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Aldous Harding

Albums of the Year 2019

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Cate Le Bon
Reward

Having strayed from her signature guitar style into more textural, synth-based compositions, Cate Le Bon has found new ways to highlight her cool voice. Mostly down-tempo, occasionally punctuated by brass instruments, it’s a different approach but continues Le Bon’s quirky inclinations. We’re not entirely sure why this album is the album that made the world realize how wonderful she is, but are glad everyone else has caught up. 

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Kim Gordon
No Home Record

On her long-awaited solo debut, Kim Gordon taps into the Sonic Youth-style alt-rock that she built her career on. A little left-field but still catchy, Gordon calls on strong rhythms, whispered and raspy vocal deliveries, and a broader range of dynamics than much of her recent work. But when she does lean into the noise she’s so well versed in, it takes on weirdly soothing, meditative qualities.

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Lizzo
Cuz I Love You

It was a good year for albums about the end of the world. But if you wanted an album that actually made you feel good about yourself, Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You was it. This was the album for Lizzo to lean fully into being a pop singer, and the result is full of celebration and killer hooks. Whether she’s telling a boy off, contemplating running the world, or just feeling herself for being fabulous, Lizzo’s party is the party we want to go to.

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Alexander Tucker
Guild of the Asbestos Weaver

Anyone familiar with Tucker’s work as Grumbling Fur (together with Daniel O’Sullivan) will instantly recognise his signature kitchen-sink-sci-fi. On opener “Energy Alphas” a warm, buzzy bass drone weaves around Tucker’s plain-but-sweet chants and hissing drum machines. Formally minimalist but rich in texture (particularly with the treated strings that appear throughout the rest of the record), Guild of the Asbestos Weaver is a beautifully enigmatic haven.

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Jenny Hval
The Practice of Love

Jenny Hval’s latest work still features her airy, laid-back vocals and meditative synth-pop, but these are brought into a more conversational setting, juxtaposed with spoken word sections and snippets of interviews with other female artists. “High Alice” and “Ashes to Ashes” have that late night mixture of elation and anxiety previously found in “Female Vampire”, but the central and eponymous track somehow manages to achieve a similar effect by layering voices speaking over and against and through each other.

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Fat White Family
Serfs Up!

The excesses and controversies of the Family have always overshadowed their music, but since moving out of London and playing in several off-shoot bands, they are back armed with cartloads of bangers. Opener “Feet” is pure Pet Shop Boy histrionic dance anthem with a pounding synth line and a string section, whereas “Tastes Good With the Money” shows a lighter side, with a glam stomp and Baxter Dury channelling a cockney Serge Gainsburg.

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Aldous Harding
Designer

If you listen to Designer distractedly it might simply come across as pleasant, but if you have ever seen Aldous Harding play live you’ll know there is a taught energy undercutting all her work. Wide open eyes, a twitch at the edges of the mouth, something off-kilter with the laid-back vocals. You can hear it in the broken shuffle of “Designer”, and in the quiet background noises of “Damn”.

Big Thief
U.F.O.F

The first of Big Thief’s ambitious two-album release for the year, U.F.O.F. has all of the delicate qualities associated with their work. What feels significant is that frontwoman Adrienne Lenker has found a way to convey intimacy beyond fragility. Still vulnerable, but with a new sense of strength, U.F.O.F. will pull you in as close as you’ll let it.

LIVE REVIEW: Roskilde Festival 2019 Day 3, 05.07.2019

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wu-tang clan live at roskilde festival

As the sun shines and gives us respite from a day of chill and damp, Aldous Harding has set out to unnerve us. She plays beautiful folk music with a throwback 60s vibe, accompanied by a band of mellow players. She mostly sings in an unearthly soprano but has the vocal dexterity to sell the flat alto beloved of Nico fans. She also spends the majority of the set pulling faces and menacing her audience. From her seat with her acoustic guitar, she sneers and leers, glowering from behind her microphone with a hard, accusing look.

Aldous Harding live at Roskilde Festival 2019

Her band are all in on the joke, staring down or blankly ahead when not playing. They’re waiting for the audience to catch up with the joke, which some do with immediate laughter. It is the most engaging set by a person sitting down playing an acoustic guitar that we’ve seen in a long time. You could argue that Aldous’s performance methods detract from the beauty of her music, but quite plainly there are enough earnest singer-songwriters out there. There will never be enough weird.

Since our encounter with Sonic Boom at Alice a month or so ago we have been eagerly awaiting seeing his former Spacemen 3 bandmate Jason Pierce with his second legendary band (seems almost unfair to be allowed more than one), Spiritualized. Where Boom was minimalist Pierce is much more a maximalist, arriving on stage with a fivepiece backing band and a gospel trio on backup vocals. What emerges from this is a cathartic wall of space rock incorporating everything from Stooges-era garage to gospel and psychedelia. The noise is undercut by the fragile figure of Pierce himself, sat down hunched over his guitar, his foot nervously trembling over a wah wah pedal. It’s a captivating combination that distills 50 years of rock history into a plaintive cry that makes grown men openly sniffle as they headbang.

Spiritualized live at Roskilde Festival

We’ve had mixed success getting into Gloria this year, so we queue up early for Yves Tumor. It proves to be a good strategy; the room is packed for the artist and his band. The set is more straightforward rock than expected, with shades of glam rock (or properly eccentric hair metal) squelching out a lot of the electronics he is more commonly associated with. There’s something very Velvet Goldmine about the performance, and through the dark lighting on the stage we can see singer Sean Bowie hopping and thrashing about, his garment flowing around him. Better lighting might give us more of the effect compared to the silhouettes, but from our perch on the bleachers we can see bodies bobbing in time, sucking energy from this short set. As a festival set, it’s good, but it makes us want to see a performance that represents the full range of Yves Tumor’s catalogue.

yves tumor live at Roskilde Festival 2019

After the warmth and darkness of Gloria, the chill in the air and the brightness of the sky on the walk to Pavilion for black midi are little disorienting. black midi are a slightly mysterious, incredibly young four-piece from the UK. Until very recently they were just a name you’d hear about from the odd music journo at the Quietus, with absolutely no music online. Today at the Pavilion stage the reason for the hype becomes immediately obvious, with a blistering set of dexterity and musical exuberance. The band themselves, young as they are, are looking considerably more serious, possibly annoyed at the mixing of the vocals, but by the end, thanks to an impromptu call-and-response with the audience, they are grinning away and feel more at one with the calculated silliness that accompanies their technical proficiency. Think Don Caballero mixed with a touch of Les Claypool and you begin to get the idea. And with their debut album so recently released, it seems inevitable that black midi are going to go far indeed.

black midi live at Roskilde festival 2019

A quick run back to Orange Stage gets us to the Wu Tang Clan, a name that promises so much, possibly too much. After the puzzling introduction of the trailer for the RZA’s new movie, it’s immediately apparent that the sound is going to be absolutely dogshit for the rest of this set. The vocals are often inaudible, the samples mixed so oddly that half the time all you can hear is kick and snare. But the songs themselves are undeniable, anything from 36 Chambers is going to sweep the floor even if the sound quality is worse than an iPhone stuck down a toilet. But not wanting to have our musical memories tainted too much, we move on.

Underworld live at Roskilde Festival 2019

We move from one set of gristled veterans to another sort. Underworld are blessed with a markedly better sound at the Arena stage, which they use to its fullest to deliver their euphoric, rather campy style of house music. The tent is jam packed, lasers are flying all over the place, and the kick is powerful enough let you forget that the two people producing all this look like retired accountants. You can’t help but feel the pressure for them to end with their monument of a song, “Born Slippy”, which they milk for all its worth and deliver the almost definitional festival experience.

The energy of one dance band into another dance pop act will keep you riding high. It’s on this wave that we float over to Robyn’s headline slot on the Orange Stage. The Swedish pop queen is an old hand at festival performances, and she knows she could come out at full force with hits. She doesn’t do this. Robyn knows how to pace a show. It’s a slow build that includes a dancer and a costume change before she blasts into full Euro pop mode. She hits her stride on “Between the Lines,” shimmying and strutting and playing off of her backing dancer. The sound isn’t quite right and her vocals are too quiet, but the audience is into it, they’re warmed up, they’re in a peak festival state of mind.

We’ve been hearing “Dancing On My Own” all day. It’s come from various sound systems, out of phones, from passing groups just singing it. In many ways, this feels like the moment the entire festival is building up to. So when the opening chords of the song stream out, the crowd predictably goes nuts. Robyn silences her band and has the audience sing back the first chorus; she looks overwhelmed by the results. 

It’s kind of Robyn to bring this song out before the 2am mark, but a sign of her artistry that she doesn’t save her biggest hit for last, but rather where it fits best. Because even though the crowd thins at a faster rate when it’s done, the emotion is heightened for those who remain. Two girls shriek with joy for “Call Your Girlfriend,” and amorous couples willfully misunderstand the lyrics. But she brings us down slowly, so that when the last band member has left the stage it feels like a natural conclusion; of course we must now all drift on our own ways.

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