Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

LIVE REVIEW: Shirley Collins and the Lodestar Band, Alice, 25.03.2018

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Shirley Collins live at her first ever Danish concert at Kunsthal Charlottenborg for CPH:DOX

There is so much to say and discover about Shirley Collins that it is hard to see where to start. This is a problem that the documentary The Ballad of Shirley Collins needs to battle with, the mountains of material, but it is a problem easily solved by the presence of Shirley herself: warm, funny, and full of love the folk songs she has dedicated her entire life to. This night is a collaboration between CPH Dox and Alice, a double presentation of the film, followed by a concert. It is a strange experience to watch her on a big screen being fawned over by Stewart Lee and David Tibet, and before you know it the film is over and you are running to pee before the show starts and there is Shirley herself by the theatre entrance, beaming.

Accompanied by guitars, fiddle, banjo and shruti box, Shirley and her band work through a selection of material from Lodestar, as well as several of the songs featured in the film, which means that they are all imbued with a familiarity that allows the audience to focus on the details of the arrangements and the lyrics. During “Washed Ashore”, for example, I notice for the first time the detail that when the song’s protagonist finds her dead husband washed up on the sand, she recognises him by “the mark on his hand”. Implying that the rest of him is so bloated and disfigured as to be unrecognisable, which adds a certain dash of gruesome horror to the tenderness of her kissing him.

Shirley delights in these bloody details, particularly in songs like “Cruel Lincoln”, but can just as easily talk about the harsh realities she encountered in the pre-civil rights South. Several of her songs are American folk tunes that manage to surreally remember aspects of British culture long forgotten on the East side of the Atlantic. One of these she asks us to pay careful attention to, as one particular line is hilariously drawn out and requires a certain amount of temporal elasticity to perform. The odd misremembered line adds to the charm, as Shirley still recalls the content of the sections if not the full lyrics, and so amiably blusters a summary of them.

As the evening draws to a close the room is positively humming with goodwill. The complete lack of affectation in the performers, their dedication to music which they lay no claim towards, is incredibly refreshing, and must surely bring about our own private revival.

 

 

LIVE REVIEW: Lolina, Alice, 20.03.2018

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Inga Copeland live as Lolina for CPH:DOX at Alice in Copenhagen

Continuing a string of inspired bookings, Alice has brought Lolina–the latest moniker of London-based producer Inga Copeland– to Copenhagen a week after the release of her latest album, The Smoke. Both Copeland’s solo work and her collaborations with Dean Blunt are laced with a confrontational humour, and her latest effort is no exception.

But before we are plunged into the murky depths of Lolina, we spend some time with local producer Astrid Sonne. Accompanied by visuals of an abandoned waterpark somewhere in southern Europe, Sonne’s music mixes abstract electronics–always just on the verge of breaking into dance–with lush romanic stretches of viola playing. There is a curiosity to this, a mix of the cerebral and intuitive, that keeps you glued to the music and the screen.

When Copeland walk on stage in a trilby and pinstripe jacket, it is an indication of the jazz-teasing nightmares she is about to conjure up. The album and set opener, “Roulette”, features two atonally juxtaposed piano arpeggios that fly up and down the scale against each other until they are broken up by the mechanised blues of a bass and organ. “Whatever you’ve got lets light it / Whatever’s in my pocket lets spend it / If nothing left then fuck it…” she chants, as if to herself.

Copeland has a real sense for the uncanny, the way her bass lines lurch rather than groove, her drum sounds calculated to distress. This sounds like criticism but there is real artistry to it. Her only instruments are three digital turntables, a microphone and an effects unit, but she wields these with a light precision that belies the calculated broken quality of her music. Towards the second half of her set it seems she can’t help herself but throw in some of the grime that always lurks just beneath the surface of her work. And a filthy bassline is always welcome.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Greg Fox, Alice, 14.03.2018

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Greg Fox live at Alice in Copenhagen

In principle, watching a guy play drums for 45 minutes doesn’t sound like it would make for the most interesting concert. But in this case, the guy is Greg Fox, a drummer you could calibrate your metronome to. We’ve been repeatedly spellbound by Fox’s contributions to Liturgy, Guardian Alien, and Ex Eye, but how would his work hold up as a solo performer?

The premise of his most recent release, September’s Gradual Progression, is that Fox used Sensory Percussion — his kit feeding into modular synths via a MIDI — to create a fully-fledged ambient work. Woven with samples of saxophone and guitar, most of the sounds he’s working with are high pitched and mechanical, but the tenor of the set lacks much of the aggression of the other projects he’s involved with.

It’s difficult to tell if or how the sensors play into his live set; to the casual eye, he could just as easily be playing along to a backing track on the laptop set up next to him. But without other band members to distract or be physically set up in his path, this was the best opportunity to appreciate his skill. Fox seems to enter a trance when he plays — his eyes are rarely open — and it’s difficult not to feel meditative in his presence. If you couldn’t see the sweat flying from his face, it would all look completely effortless.

The intimacy of the evening isn’t underscored until the encore, when Fox returns to the stage to provide more insight into his latest work. Listening to him speak without a mic closes the space in and brings a human side back to the autopilot of his playing. He introduces an “experiment” — possibly to be found on his next album — which triggers a series of bird songs among the drumming. It’s whimsical and weirdly charming and guarantees that we’ll track down whatever he works on next.

LIVE REVIEW: Cindy Wilson, Hotel Cecil, 02.03.2018

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Cindy Wilson live at hotel cecil Copenhagen

There is no way to know exactly what to expect from Cindy Wilson’s solo set at Hotel Cecil. The B-52s singer released a debut album under her own name late last year that bears more resemblance to Hope Sandoval than new wave party rock. The show starts early, there’s just enough snow on the ground to delay buses and trains, and it’s our first visit to the new venue.

Hotel Cecil has preserved the feeling of Jazzhouse, though the bar now takes up more space. It’s the same intimate feeling, though, which is particularly good tonight because only about 50 people have shown up for the gig. This is the challenge that Wilson has walked out to, but she is instantly buoyant.

It helps that amongst the small crowd that has assembled are some super fans. They are here for Wilson as a solo artist, they know every word to every song on her new album and it’s preceding EPs, and they do not shout requests for B-52s’ songs.

Cindy Wilson live at hotel cecil Copenhagen

While some of the soft, dreamy vocals of the album make it through, Wilson’s live set is much higher energy. She’s swinging her arms and kicking around, surrounded by a band who grin like they’ve found the best gig in the world. Wilson is manipulating her vocals, twisting knobs, and tacking theremin outros onto almost every song. This feels like the logical place for the woman from the new wave band to be; performing live, it’s clear that Cindy Wilson is still a pop singer, but there is an experimental edge to it. There’s that little bit of weird that endures, that keeps her a safe distance from the blandness that she’s tried to avoid throughout her career, and she’s found it in a way that’s separate from the space and the band that has defined her up to this point.

With all that said, it’s an early night. Everything in Wilson’s solo catalogue only adds up to an hour, and by 21:30 it’s time to go home. Yes that hour was good fun, but maybe an opener on the bill would have fleshed out the evening a bit more.

LIVE REVIEW: Grandmaster Flash, Amager Bio, 23.02.2018

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Grandmaster Flash live in Copenhagen at Amager Bio

Grandmaster Flash throws a party on his own schedule. There’s a slow start to the evening at Amager Bio; a DJ has been spinning since the doors opened. About 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start, some break dancers run on stage and take turns showing off their old school moves. It’s fun and everyone in the crowd goes mad, but it only lasts 10-15 minutes, and then we wait another half hour for Grandmaster Flash himself to appear.

Things finally get started with a brief video about the history of scratching. This is formally the first part of the evening, in which Grandmaster Flash focuses on the legacy that has undoubtedly brought people out tonight, providing insight into his methods and his record collection. There’s also a camera set up on his rig synced to the screen behind him so we can watch him scratch in real time. It’s fun to watch, and considering this can all be done digitally now, it’s nice to appreciate the actual skill behind this approach.

This reflective state turns to a memoriam of hip-hop artists who’ve died: Phife Dawg, the Notorious B.I.G, Prodigy, Guru from Gang Starr, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big Pun, Heavy, MCA, Jam Master Jay, and Tupac Shakur. With the exception of Prodigy, enough time has passed since these artists’ deaths for the segment to feel celebratory rather than somber.

With a majority of these artists also hailing from New York City, there is a natural segue to Flash’s tour of the Five Boroughs (and Long Island). While the B-roll of street signs does start to wear thin, the narrative built around the show up to this point is impressive. It goes beyond nostalgia and becomes more of a history lesson.

But there is room for nostalgia. The reflective part of looking at the past is over, and now it’s time to hear 30 seconds of a song you love (or at least you know) before it cuts to the next track. Having had that extra hour to buy drinks, the audience is ready to oblige when asked for the umpteenth time to make some noise or throw their hands in the air. And even though a couple of drinks are flung for no reason and someone’s climbed on the stage and then been escorted out of the venue, this evening is joyful. Grandmaster Flash has instilled a sense of history in us, but the essence was always a good time.

Photo by James Hjertholm.

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.

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