Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Indafusion and Super Adventure Club @ The Mill - The Caves Edinburgh 19 Mar 2009

When Indafusion started a song with nothing but a rather complex dual vocal harmony between the guitarist/lead singer and the bassist/backing vocalist, some strange looks were passed between audience members. The two struggled, sometimes in vain, to stay in tune without hearing their instruments and the melody and harmony lines played a stark counterpoint to each other, with lyrics that were at best introspective, and often absurd. Neither of them could be hailed as terrific vocalist. The drums joins in. The percussionist plays with an intense look of concentration, even on the simplest beats, as if drums are his second language.

Two minutes into the song and that’s forgotten. A short instrumental break includes a bottom-heavy booming riff bass, and some tight fisted heavy guitar work reminiscent of The Misfits and hardcore punk and the audience are less confused about what the band are all about.

That can often be a problem with playing progressive music. I definitely admire the fact that these guys idolise bands like Yes and Gabriel’s Genesis, and they, like their idols, are able to move from contrapuntal multi-layered avant-garde to no-holds-barred Guitar Hero speed-solos, and everything in between; but it’s tough music to accept, especially by the hook-loving masses.

The drums play a big part in painting the picture of each musical scene, whether the backdrop is a woodpecker’s tap, or a stormy ocean crashing on the rocks, and the vocals, when the music gets going, are powerful and gripping.

Next up are Super Adventure Club (pictured). A lot of journalists or reviewers love it when bands don’t stick to established genres, because it means they get to invent their own titles to describe the music (the term “spaz-jazz” was batted about). Others like everything to fit into neat little musical boxes, and can employ the use of hierarchical tree charts and Venn diagrams to describe the exact specific classification of every band they hear. I must admit I relate more to the latter category, and for that reason I’m going to label Super Adventure Club ‘experimentalism’.

They experimented with tempo, timing, time signatures, key, tonality. Yet somehow, against all odds, came out with some really catchy tunes, peppered with witty, surreal, even comic lyrics.

The secret, of course, is that the three of them (drums, bass, guitar. All singers.) Are all music scholars, two of them teachers. Which is just downright cheating.

I’m also trying to avoid the temptation of describing them as lo-fi simply because they reminded me of Pavement. But they did mostly just stick to playing their instruments dry, and when a special effect was used, it was carefully chosen and added an extra angle to the song.

I was, however, upset that they missed out their best song ‘Built In Redundancy’, which is one of the songs that gets played on Fresh Air FM automatically when there’s no DJs in the booth. Even more upsetting was when the crowd were chanting for one more tune, the guitarist tells us “We don’t have any more tunes”. Yes you do! I heard it on your MySpace!!

Both bands have a song about sloths… I’ll leave you with that thought.
Myke Hall

Monday, 16 March 2009

What You're Looking For - Little Green Machine

It might be a little bit odd writing about an unsigned band that have already broken up. But I really like this EP and think it deserves a bit of attention.

What You're Looking For is the second EP self-released by the Edinburgh power trio Little Green Machine. The comparison to the last one is probably clichéd but I'd say the sound is slightly more matured, less raw and more carefully produced.

Each track features incredibly clear and well separated drums, without ever letting them sound overwhelming. The guitar sound is mid-balanced and bright in the quiet bits and fuzzy and distorted in the loud bits. Lead singer/bassist Jack's voice has a post-heavy night out strain to it. The sound of the band is a mix of late 90s grunginess (Placebo, Smashing Pumpkins) and American alt-rock (Foo Fighters, Jane's Addiction).

Opening title track What You're Looking For has a bit of a punk feel, opening with drums and feedback, with a running pace beat and tempo all the way through and builds up to a chant-along chorus of "Hold on to what you love". As with a lot of songs executed by three-piece bands, the "solo" section is manipulation of chords rather than single notes, so that the song doesn't lose any energy.

Take Me By The Hand is the EP's ballad tune. With a John Frusciante Chili Peppers sound to the guitar, the song floats along. The very active drums and plentiful fills don't seem to kill the more relaxed mood of this tune.

Honey Bee is the lyrical highlight for me, blending ironically cited cliché with some inspired introspective imagery, like "you moan about the honey and you won't drink the wine". Some pretty harmonies provided (presumably) by drummer Cat. It starts by sounding kind of glitzy and disco but descends into some dark grungy chord progressions.

The ends on Jelly Baby. Very Nevermind-era Nirvana. The song includes a breakdown which is just crying out for some "get the audience clapping" sessions when they play it live. Like the rest of the album, it sticks to grunge principles. Angsty lyrics, loud in the chorus, quiet in the verse. It actually starts quite indie-folk, but when the chorus kicks in it kills off all traces of Snow Patrol.

Jesus, how many times in this article have I used the word "grunge"? I'm sorry, its currently my favourite genre. I disagree with Wikipedia's definition because there has been a lot of different bands since 1994 that use the features of grunge music and it's ridiculous to just call them all "post-grunge" because they didn't come from Seattle. If that were the way it worked we'd have been listening to "post-rock" since Please Please Me came out in 1963.

Back to the point. This EP has the right balance of rocking out and chilling out that a rock record should. Its a shame the band have broken up, but I should probably plug what they're doing now. Jack has recorded some solo stuff and has been known to play tambourine and backing vox for City City Beat. Cat has joined St Jude's Infirmary and Arthur (guitar/backing vox) ... isn't doing anything musical anymore as far I know.
Myke Hall

Friday, 6 March 2009

Bombskare Album Launch - Studio 24 Edinburgh 27 Feb 2009

Bombskare have been piecing this album together down at Verden Studios for the best part of four years now. But there is ten of them. So it takes a lot longer to record all the parts than it would an average-sized band and an increasingly longer time to mix them.

The album launch started with Root System, a rather aggressive sounding four-piece playing a mix of roots ska and punk. Good performers on stage, the lead singer did some Jamaica-style rapping in his low Scots voice, while the guitar was mostly distorted upstrokes. A bouncier bass and some brass would have brightened them up a bit, but maybe that's not what they are going for. A couple of songs in, they proclaimed: "The next song is a slow song. Just kidding! It's fast as f***! Slow songs are for gimps!"

The Amphetemeanies are the Glaswegian Bombskare. The full-size nine-piece includes guitars, bass and drums, male and female lead vocals, a brass section and Hammond organ. While they don't quite have the stage presence or the tunes to match their Edinburgh counterpart, they are far from shambolic, and pumped out the two-tone tunes with a terrific tenacity. Special mention should be made of the organ player, who was brilliant, and the trumpeter, who also plays in Belle and Sebastian. He does that haunting solo at the end of ‘Like Dylan in the Movies’. It’s also impressive watching the massive, bald, shades-wearing frontman destroy an eight-pack of beer during the set, and his tiny-in-comparison Blondie-t-shirt-wearing female equivalent, who danced her socks off despite a leg injury.

Big Hand were, in my opinion, the highlight of the night. The fact that there are only 4 of them, bass, guitar drums and trumpet, does not draw away from them sounding quintessentially ska. Quirky without being kooky, two-tone without being too non-mainstream, stylised but still catchy. With chant-along-chorus' and a high performance energy all round. The sweaty but untiring crowd responded to the presence on stage and even those who didn't know the tunes were singing along. Although the support slot set meant they missed out several fan favourite songs; ending on ‘Magnet’, their single release, followed by ‘The Man with One Big Hand’, their signature song, was an astounding conclusion to a top notch show.

The night's headline act take up a rather sizeable portion of the stage. The ten-piece Bombskare performed their act skilfully. Like many ska acts, the lyrics ranged from good natured capers to political messages, to songs not even in English. For some of their set they were joined on stage by the trumpeter from Big Hand, leaving even less of the stage free for them to move around on, but it is big stage, I've seen these guys squeeze onto the stage at Bannermans, and they seem quite content to bounce on the spot. Each song was also accompanied by a visual display projected onto either side of the stage, which coordinated nicely with their songs, especially during ‘World Turned Upside Down’, when a picture was projected of the wrongfully imprisoned Mark Barnsley, for whom the song was written. It seems that Bombskare have their sights set on Hollywood too, they've already written their own Bond song, ending triumphantly with the Bond theme, which sounds as epic coming from them as it does from any cinema sound system. The highlight of the set for me was ‘Crime of the Century’, which I feel would sound gorgeous with just a plucked acoustic guitar and the two singers in harmony, but got the whole crowd dancing nonetheless with a great Blues Brothers harmonica solo in the middle-eight too.

Bombskare's debut album, A Fistful of Dynamite is available on iTunes or on CD at their shows.
Myke Hall