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LIVE REVIEW: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.17

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It has been over a year since Future Islands last played a gig in Europe, which, together with a shortly to be released album and the last-minute announcement of this show, adds a heightened layer of excitement to the four-piece’s re-emergence in Copenhagen. This gap makes itself felt in the initial hiccups with the keyboards, but this ends up providing frontman Sam Herring the opportunity to begin his intense love-in with the audience.

There are few performers who are quite as obviously thrilled to be onstage as Herring. Arguably it was his idiosyncratic dance moves during their Letterman performance that attracted enough consistent attention onto the band to propel them into wide recognition, but there is more to it than an amusing dad dance. Seemingly every moment on stage is an opportunity for him to stare intensely into the eyes of every single audience member in the first three rows, point and grab for emphasis, usher them in.

Future Islands

Last time I saw them, Future Islands were vague specks on a stage a football field away from me. With that level of distance it’s easy to be dismissive of their more mawkish lyrical tendencies, but when the man is sweating, crying and singing a foot away from your face, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama.

The new material shows that, even when inevitably many of Future Islands’ songs end up being about “the road”, they haven’t lost any of their intense, campy, melodramatic joyfulness. Until the album comes out in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to say exactly which song made me laugh out loud, but be prepared for an instance of rather wonderful pseudo-reggae synth hilarity.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Ed Harcourt, Pumpehuset, 15.02.2017

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Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset

Ed Harcourt is a versatile performer. Over the years, I’ve seen him play in dive bars and concert halls, with a full band and solo at an unstable upright piano in an old man’s pub. His set at Pumpehuset, however, removed him from notions of singer-songwriter and took the idea of one man band to another level.

Harcourt’s latest album, Furnaces, is full of dense production that doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to a solo performance without a lot of prerecorded tracks. And to be fair, he does have a number of prerecorded tracks at the ready for new songs and his back catalogue. What Harcourt also has, in a quantity I’m unable to count, is looping pedals. This means tracks are sometimes built from the drums up, but also that there are subtler shifts of multiple guitar or piano parts layered without fanfare.

It also means that no matter how familiar you are with Harcourt’s work, it’s impossible to predict what form songs will take. “Occupational Hazard” is reconstructed by drums, then guitar, then piano, and back to guitar, whereas the indie pop of “Church of No Religion” is stripped back to loop-free acoustic guitar. And we all learn a valuable lesson in etiquette: A whoop from the audience while Harcourt is trying to loop a tape played back from a Fischer-Price tape recorder gets picked up by the mic, requiring him to start again.

Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset
Photos by James Hjertholm

It’s one of many awkward but strangely endearing encounters between Harcourt and the small crowd that’s assembled. We’ve all decided to be in on the joke, whether he’s pondering aloud if he should buy a ball gag or inviting an audience member whose shirt he admires to go on a shirt pilgrimage to Milan with him. It’s why we laugh at these monologues and maybe why during “Until Tomorrow Then” Harcourt steps off the stage to serenade the crowd — a recurring schtick for this song — people hug him.

He’s already reached the two hour mark by the time he comes out for his encore, at which point the audience starts calling for older songs. He complies readily with “Music Box,” with laborious effort for “Shanghai,” and skirts a request for something from Lustre by vamping the chorus of “Haywire.” He’s nearing the end of his tour and has pointedly said that he doesn’t care how long this drags out. And quite plainly, staying past curfew to take your obscure song requests says more about how an artist feels about his audience than weird banter or even hugs ever could.

LIVE REVIEW: Genesis P-Orridge & Aaron Dilloway, Jazzhouse, 09.02.17

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genesis p-orridge live jazzhouse copenhagen

If there is one predictable thing about Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, it is the crowd s/he attracts: the goths, punks, noise connoisseurs, art musos, drag queens, crusties and techno-obsessives. Each one these stands for a moment in the career that transmuted little Neil Megson into the Pandrogyne h/erself. And although some of the elements of tonight borrow from the past, most notably Psychic TV’s “This is the Final War”, it is not to the industrial of Throbbing Gristle that we look to, nor Psychic TV’s mix of psychedelia and acid house, but to capital-N Noise.

With one of the genre’s masters, Aaron Dilloway, on stage with Genesis, and local Puce Mary giving providing the initial pummelling, this is not a night for just smugly basking among a hip underground. In the first minutes of the opening act, no sooner have I perfected my “arms folded, head tilted, thoughtfully appreciating abstract music” pose that the monitor begins to emit a frequency that makes the lighting rig tremble and my stomach tie itself into a Windsor knot.

puce mary live jazzhouse copenhagen

Genesis and Aaron Dilloway switch the direct savagery of Puce Mary for a more diversified approach: Genesis providing the spoken–or, more precisely, incantatory–word, Dilloway the uncanny sonic abstractions, and a screen doings its best to out-freak the other two.

Two people sat down at tables with some equipment doesn’t sound very visually exciting, but between Genesis’s wizard staff and golden trainers, a screen full of dayglo skulls melting into Psychick crosses, and, all the way to the right, Aaron Dilloway convulsion at his desk with what appear to be contact mics shoved into his mouth, there is arguably too much to look at.

Although Genesis P-Orridge’s sometimes lilting, sometimes declamatory voice is the anchor that propels the evening forward, it is Dilloway that really steals the show. Compared to some, his setup is minimal, little more than a few tape loops, a drum and some microphones, but out of these he is able to conjure what sound like rough field recordings in Soviet-occupied Dantean hell. Or something like that.

LIVE REVIEW: Teenage Fanclub, Lille Vega, 10.02.2017

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There’s a strange air at gigs of bands who hit their commercial peak in the ‘90s but never broke up. It’s the oddity that always being around never created more demand, that their availability didn’t spark the imaginations of a younger generation who could only hypothesize what it would be like to see them play live, that the devoted are the same devoted of 25 years ago.

And with that in mind, the vibe at Teenage Fanclub’s Vega show is curiously energized. These are the same devoted of 25 years ago, middle-aged or closing in on it fast, but they aren’t stuck in the early ‘90s. These are people who know the words to the songs from 2016’s Here, who call repeatedly for “Baby Lee”  (which doesn’t get played), who erupt when the band plays “It’s All in My Mind.” They’re the sort of crowd who have seen this band many times before and know the earliest work is saved for the very end of the set and wait patiently to hear it.

Teenage Fanclub themselves hit on a signature sound somewhere around the release of Grand Prix, and their new songs blend seamlessly with the old. It helps that over the years they’ve all become stronger singers, stronger players, and have found a place for their keyboardist/third guitarist to add an extra, shimmering layer to every song. It’s not a flashy or visually stimulating set, but it’s technically solid and full of positivity. 

Norman Blake in particular looks incredibly happy with his lot in life. He’s not bothered by the middle-aged couple down front talking selfies with the band behind them, nor is he fussed by the woman in a red dress who jumps up on stage towards the end of the set. All of the band look perplexed, but the woman, dancing around the stage, isn’t being obnoxious, isn’t getting in the way, isn’t trying to assault the band, so everyone lets it slide. She dances with their guitar tech and when the song ends gives a courtly hand to Blake, who looks amused and charmed. It’s about the least embarrassing way that scenario could have played out.

The lead up to the end of the evening rolls back the clock through “The Concept” and “Star Sign” before landing on their debut single, “Everything Flows.” If you’ve listened to the album version of “Everything Flows,” it’s easy to appreciate how much more tuneful the live performance is, how they’ve learned to build on the foundations of what their music was then but retain the raw, ramshackle energy that made it exciting in the first place. It’s a little emotional to watch because even if you as an individual do not have that attachment, everyone around you does. The band does. And it’s a good moment.

 

Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

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David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

PHOTOS OF THE YEAR 2016

in Photos by
Mø

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh, Tom Spray and Amanda Farah

Mø (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Courtney Barnett (Photo by Tom Spray)
Savages
Savages (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bob Hund live (photo Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Le Butcherettes (photo by Amanda Farah)
Action Bronson
Action Bronson (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Chvrches (photo by Tom Spray)
A Place To Bury Strangers performing at Loppen in Copenhagen
A Place To Bury Strangers (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bisse
Bisse (photo by Morten Aagard Krogh)
Jackie Lynn
Jackie Lynn (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Gojira (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Wiz Khalifa
Wiz Khalifa (photo by Tom Spray)
mac demarco live roskilde festival
Mac Demarco (photo by Tom Spray)
Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen
Angel Olsen (photo by Amanda Farah)
guardian alien live roskilde festival
Guardian Alien (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

Here Today’s Albums of the Year of 2016

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We’re not going to spend time talking about what a brutal year 2016 was for music lovers. Regardless of what genre you favor, 2016 was a year that took someone away from you. And while that might be the most immediately enduring sentiment about the past year, it’s necessary to take strength in the incredible music that was released this year. In the past 12 months, we’ve been blown away by newcomers and watched artists we’ve been rooting for all along come into their own. We’ve welcomed back old friends and received beautiful goodbyes from heroes. It’s because it’s been such an extraordinarily, musically rich year that we’ve made it through at all. These are our favorites:

Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

Angel Olsen
MY WOMAN
[Jagjaguwar]

It’s two short years ago that Angel Olsen first captured our hears, but she’s come a long way from her minimalist, finger-picked solo guitar tracks. On MY WOMAN, Angel builds out her dreamiest moments into vast washes of rumbling guitar with vague memories of folk somewhere in the distance. This hasn’t stopped her from writing snappy pop songs or experimenting with synthesizers. Her vocals are just as moving as ever, but where quiet whispers were once her stock and trade, there is real evidence that Angel could be a leading rock vocalist of her generation.

And that’s what is so exciting about both Angel and this record: On MY WOMAN, she shows not only that an understanding of what she does so well, but that her own potential is limitless. More to the point, we can see now that she’s ambitious enough to follow that potential it wherever it takes her. — AF

Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Puce Mary
The Spiral
[Posh Isolation]

When Puce Mary released The Spiral, her third LP, she played a release concert at Mayhem, and the performance she gave is a serious contender to being the most intense of 2016. Stripped of the insane decibels, Puce Mary’s confrontational yet trance-like stage appearance, the lights and the smoke, The Spiral is still a captivating experience. The eight tracks on the album are very distinct, yet they blend together forming a whole that sucks you in as it progresses. Puce Mary is a master of contrasts, her music is brutal yet subtle, even fragile, and even though compositions are industrial, her music feels alive like an organism.

Last but not least:  It sounds amazing. The noise, the textures, the strange field recordings, the distorted vocals. The Spiral is an intense and demanding record, but also truly inspiring and in it’s own, complex way beautiful. — MAK

Mitski live Copenhagen Loppen

Mitski
Puberty 2
[Dead Oceans]

While it seemed as though she appeared from nowhere to make us get in touch with our feelings, Mitski has been toiling away for years now. Her fourth album, Puberty 2, perfectly combines her prolific efforts with a youthful perspective and energy and just enough life experience to make you believe her. The album is full of subtle bleeps and horn flourishes, but watching her play stripped back versions of the album was a highlight of the year.

It takes a good amount of self-awareness to call your album Puberty 2, and so much of its charm is her unabashed willingness to be awkward — which somehow also makes her the coolest girl in the room. You will feel like Mitski just gets you, and you’re probably giving yourself too much credit. We definitely understand the impulse, though. — AF

Kanye West
The Life of Pablo
[GOOD]

The Life of Pablo is a tricky, slippery thing of an album. Less of an album, really, than a saga, an half year long event tracking the evolution of an album. But really, it’s just a collection of some very good tracks by a producer who, whatever else he might be, is also touched by genius. From Nina Simone and Arthur Russel, via Chicago house, to Frank Ocean and Desiigner, Kanye’s sample palette is as diverse, crazy and unique as ever.

In 2013 Kanye West marked the death of physical media with the cover of Yeesus, an “open casket to CDs”. That was an album full of energy joyous destruction. It seems fitting that with The Life of Pablo, Ye confronts us with the direct evidence of the technical and emotional demands of the new dominant technology. Keep it loopy. — CC

Cate Le Bon live

Cate Le Bon
Crab Day
[Drag City]

There is a feeling of kinship that runs through Cate Le Bon’s music, that if you yourself have ever toed the line between interesting and just strange leads her to sound identifiable even in her most abstract images. Le Bon is a master of oddball pop songs, with her ramshackle style of guitar playing and many unique turns of phrase.

Crab Day demonstrates the same dry vocal delivery that has always set her apart and given her music so much personality, but this time she’s pushed herself and her sound to new depths. She’s stretch her vocal range and brought a new emotional connection to her songs, which is emphasized in her commitment to her visual lyrics. She’s also introduced some legitimate guitar solos to her work. Album closer “What’s Not Mine” stretches to seven minutes of everything we find charmingly off kilter about Cate Le Bon’s music, which is to say, it’s perfect. — AF

Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Fat White Family
Songs for Our Mothers
[Fat Possum]

Few bands are able to channel hatred with the pure intensity and conviction of the Fat White Family. If this is their “difficult second album”, the difficulty lies more in their own physiological limitations, rather than in a lack of ideas or direction. Songs for Our Mothers promised to “dance to the beat of human hatred”, but little did we know back in January the degree to which that emotion would imprint itself in 2016.

Harold Shipman, Ike Turner, Goebbels: the gleeful offensiveness of the cast goes hand in hand with a deeper moral outrage, as the Family wrap themselves further and further in darkness, with only their humour and some wicked riffs for support. There’s no knowing what the next year will bring, but we can only hope the Fat White Family will be around, in some form, to rage against it. — CC

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch
[Sacred Bones]

On the face of it, this is a synthpop album about female vampires. But anyone approaching Jenny Hval’s latest album with the expectation of a thematically-coherent concept album clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Jenny’s dark and aloof sense of humour are present in all her work, and particularly on stage, and this year’s effort manages to be a lot stranger than it promised to be.

Though there are undeniably some very lush synth pieces on this record, particularly in its two singles, “Female Vampire” and “Conceptual Romance”, we don’t necessarily rush to Jenny for her tunes, but rather for the oddities that surround them. A moment of creepy melancholy in “Untamed Region” (I told you she was funny) is punctuated by a clip of documentarian Adam Curtis talking about the helpless confusion that seems to characterise our era. Jenny Hval isn’t pretending to guide us out of that confusion, but what she builds upon it well worth the listen.

— CC

PJ Harvey
The Hope Six Demolition Project
[Island Recordings]

The Hope Six Demolition Project is the follow up to the Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake, and PJ Harvey continues along the same lines collaborating with Mick Harvey, John Parish, Flood and documentary photographer/filmaker Seamus Murphy. But this time she has taken a more conceptual approach and adopted a role as a sort of singer/songwriter journalist reporting from her travels to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington D.C. This also applies to the recording process, that was framed as a performance open to the public. While some critics have expressed skepticism about the mix of music and reporting, we applaud her exploration of music as vehicle for change, and together with the albums distinct sound, musical quality and her impressive live performance this earns her a place on our list.

Honorable Mentions

Marissa Nadler – Strangers

Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

Danny Brown – Antrocity Exhibition

Lambchop – Fotus

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Factory Floor – 2525

Holy Fuck – Congrats

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service

LIVE REVIEW: Cate Le Bon, Jazzhouse, 09.11.2016

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Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

We were charmed when we first saw Cate Le Bon live at Roskilde this summer. But her show at Jazzhouse was the performance we really wanted from her. If that initial set left us wanting, it became clear that it was only ever a matter of translation.

As distinctive as Cate Le Bon’s ramshackle indie rock is — in particular her tuneful, quirky approach to Nico’s iconic vocal delivery — she’s not a very flashy performer. As a headliner, however, her personality comes through clearly. It’s in small touches, like the yelp at the end of “Duke” or the way the guitar outro on “How Do You Know?” deteriorates into an imprecise grind before springing directly into “I Can’t Help You.” It’s obviously well-rehearsed, but it’s a thrilling shot in the arm all the same.

Cate Le Bon live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

Because mostly what was lost in translation from the Roskilde performance was a question of energy. Cate Le Bon is understated in her performance, and her energy translates much better in Jazzhouse than on a Roskilde stage, where her little head tosses and subtle steps backward as she leans into a chord are lost to scale. And if we couldn’t infer that on our own, if we couldn’t see how much more comfortable she clearly is, she makes it pretty clear when she relates how pleased she and her band were when they arrived at Jazzhouse and saw the small stage near the bar upstairs. They were disappointed (or “terrified,” in Cate’s words) upon realizing they were playing in the main room.

But for this innate shyness, you can see the would-be rockstar, the guitarist who enjoys playing a solo. The frayed outro of “What’s Not Mine,” which unravels over the course of minutes, might not send her into spasms or even shake her from where she stands, but her absorption in clear. The details you can’t see from a festival stage that you can see from a few feet away in a tiny club is a reminder to us that the setting is an integral part of the experience. You can’t feel like you’re in on a secret when you’re standing in a field.

LIVE REVIEW: Jackie Lynn, Jazzhouse, 8.11.16

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Jackie Lynn

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Behind iridescent projections of cityscapes stands a still figure with a guitar and cowboy hat. Dressed in gear that could have been purloined from Gram Parsons’ wardrobe, Jackie Lynn might be looking out into the candle-lit tables of Jazzhouse with a slight nod of approval. Hers is very intentionally loner, dive-bar music, a hybrid of lumpen proletariat country and Suicide-esque electronic minimalism.

We should be more precise: Jackie Lynn is in fact the avatar of singer-songwriter Haley Fohr, until recently best known for her doom-laden folk act, Circuits des Yeux. There is still plenty of darkness to Jackie Lynn, and Fohr’s distinctive low vibrato cannot be masked, but there is also an unmistakable playfulness to the very concept of this project. Accompanied by a carpet of lofi drum machines and bleepy synths, provided by members of the gloriously-named Bitchin Bajas, Jackie Lynn strums her guitar and tells her tale of love, coke dealing, and “jocks and their tiny cocks.”

For what sounds like a conceptually overwrought mix of country and electronics, the Jackie Lynn project manages to sound perfectly natural, a glimpse of an alternate world, a micro-culture just barely out of reach of the internet. The briefness of the album, under half an hour, adds to the mystery, but the real power of Fohr’s persona is felt when she is there before you, almost, but not quite, accessible.

Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse
Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse

LIVE REVIEW: Tim Hecker / Tyondai Braxton, Jazzhouse, 01.11.16

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Not too long ago, ‘being a fan of ambient music’ would be classified at around 7.8 on the Social Dysfunction scale, just below ‘owning seven cats and two human skulls’, or ‘commenting on news websites’. But these days ambient is rougher, darker, and louder than its predecessors. If it looks to Brian Eno at all, it is the twisted Eno that makes up much of Adam Curtis’s soundtracks, rather than the one who composes lullabies for air passengers. Ambient is also, it would appear, much more popular now. At least enough that one of its main ambassadors, Tim Hecker, can quickly sell out a medium-sized venue like Jazzhouse.

Not that this is all Hecker’s doing. The evening is a double bill with an altogether more eclectic character, Tyondai Braxton. Formerly of Battles, Braxton is the cerebral experimenter to Hecker’s romanticism. The difference is as much visual as it is audible: the projections behind Braxton glitch and fragment, the everyday nightmare visions of garbled technologies; Tim Hecker is instead surrounded by rather ecclesiastical rows of pastel-coloured LEDs.

But for all their care in creating compelling visuals to reflect their music, both acts appear to inherently question the need for us as an audience to be standing like this, all facing the stage as if expecting interaction or entertainment. The intermingling tracks from Hecker’s latest LP, Love Streams, positively pour from the speakers, reverberating through bodies and rattling the fillings of teeth. You’d do as well to swim through this than absorb it standing. It is the much-discussed vocal elements of Hecker’s recent work that add a little light to what would otherwise be an unremitting textural piece, and perhaps he is aware enough of the side effects to cut things short: after a pedantically-precise 60 minutes, the lights go up, and those of us who forgot our earplugs began to regret our life choices.

 

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