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LIVE REVIEW: Tusks, Ideal Bar, 18.02.2020

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Tusks live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

It’s an evening of firsts for Tusks. It’s the band’s first gig of the tour. It’s frontwoman Emily Underhill’s first time in Denmark. It’s their guitarist’s first ever show with the band. And for most people in the crowd it will be their first gig of the year, starting off mellow and broody.

Though usually presented as Underhill’s solo project, Tusks are on stage at Ideal Bar as a fully-formed outfit. The difference this presents between the album recordings is immediate. Though there is plenty of guitar on Tusks’ albums, they are much more prominent here — which is before you account for synth track “Bleach” being reinterpreted for guitar in this set. 

There is a bedroom recording quality to Tusks’ output, but that feeling is absent here. Despite a laptop, a synth, a tablet set on an amp, and a whole mess of pedals, there is nothing swampy about the music. This is in large part because the vocals and drums are prominent rather than buried under reverb. There are still some chill out moments, as when they play “Mind,” and people are dancing in their own contorted ways.

That prominent, individual feeling of each instrument reshapes some songs in significant ways. Penultimate songs “Salt” has lost the softness of its recording and is instead strongly rhythmic. The synth lines are clearer, there is an extra floor tom, and the tune on the whole is more energetic and exciting.

It’s not an isolated moment; “Last” is only the second song in the setlist, but the band attack it with an energy usually reserved by performers for their final piece. Underhill pulls a similar trick for “Avalanche” when, after a quiet introduction, she counts her band in with a mischievous smile for a thunderous outro. It underlines the difference between Underhill the producer and Underhill who fronts a rock band. The version of Tusks she brings to the stage is more approachable, more dynamic, but exudes the same coolness. 

Albums of the Year 2019

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Image result for cate le bon reward

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. 

Image result for kim gordon no home record

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.

Image result for lizzo cuz i love you album cover

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.

Image result for alexander tucker guild of the asbestos weaver

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.

Image result for jenny hval the practice of love

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.

Image result for aldous harding designer

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: Boris, Vega, 01.12.2019

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Boris live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Boris have gained cult status with their idiosyncratic take on slow, ominous waves of distorted guitars. Having collaborated with everyone from doom lords Sunn O))) and noise king Merzbow, Boris are the kind of band you bring a spare set of earplugs when you go see them. So their opening song, “Away from You”, comes as surprise: the delicate, reverb-y guitars, tasteful drumming and breathy vocals are about as far away as you can get from noise.

But Boris have never been a band that’s easy to define. With countless albums to their name, they have slowly morphed away from chugging psych band to a more genuinely experimental outfit, borrowing with ease from shoe-gaze, abstract noise and J-pop.

The confirmation of this comes with “Coma”, second track both of the set and their latest release, LOVE & EVOL: the sense of space is still there, but this time it is tackled with their signature wall of noise. Having seen Sunn O))) about a month ago it’s interesting to see that guitarists Atsuo and Wata are employing a similar live technique to Stephen O’Malley and co, slowly gesturing each chord change in order to synchronise with the ponderous tempo.

What’s so impressive about Boris in a live setting is how the trio manage to produce so much out of two guitars and a drum kit. It helps of course that Atsuo and Wata have an endless supply of pedals and pre-amps at their disposal, Atsuo supplementing his down-tuned guitar with an extra bass neck (as if Boris are ever in need of even more low end), Wata achieving the same effect electronically.

The energetic soul of the band is drummer and vocalist Takeshi, who tonight is in full stadium-goth mode, black lipstick and head mic. Boris may be experimental, but they are also fun. They nod to their origins with a cover of the Melvins’ song that gave them their name, and close with the lush, My Bloody Valentine-inspired “Farewell”. Which proves they also have a taste for appropriate titles.

LIVE REVIEW: Lankum, Alice, 29.11.2019

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lankum live at alice copenhagen

There is an inherent darkness to Lankum’s music. The Irish folk quartet place a strong focus on the texture of their arrangements and the word “apocalyptic” comes up frequently during their set at Alice.

They open with “Wild Rover,” the first song off of their latest album, The Livelong Day. The slow build of the song is a good representation of their song structures. The harmonium comes in halfway through the song and serves as a constant, ominous hum throughout the evening. It’s referred to as “that thing that sounds like the apocalypse,” and often requires Radie Peat to sit on the floor to play it, out of the line of sight of most of the audience.

The band layer vocals and harmonies three and four at a time, but their goal is never to blast the audience away. The same way they create texture with their instruments, they create textures with their vocals, and nuance takes precedence over volume. There is a lot of subtlety beneath the moodiness of their songs. The slow builds in complexity are exemplified when the band stitch together their darker tracks with the foot-stomping melodies more commonly associated with Irish folk music (outside of Ireland, at least).

But the band themselves are a bit more light-hearted than their music — or their suggestion of their music — might lead you to believe. Their chatter between songs is funny, warm, and often self-deprecating. They introduce the song “The Rocky Road to Dublin” with a story about being included on a competition show called Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song. “All we can say,” says Ian Lynch, “is this is not Irelands’s favorite folk song.”

Lankum are also another band resisting phoney encores, and Peat comments that it is deeply embarrassing to leave the stage, assume people want you to come back, and figure out how long you need to stand behind the curtain. Instead, the band simply asked if people wanted them to play two more songs. The audience did, and so the band did.

LIVE REVIEW: Holly Golightly, Loppen, 24.11.2019

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holly golightly live at loppen copenhagen

“Cuddle in,” Holly Golightly says as she and her band take the stage at Loppen. People drift away from their tables and towards the stage and suddenly the room feels different. With dozens of albums and years as a performer behind her, no one is at this show by accident. This is a friendly audience that is ready to oblige.

“We’ve got a new setlist: Same songs different order,” she says. A chuckle goes around the room and Gollightly remarks, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

It will, indeed, be the running gag of the evening. The band will tease each other about what song is next, who actually starts the songs, who actually has decent enough vision to read the set lists. It’s also true that if you’ve seen Golightly at some point in the last decade, or listened to a live album, you’ve heard some version of this collection of songs: Of Golightly’s clipped voice, her ramshackle guitar, her line between Americana and blues with a little garage holdover.

It does make the set reasonably representative of her work, from her standard opener “Crow Jane” to “Satan is His Name” off last year’s Do the Get Along; even Brokeoffs’ track “Mule Skinner” makes its way in as a dedication to everyone who has to go to work on Monday morning. 

Beyond all the quips about the band’s lack of professionalism, there are moments that take you by surprise. Golightly never really fully shifted her punk snarl to a country twang; she always maintained an appealing roughness to her vocals. But for jazzy number “My Love Is,” with the band stripped back to just bass and percussion, her vocals completely smooth out to a croon. Watching her, it’s suddenly clear that she could push her voice to very different depths if she wanted to. She could abandon the blues, Americana, garage rock all together and remake herself in a different image. 

But then again, you don’t stick around in music this long without keeping a few tricks up your sleeve.

LIVE REVIEW: Sarah Louise, 18.11.2019

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sarah louise live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

If your introduction to Sarah Louise was through her lush folk album Deeper Woods, or her trad Appalacian duo House and Land, you might be surprised by her current live set up: Her characteristic 12-string has been replaced by an electric, but the main elements are a sampler, synth, and pedals. On her latest release, “Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars”, she channels the cosmic music of Alice Coltrane and krautrock as she does her more traditional folk influences.

The common element throughout is Sarah Louise’s powerful voice, soaring above fingerpicked guitar and drum machines alike. The concert hall at Alice has been reduced in size by black velvet curtains, the audience huddled together at tables, and Louise’s down-to-earth presence gathers everyone together into a warm cloak against yet another wet autumn evening.

This is not Sarah Louise’s first time in Denmark, having played at Fanø Free Folk Festival in 2018 with House and Land, but it’s only fitting that this be her first trip to Copenhagen, ending the current season of Free Folk Mondays at Alice.

There is more of a DIY feel to the songs in a live settings, particularly in the charmingly unselfconscious drum presets that ring oddly beside the drones and rattles and bells. This new approach works surprisingly well with Sarah Louise’s older material as well: the sparse, electric version of “Bowman’s Root” seems to have switched seasons, from autumn to winter.

LIVE REVIEW: The Twilight Sad, Lille Vega, 13.11.2019

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The Twilight Sad live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

We should probably know when we look over five songs into the Twilight Sad’s set at Lille Vega and see a middle-aged man with tears streaming from his eyes that the evening will not leave us unaffected. It’s easy to be distracted; the set of songs — primarily pulled from their latest album, the creatively punctuated IT WON/T BE LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME — are at at times a blindingly loud crush of tremolo-laden guitar.The sound is remarkably balanced considering this almighty noise; that the bass and keys can exist harmoniously in the mix and not as an ill tempered screech and thud feels miraculous. This is to say nothing of singer James Graham’s voice — his full-throttle bellow never waivers. It’s a wonder that his vocal cords aren’t in shreds. 

But watching him is what makes the set take on a heavy energy. He’s pulling faces, twisting his body, spinning with abandon. It feels like watching someone work through something quite serious in real time. The rest of the band are stoic behind him, perhaps with the exception of drummer Sebastien Schultz, who looks like he might levitate straight upwards from behind his kit.

The Twilight Sad live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

It’s hard to imagine how Graham has the physical energy to move like this, to contort his face and body with that strange, protracted violence. But then he’ll say a few words to the audience and it’s as if he’s broken character, suddenly polite and soft spoken.

The tenor of the set changes with their penultimate song, a cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “Keep Yourself Warm.” Suddenly, it’s clear what is and isn’t a performance coming from Graham: His voice is stretched thin as he reaches for notes, and body is totally still, and maybe it’s projection, but it looks like he swallows hard as he stands with his eyes closed on the outro of the song. All the while a man down at the front of the stage has been waving his phone, clearly trying to get Graham to read something on it. When Graham opens his eyes notices it, he looks briefly very annoyed as he takes the device and reads whatever is written out on it. We’ll never know, but Graham immediately drops down and embraces the man, who starts sobbing on his shoulder. A long moment passes like this, a barely audible “It’s going to be okay,” can be heard, and Graham gets up to explain the importance of remembering the band’s friend Scott Hutchison, of keeping his memory and music alive. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it.

The Twilight Sad live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

It takes Graham a minute to move into set closer “And She Would Darken the Memory,” but now his performance seems like a defense mechanism, as though he can twitch himself back into the right frame of mind. He shouts off mic a couple of times like he’s trying to pull himself together. Does it work for him? Does it work for any of us? It’s an emotionally draining performance just to watch. But it’s unforgettable.

LIVE REVIEW: Metronomy, Store Vega, 29.10.2019

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metronomy live copenhagen

Metronomy’s concert at Store Vega is their first headline set in Copenhagen in five years. It seems that the city has missed them. The venue is not sold out, but it’s reasonably full for a Tuesday night and for a space far larger than they’ve played here before. The band have the following day off and have declared it a Friday night. 

The audience are willing to comply. Encouraged by the dancing on stage — best directed by bassist Olugbenga Adelekan — the crowd are moving. Half the songs for the evening come from their new album, Metronomy Forever. The band are practiced enough to pace the set, all but alternating song for song between new and old. The effect is perfect: The band are energized by the new songs and the crowd is stoked on the familiar.

While Metronomy aren’t big on pageantry, there are oddities that make there show a unique experience. The keyboardists have their rigs on wheels, and, when left alone on stage for “Boy Racers,” slowly creep them from opposite ends of the stage to meet in the middle. There’s a surreal bit where, to match atmospheric music, frontman Joseph Mount suggests that there could be animal calls to match the mood. “We’re near the sea. You might hear a whale. Or a seal,” he suggests with a keyboardist supplying the appropriate sound effects. What the audience call back is an odd cacophony of what may or may not be animal sounds. But everyone seems pleased with their contribution.

It’s interesting that Metronomy, now 20 years on from Mount’s initial concept of the band, still feel like they’re playing with new ideas as performers. Band members switch up instruments and drift on and off stage as they’re needed. Half the band are wearing white, Neu! inspired jumpsuits and the rhythm section have coordinating chambray shirts. And there’s enough dancing on stage of various levels of slickness to prevent the energy in the room from even dipping. The band have remained reliable in terms of their output, but as they’re playing bigger stages it feels like they’re still looking for ways to push themselves.

On a final note, when Adelekan was introduced by Mount, a woman in the front row ran her hands down his leg. Adelekan took it in his stride and the woman appeared to be quite inebriated. Nevertheless, and just in case it needs saying: Don’t grope performers on stage. It’s never okay.

Photo by Mai Vanilli.

LIVE REVIEW: Church of Misery, Loppen, 22.10.2019

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church of misery live at loppen christiania, copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Japan’s seminal doom band, Church of Misery, have survived a quarter of a century and countless lineup changes (their bassist Tatsu Mikami being the only stable member) with a very simple formula: denim flares, Sabbath-worshipping stoner riffs, and songs about serial killers.

The four-piece take to the stage with little fanfare other than the standard bearing their name and logo, and from the way vocalist Hiroyuki Takano languidly introduces the band, you can tell that Church of Misery’s dedicate is exclusively to the re-creation of their most beloved music.

Take “Make Them Die Slowly” from their 2016 album And Then There Were None: that slow 4/4 kick drum, couple with the detuning at the end of the guitar riff are pure “Iron Man”, although not even Sabbath could come up with lyrics quite as gleefully tasteless as this.

church of misery live at loppen christiania, copenhagen

Church of Misery seem to aim to take things to their extremity: the most rigorously orthodox sound, the most brutal subjects possible, the most 70s flares you could imagine. Mikami’s bass is slung so low that half the time it is resting on the floor. And the end result is undeniably fun.

LIVE REVIEW: Goat, Alice, 09.10.2019

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Goat live at Alice Copenhagen

Mention of the band Goat brings to mind a certain group of Swedes in elaborate costumes. The Japanese band Goat, however, are far more minimalistic. Their stuttering, rhythm-driven music is often austere, their style of playing is extremely efficient.

It’s a busy night for guitarist/drummer Koshiro Hino, who opens the evening with a set of his YPY project. Compared with the austerity of Goat, YPY is positively lush. The percussion is softer and there is a high frequency whine similar to the sounds emitted by electronic gadgets — the first sounds to go when you lose your hearing. The tables around Koshiro are scattered with dozens of cassette tapes.

Goat opens with dueling hi-hats. The gentle, synchronized clacking is shattered when the first kick drum hits like a sledgehammer, disabusing the audience of the notion that, for as repetitive and steady as the beats are, they could possibly be meditative. The bass has almost zero reverb, creating an anxious timbre that Devo could only dream of.

Goat live at Alice Copenhagen

This lack of transcendence is practically a theme for the set; the focus of the entire band is intense, their playing is highly coordinated. There are two drummers or a drummer and percussionist at a minimum, and the glances the band members communicate through have the hard focus of an angry glare. But for their minimal movements, they are fascinating to watch. These glances back and forth trigger astounding changes, such as when Koshiro suddenly plays harmonics on his guitar timed perfectly to rapid first hits on a hi-hat, shifting to an instantly percussive sound.

The majority of the set follows this halting pattern, which makes the final 15 minutes of noise washes hit the audience hard. After all of the energy of their playing has built up, it spills out in a final, furious cacophony. The audience are physically moved; Half are swaying, half are holding their ears because of the shock. It’s not surprising that they end with the same perfectly-time abruptness that has factored throughout their set. 

In response to the rapturous applause, Koshiro comes back to the stage alone. “Thank you,” he says, leaning into the drum mic. “No more songs.”

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