Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Standon Calling: Literary line up announced (news)

Let it not be said that next month's Standon Calling does not cater for the academically minded festival punter. Besides one of the most eclectic and widely-informed line ups to be seen gracing a (probably muddy) field this summer, the festival has just announced the full billing for its Under Cover Literary Lounge.

It's a diverse smorgasbord of raw literary talent, creatively minded thesps and noteworthy personalities: poet and editor Tim Wells, known for his own iambic work as well as collaborations with East London reggae soundsystem Tighten Up- will be performing a spoken word set. Meta-critic James Bridle, who describes himself modestly as a “writer, publisher, editor, coder, designer, consultant, producer and cook” will take his audience on a journey down the recesses of internet fiction, a talk which will touch on Star Trek, Harry Potter and (catering for all tastes) Top Gear. Though probably not how any of us are imagining it.

Acclaimed novelist and comedienne Lana Citron (who infamously undertook her hour-long slot on Antony Gormley's 'One and Other' project by blowing kisses to passers-by from atop the fourth plinth) will surely offer up an entertaining, intellectual and engaging debate around notions of 'kissing'. But perhaps the biggest draw, certainly the act with the biggest star-power, is reformed drug-dealer turned professional talker Howard Marks. Anyone who has read Mr Nice or seen Howard in conversation before will know what to expect, a rollicking anecdotal rediscovering of what now seems a wholly alien past-life (at his peak, Marks was said to be controlling 10% of the world's hashish trade). Audience members will enjoy the chance to engage with Marks on the festival's chosen Gods and Monsters theme, and on the inherent ridiculousness of using a career as a wanted drugs smuggler as a springboard to becoming a public speaker. Alternatively, questions about pressing cannabis resin or rolling L's will also be welcome. Saturday night sees the world-renowned Literary Death Match descend upon Standon's Under Cover tent- a wild and frenetic fight to the very end using only the raw, undeniable power of semiotics. Sunday afternoon will see an irreverent interpretation of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure- performed by Roar Theatre. Festival goers are also promised a cavalcade of board games, giant twister (wink wink) and to close each night, a carnival sound system. Quite plush escapism, I hope you will agree.

Published on the405

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Esmerine - La Lachuza: review

As I write this review, a sudden downpour has begun it's onslaught outside and the sky has turned grey. Esmerine's record has become, effortlessly, one of my favourite albums of recent memory- and the weather seems appropriate. The album is tinged with nostalgia, filled with gentle, sombre moments of reflection that sit well with gazing longingly from one's window. In this moment, the rain makes for a touching accompaniment.
Comprising another fine project from Montreal's avant-garde community, loosely composed around the Godspeed arc of the last decade- La Lachuza represents Esmerine's first record in six years, after a strong debut release on Alien8 and a self-released follow-up. This is the group's first album for Constellation and there's an element of homecoming about this body of work. Dedicated to the memory of renowned Montreal singer Lhasa de Sela, a dear friend of the band, La Lachuza is by turns emotive and powerful, delicately wrought and stunningly beautiful.
Previous Esmerine albums have been wholly instrumental works, focused around the lyrical cello lines of Becky Foon and Bruce Cawdron's marimba and glockenspiel. This is still largely the case, with fine interplay between drawn-out strings and staccato percussion- but La Lachuza has given opportunity for Esmerine to expand to a four-piece outfit, incorporating harp and additional percussion. These elements round Esmerine's sound into a more inviting dynamic, and allow a complexity of rhythm and melody as evidenced on the majestic 'Trampolin', a flurry of hyperactive notes that recalls Sigur Ros' experimental work. Elsewhere, 'Sprouts' employs restrained instrumentation to it's credit- a slow build giving way to frenetic choral moments, rich with colour.
Marking a departure from previous work, Esmerine here involve vocal duties on a few of the album tracks. This seemingly bold move had me worried- their instrumental sound has been evocative enough, and there's always an implication with vocal lines that they lead the song, detracting from the instrumentation beneath. Not so here, as 'Last Waltz'- the first of the album's vocal tracks, demonstrates. Calling on the services of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre member Sarah Page, the track is arced around the ominous refrain “words are waiting to be said”- but the music is balanced throughout. In the spaces between verses, Neufield sings in chords, utelising her voice as another instrument to build sound with. Bathed in reverb, and set against the cello, harp and marimba- the effect is one of simple, longing beauty.
As with so many wonderful records, I have trouble pinning down exactly what this album is. La Lecuza has sounded different and perfectly appropriate in so many moments- at 4am sharp and angular, on a sunlit morning it is revelatory and awakening, and now- as the rain comes down in torrents, it seems nostalgic and affective. In so far as their own canon is concerned, this record must stand as a towering achievement, perhaps their most accomplished album to date. The recording standard is outstanding, the mix complementing the nature of the instruments and allowing space in between them- apparently much of the album was recorded live. I can't recommend this album highly enough- as someone who has followed the group from album one, it has pleased me greatly to hear such a wonderful record, one that exceeded my (already high) expectations so vastly. It is a rare pleasure, from start to finish.