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LIVE REVIEW: Ghostpoet, Vega, 11.02.2018

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Ghostpoet live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

It’s been a while since Obaro Ejimiwe, Ghostpoet, has played in Copenhagen, in this very same venue. The crowd, he jokes, has increased since then. A guest appearance with Massive Attack, and the reception for last year’s Dark Days + Canapés, will do that.

Another reason might be that all the opening bands’ schoolmates and parents seem to have showed up, lending the evening the feeling of a local gig, but if Ejimiwe notices the vibe he is too charming to mention it. In general the murkiness  of the material in his last album is contrasted by his open onstage persona, grooving along with the backing band. They open on perhaps the strongest track from Dark Day, the appropriately titled “Many Moods at Midnight”, with a simmering, Bad-Seed-channeling intensity.

Of course in a live settings a lot of the albums’ atmospherics are lost to the room, and Ejimiwe’s rather low-key vocal delivery sometimes struggles to cut through the band, who transpose the material into a decidedly more straight-forward indie rock tonality, all wiry guitars, grungy bass and some pleasant bleeps from a couple of nice Moog and Prophet synths. In this context songs like “X Marks the Spot” start to sound rather more like the Editors that I am comfortable with (the Editors being only the second most boring concert I have ever attended after Chvrches).

LIVE REVIEW: Circuit des Yeux, Alice, 10.02.2018

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circuit des yeux live at alice copenhagen

Circuit des Yeux has made reliable, yearly appearances in Denmark for the past few years, so it was appropriate and welcomed that she was the first performer we went out to see at our inaugural visit to the newly-opened Alice. The evening was set from the beginning to be reminiscent of something and somewhere else, seeing an artist who had made multiple visits to Jazzhouse playing in the remodeled Global, and debating whether or not the curtains had been moved from one location to another.

The focus shifted quickly when opener TALsounds took the stage. Her rich and romantic electronic music is built primarily around her voice and some piano being manipulated a dozen times while she hunches over various buttons. It was lovely and relaxed set, and TALsounds’ airy soprano seemed like it would be a polar opposite and perfect counterpart to frontwoman Haley Fohr’s alto.

That might be true of previous versions of Circuit des Yeux that we’ve seen. We were first taken with Fohr’s dramatic vocals when we saw her play a solo set, but Fohr’s voice has continued to develop in bold ways. She has now taken on theatrical, operatic ranges, leaping octaves with staggering control.

This is balanced nicely with Circuit des Yeux now touring as a band. Fohr was accompanied by drums and double bass, and backing musicians in addition to her samples (and some dramatic light projections) has also changed her performance style. Far from being hunched over her guitar with her hair in her face (as we first saw her), there’s a theatrical, almost imposing quality to Fohr’s stances. It was a nice pairing to hear her sing, “the arms ready to catch the fall” with her own arms stretch out in classic Greek theatre-style.

Her development in her comportment also makes Forh’s staccato vocal tricks that much more affecting. The vocal manipulation on its own is impressive, but with Fohr taking full possession of the space around her, the performance takes on an eerie, mystical element. She’s exciting to watch, and it’s exciting to consider what she’ll do next.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Wolf Alice, Lille Vega, 19.01.2018

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Wolf Alice live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

The perpetual buzz surrounding Wolf Alice has not subsided. For their sold out show at Vega, they’ve lured in a crowd ranging from jaded middle age rockists to enthusiastic teens wearing the band’s shirt — the sort of range you see at bigger venues for acts that have been around beyond a second album.

The band rise to the expectations. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell’s persona and posture shift with the delivery of each song, from crooning to shouting, proving right out of the gate that the depth of her vocal timbre isn’t a production trick. Meanwhile, the boys flanking her on guitar and bass are living out their rock star fantasies in real time. Guitarist Joff Oddie spends most of  “Space and Time” knocking his guitar around in a way that vaguely suggests frustration (or at least  the feedback wasn’t substantial enough for it to be for the sake of sound). But their crowd pleasing shtick is a successful one, and the audience eats up every occasion that they balance themselves on the monitors.

The energy only amps up as the show draws near to the hour mark. A mosh pit erupts towards the center. This would be cool except there is a row of teenage girls lining the stage and the pit mostly consists of men who are older (if only slightly) and larger and shoving from every direction. As bassist Theo Ellis has jumped up on the monitors and eggs the crowd on as he has throughout the gig, I’m now distracted, staring at this line of girls and watching more than one close call between a face and the stage.

Everyone gets out in one piece and everyone seems to have had a good time. But my enduring impression of the evening is the hope that those girls keep fighting their way to the front of the room, but also that they learn how to throw elbows.

Albums of the Year 2017

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Slowdive
Slowdive

Whether you count from their last studio album or from their initial reunion in 2014, we’ve been waiting on a new Slowdive album for a long time. But with their self-titled album, Slowdive have found the perfect balance between the dreamy guitars and their later electronic experiments. The results are delicate, heartbreaking, and absolutely worth the wait.

EMA
Exile in the Outer Ring

Erika M Anderson understands middle America better than most and tells her version without romance or sentimentality. Exile in the Outer Ring is a fried circuit, the narrative to our modern dystopia, and a fatalist slice of life. Lean into the noise and come away feeling completely wrecked — it’s extremely cathartic.

Mavis Staples
If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples recorded the greatest protest album of the year. With the help of songwriter/producer Jeff Tweedy, Staples taps into the rage, hope, empathy and plans of action that define America right now. No other album this year will uplift you and light a fire under you in the same way, regardless of how much attention you pay to the news.

Protomartyr
Relatives in Descent

When the year of Trump is coming to an end the album to end I’ll be waving my middle finger to is Protomartyr’s brilliant fourth studio album Relatives in Descent. Unlike Mavis Staples’s If All I Was Was Black this album offers little hope or comfort; it’s bleak and angry post-punk when it’s best. 

Arca
Arca

It’s strange to think of an album as dark and mysterious as Arca’s self-titled as the Venezuelan producer’s stepping into the limelight, but the revelation of his own gorgeous vocals accomplishes precisely that. This, together with his work on Björk’s Utopia, truly makes 2017 the Year of Arca.

Ryuichi Sakamoto
async

Opening with a piano full of classic Sakamoto romanticism, async quickly tumbles into a contemplative world of soft noise, in which natural sounds merge into machine drones, organs flow into synthesizers. If you needed further proof of Sakamoto’s enduring influence, look to the accompanying remixes by everyone from Daniel Lopatin to Arca and Yves Tumor.

 

Jane Weaver
Modern Kosmology

I came across Jane Weaver relatively late into her career, with the magical witch-glam of “Don’t Take My Soul”, but on Modern Kosmology Weaver has added a healthy dose of warm synths and motorik drum machines. Ground is left thoroughly unbroken, but this is the kind of low-key spaciness that I need at this time of year.’

the war on drugs

The War On Drugs

A Deeper Understanding

When The War On Drugs in 2014 released their magnificent album Lost In A Dream it seemed they had perfected the sound and musical style developed on their second album Slave Ambient. It was interesting to see what direction frontman Adam Granduciel and his band would go next. The answer came this year with A Deeper Understanding, an album that takes the listener even further into the strangely familiar, yet unique musical universe of Granduciel which must be considered a great success.

julie byrne

Julie Byrne

Not Even Happiness

When Julie Byrne played Jazzhouse earlier this year we were impressed with how she brought the beauty and intimacy of her album Not Even Happiness to the stage. The album is centered around Julie Byrne’s incredible voice, her finger-picked guitar, some minimal orchestral arrangement and her brilliant songwriting. In the song ‘All the Land Glimmered’ there is a line that I think captures the feeling of the album: “Will I know a truer time / than when I stood alone in the snow”.

LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Jazzhouse 05.12.17

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The Necks live at Brorsons Kirke in Copenhagen

It seems fitting that this, the end of the road for Jazzhouse, should take place in a church. The old venue in Niels Hemmingsens Gade has closed, and its requiem is being performed here, in Brorsons Kirke, by the Necks.

The Australian trio are often referred to as an improvisational jazz unit,  but don’t come expecting solos: their pieces typically emerge out of an initial fragment of piano or bass, from Chris Abrahams and Lloyd Swanton respectively, underpinned by the eery jangling of bells and cymbals that crowd the feet of percussionist and drummer Tony Buck. Small alterations will start to stack up until they reach a hypnotic intensity, such that the end can feel like been snatched back home after a long and strange journey.

The setting tonight is particularly conducive to the mix of concentration and wonder that the Necks are capable of producing. The band is softly lit in the centre of the small church, surrounded by the audience in warm, candle-lit gloom. On the other side of the room I see two older women, heads resting against each other, with closed eyes and beatific smiles, while on the other side of a room a kid in a baseball cap bobs his head like he’s at an industrial techno set.

Those two reactions help explain just why its hard to talk about the Necks’ music in a convincing way. There is a layer of abstraction to it that allows this huge divergence of interpretation. Tonight they play two sets of uninterrupted music, of roughly 45 minutes each, with an intermission in between.

The first slowly develops out of a beguiling, endless series of piano arpeggios that would put Lubomyr Melnyk to shame. This has the insistency of classical minimalism, but the bass and drums rescue it from an academic exercise and inject real pathos into the piece. At the same time Abrahams’ piano mutations feel closer to a DJ performing the perfectly beat-matched transition from one track to another, by subtly changing the emphasis in a chord.

The intense crescendos of the first set are replaced by a more brooding and searching second half, much closer to what you might have heard in the first couple of tracks from their latest album, Unfold. In this comparative quietness Buck’s percussion has a change to shine through more, especially towards the end when he manages to produce some banshee sounds from his kit by dragging a small cymbal against the skins of the drums.

There is a long pause at the end of the concert, as the last strains echo around the small church. Then the dream breaks, the lights go up, a cold December night comes grasping through the doors. So long Jazzhouse, and thanks for this, your last gift.

LIVE REVIEW: The Horrors, Lille Vega, 27.11.2017

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the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

You could be forgiven if the image conjured up by mention of the Horrors was one of too much hair spray and lanky moodiness. It’s an image they’ve sold for the last decade, from their initial emergence from the garage rock revival, never quite shed as they began to explore denser, dreamier arrangements, and supported yet again tonight at Lille Vega if by nothing else than the number of Unknown Pleasures t-shirts in the audience.

The band on stage, however, are not moody, loafing neo-goths, but a group of high energy stumbling and twisting their way around. Amidst a total onslaught of enveloping lights and dizzying strobes is singer Faris Badwan, glammed out in leather trousers and sequined shirt. He’s thrashing around from the word go, flanked by Rhys Webb and Joshua Hayward, who are more subdued in their dress and movements but test the limits of their energy and balance.

the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

The focus of their evening is the new album, V, and the set tacitly ignores their debut. Having cast off any garage rock associations, what is left is a lush wash of guitars and synths. The live arrangements have more focus on the rhythm section, and even if the albums don’t inspire you to dance there are people dancing now.

There’s a warmth and enthusiasm in the crowd, at one point inspiring a woman to shout, “I love you, Josh!” at Hayward, and prompting Badwan to demand, “And what about me?” Though Badwan has the pouting pose down pat, he spends most of the evening continuing to lunge about the stage and teetering on the monitors, at one point beckoning to a man in the crowd and then prodding him with a mic stand when he doesn’t respond. It seems like things could spill over at any moment, that Badwan could fling himself into the crowd while “Still Life” rolls on behind him, but it never gets that intense.

It’s all weirdly just fun.

LIVE REVIEW: Mark Lanegan, Amager Bio, 19.11.2017

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Mark Lanegan live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

Mark Lanegan has been around for decades, has worked with more bands and artists than can be committed to memory, and has had a hand in a broad range of projects. His set at Amager Bio, however, is more firmly rooted in the present. Focusing his setlist on his work post-2000 with a particular focus on 2012’s Blues Funeral and this year’s Gargoyle, he ping pongs between alt-rock and blues.

The focus on the last fifteen or so years is an interesting choice given that Lanegan’s appeal does not seem to be cross-generational. The room is full, but many look as though they could have been on this journey with him over the last few decades. It makes for a weirdly subdued evening, with a crowd that is attentive but not especially energetic. Lanegan himself is glued to his mic stand, almost like he’s trying to twist it free, and there is something shaky about his general body language.

It is unsurprising that when he does speak, Lanegan’s voice is shot to shit; it’s easy to imagine a permanent state of laryngitis. When he sings, though, his voice is stronger than any of his timbre feels like it has a right to be. It’s many of the quieter songs of the evening that steal the show, such as his cover of the Twilight Singers’ “Deepest Shade,” while “One Way Street” (performed with just his lead guitarist) and “Bleeding Muddy Water” leave you wondering why he would ever be anything other than a blues man.

But then it’s nice that there can be surprises from an artist who has found himself at home with different artists and different tones. “Ode to Sad Disco” (introduced as “born in this city [as “Sad Disco”] and borrowed by me”) is surprisingly poppy even in its live incarnation, and a cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” closes the set with a surprisingly lightness from both the arrangement and Lanegan’s vocals. If Lanegan continues to record and tour in the coming decades, and continues to live in the present, it’s safe to conjecture he will maintain that sort of enigmatic status.

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr and Metz, Loppen, 07.11.2017

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metz live at loppen copenhagen

On paper, Protomartyr and Metz sharing a bill seemed absolutely brilliant. And before we get any further, we’ll confirm that their co-headlined show at Loppen — evenly split with an hour for each band — was, in fact, brilliant. What we didn’t quite anticipate was how strange those two bands are when placed side by side.

Part of the discrepancy is that Protomartyr is not a band you immediately associate with being laid back. The brashness of their albums translates as more of a nonchalance live, not least because vocalist Joe Casey’s performance style is more voice actor than singer. His dry delivery is the defining characteristic of the band, and even though his physical presence is often stock still and a bit hunched, he is devastatingly effective.

“Sorry for spitting on the people in the front row,” he says in a rare bit of between song chat. “It’s what I do.” Casey can toss out throwaway lines with deadpan humor, but when he chants, “everything’s fine,” it’s disconcerting.

Protomartyr live at loppen copenhagen

But what really makes Protomartyr seem relaxed is when Metz take the stage and the opposite approach to performing in every way: Everything is louder, the band’s movements are more violent, and the half-spoken vocals are replaced with screaming.

The shift in energy is somewhere between deranged and comical. The next hour is filled with loud guitars alternating between clanging and vibrato. Drummer Hayden Menzies plays in a fashion that suggests he would smash anything set in front of him to pieces (though the layered effect on one cymbal that makes it sound like he’s hitting the lid of a trashcan is a nice effect). Frontman Alex Edkins is a relentless screaming mess, likely restraining himself from leaping across the stage only because Loppen has a low ceiling.

It’s on that thrashing note that the evening comes to a close, but even if the line up is a little strange, on the whole it is adeptly paced. It leaves you drained with no eardrums left to speak of, but absolutely satisfied.

Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: Thurston Moore, Jazzhouse, 05.10.17

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Thurston Moore live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It may have gotten slightly lost in the noise of Sonic Youth, but Thurston Moore is, when it comes down to it, a bit of a hippie. Of course even in the heyday of Sonic Youth you had the Manson references and Carpenters covers, but it’s in his latter day solo work that the twelve-string has really come out in force. If you’re anything like me, an acoustic solo set is only marginally more desirable than an unnecessary tracheotomy, but the great advantage of being such a curmudgeon is that I get to be pleasantly surprised.

Rather than being a watered-down version of the full band versions, these acoustic renditions of tracks from his latest Rock n Roll Consciousness benefit from being stripped down to a metallic simplicity. Thurston strides onto the stage with a goofy grin and the air of someone playing to friends at a dinner party, but his affability quickly transmutes as he gets stuck into playing.

Although its main association is with 60s folk-rock, the 12-string guitar can sound positively evil if played with sufficient force. Leadbelly, of course, had already proved this in 1935 with his Dead Letter Blues, the first 20 seconds or so of which sound like Sonic Youth half a century before Kim and Co had even cast an eye on a guitar. Not only do the doubled-up strings produce a considerably higher volume than a normal six-string, the slight differences in the tunings create phasing and resonance effects that can sound at turns like a sitar or a sack full of bells.

Not one to turn down an opportunity to create interesting noise, Thurston exploits this to its full potential in his playing, and it is the instrumental sections, culminating in a 10 minute feedback jam, that are the most interesting to me. Clearly though, I myself am a little out of phase with the audience.

Jazzhouse is sold out, the audience composed of die-hard fans who lap up every Thurston witticism and frequently shout out requests. To his credit, he rolls with these, indulging them to the degree that even though it is clear he has forgotten half the words to Psychic Hearts, the woman who keeps requesting it is earnest enough that he finishes the set by fishing out his laptop and looking up the lyrics.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Shabazz Palaces, Jazzhouse, 06.10.2017

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Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

With all the whispers that Shabazz Palaces were something akin to hip-hop meets Sun Ra, the expectations for what they were going to bring to Jazzhouse were high. Indeed as we waited for the set to begin, the individual stations, with their drums and electronics sitting neatly on draped colorful fabrics, suggested something vibrant or just more dynamic than what their albums bring.

The reality is about half true. The set starts off in total darkness and the lighting only improves to dim. There are hints of how wonderful their early 90s outfits must be, but it’s too dark to see the details. But what is immediately clear is that Shabazz Palaces sell themselves short on their recordings. The muted dub quality of the albums dampens everything from the vocals to the broad-ranging references, all of which come to life in their live set. Vocalist Ishmael Butler’s delivery has a lot more attitude and personality live, and the nuances of the percussion that are lost on the alums are laid out in a dazzling array: Drum machines, samplers, congas, snares, and a giant mbira among others. Percussionist Tendai Maraire quickly proves himself to be a multi-tasking monster.

Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

With this apparent attention to detail, it seems likely that it was a conscious decision rather than an accident of the sound system that the sub bass creeps and in squashes the vocals flat. Those moments are frustrating, because Butler’s style, and the duo’s occasionally synchronized movements in the darkness literally pull the audience in (though the opening to “Welcome to Quazarz,” insisting, “I’m from the United States of America/We talk with guns/Guns keep us safe” is feeling particularly grim the week of a mass shooting).

If Shabazz Palaces are Sun Ra levels of insane on stage, they are at the very least an energetic duo; Butler would probably rocket around the stage if he didn’t have to keep reining himself in to go back to his synths and samplers. Maraire has more the approach of a marathon runner and clearly understands the need to pace himself if he’s going to get through the set.

The set itself does drag out for nearly two hours and it feels it. Because while Shabazz Palaces have an undeniably strong sound, the focuses on the sound often surpasses the focus on songs. And as there are peaks and valleys in dancing, maybe it’s question of location — if the duo continue to go for lengthy performances, then visuals might be helpful, or at least a seated venue.

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