Thursday, 2 June 2011

Disappears / The Oscillation - Live at The Borderline, 31/05/11

I'd discovered Chicago's Disappears fairly recently, and as with any recent acquisition to my list of 'new favourite bands', my excitement at seeing the group live was at a peak. On a night when Thurston Moore was entertaining another of my housemates at one of the city's larger venues, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley was lined up to regale a gathered few with his new outfit in the small, utterly charming enclave that is Soho's Borderline club.

We arrived early on and with enough time to witness the opening band, The Oscillation. Hailing from Walthamstow, the four piece shimmied through a humble set of post-punk numbers, tight and restrained as they were. All told, the group held a tight groove and boasted a warm sound. Held together by keyboard drones and a shirking bass, their songs clearly held a power and this seemed to come to a crescendo as their brief set closed up. Indeed, their bandcamp page has provided much in the way of good listens a day after.

And then, to a small but eager crowd, Disappears gathered their equipment and launched headfirst into opening number 'Magics', from their debut LP 'Lux'. Released on the continually brilliant label Kranky, Disappears debut is an unashamedly raw 30 minutes of rock music, the kind you could jam to at 4 am with friends. Here, detail is insignificant- drowned out almost by a wave of chainsaw-esq guitars and pounded drums. On vocals, Brian Case barked in calls and yelps, unrepeatable expressions and croon­s- his voice beautifully obscured with echo and reverb. The overall effect is one of driven imprecision, intoxicated and seductive. Disappears beseech you not to enjoy it. To those friends who I have played their album in recent weeks and who remarked that the band 'aren't doing anything new'- this motion misses the point entirely. If Disappears's music is an indulgence, then so be it- some things can be unpretentious and still artful. And few bands these days seem capable of merely playing for joy, I recall seeing Fang Island some months ago and remarking what a rare opportunity for crowd high fiving it was. Similarly, and perhaps more appropriately, New York's Oneida seem inflicted with the sheer thrill of making sound, loud, rhythmic, crass and punk rock.

In the course of the 40 minutes the band spent on stage with us, Disappears tore through numbers from their two albums with pace and vigour - the songs taking on a real power in the room, as the reverb and feedback from the end of one piece became the beginning of the next track. The band were tight and controlled, allowing the strength of their songs to drive the concert's momentum. And whilst I could reflect on how the band could easily have performed in a larger venue, to more people - it is a treat to witness a group like this playing to a crowd there deliberately. If and when they do revisit these shores, it will be to a larger audience- and they'll probably play in exactly the same manner. Bold, assured, meditative and engrossed in their own music making. It seems completely marvelous to me.

First published in the405.

Akira The Don - The Life Equation: review

Children of the 80's and 90's, how fondly will you look back on those formative years? Mid-90's, I could be found perched by the radio deck every Sunday evening as the charts wound down the full gamut of that week's pop offerings. That era marked the birth of 'the wholly manufactured' pop act, and the top tens reflected the saccharine tones of these groups mashing it alongside the blooming and yet-to-be Blairised Britpop scene. Indie has always prided itself on authenticity- but even the pop might have seemed more sincere. Were songs less cynical then? If so, could it be a time-specific triumph of now-retro production and an industry still figuring out just how profitable it could be? 2011, and naivety of that era has truly passed. Songs of innocence then, and of experience now.

It's not that I had intended to start the review like this, but some records genuinely throw you. I wasn't expecting this. Akira The Don's second album proper- The Life Equation is a lovingly composed pastiche of such moments, circumnavigating nostalgia for its own sake in lieu of an almost forgotten songwriting form, cast off, disassembled, and herein restored.

Coming off the back of a series of increasingly spectacular rap mixtapes (now up to 25 and all available gratis via his website), lovers of raw loop work and rhythm play may feel underwhelmed by this LP- but whilst it couldn't be described as conventional hip-hop, Akira's rap dexterity is tested thoroughly across this record's 10 tracks. This is a pop album foremost, an record of songs and meaning communicated. The heartbreakingly sincere 'We Won't Be Broke Forever, Baby' orates reassurances to a lover, promises of solace from dark days. Elsewhere, the first song proper 'Video Highway' comes across as the kind of song Blur might have penned if they'd done speed and not coke. It's frenetic- and reminded me of the anime films I used to watch in the 90s when I had days off from school with the flu. High speed chase scenes, bright colours and newsreaders, swirling text, impossible energy without limit- all chaotically transfused within the prism of my fevers. As an album opener, it's relentless - a real slap upside the head.

The sun-clasped 'shake n bake' of 'All The Right Things' follows, the lulled jangle in it's verses taking me right back to Jurassic 5's good moments. The chorus is all horns and jump-ups, Akira calling the world as he sees it: his inimitable worldview a fusion of heady optimism, infectious enthusiasm and all-encompassing bricolage.

The Life Equation can be seen as a fervent call to arms, an existential cold shower- it's introduction calling for greater unity, less emphasis on the individual- and similarly, the spoken word samples that pop up in the epic album version of 'The Life Equation' itself, seek to reaffirm this message. If the album can seem lovingly devoted to notions of quintessentially 80's and 90's British music, then it is also a forward-thinking record of positivity and realised potential. Akira is a noted home-producer, and his series of mixtapes and 'Doncasts' testify that the bedroom recording aesthetic of constant production and meta-creativity is one that seems especially pertinent here. Co-produced by Stephen Hague, famed for his work on Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Peter Gabriel and, somewhat adorably, Mel C- the album bears tints of bygone pop, but the instrumentation choice and use of the studio suggest this is a record that could only have been made 'now'. The Life Equation's Sonic choices could be conceptual, a reading of the text which I'm transplanting through association- at its core, this is an album of some very strong material and a worthy addition to Akira's ever expending musical repertoire.

First published on the405.