throughout, bassist Michael Jacober frequently pogoing as the guitarists in the band headbang through colourful, starry hoodies. Epic, impatient number ‘Sideswiper’ closes the set, it’s juggernaut riffing and harmonised solo-work giving way to a touching vocal line over a reverb-drenched four-chord round. And then the song’s coda, a euphoric piece of music that elicits smiles all round, a playful guitar line darting over a strummed rhythm. It’s a majestic moment and a towering feeling of warmth and love spreads through the crowd. We look at each other, beaming. The band leave the stage to a rapturous applause, only to come back for a real, proper encore. Initially, the band seemed to tune up- but this bled through to the opening bars of a song that seemed familiar, but it couldn’t be, could it? And in hindsight, an indulgent retelling of Mariah Carey’s ‘Always be my baby’ was perhaps the perfect way to end this concert. It had the crowd with lighters in the air, arms waving high, everyone in the room singing along. Fang Island seem rather good at effecting that kind of atmosphere, and this deeply enjoyable concert was strewn with such moments of connectivity between band and audience. It’ll almost be a shame when the band inevitably gain their deserved recognition and start playing the larger venues, because seeing them at the height of their powers in an intimate and close venue like this was a real treat.

First published in The405.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Neon Indian - Cargo 02/09/10 review

On the back of a summer’s transatlantic touring, Neon Indian brought their sundrenched chillwave to London’s Cargo venue on Thursday evening. Named one of Rolling Stone’s best bands of 2010, the project represents a new direction for one man outfit Alan Palomo, who here recruits three friends for a backing band. The result is transformative, as the hazy and lackadaisical songs from their debut LP Psychic Chasms are performed with insistence and vigour.

Neon Indian seem at times as much enamoured with nostalgia as they are with progression- their array of modern synthesisers and technologically astute production lending their album a contradictorily, but enjoyable, 1980’s feel. It’s as if the music is half dreamt, or struggling against two decade’s of wear and tape-decay to get out. But it’s more than a gimmick, songs like 6669 and Ephemeral Artery displaying memorable hooks. It’s a shame that often the band are overtly referenced by the aesthetic in which they operate, rather than judged on the merits of their songwriting and performance.

In a live context, Neon Indian shine. The tape-warped, tonal bending aspect of their music is lost in lieu of a pressing instrumentation.The live drums of Jason Faries replace drum machine, guitarist Ronald Gierhart shreds picked riffs before slamming power chords, keyboardist Leanne Macomber jumps, wails and dances and enigmatic singer Alan Palomo is a spectacle. Surrounded by an array of pedals, synthesisers, samplers and pleasingly, a theremin- Palomo seems caught between enacting menace via his tools or embracing rapture through his staccato dancing. It’s in this setting that the strength of the music is allowed to shine, against a backdrop of brightly coloured psychadelic visuals, and with a consistent soundbed of arpeggiated noise throughout. Neon Indian perform for just under an hour, playing nearly all of Psychic Chasms and a couple of unknown numbers. They leave, giving warm regards to a beaming crowd. A thoroughly enjoyable gig, and one that showcases the difference between studio LPs and live performances. Neon Indian appear to be masters of both, articulating both contexts distinctly and with confidence.

First published in Sound Screen.