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Charlie has 83 articles published.

Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

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David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

LIVE REVIEW: Jackie Lynn, Jazzhouse, 8.11.16

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Jackie Lynn

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Behind iridescent projections of cityscapes stands a still figure with a guitar and cowboy hat. Dressed in gear that could have been purloined from Gram Parsons’ wardrobe, Jackie Lynn might be looking out into the candle-lit tables of Jazzhouse with a slight nod of approval. Hers is very intentionally loner, dive-bar music, a hybrid of lumpen proletariat country and Suicide-esque electronic minimalism.

We should be more precise: Jackie Lynn is in fact the avatar of singer-songwriter Haley Fohr, until recently best known for her doom-laden folk act, Circuits des Yeux. There is still plenty of darkness to Jackie Lynn, and Fohr’s distinctive low vibrato cannot be masked, but there is also an unmistakable playfulness to the very concept of this project. Accompanied by a carpet of lofi drum machines and bleepy synths, provided by members of the gloriously-named Bitchin Bajas, Jackie Lynn strums her guitar and tells her tale of love, coke dealing, and “jocks and their tiny cocks.”

For what sounds like a conceptually overwrought mix of country and electronics, the Jackie Lynn project manages to sound perfectly natural, a glimpse of an alternate world, a micro-culture just barely out of reach of the internet. The briefness of the album, under half an hour, adds to the mystery, but the real power of Fohr’s persona is felt when she is there before you, almost, but not quite, accessible.

Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse
Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse

LIVE REVIEW: Tim Hecker / Tyondai Braxton, Jazzhouse, 01.11.16

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Not too long ago, ‘being a fan of ambient music’ would be classified at around 7.8 on the Social Dysfunction scale, just below ‘owning seven cats and two human skulls’, or ‘commenting on news websites’. But these days ambient is rougher, darker, and louder than its predecessors. If it looks to Brian Eno at all, it is the twisted Eno that makes up much of Adam Curtis’s soundtracks, rather than the one who composes lullabies for air passengers. Ambient is also, it would appear, much more popular now. At least enough that one of its main ambassadors, Tim Hecker, can quickly sell out a medium-sized venue like Jazzhouse.

Not that this is all Hecker’s doing. The evening is a double bill with an altogether more eclectic character, Tyondai Braxton. Formerly of Battles, Braxton is the cerebral experimenter to Hecker’s romanticism. The difference is as much visual as it is audible: the projections behind Braxton glitch and fragment, the everyday nightmare visions of garbled technologies; Tim Hecker is instead surrounded by rather ecclesiastical rows of pastel-coloured LEDs.

But for all their care in creating compelling visuals to reflect their music, both acts appear to inherently question the need for us as an audience to be standing like this, all facing the stage as if expecting interaction or entertainment. The intermingling tracks from Hecker’s latest LP, Love Streams, positively pour from the speakers, reverberating through bodies and rattling the fillings of teeth. You’d do as well to swim through this than absorb it standing. It is the much-discussed vocal elements of Hecker’s recent work that add a little light to what would otherwise be an unremitting textural piece, and perhaps he is aware enough of the side effects to cut things short: after a pedantically-precise 60 minutes, the lights go up, and those of us who forgot our earplugs began to regret our life choices.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Eartheater, Loppen, 21.09.2016

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

On record, Eartheater is an eclectic mix of everything from spacey electronica to lo-fi freak folk. But live, Alexandra Drewchin’s solo persona is that of an uncompromising, confrontational noise artist. It starts with her reaching the stage by wading through the audience, towering above us in her 8″ Converse platforms. Some swift tapping on her laptop triggers an insistent low-frequency rumble, over which Drewchin performs a spoken-word piece, her voice drastically lowered by her trademark vocal effects.

Loppen is by no means packed out tonight, but if anything, this seems to work to Drewchin’s advantage. A significant proportion of her set is instrumental, aided by guitar retrofitted with a midi controller that triggers everything from pure white noise to the sounds of thunder, barking dogs and rainfall. Throughout this Drewchin wanders among the audience, staring them down one at a time, before drifting towards the bar, draping herself over it as if her spine were elastic. You sometimes hear of music being characterized as exploratory (typically standing for pot-induced jam sessions), but in this case the whole point of Eartheater is to test the space on a tactile level.

Eartheater 3

This sounds a little too facetious, the fault is mine. Drewchin is more than happy to cut the intensity of her set with moments of levity and self-effacement, and her physical contortions are as much joyful as they are pained. And as the set draws to a close, even the most bemused members of the audience look buoyed by the experience, or at the very least inspired to take up yoga.

LIVE REVIEW: Deerhoof, Jazzhouse, 13.09.16

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Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s hard to think of a band as fun, weird and childlike as Deerhoof as, well, old, but 20 years in the business is a pretty significant amount of time. With around sixteen albums crowding their discography, the San Franciscan quartet’s unique brand of ultra-hyphenated, off-kilter art-rock has undergone endless refinements. If any band deserves to share that famous trope of the Fall, “always different, always the same”, it’s Deerhoof, a band that could record an album using nothing more than kazoos and still be immediately recognizable.

Case in point: towards the end of their set, I am puzzled by an familiar, but unusually riff-heavy song. After a couple of choruses, straining my ears, I eventually untangle the words: “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” I defy you to go out tonight and find me another band worth their salt playing Def Leppard covers, but more importantly, to incorporate them into a set without it sounding completely bonkers.

Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It helps of course that Deerhoof’s latest album, The Magic, comes closer to standard rock tropes than most of their recent records. But for every Ramones-channeling “That Ain’t No Life For Me”, there is still a piece of their patented balance of unhinged and deadly precise, a la “Kafe Mania!”. Unhinged is a fairly apposite descriptor of the set as a whole, with John Dietrich’s guitar losing strings every other song.

In these technical pauses, drummer Greg Saunier comes to the rescue. Channeling Crispin Glover and Steven Wright simultaneously, Saunier embarks on tortuous meditations on the heat in Denmark and how it might be affecting both the tuning and the life-span of guitar strings. A good portion of the audience is baffled, but I would be the first to buy Saunier’s HBO special should he decide to ditch the drums for a stand-up career.

For all their fun, there is a challenging element to Deerhoof, a wry art to their playfulness that can sometimes be at the casual listener’s expense. Returning to stage for an encore, flushed by a blistering set, singer Satomi Matsuzaki spends a good ten minutes teaching the audience a rhythmically-challenging call-and-response. Satisfied that we’ve got the gist, the band get going. The song lasts a minute. The band leave. Best ending to a set I’ve witnessed in a while.

LIVE REVIEW: Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, Stengade, 08.09.16

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Jeffrey Lewis: the William Morris of early 21st century Manhattan. A rather bold declaration, and definitely a facetious one, but when confronted with the lo-fi multimedia roadshow that is Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, you can’t help but react with gleeful exaggerations.

Let me follow that with another one: Jeffrey Lewis is one of the very few musicians you can enjoy without knowing a single song he plays. In my case this is almost literally true, since I had not followed Lewis’s career closely, beyond enjoying his musical histories of the Fall and punk on the Lower East Side.

The effectiveness of his lo-fi-dom, typified by the pickup sellotaped to his trusty and battered acoustic, is in the way that the music acts as context, a score for his intimate tales of existential befuddlement. Which is not to say that the music is unimportant, but rather that it is there to serve the lyrics, rather than having a bunch of words thrown on top of it.

Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016
Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016

They have the immediacy of novelty songs, but their wry observations, particularly in songs like “When You’re By Yourself”, give them the staying power of a short story that gets so close to your daily life that it is no longer a matter of fiction and more one of millennial phenomenology. The pretension is mine, not theirs.

And just when you are worried things might be getting a little to real for you, Lewis is there to help with a capella renditions of Nirvana songs accompanied by literal and hilarious depictions of the lyrics, not to mention a brand new installment of his long-running history of Communism.

The night closes with a Pixies cover, more Nirvana “music videos”, and profuse apologies from Lewis for not having time to play even more songs, giving us just enough time to buy a few (ridiculously inexpensive) copies of his comics before riding home.

LIVE REVIEW: Beach Slang, KB18, 12.08.16

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beach slang at kb18 in copenhagen

Some gigs make you feel like you’ve crashed a private party. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked out for me. It’s less like blagging your way into Andy Warhol’s factory, and more like being stuck singing happy birthday to someone whose name you don’t know. Suffice it to say that, tonight, the constant cheers of “seven more songs!” were entirely lost on me.

Beach Slang turn up at KB18 to a barrage of cheers and in-jokes. You’ve got to hand it to them, gaining this kind of fandom with only album and a couple of EPs is an achievement in itself. Then again, their particular brand of emo-inflected pop punk seems to function precisely in the way their debut album describes, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us. I might not be one of the people they are looking for, but everyone else in the room is.

beach slang at kb18 in copenhagen

The atmosphere is that of a local band surrounded by friends. Beach Slang have not amassed enough material to span an entire set, but they have the venue on their side, and sleeves–in frontman James Alex’s case, tuxedo sleeves–full of covers: the Cure, Jawbreaker, and of course, the Replacements. The tux, the so-predictable-they’re-unpredictable covers, and the high-fives that erupt at the end of every song, reveal the light-heartedness beneath the sometimes tortured lyrics. Which is a real relief, seeing as a room of people close to their 30s reveling in teenagerdom might otherwise be a terrifying prospect.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Jurassic 5, Vega, 12.07.16

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Jurassic Five live vega copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

One thing that immediately springs to mind on a night like this: 99% of the indie acts we see don’t hold a candle to a good hip hop act when it comes to a live performance. Yes, the sound is drowning in so much bass that you end up concentrating more on massaging your stomach than listening to the subtleties of the beats. And yes, your changes of distinguishing the words amid this mixing nightmare are minimal. But then again, you are supposed to know the words already.

At least that’s the impression this audience gives. I’ve never seen such a large percentage of the crowd shout back the words at the opening act. But Dilated Peoples, a two-decade spanning West-coast outfit, are not just any opening act. They might be self-confessedly “underground”, but their following here in Copenhagen is rabid to say the least. One particularly devoted fan at the front gets singled out by the crew, having told them backstage about his intention of getting a tattoo of their lyrics the next day. The floor is already groaning under the stress of a venue packed with people trying to out-jump each other.

By the time Jurassic 5 arrive, it feels more like an unexpected second party, rather than the culmination of a few hours of waiting. But when your second party includes the trade-mark gigantic turntable, and, well, Jurassic 5, you know that you’re in a particularly good spot in the universe this evening. It’s their fourth time at Vega, and clearly the preceding three gigs must have gone pretty well too. Chali towers over everyone, peering into the balconies to question whether certain members of the audience were even alive the first time they played Copenhagen. In the meantime Akil keeps grinning and pointing to random audience members in the wings, keen to involve absolutely everyone.

Then comes the time for DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark to enact once more their notorious hiphop circus sideshow, involving the aforementioned giant turntable and several home-made instruments and samplers. Glee, hilarity, and respect for their skill, all mix together. And that’s Jurassic 5 in a nutshell.

LIVE REVIEW: John Carpenter, DR Koncerthus, 30.05.16

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John Carpenter performing live at DR Koncerthuset

Photos by James Hjertholm (jameshjertholm.com)

People really love John Carpenter. From those of us huddled high up in the gods (or as Americans call them, the nosebleed seats) to the chosen few with a front-row view, there is a buzz of real anticipation. The lights go down, a band walks on, and the applause begins. Not for the band, though. The applause is for Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, Escape from New York, Halloween, They Live. I bet a few nostalgics were even applauding The Fog (sorry, not I: even 12 year old me thought that enchanted mist appearing on radar was dumb, no matter how many zombie pirates lurked within it).

And at the center of it, the man himself: the trademark mustache, long white hair, black clothes and playful grin. Not many directors get to bask in such direct, wordless admiration as they revisit what amounts to almost their entire working life. Nor does he shy away it. You get the sense that John Carpenter is sharing his films and music with the enthusiasm of a fan rather than a creator. There is much impish fun to be had in horror, as he demonstrates when the entire band dons matching black sunglasses during their rendition of the theme to They Live.

There is a fundamental question lurking around the concert hall this evening: does the music stand up on its own? The large screen that acts as a backdrop for Carpenter and the band gives you something of a hint: the music is accompanied by clips from his films, but rather than functioning simply as support for the music, the visuals end up dominating attention. During songs from his Lost Themes albums, the screen remains blank, reinforcing the feeling that something is missing.

John Carpenter

Is that such a scathing criticism of Carpenter’s musical output? Or is it instead a testament to how well his music combined with his movies? My own problem with the Lost Themes is that they fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of his soundtracks. Yes, the trademark synth sounds are there, but at least in the live setting, the guitars and drums detract from the alien, inhuman quality that we admire in his earlier work. And when you do add guitar and drums to John Carpenter, you can either sound like Mogwai (great) or like, well, a John Carpenter cover band.

Perhaps the problem is exactly that his music has been so influential. We have seen it transmuted over the years in a variety of interesting ways, to the point that there isn’t much that he himself can add. But at the end of the night, despite some irritation with the guitar playing and the drum levels, the main thought in my head was that I need to watch a lot more of JC’s films.

LIVE REVIEW: Fat White Family, Loppen, 24.05.16

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Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

My ears are still ringing. I am, like most people who go to gigs regularly, terrified by the possibility of chronic tinnitus, but I will say this: if anyone is going to force me to perpetually hear an irritating, high-pitched whine, it might as well be the Fat White Family.

The Family’s fortunes have risen considerably over the past couple of years, with two albums, several collaborations, endless tour dates and a substantial body count of managers and musicians in their wake. It is no secret that they have had more than their fair share of turmoil, but what the music press relishes in depicting as their excess and scandalous behaviour, can be more accurately described as sheer dedication. In spite of injury, anger, arguments and exhaustion, the Family plows mercilessly on.

Fat White Family

From the first menacing bass riff of their latest single, Tinfoil Deathstar, the band appear at home in Loppen. The venue’s size is a great leveler, forcing any act that plays there to stand or fall on their ability to merge with the audience. Frontman Lias Saudi is always up for some sweaty merging, and it isn’t long before the whole band is topless and spitting pieces of their torn lungs into the microphones. Some have observed that their latest album, Songs for Our Mothers, is less sonically abrasive than its predecessor. You’d never have guessed it.

For a band that thrives on unhinged energy, it is the quieter moments that show Fat White Family at their most confrontational. Garden of the Numb sees Saudi and Saul Adamczewski duet a dirge-like country hate anthem. Lines like “You sycophantic weasel-minded whores / You would sell your mother’s cunt to open doors” work all the better because they are quietly growled rather than screamed. Ice-cold hatred is infinitely more terrifying than hot anger.

But the Family isn’t going to end on a downer. No, nothing ends a show like the rockabilly madness of “Bomb Disneyland”. And as Saudi incites the crowd into the sweatiest, filthiest mosh pit, you can’t help but grin at the appropriateness of being in Denmark when a band screams “dirty-bomb Legoland” at you.

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