Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark


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Charlie has 85 articles published.

LIVE REVIEW: CSS, Rust, 27.09.2013

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Against unbelievable odds (an awful PA, miniscule room and a career largely built on one song), CSS managed to prevail. The Brazilian quintet played a short, 50 minute set, bringing a large quantity of punk brashness and wild enthusiasm to their particular brand of electro-rock. Singer Lovefoxxx made up for the shitty PA, which would have disgraced a 5-year-old’s birthday party, by inciting the crowd, sharing oddball linguistic insights (the main one being that “tak” is too short a word to express gratitude), and generally being very loveable. Chatting to her after the gig, next to the drawing of a slow loris riding a Christiania bike, I realized I’d spent the set trying to like the music as much as I liked the people making it. In a way CSS seem to run solely on an enthusiasm. No one can deny that even such a short set was full of some very unremarkable and very similar songs, but it’s hard to care about that. They appear amateur in a refreshing way, happy to be doing what they are doing.

I’ll be honest: I went to hear one song, and one song only. And when CSS played “Lets Make Love and Listen to Death from Above”, I was ready to forgive any inconvenience. Like Editors the night previous, they do rely heavily on certain musical styles and tropes, but CSS do so without cynicism. They are brash and, when considered soberly, almost irrelevant musically. But they are a party band,  no one has to consider them soberly.

LIVE REVIEW: Editors, Store Vega, 26.09.2013

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The few early birds at Store Vega are greeted with five Belgians singing in eerie harmony over a sparse rhythm section. Balthazar are a puzzling band. A naysayer would call them derivative, unoriginal, erratic. They seem to pinch from everyone and everywhere: the odd poppy bassline, occasional spaghetti western guitars, Bob Dylan-drenched lead vocals, chimes, a violin, big group choruses, tremolo picked guitars. On paper it sounds like awful cliché. But no matter how highly you choose to prize originality, Balthazar have an undeniable if elusive idiosyncrasy, and more importantly, a fantastic live sound. Songs that on record seem rather unremarkable, like “Sinking Ship”, completely transform on stage, in this case into a thundering, Bruce Springsteen chorus. Another name, another influence, I know, but certainly not a criticism. They are constantly surprising, veering in unexpected directions, always simple, but never facile or boring. Even with five people on stage, and countless musical influences, they are able to leave enough space in their sound for every instrument to be distinct and vital. They are, in this sense, quite the opposite of Editors, who will spend the next hour and a half filling up every space they possibly can.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

Not that the audience is exactly filling the place. The balcony section has been closed off due to low ticket sales, and the back of the room is less than packed. Perhaps the casual concert-goers were already satisfied with Editors’ performance only a few months ago in Tivoli. What the crowd lacks in numbers it makes up for in enthusiasm, as the cute-couple contingent at the front and the back-rows of post-punk veterans/old farts hail the headline act’s opener, “Sugar”. The ice machines and backlighting give the place a churchy feel, and I feel an infidel among the faithful. People around me are beaming, singing along, awkwardly trying to dance, fist-pumping, or being arseholes with their camera phones. Admittedly the band have a swagger I would never have expected from them, with Tom, the singer, making witchy hand gestures and bassist Russ constantly climbing onto the drum podium. And they do manage to make each song sound exactly like the album recordings. There is just something I’m just not getting.

It’s strange. After all, I was the perfect age when The Back Room first brought Editors to international fame. I used to mouth the words. These songs should make me nostalgic. This is the first gig of their new tour, and after having toured The Weight of Your Love extensively, this is a chance for the band to dip into their four albums at will. Indeed I get a twitch at the beginning of “Munich”, a slight tingle at “Bullets”, and I have the impression, probably wholly incorrect, that the rest of the audience reacts most strongly to the songs from the debut album. But I am constantly held back, no stage theatrics or sing-alongs carry me into the same state as the people around me.

Editors (Photo by Tom Spray)

Halfway through the concert I move back to the old farts’ section, losing in sound quality, but making up for it with the sight of overweight, 60-year old men in New Model Army t-shirts making strange arm gestures at the blatant Echo and the Bunnymen ripoff opening riff to “A Ton of Love”. My god, they must have been my age when Ocean Rain was first released.

Why is it that I can defend Balthazar while being completely baffled by people’s love of Editors? It has nothing to do with considerations of originality, or even stealing sounds, but rather that the sounds Editors chose turned out to the ones I find least interesting about those post-punk bands we enjoy. There is no surprise, no subversion. Editors are a band guided by emotion, but evidently not one I happen to share. But it was exactly what a couple of hundred people in Vega wanted, so who can fault them that?


LIVE REVIEW: Matthew E. White, Store Vega, Copenhagen 10.09.2013

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It’s raining on a Monday evening in September. Alice Boman is singing soft clichés into a half-empty room. On an other occasion, I might say her songs have a naïve fragility, but as I have already mentioned, it’s Monday, and I’m wet from the rain.  The crowd needs warming.

Having listened to Big Inner, Matthew E. White’s debut album, early in the day, I’m expecting more low-key Americana, but from the opening riffs and wild steel guitar of “Big Love”, it is clear we are in for something quite different. Live, White and band are warm and intense. The rain is forgotten. By the second number, “Steady Pace”, the band have transformed the break after the second chorus into a drinking game, downing beers and performing coordinated dance routines. They are one of the most immediately likeable bands I’ve ever encountered.

Matthew E. White (Photo by Jen Tse)

The energy of the room amplifies the rhythmic elements of White’s songs, punctured by a precise, Afrobeat-style horn section. On paper, it should be very easy to describe the band’s sound, but in practice it feels ridiculous. You can throw names at it: Curtis Mayfield, Randy Newman, at times even Devendra Banhardt (a facile comparison, White is superior by far). The best analogy I can muster is the Band: instantly recognisable, but not tied down to a particular genre.

It turns out, however, that Randy Newman isn’t such a stupid comparison. White recounts a time when he tracked down Newman’s house in the Hollywood Hills, trying to hand him his record and contact details. He follows this story with a stripped-down cover of “Sail Away”. The song also showcases the half-whispered vocal style that is more familiar to listeners who have only heard White on headphones.

Matthew E. White (Photo by Jen Tse)

No matter how good White is on his own, it is obvious that he is most comfortable around his band. The classic R’n’B rhythm section is aided by steel guitar and a keyboardist who looks like Seth Rogen’s brother, adding a psychedelic edge to the evening. Joined by a local horn section, the band layer on top of each other, building up songs like “One of These Days” into explosive crescendos.

Having showcased two new songs, “Signature Move” and “Human Style”, White begins his encore with “Hot Toddies”, which provides the perfect metaphor for the evening: warming against the oncoming winter, sweet and inebriating. The whole of Vega is nodding along to the groove, Monday is redeemed.


ARTICLE: The many voices of Justin Vernon

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It comes as a shock to think that Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was released only six years ago. The album that launched Justin Vernon into a muddled collective unconscious was notably bare and intimate, wintry landscape, inspired by the solitary Wisconsin cabin in which it was conceived. It could have been a rugged example of American frontierism, but instead “Skinny Love” became stock music for TV teenage angst. A lesser man would have left it at that or cashed in quick.

Instead, buoyed by a series of apparently unlikely collaborations with Kanye West, Vernon released a Bon Iver album that utterly did away with the lo-fi insularity of its predecessor. Bon Iver, featured a much higher level of production, instrumentation and arrangements, and songs like “Hinnom, TX” seem to indicate that West ended up having some influence upon Vernon’s sound, however indirectly.

Listening to Bon Iver in chronological order, it becomes apparent that Vernon’s recent choice to tank the project is completely logical, with “Flume” and “Beth / Rest” as bookends. “Beth / Rest” always stuck out from the sophomore album as an oddly cheesy track, with Chariots of Fire-style synths and 80s saxophone. It is an experiment in tone that we have to respect, a divisive track that harkens back to Leonard Cohen’s 80s albums, the way the soul of a song permeates through the kitsch instrumentation.

Vernon is most often associated either with the “Skinny Love” sound or that of his Kanye collaborations, yet a quick look at his back catalogue is proof not only of the breadth of genres and sounds he has explored over his career, but also the number of people he has worked with. Not quite the solitary man in a cabin we once imagined.

Pre-Bon Iver, Justin was part of DeYarmond Edison, which, after his departure, became Megafaun. It’s always interesting hearing him harmonise with other people (as opposed to himself, as in “Woods”), and one of the best examples is in the Crosby, Stills and Nashe inspired tracks of DeYarmond Edison.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find him wearing Blues Brothers glasses, playing blues-rock and singing in a manner unlike anything we’ve heard him sing before with his other-other band The Shouting Matches. It is a timely reminder that there is definitely a light sight to Vernon, and that he has always operated on the margins of what can loosely be defined “Americana”, though the term does him a disservice.

Though there is likely to be no end to Vernon’s appearances on the most disparate albums imaginable, it is perhaps Volcano Choir that promises to be the successor to Bon Iver, since Volcano Choir’s new album also shows signs of a departure in sound, echoing those from Vernon’s previous band. Unmap had a certain wintry feel, but also featured higher production than the debut Bon Iver album, as well as relying much more heavily on cyclic guitar riffs and harmonized vocals. Some of the folk elements of the debut have been eliminated from the follow-up, Repave, and replaced with a more traditional rock instrumentation and touches of the anthemic.

It is tempting to draw up a timeline for Vernon’s career, tracing some kind of linear musical evolution. But what the selection presented here proves is that these different sounds, groups and voices have largely coexisted side by side. Whether he is playing on a Blind Boys of Alabama record or singing backing vocals for Kathleen Edwards or Megafaun, the evidence is that, Bon Iver or no Bon Iver, Justin Vernon will be around for quite some time.

LIVE REVIEW: Iceage, Jazzhouse, Copenhagen, 24.08.2013

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I returned home bruised. Earlier that evening, from outside the venue, I can hear Communions beginning their set. The ground floor of Jazzhouse is all curtains and jazz, smells of citrus and evaporated alcohol. Below, the Copenhagen band is thrashing around a mix of surf-rock riffs and jangle with a hardcore rhythm section. The singer’s voice is already dead, the band have Beach Boys haircuts, it works. The crowd is all there, swaying and nodding. There are still two hours to go before the headline act.

People rush outside at the end of the 45 minute set, spilling onto the street. Two cigarettes later, some trickle back in for Femminielli. Possibly the revelation of the evening, the Montreal one-man band strolls on stage like a latino Zach Galifianakis. Leather jacket, black shirt, sunglasses, massive beard. He thanks us like he’s receiving an Oscar, hits the keyboard and turns into sweaty sex-beast. Drawn out, repetitive beats, slowly evolving, writhe under Spanish-language monologues. I catch something about love and vampires, then he calls us “putos”, but this is a crowd that welcomes that kind of thing. After the second song, someone shouts: “Vamos a la playa!” Femminielli smiles, “you don’t want to be on the same beach as me.”

Another break. Shorter, more impatient. I find a place by the stage, determined to report from the front. I’m a journalist, damn it, I go where the story is! As the rest begin to amass around me, I get stuck next to a Bostonian politics student who tries to convince me there is more to Massachusetts than the Modern Lovers and Mission of Burma. I remain unconvinced. He asks me if people mosh here. I look around the room: pretty hipster girls, guys with cameras, 30-something web designers with close-cropped hair and awful glasses. I tell him it’s unlikely. I am wrong, very wrong.

Let me be clear: if anyone remembers the full Iceage setlist, they were standing in the wrong place. As the band enter the stage, white shirts, black pants, drunken Jehova’s witnesses, the mood tenses. Elias, the singer, looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Basketball Diaries. They begin their set with songs from their sophomore album, You’re Nothing. On headphones, the album sounds more fleshed out than their urgent debut, New Brigade. But live, even a slow, thudding song like “Morals” is pushed to its limits, urging the crowd into a slow-motion mosh, incited by a speeded up chorus. The bass pops and chuggs, guitar cranked up to a tinny, black metal screech. Drums roll, elbows fly.

Between songs, I see the Boston kid getting up from the ground. He shows me his bloody hand, happy. During “Coalition”, the album highlight, I find myself elbowing Femminielli out of the way as Elias lunges at people with fist and microphone. He’s screaming: “Excess, excess”. All of a sudden I feel drained. They play “Ecstasy” – fast guitar, weird disco drum beats and Nick Cave-style vocals – , and then disappear. It seems stupid asking for a encore. Looking at the time as I leave the venue, I see that the whole Iceage set lasted less than an hour. Unsurprising, really, given that both their albums combined clock in at half an hour each. It has been both a long and a short evening. Iceage depart victorious, the audience leaves dazed.

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