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LIVE REVIEW: This Is Not This Heat, Alice, 06.03.2019

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This is Not This Heat live at Alice Copenhagen for CPH:DOX

Over the years the years we’ve seen a few bands we never expected to be able to see live, but few have been quite as unexpected as This Heat. But that’s not quite right, as the poster proudly proclaims: this, in fact, is This Is Not This Heat. Or is it? Of the six people crammed together on stage, only two represent the original line-up, bassist (and, according to his obituary, Rough Guide author) Gareth Williams having passed away in 2001.

This is the first of two nights at Alice, the first dedicated to the recordings of This Heat, and the second to soundtrack work. Tonight guitarist Charles Bullen and drummer Charles Hayward are joined by Daniel O’Sullivan (of Grumbling Fur, Laniakea, Guapo, Æthenor, etc. etc) on bass and synths, looking remarkably youthful next to his gaunt elders, as well as an extra drummer, guitarist and a distorted clarinet (for Roxy Music kudos).

The first portion of the set is pretty much the exact tracklist from their self-titled debut, full of sparse, cold instrumentation and plaintive chants. It almost makes you wonder for a while why two drumkits are necessary. But the songs from Deceit answer that question with proto-industrial fervour. At the first frantic chord of “SPQR” a group of teenagers in the first row cheer and do shots, which is as baffling as it is cute.

Although This Heat are often lumped together with post-punk, you can clearly hear a lot of Robert Wyatt in the plaintive vocals of “Not Waving” and “The Fall of Siam”, a certain weird Englishness that reveals in the influence of The Soft Machine and Gabriel-era Genesis under the obvious Krautrock and musique-concrete references.

It is these moments of detached weirdness, more than the guitar-driven noise, that make This Heat a band still worth listening to and seeing after all these years.

LIVE REVIEW: Aïsha Devi, Alice, 08.02.2019

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Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

Although some might have first heard of Swiss-Nepalese producer Aïsha Devi because of the trippy video to 2015’s “Mazdâ”, for most of us it has been the buzz surrounding last year’s DNA Feelings that has propelled her to the attention of the world outside of experimental electronics.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

Relying on relatively sparse and cold synth backgrounds and her own slightly eery, high-pitched vocals, Aïsha Devi’s music has many of the qualities of artists who have broken through into much wider recognition, particularly Arca. But it remains to be see whether the kitschy approach to spirituality that is on display in her visuals will be ultimately seen as a calling card or a gimmick.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

One thing that’s certain in a live setting is that Devi’s music has a much louder, confrontational quality than what you’ll hear in her recordings. Paradoxically though, her own stage persona, as testified in the pictures above, is completely joyful.

Aïsha Devi live at Alice Copenhagen

This evening at Alice she is joined by the US-based DJ bod [包家巷], whose angry reaction to the lack of dancing at 9pm is made all the more hilarious by the ambient music that follows the initial trap tracks. Concluding the evening are local boys, inexplicably-named Age Coin.

LIVE REVIEW: Alasdair Roberts + Völvur, Alice, 09.02.2019

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Alasdair Roberts and Völvur live at Christianshavn Beboerhus in Copenhagen

Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts has been recording music for two decades now. A quick look at his back-catalogue proves Roberts’s dedication to the traditions of British folk music (his takes on “A Lyke Wake Dirge”, “Lord Ronald” and Shirley Collins’s ” A Blacksmith Courted Me” are all well worth a listen), but it also reveals his willingness to use collaboration as a way of repurposing this material.

Most of these collaborations so far have been with one or two people, the most recent being last year’s much-acclaimed What News, alongside producer Amble Skuse and pianist David McGuiness. But tonight, in the cozy surroundings of Christianshavns Beboerhus, Roberts is joined by five Norwegian improvisational musicians, headed by violinist Hans Kjorstad.

Although all very young, this group has a respectable pedigree of its own in Norway, playing in a frankly intimidating number of ensembles and collaborations in everything from folk to noise music. Tonight they are bringing strings, clarinets, guitars, a double bass, electronics and a lot of percussion to Roberts’s typically more sparse music.

The result can be at times incredibly warm and lush, especially the woodwinds on “Wormwood and Gall”, and at others, for example “A Lyke Wake Dirge”, darkly hypnotic. Alasdair Roberts’s simple but beguiling vocal delivery cuts through the instrumentation and makes sure we remain grounded in the words of the songs.

Due to the cancellation on the part of the opening act, the band agree to play two sets, much to the delight of the audience lazing on mats strewn around the theatre floor. Although most of both sets is taken from Roberts’s own catalogue, we are also treated to a new composition by the entire group, “Actors”, as well as covers from the Incredible String Band’s “My Name is Death” and “Chinese White”.

The final flourish is a solo vocal rendition of a Robert Burns song, a final farewell before Alasdair and the band conclude their short Scandinavian tour on the island of Fanø.

LIVE REVIEW: BC Camplight, Loppen, 03.02.2019

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BC Camplight live at Loppen Copenhagen

“It only took us about 20 hours to get here, so we’re not leaving until the cops come,” said BC Camplight’s Brian Christinzio as he took the stage at Loppen with his backing band. It might have been overstating things a smidge; the set is only an hour. But there is a joyous abandon to it. 

As a recording artist who builds his songs around dreamy, retro textures, BC Camplight’s live performance is an interesting mix of recreating that warmth and gauze and poking through it with occasionally jarring clarity. It takes different forms. On “You Should Have Gone to School,” Francesca Pidgeon’s backing vocals add more heft coming from a strong female singer than the thin falsetto of the recording could. Christinzio’s solo performance of the sentimental “When I Think of My Dog” (actually about his dog Frankie) is an unexpected display of his accomplishments as a pianist. These flourishes at the piano are matched by the odd growl or skip along scales in a much lower vocal range than he normally sings. It’s as if he’s simultaneously reminding us that his performance is not some flawlessly mixed record, but also that, if he wanted, he could be a very different kind of singer.

Most of the songs from the evening come from BC Camplight’s most recent album, Deportation Blues. People are dancing to the existential crisis of “I’m in a Weird Place Now,” the more relevant-than-ever ode to Theresa May, “Fire in England,” and the scorching, repetitive chime of “I’m Desperate.” Christinzio has confined himself to the space behind his piano, flanked on either side by synth rigs. There are many times throughout the evening where he hints at the kind of dynamism he would have if he were on a physically larger stage, but instead we have to content ourselves with his energy, his witticisms, and his constant removing and replacing of his sunglasses. He reveals that a new album is on the docket. Four albums and 14 years on from his debut, he makes us believe that there still is a lot more to look forward to.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Anna von Hausswolff, Pumpehuset, 24.01.2019

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Anna von Hausswolff live at Pumpehuset Copenhagen

It’s a failing on our part that we haven’t seen Anna von Hausswolff play in three years. There has been ample opportunity at festivals or if we could be bothered to cross the Sound to Malmø, and we simply didn’t do it. So in our minds, von Hausswolff remained frozen in that performance at Jazzhouse (RIP) back in 2016 when things were strangely serene except for a sub-bass that made our intestines rattle.

Who can say how long we’ve been missing out on her performance as it is today, which is to say, far from serene. The main room at Pumpehuset has taken on a cavernous feel augmented by the 15 minutes of windblown sound effects that play before she comes out on stage.

The set opens with “The Truth, the Glow, the Fall,” and the effect is immediate. To hear her voice echo around the room is really quite extraordinary; her recordings are so dense and she smooths her vocals into the mix so softly that it comes as a shock to the system that her high notes have so much force behind them. Her backing band seem so dense and lush until she starts singing, then it suddenly seems like they’re exercising tremendous restraint.

Beyond the blare of her vocals, there’s a distinctive performance personality that von Hausswolff has developed since we saw her last. She no longer confines herself to behind her keys. Instead we see her dancing and thrashing about during the percussion-heavy interlude of “Ugly and Vengeful,” playing a 12-string guitar on “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra,” and using her encore to wander through the crowd while singing her as-yet unreleased song “Gösta.” “Pomperipossa” sounds like a haunted house soundtrack with bouncy synths and ear piecing shrieks. People around us cover their ears as she stretches her vocals to their highest decibel. “Am I scaring you?” she wails. Yes! Absolutely! Give us more! While von Hausswolff is as connected to her performance as ever, it feels less like she’s in her own world and more like the audience is being brought along for a strange ride. 

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

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.

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