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LIVE REVIEW: Spoon, Amager Bio, 24.09.2017

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Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

It seems remarkable that in a 20+ year career Spoon has somehow never played in Copenhagen before, but they swore that their show at Amager Bio was their first here. It’s a shame that it’s a crowd thinned by he early-to-Roskilde set, but there is dedication in the audience — though it’s the band’s first time here, many have seen them before, and some have traveled a good distance to be at this show.

Indie rock as a genre has often supported a lack of professionalism as staying true to one’s roots. Spoon have somehow never seemed conflicted about moral integrity and turning out quality work. They have regularly turned out solid albums (for independent labels Merge and Matador), toured on solid if not flashy performances. It makes trying to pinpoint the exact appeal of Spoon is an interesting exercise.

Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

They have energy, but it’s not over-the-top; during an instrumental interlude, most of the band leaves the stage while a keyboardist plays a Low-inspired piece and frontman Britt Daniel lies prostrate on the drum riser. They have presence, but they shroud themselves in lowlight. They have charm, but they aren’t especially chatty (though they were apparently quite taken with Tivoli).

Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

They are a well-rehearsed band, which has a potential to stifle spontaneity but works wonderfully to their advantage as they are able to seamlessly work in an extended intro to “I Turn My Camera On” when the second guitar shorts out. But there’s something to be said for a band that has been around for 20 years who are as interested in what they’re doing now as what they were doing five, 10, or 15 years ago. Roughly half the set comes from their two most recent albums, Hot Thoughts and 2014’s They Want My Soul. Of course we want to hear the songs that were licensed into oblivion, but we want to hear them as living things that fit in with the new and not as relics of the past.

It’s one of the reasons why Spoon still feel current, why they don’t read as a ‘90s or ‘00s band. And that they’re low-key, unassuming, work horses instead of show ponies, is an angle that use to their advantage.

LIVE REVIEW: The Kills, Store Vega, 09.06.2017

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The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

There was a time when being the cool kids from East London would have gotten a band some mileage, but that time was at least a decade ago. Thank goodness that the Kills, as they continue to soldier on, have long since given up on that schtick.

If anything, the energy of the pair is the standout of their show at Store Vega. They manage to take up a lot of space as only two people, and Alison Mosshart in particular doesn’t stop moving for a hot minute. She’s forever throwing her body around and flinging her hair in a way that would have put the entire grunge era to shame. In between songs, she paces around in circles like a caged animal as though she needs to keep herself moving so she can physically launch her body into the next one.

The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

Jamie Hince seems content to let her be the visual focus and spends the set is a continuation of guitar licks and swapped instruments. There are a few occasions where a song could have ended earlier, without Hince’s extended riffing after the rest of the band cut out, but these bleeds help prevent the dead air that would have ensued with their otherwise non-existent chatter.

The focus of the evening is on tracks from their latest album, last year’s Ash & Ice, and the enthusiasm for the new songs is as real as for the older tunes (even if pre-recorded strings for “Siberian Nights” just don’t have the same impact live). Though the album has it’s mellower moments, the live set was picked to be straight high energy. “Echo Home,” one of the more subdued new songs, ends up being much more energetic live thanks to a more pronounced backbeat provided by the backing band.

It’s this relentless energy, and the pleasure the band seems to take in their own music, that makes the evening so unexpectedly fun. It’s nice to see Hince and Mosshart crack smiles, and to see moments of genuine affection between the two of them. It’s a glimpse into the future for jaded indie rock kids everywhere: Careful or you may start enjoying yourselves.

PHOTOS: Gnod, Loppen, 01.06.2017

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Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

 Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

LIVE REVIEW: The Black Heart Procession Play 1, Jazzhouse, 22.03.2017

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The Black Heart Procession live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

The Black Heart Procession broke a three-year silence to mount a modest European tour celebrating 20 years since recording their debut album, the pre-search engine era 1. If you didn’t know this going into their set at Jazzhouse, then you didn’t find out until after they had made it through the album and were into the encore. They’re not a band to make a fuss or really chat all that much between songs.

Opener Sam Coomes, touring his debut solo album, brought a glitchier version of his work with Quasi. Perched on an amp in lieu of a piano bench, he’s got an analogue drum machine, loads of twiddly knobs to twist between songs, a stuffed vulture mounted on his mic stand, a rotating mannequin head with LED eyes, and more pedals underfoot than seems logistically reasonable — including an air synth, which effectively acts as a theremin he can operate with his foot. It’s more visually stimulating than you’d expect a guy at a keyboard to be.

Sam Coomes live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

It’s not a competition for obscure objects to trot out during the show, but the Black Heart Procession begin their set with frontman Pall Jenkins playing a saw. And while it’s a neat party trick, it’s also a detail that demonstrates why 1 has aged so well in 20 years. The current line-up of the band, augmented by accordion and violin as well as drums and synths, is mostly built around organic arrangements not subject to technology’s fads or evolution. It also emphasizes the band’s range of dynamics in a way that is lost on their albums: Everything on the recording always sounds very mellow and delicate, and it’s surprising just how loud a song like “Release My Heart” can be.

The encore is less orchestrated: “A Cry for Love” (because it’s curiously popular on YouTube), “The War is Over,” and the treat of an unnamed new song. The new song is introduced with a brief speech from Pall, who explains that the song is about borders and refugees and how the rhetoric in the US is uncomfortable for two guys who grew up near the Mexican border. And while the Black Heart Procession doesn’t seem like the sort of band to get political, the new song is undoubtedly one of theirs. If this marks a new direction, it won’t take fans far off course.

LIVE REVIEW: Emmy the Great, Ideal Bar, 27.03.2017

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Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

It’s an interesting choice for an artist, especially an established artist, to start a show with a cover of someone else’s song. That Emmy the Great chose to start her gig at Ideal Bar with the Cranberries’ “Dreams” in Cantonese was an interesting artistic move, a moment for everyone who recognized the tune to feel clever, and a talking point about how the hallmark of a song’s popularity in Hong Kong is the number of Chinese cover versions of it (apparently there’s a techno one of “My Heart Will Go On” that we should all either seek out or avoid like the plague).

It’s a quirky but competent beginning, one that sets the tone for Emmy (née Emma-Lee Moss) to tell stories about songs and a childhood in Hong Kong. She’s alone on stage with her guitar and a pocket-sized synth set-up, but clearly comfortable with chatting about herself in a way that’s self-deprecatingly charming, at telling you little facts about songs that meander just the right amount.

In this solo set up, it’s interesting to see how much her style has changed from her debut album, First Love — written primarily for solo acoustic guitars at a time when everyone was drooling over Bon Iver and plotting to move to a cabin in the woods. Her work since then has come with more complete band arrangements, relying less on finger-picking, and when it’s played by her solo, it’s in a stripped back form. It’s clear that she has given thought to how she would perform them — even the requests she takes from the audience (she can only play half of them — one fellow is particularly bad about choosing songs she can remember).

The evening is best represented by Moss’s latest single, “Mahal Kita,” an upbeat pop song about foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. It’s a final look at the personal history she’s shared all evening and how it radiates beyond her. It looks beyond the exploitation of workers and focuses on what they do to reclaim their senses of self. Moss is marking out a next phase, beyond the super-personal songs, beyond just guitars, toward something ever more ambitious.

Photo by Alex Lake.

PHOTOS: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.2017

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Future Islands

Future Islands

Future Islands_

Future Islands

Future islands

Future Islands

Future Islands

Future Islands

Future Islands

Future Islands

LIVE REVIEW: Ed Harcourt, Pumpehuset, 15.02.2017

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Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset

Ed Harcourt is a versatile performer. Over the years, I’ve seen him play in dive bars and concert halls, with a full band and solo at an unstable upright piano in an old man’s pub. His set at Pumpehuset, however, removed him from notions of singer-songwriter and took the idea of one man band to another level.

Harcourt’s latest album, Furnaces, is full of dense production that doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to a solo performance without a lot of prerecorded tracks. And to be fair, he does have a number of prerecorded tracks at the ready for new songs and his back catalogue. What Harcourt also has, in a quantity I’m unable to count, is looping pedals. This means tracks are sometimes built from the drums up, but also that there are subtler shifts of multiple guitar or piano parts layered without fanfare.

It also means that no matter how familiar you are with Harcourt’s work, it’s impossible to predict what form songs will take. “Occupational Hazard” is reconstructed by drums, then guitar, then piano, and back to guitar, whereas the indie pop of “Church of No Religion” is stripped back to loop-free acoustic guitar. And we all learn a valuable lesson in etiquette: A whoop from the audience while Harcourt is trying to loop a tape played back from a Fischer-Price tape recorder gets picked up by the mic, requiring him to start again.

Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset
Photos by James Hjertholm

It’s one of many awkward but strangely endearing encounters between Harcourt and the small crowd that’s assembled. We’ve all decided to be in on the joke, whether he’s pondering aloud if he should buy a ball gag or inviting an audience member whose shirt he admires to go on a shirt pilgrimage to Milan with him. It’s why we laugh at these monologues and maybe why during “Until Tomorrow Then” Harcourt steps off the stage to serenade the crowd — a recurring schtick for this song — people hug him.

He’s already reached the two hour mark by the time he comes out for his encore, at which point the audience starts calling for older songs. He complies readily with “Music Box,” with laborious effort for “Shanghai,” and skirts a request for something from Lustre by vamping the chorus of “Haywire.” He’s nearing the end of his tour and has pointedly said that he doesn’t care how long this drags out. And quite plainly, staying past curfew to take your obscure song requests says more about how an artist feels about his audience than weird banter or even hugs ever could.

LIVE REVIEW: Teenage Fanclub, Lille Vega, 10.02.2017

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There’s a strange air at gigs of bands who hit their commercial peak in the ‘90s but never broke up. It’s the oddity that always being around never created more demand, that their availability didn’t spark the imaginations of a younger generation who could only hypothesize what it would be like to see them play live, that the devoted are the same devoted of 25 years ago.

And with that in mind, the vibe at Teenage Fanclub’s Vega show is curiously energized. These are the same devoted of 25 years ago, middle-aged or closing in on it fast, but they aren’t stuck in the early ‘90s. These are people who know the words to the songs from 2016’s Here, who call repeatedly for “Baby Lee”  (which doesn’t get played), who erupt when the band plays “It’s All in My Mind.” They’re the sort of crowd who have seen this band many times before and know the earliest work is saved for the very end of the set and wait patiently to hear it.

Teenage Fanclub themselves hit on a signature sound somewhere around the release of Grand Prix, and their new songs blend seamlessly with the old. It helps that over the years they’ve all become stronger singers, stronger players, and have found a place for their keyboardist/third guitarist to add an extra, shimmering layer to every song. It’s not a flashy or visually stimulating set, but it’s technically solid and full of positivity. 

Norman Blake in particular looks incredibly happy with his lot in life. He’s not bothered by the middle-aged couple down front talking selfies with the band behind them, nor is he fussed by the woman in a red dress who jumps up on stage towards the end of the set. All of the band look perplexed, but the woman, dancing around the stage, isn’t being obnoxious, isn’t getting in the way, isn’t trying to assault the band, so everyone lets it slide. She dances with their guitar tech and when the song ends gives a courtly hand to Blake, who looks amused and charmed. It’s about the least embarrassing way that scenario could have played out.

The lead up to the end of the evening rolls back the clock through “The Concept” and “Star Sign” before landing on their debut single, “Everything Flows.” If you’ve listened to the album version of “Everything Flows,” it’s easy to appreciate how much more tuneful the live performance is, how they’ve learned to build on the foundations of what their music was then but retain the raw, ramshackle energy that made it exciting in the first place. It’s a little emotional to watch because even if you as an individual do not have that attachment, everyone around you does. The band does. And it’s a good moment.

 

PHOTOS OF THE YEAR 2016

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Mø

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh, Tom Spray and Amanda Farah

Mø (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Courtney Barnett (Photo by Tom Spray)
Savages
Savages (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bob Hund live (photo Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Le Butcherettes (photo by Amanda Farah)
Action Bronson
Action Bronson (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Chvrches (photo by Tom Spray)
A Place To Bury Strangers performing at Loppen in Copenhagen
A Place To Bury Strangers (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bisse
Bisse (photo by Morten Aagard Krogh)
Jackie Lynn
Jackie Lynn (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Gojira (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Wiz Khalifa
Wiz Khalifa (photo by Tom Spray)
mac demarco live roskilde festival
Mac Demarco (photo by Tom Spray)
Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen
Angel Olsen (photo by Amanda Farah)
guardian alien live roskilde festival
Guardian Alien (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

Here Today’s Albums of the Year of 2016

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We’re not going to spend time talking about what a brutal year 2016 was for music lovers. Regardless of what genre you favor, 2016 was a year that took someone away from you. And while that might be the most immediately enduring sentiment about the past year, it’s necessary to take strength in the incredible music that was released this year. In the past 12 months, we’ve been blown away by newcomers and watched artists we’ve been rooting for all along come into their own. We’ve welcomed back old friends and received beautiful goodbyes from heroes. It’s because it’s been such an extraordinarily, musically rich year that we’ve made it through at all. These are our favorites:

Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

Angel Olsen
MY WOMAN
[Jagjaguwar]

It’s two short years ago that Angel Olsen first captured our hears, but she’s come a long way from her minimalist, finger-picked solo guitar tracks. On MY WOMAN, Angel builds out her dreamiest moments into vast washes of rumbling guitar with vague memories of folk somewhere in the distance. This hasn’t stopped her from writing snappy pop songs or experimenting with synthesizers. Her vocals are just as moving as ever, but where quiet whispers were once her stock and trade, there is real evidence that Angel could be a leading rock vocalist of her generation.

And that’s what is so exciting about both Angel and this record: On MY WOMAN, she shows not only that an understanding of what she does so well, but that her own potential is limitless. More to the point, we can see now that she’s ambitious enough to follow that potential it wherever it takes her. — AF

Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Puce Mary
The Spiral
[Posh Isolation]

When Puce Mary released The Spiral, her third LP, she played a release concert at Mayhem, and the performance she gave is a serious contender to being the most intense of 2016. Stripped of the insane decibels, Puce Mary’s confrontational yet trance-like stage appearance, the lights and the smoke, The Spiral is still a captivating experience. The eight tracks on the album are very distinct, yet they blend together forming a whole that sucks you in as it progresses. Puce Mary is a master of contrasts, her music is brutal yet subtle, even fragile, and even though compositions are industrial, her music feels alive like an organism.

Last but not least:  It sounds amazing. The noise, the textures, the strange field recordings, the distorted vocals. The Spiral is an intense and demanding record, but also truly inspiring and in it’s own, complex way beautiful. — MAK

Mitski live Copenhagen Loppen

Mitski
Puberty 2
[Dead Oceans]

While it seemed as though she appeared from nowhere to make us get in touch with our feelings, Mitski has been toiling away for years now. Her fourth album, Puberty 2, perfectly combines her prolific efforts with a youthful perspective and energy and just enough life experience to make you believe her. The album is full of subtle bleeps and horn flourishes, but watching her play stripped back versions of the album was a highlight of the year.

It takes a good amount of self-awareness to call your album Puberty 2, and so much of its charm is her unabashed willingness to be awkward — which somehow also makes her the coolest girl in the room. You will feel like Mitski just gets you, and you’re probably giving yourself too much credit. We definitely understand the impulse, though. — AF

Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[GOOD]

The Life of Pablo is a tricky, slippery thing of an album. Less of an album, really, than a saga, an half year long event tracking the evolution of an album. But really, it’s just a collection of some very good tracks by a producer who, whatever else he might be, is also touched by genius. From Nina Simone and Arthur Russel, via Chicago house, to Frank Ocean and Desiigner, Kanye’s sample palette is as diverse, crazy and unique as ever.

In 2013 Kanye West marked the death of physical media with the cover of Yeesus, an “open casket to CDs”. That was an album full of energy joyous destruction. It seems fitting that with The Life of Pablo, Ye confronts us with the direct evidence of the technical and emotional demands of the new dominant technology. Keep it loopy. — CC

Cate Le Bon live

Cate Le Bon
Crab Day
[Drag City]

There is a feeling of kinship that runs through Cate Le Bon’s music, that if you yourself have ever toed the line between interesting and just strange leads her to sound identifiable even in her most abstract images. Le Bon is a master of oddball pop songs, with her ramshackle style of guitar playing and many unique turns of phrase.

Crab Day demonstrates the same dry vocal delivery that has always set her apart and given her music so much personality, but this time she’s pushed herself and her sound to new depths. She’s stretch her vocal range and brought a new emotional connection to her songs, which is emphasized in her commitment to her visual lyrics. She’s also introduced some legitimate guitar solos to her work. Album closer “What’s Not Mine” stretches to seven minutes of everything we find charmingly off kilter about Cate Le Bon’s music, which is to say, it’s perfect. — AF

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

Fat White Family
Songs for Our Mothers
[Fat Possum]

Few bands are able to channel hatred with the pure intensity and conviction of the Fat White Family. If this is their “difficult second album”, the difficulty lies more in their own physiological limitations, rather than in a lack of ideas or direction. Songs for Our Mothers promised to “dance to the beat of human hatred”, but little did we know back in January the degree to which that emotion would imprint itself in 2016.

Harold Shipman, Ike Turner, Goebbels: the gleeful offensiveness of the cast goes hand in hand with a deeper moral outrage, as the Family wrap themselves further and further in darkness, with only their humour and some wicked riffs for support. There’s no knowing what the next year will bring, but we can only hope the Fat White Family will be around, in some form, to rage against it. — CC

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch
[Sacred Bones]

On the face of it, this is a synthpop album about female vampires. But anyone approaching Jenny Hval’s latest album with the expectation of a thematically-coherent concept album clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Jenny’s dark and aloof sense of humour are present in all her work, and particularly on stage, and this year’s effort manages to be a lot stranger than it promised to be.

Though there are undeniably some very lush synth pieces on this record, particularly in its two singles, “Female Vampire” and “Conceptual Romance”, we don’t necessarily rush to Jenny for her tunes, but rather for the oddities that surround them. A moment of creepy melancholy in “Untamed Region” (I told you she was funny) is punctuated by a clip of documentarian Adam Curtis talking about the helpless confusion that seems to characterise our era. Jenny Hval isn’t pretending to guide us out of that confusion, but what she builds upon it well worth the listen.

— CC

PJ Harvey
The Hope Six Demolition Project
[Island Recordings]

The Hope Six Demolition Project is the follow up to the Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake, and PJ Harvey continues along the same lines collaborating with Mick Harvey, John Parish, Flood and documentary photographer/filmaker Seamus Murphy. But this time she has taken a more conceptual approach and adopted a role as a sort of singer/songwriter journalist reporting from her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. This also applies to the recording process, that was framed as a performance open to the public. While some critics have expressed skepticism about the mix of music and reporting, we applaud her exploration of music as vehicle for change, and together with the albums distinct sound, musical quality and her impressive live performance this earns her a place on our list.

Honorable Mentions

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

Danny Brown – Antrocity Exhibition

Lambchop – Fotus

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Factory Floor – 2525

Holy Fuck – Congrats

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

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