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LIVE REVIEW: Algiers, Hotel Cecil, 15.01.2019

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Algiers live at Hotel Cecil, Copenhagen

Atlanta four-piece Algiers have been making a name for themselves since their 2015 debut for their fiery energy and political lyrics. If you read about them in the music press, the ubiquity of the words “industrial” and “gospel” might have you imagining a cross between Einstürzende Neubauten and the Golden Gate Quartet. But of course that is total guff: this is fast-paced blues-inflected indie rock, with a few chains and distortion pedals thrown in for good measure.

Which is to say, fundamentally, that Algiers are a pretty fun night out. And although a rainy Tuesday in Copenhagen is not generally conducive to an energetic atmosphere, it doesn’t take long before bassist Ryan Mahan’s manic bouncing and vogueing starts to infect the audience.

If you were to watch them without hearing the unifying element of their music, you could easily imagine the four members of Algiers were in totally different bands playing at the same time: Mahan in some abrasive dance act; frontman Franklin James Fisher–in his bandana, skinny jeans and leather jacket–straight out of a blue-rock act; pin-striped guitarist Lee Tescher goes for the serious-faced noise act; and of course noughties indie-rockers will remember will remember drummer Matt Tong from Bloc Party.

Algiers live at Hotel Cecil, Copenhagen

What unites them is their energy and conviction: instruments are tossed aside with reckless abandon, choruses are chanted with a fury that renders the mics superfluous. Amid the pogoing and dancing, the night is punctuated by samples of speeches and lectures, which strike an oddly didactic tone, as if it were necessary to justify the fun with some Foucault quotes.

Combined with their interest in political theory, it’s not hard to see why Algiers have become critical darlings after the release of their second record, The Underside of Power. But two years have passed since that record, and tonight, as well as anthems like “Death March” and “The Underside of Power”, we are treated to some newly-written songs, angry and anthemic as ever.

Here Today’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

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Oneohtrix Point Never — Age Of

Image result for oneohtrix point never age of

From the techno-pastoralism of its opening titular track, Age Of presents itself as altogether different direction in the career of OPN’s Daniel Lopatin. Amid his characteristic hauntological sketches there are some of his most direct approaches towards straight-forward songwriting. The result, in the RnB of “The Station” and the sparse ballad of “Black Snow”, sounds like pop music from a much stranger and darker dimension. 

Trembling Bells — Dungeness

Image result for trembling bells dungeness

Since 2018 also marks the departure of the Lavinia Blackwall’s towering soprano from Scottish folk weirdos Trembling Bells, it is worth also remembering this, the last record from that lineup, and one of their absolute best. From the folk-rock of “Christ’s Entry into Govan” to the Anatolian funk of “Devil in Dungeness”, they pull no punches and the result is glorious.

Connan Mockasin — Jassbusters

Image result for jassbusters

Ostensibly a concept album about the relationship between a music teacher and his pupil, Connan Mockasin’s third album, Jassbusters, takes the surrealistic sexuality of his previous works in a more pared-back, intimate direction. However louche and languid tracks like “Charlotte’s Thong” and “Con Conn Was Impatient” might be, they are kept alive by the taught wire of longing that is his slide guitar playing.

Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer

The personal is very political on Janelle Monáe’s sharp look at modern life and modern love. Monáe owns every aspect of her race, womanhood, sexuality, and humanity, drawing clear lines about who is welcome and who needs to wise up. She’s taken the time to empower those who need lifting up and educate the rest on one hell of a groovy record. And given the way the world is turning, it’s likely we’ll be grooving to it for years to come.

Gazelle Twin — Pastoral

In her new album, Elizabeth Bernholz, aka Gazelle Twin, takes a satirical shot a England that is both terrifying and bizarre. But also highly original. The cover makes you think of romantic landscape paintings and classical recordings rotting away at flea markets. But there’s a twist to it, because Gazelle Twin is the jester who mixes it all up: Looped flutes, backward politics, Brexit, scary technologies and neo-nationalism. Pastoral is like her previous album Unflesh, a conceptual with a snearing bite. 

Courtney Barnett — Tell Me How You Really Feel

Somewhere along the line Courtney Barnett got labeled as slacker rock and people have refused to back down from it, regardless of how ill-fitting it is. Her second full length album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, however, is not only more thoughtful in its guitar rock arrangements and vocal dynamics than she’s given credit for, but is by turns lyrically sensitive, angry, and socially aware. So show some respect, because Barnett gave us an album to rally around emotionally as well as rock out. And that’s no slouch.

Marianne Faithfull — Negative Capability

Marianne Faithfull has at age 71 made an album that rightfully belongs on the same shelf as Leonard Cohen’s I Want It Darker, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, and David Bowie’s Blackstar. It’s a haunting yet beautiful album that touches upon themes of death, love, and loneliness. She calls it the most honest record she ever made. We agree.

Idles — Joy as an Act of Resistance

These are tough times and 2018 needed an album entitled Joy as an Act of Resistance. Idles made it. The album was made on the bleak back-drop of creeping fascism, Brexit, a stillborn child, and alcohol abuse, but it is, as the title implies, an act of resistance. The album is the follow up to Idles’ promising debut Brutalism and it delivers raw, undiluted punk spirit from start to end.

Superorganism — Superorganism

We all need a little weird pop in our lives, and the self-titled debut from Superorganism is precisely the kind of weird we want in the world. The art school pop group led by a Japanese American teenager with a perfect deadpan delivery strikes the right balance of neon and sparkly, insightful without trying to hard, and perfectly absurd. They seem like the band kind of band that has the potential to create great art within a decade, but if this is all they ever leave us with, our lives are richer for it.

Low — Double Negative

Double Negative shakes you to the core with its haunting vocals and eerie layers of fuzz. It’s extraordinary that a band can make the album of their career 25 years in, but Low’s Double Negative is the kind of record that could only be born of years of close collaboration and the creeping influence of a drone side project. This is a record that has revived Low in our consciousness beyond their legacy and into the intensity of the present.

BONUS: Jenny Hval — The Long Sleep EP

As it’s an EP and not a full album, The Long Sleep hasn’t earned an official spot on our list. But Jenny Hval wrote the best hook of her career and ticked it in a sprawling, romantic musing on death, then tuck that away into 20 minutes of slowly morphing variations on a theme. It’s a weird call from a different corner of the universe, one we simply couldn’t ignore.

LIVE REVIEW: A Perfect Circle + Chelsea Wolfe, Forum, 12.12.2018

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Photos by Morten Aagard Krogh

Fourteen years after their last album, supergroup A Perfect Circle are back, and judging by the crowd at Forum tonight, they have been eagerly awaited. Their very late album, Eat the Elephant, reached number 1 in the US rock charts and earned what in internet circles is referred to as “generally favourable reviews”. Whatever that actually means, its enough to pack Forum on a Wednesday night.

After having largely seen her in small venues, it’s a revelation to see opener Chelsea Wolfe in a large setting, where her doom-laden songs and soaring voice have a chance to breathe. Given her current trajectory, we should see her as the main act at Forum-sized venue here within a year. 

A major theme of the night is just how much the sound has improved at the venue since the last time we visited, admittedly a couple of years ago now. APC sound incredibly crisp, testament to some truly impressive production values. The drums are all perfectly distinct, the snare in particular having a very pleasing thwack sound. 

The main portion of the sound space is devoted to Maynard James Kennan (him from Tool, as I am being constantly reminded) and his distinctive vocals. At times to night he seems to be channeling Dave Gahan at the cusp of Depeche Mode’s turn into stadium pop, but of course Kennan is hardly one for the limelight. He spends most of his time with his back to the audience, little more than a silhouette against a constantly evolving backdrop.

 The audience don’t to mind that, and of course the Tool-heads–who seem to comprise half the audience–would know to expect this anyway. Though the bulk of the set is taken from Eat the Elephant, there are plenty of singalongs and their distinctive cover songs. AC/DC’s “Dog Eat Dog” is surprisingly light-hearted for a typically angsty Keenan, but I must admit that I found their version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” truly unforgivable. But as with much else, I appear to be a minority on this topic.

LIVE REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan, Nørrebro Teater, 06.12.2018

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vashti bunyan live at nørrebro teatre copenhagen

In a genre of soothing singer-songwriters, folk legend Vashti Bunyan is particularly soothing. But if an evening at home with her records is a gentle way to ease your mind, then seeing her play live fills you with warmth and comfort in a way paralleled only by receiving a letter (yes letter, not email) from a friend when you need it most.

Part of this is down to the fact that, aside from being stripped back to just herself and her long time backing guitarist/vocalist Gareth Dickson, her performance is very faithful to her recordings. That unique timbre that makes her voice sound like falling through a cloud carries us through the evening. It’s familiar and consistent and still so unlike any of her contemporaries or imitators.

But part of what makes the evening so relaxing is that Bunyan is as much a storyteller between songs as she is in her lyrics. There are anecdotes to accompany each song, whether it’s a tale from the 60s or reflections that inspired her more recent work, all filled with laughter. Some of these stories bring unique insight to her music; it’s hard not to hear the Beach Boys reference in “I’d Like to Take a Walk Through Your Mind” after learning that she wrote it when Andrew Loog Oldham told her to write a song combining Tim Hardin, the Mamas and the Papas, and Pet Sounds. And there’s also triumph of the spirit as Bunyan recounts her long road to recognition.

“Nobody took much notice at the time. I was told my songs were quite uncommercial,” she says. “And in the last few years, [‘Train Song’ has] been used in commercials.”

It’s quite special that Bunyan is willing to play the old songs, willing to tell the stories behind them, but also willing to look at what she dreamed about in her 20s with clear-eyed experience of someone in her 70s. Bunyan is kind to her younger self and gives us all an opportunity to be kind to the idealistic versions of ourselves that we might keep out of sight. It’s this generosity that has the crowd on their feet cheering at the end of her set, and that we can use to counter a harsher reality.

LIVE REVIEW: Vinicio Capossela, Alice, 25.11.2018

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

Vinicio Capossela has been a mainstay and an oddity in the Italian music scene since his first record, All’una e trentacinque circa, in the year of my birth, 1990. Borrowing from traditions as disparate as the troubadours, the folk music of southern Italy, Greek rebetiko and dixieland jazz, Capossela’s work fluctuates between the theatrical and the antiquarian, digging up old songs and embodying them in his performances.

Tonight, sitting by the piano in his captain’s hat (the first of many headwear choices) and dusty black suit with shell finishings, he looks halfway between Desire-era Dylan and an extra in a Visconti film. He’s accompanied by his “banda della Cupa”, named after his most recent release, Canzoni della cupa. 

But this evening is far from limited to these songs, with a selection spanning most of the highlights of Capossela’s career. Conscious of finding himself in the land of H.C. Andersen, Capossela picks some (very literal) siren songs, the playful swing number “Pryntyl” and the more meditative “Le sirene”.

There’s a party atmosphere in Alice tonight, a semi-official meetup of Italians in Copenhagen, lots of familiar faces and loud voices. The slow numbers give way to tarantelle and more costume changes. Towards the end, with Capossela’s most famous song, “Che cossé l’amor”, it becomes a veritable singalong.

During the encore, the sweet lullaby “Il paradiso dei calzini”, you can see and hear the Italians turn to their Danish friends to amusedly explain: this is a song about lost socks. A surprisingly sad one at that, but that’s just what Capossela excels at, mixing playfulness with nostalgia, social history with theatre.

LIVE REVIEW: Gruff Rhys, Alice, 24.11.2018

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gruff rhys live at alice in copenhagen resist phony encores

Few pop musicians possess the creative drive of Gruff Rhys. As if his work with the Super Furry Animals weren’t enough on its own, his prolific solo work and collaborations on everything from the concept synthpop of Neon Neon to appearances alongside De La Soul on the Gorillaz’s “Superfast Jellyfish” prove that the the man is tough to pin down but easy to love. In his last two albums Rhys has focused on a psychelia-tinged Americana, but the stylistic choice is in the service of the themes he covers, whether it be the adventures of Welsh explorer John Evans along the Missouri in American Interior, or his more topical American dystopia in his latest album, Babelsberg. 

True to his maximalist vision and energetic practicality, Gruff takes to the stage with a band, a slideshow, and his signature placards (including vintage SFA “GO APESHIT”). The first sign says “Side 1”, which gives you a pretty good idea of where the evening is going. Starting with the lush opener “Frontier Man”, Rhys tells the story of a national consciousness gone senile, and despite being pretty open about it (think of the song “Negative Vibes”) somehow avoids being a massive downer about it. His charm comes through even at his most cynical, and if you were feeling just a tinge melancholy as Side 2 winds to a close, the second half of the evening comes to the rescue.

Things take a more meditative turn with SFA track “Colonise the Moon”, replete with chiming guitars, a digital shruti box, and a roadie lighting incense sticks. The satyrical edge of the song is amplified by the noticeable discomfort in the drummer’s face as more and more sticks are lit, and no amount of hand signalling can divert the man from his task.

Rhys’s Welsh-language songs always seem to be his most joyful, and tonight is no exception, starting with the spaghetti-western-by-route-of-Bangor ‘Iolo’ to the “Hey Mickey”-inspired drums and vocals on “Gwn Mi Wn”. After this we are offered a choice: either some more “mediocre pop songs”, or, alternatively “a 20 minute crime drama”. Needless to say we all shout for “Skylon!”, a three chord riff that lays the foundation for the story of a bomb-disposal expert who saves a plane from a hijacker with a Semtex device disguised as a beer can (said device is carefully placed on the piano by the zealous roadie at the appropriate moment), and lives “unhappily ever after” with a mediocre tv personality he has been sitting next to.

As the night draws to a close, Rhys reminds us of his membership to the “Resist Phoney Encores” movement, leaving us with a wave and the last two cards: “The End” and “Thanks”.

Photos by Amanda Farah

LIVE REVIEW: Colin Stetson + Eli Keszler, Alice, 14.11.2018

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colin stetson live at alice in copenhagen

As an awkward teenager I let myself be convinced into taking up the saxophone. My main memories of it are marked by my constantly bleeding lips, crushed and torn between the mouthpiece and a set of razor-sharp dental braces. If only I had been aware back then of just how brutally terrifying a saxophone could sound, I might have kept it up. But the record that first alerted me to this, Colin Stetson’s New History of Warfare Vol 2: Judges, only appeared in 2011, when my reed-gnawing days were long gone. His work since then has encompassed everything from collaborations, reworkings of classical pieces, and film soundtracks, most recently for Hereditary.

Tonight is a chance to hear two virtuosic and idiosyncratic instrumentalists at work.  Percussionist and sound artist Eli Kezler starts off the night with his signature off-kilter virtuosity on the drums. Embedded as much in electronic music as he is in jazz, Kezler’s drumming is woven into a bed of synthetic and sampled sounds, triggered by midi pads connected to various drum pieces: the bass drum might usher in an ominous pad sound, a small floor tom is locked into a sequence of electric piano samples. His drumming style is based on tight clusters of spidery rolls, relying as much on the sides and rims as the skins themselves.

Before Colin Stetson arrives on stage the more curious people in the first row are carefully inspecting his instruments, a heavily wired-up trio of bass and alto saxophone and bass clarinet. The bass saxophone is monumental in size, its faded patina and the wiring of the contact mics connected to it giving it a martial feel with might account for the title of Stetson’s Warfare series.

This is matched in the physicality, both of the performance and the man himself. His neck muscles stretch the skin to bursting point, cheeks bellowing air through his signature circular breathing technique, his face turning varying shades of red and purple under the effort. The first piece of the evening is “The stars in his head”, from Judges, made up of a series of lightning fast arpeggios on alto saxophone, voiced in all shades from barely audible to metallic distortion. Another singular quality to Stetson’s playing is caught by the contact microphone wrapped around his throat, picking up his haunting screamed vocals directly from his vocal cords.

But the real excitement comes when he picks up the bass saxophone and launches into the eponymous “Judges”: the microphones attached to the instrument pick up the sound of the mechanism itself, the thudding of the pads amplified to an industrial degree that would make Nitzer Ebb sound like Mumford and Songs by comparison. It’s truly shocking the first time you hear it, and transforms the atmosphere of the room from polite enthusiasm to feverish intensity.

In between songs Stetson is affable and down-to-earth, visibly energised by the enthusiastic reception. “Where has the time gone?” he laments as he checks the time before his last song, and indeed despite all his athleticism there is clearly a physical limit to how long Stetson can perform these demanding pieces. The phrase “short and sweet” doesn’t really cut it in this context, but it’s a textbook example of leaving the audience wanting more. And leaving me to look up the price of saxophones on DBA.

 

 

LIVE REVIEW: RP Boo + Jana Rush, Alice, 09.11.2018

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It took a long time for RP Boo’s name to be widely recognised, but his influence on the footwork genre has gradually brought him to legendary status, first in his native Chicago, and finally here in the wider world. Producing since the mid 90s, his first full-length record only appeared in 2013 on Mike Paradinas’s Planet Mu label. Footwork is as much a dance style as it is a music genre, characterised mostly by its intricacy and speed. On this side of the Atlantic its main acts are mainly released on that same label, which is perhaps most known for abstract, even geeky, IDM, but as we discover tonight its real focus is on creating pure joy.

The night opens with local boys Lyra Valenza, whose frenetic blend of techno, ecstatic rave and confrontational breakbeats indirectly seems to point much more clearly towards British and American tradition than most of their local peers. They feel like a real breath of fresh air compared to the dourness that characterises a lot of the rest of the scene.

Jana Rush is part of the same scene as RP Boo, which is clearly evidenced as they photograph and celebrate each other’s sets.  With an incredible ear for detail and a taste for obscene vocal samples, Jana Rush exhibits an incredible control over the flow of the set, gathering momentum at each beat, offsetting peaks with moments of gleeful chaos. Halfway through her set it is hard to believe that the headline act hasn’t even started.

Taking a breather outside, we can hear the bass and kick rumbling through the walls, which helps to isolate the core of the footwork sound. The kick is at its simplest right now, four to the floor, but the bass is played in triplets, creating a juddering effect not entirely unlike experiencing heart palpitations. And I mean that in the most positive sense. Back inside RP Boo is waving at us as the first brass burst of “02-52-03” thunders through the room. Later I discover that the sample is from an old Godzilla movie, which makes perfect sense, especially matched later on with a sample from, of all things, the Rocky theme.

That’s RP Boo in a nutshell, really: the decades of dedication to his craft, all that painstaking layering of rhythms, all of it is still based on the simple desire to create these joyful moments where the intensity of it all means your brain devoting all its energy just to keep up with the body. Without a doubt its the most fun I’ve ever had at Alice.

Photos by Victor Yakimov

LIVE REVIEW: Courtney Barnett, Store Vega, 04.11.2018

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courtney barnett live at store vega copenhagen

It’s incredible that Courtney Barnett hasn’t played in Copenhagen before. With her songs a staple of P6 over the last few years, her set at Store Vega is over due. The room is packed and getting impatient by the time the lights go out in the main space.

Barnett builds the mood by coming out to a dimly lit stage strung with fairy lights and opens with “Hopefulness.” She powers through her set from there, scarcely pausing to catch her breath. You can’t fault her for energy, the endless tumbling stream of witticisms that she somehow never trips over, the swaying, stumbling way she plays her guitar when she’s not singing.

It seems unfair in that light that Barnett’s music is often branded as slacker rock, but having fleshed out her band to a four-piece again does something to refute that. The addition of Katie Harkin (previously of Sky Larkin and Barnett’s live band with Kurt Vile) on keyboards and second guitar is not just integral to playing the new songs but brings a different perspective to the older ones. Barnett cedes control of “Elevator Operator” to keys for the intro and gives the song a very different flavor.

Barnett is very selective about the songs she plays; older songs like “Avant Gardener” and “Lance Jr.” make the cut whereas single “No One Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” is skipped in lieu of covers. The covers she chooses, however, feel notable as unique pieces of her set rather than just novelties. Opener Laura Jean comes out with her saxophone to help out with the Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town,” and Barnett is solo for Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free” (which fits lyrically very nicely beside her songs “Are You Looking After Yourself” and the strange sing-along “Depreston”).

“Anyone make a new friend tonight?” she asks towards then end of the evening. “Person next to you? No? Doesn’t always happen.”

If she wanted to spend more time in Northern Europe to learn about the personality quirks that stop people from talking to the person next to them, I’m sure the audience would turn out every time for her experiment.

LIVE REVIEW: Gaye Su Akyol, Alice, 02.11.2018

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After the opening salvo from her masked backing band, Gaye Su Akyol arrives on stage in an iridescent cape and a mission: “We have come from Istanbul to bring you peace, love and rock and roll!” A bold statement, but amply backed up by the mix of surf, garage punk and Turkish psychedelia that they produce. The first track from her latest album, both titled İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, starts with a 50s horror themed synth riff, before deploying the signature guitar sound: a mix of Dick Dale and traditional Turkish bağlama, punching straight through each song.

Of course Gaye Su Akyol herself commands most of the attention, with the psychedelic theatrics that recall her earlier career as a painter, and of course her gravelly voice, equally sultry and defiant. The venue is packed out and the bilingual stage patter gets whoops of approval as Gaye introduces both her own songs and cover versions of Turkish hits from the 70s.

Beyond the capes, masks and fun, there is also a strong political element to Gaye Su Akyol, who talks about having to pay a visit to a police station because of one of her songs. In recent years classic Turkish psychedelic rock has begun to become more widely known in the world, thanks to its commanding combination of funk and hard rock infused rhythms with woozy synths and vocal melodrama, but tonight Gaye underlines the political and social context of these, drawing evident parallels with the present.

Its especially helpful to learn some of the context of her work, as otherwise the rather bewitching nature of this music can quickly have you imagining some abstract version of Turkey in which Anatolian shepherds have been playing Black Sabbath and Parliament Funkadelic on their saz since the stone age. It’s a fun thought, but it doesn’t do justice to the richness of the musical and cultural traditions from which Gaye Su Akyol draws her material.

Photos by Victor Yakimov

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