April 2011

There follows an interview I’d forgotten I’d done (the perils of the emailer) that got posted rather a while ago over on This Is Fake DIY with the affable and ever-so humble Tom Williams (of The Boat fame). As a side note, I feel as though I said a few things that Tom fun fundementally disagreed with, or at least had no idea about. So, yeah, sorry about that, Tom. Need to sharpen up the ol’ interview filtering skills methinks.

Yours has been one of the most meteoric rises for a new band of the last year – how does it feel to be in the middle of all that?
It doesn’t really feel like that at all, has it really been? It’s very difficult when you’re in it, it still feels amazing but it’s not easy to get to grips with the complete trajectory or context of your achievements which is a shame, but I think pretty necessary.

What do you credit to your sudden success?
Haha, um… really not sure. We do sound a bit different to other stuff, I mean hearing ‘Get Older’ play listed on 6music and played from 7am to 7pm sounded amazingly weird, it’s a pretty abrasive record and stuck out a fair bit. What I find more interesting is the group of people that felt it was worth taking a punt on, I find that really amazing.

You’ve always had a DIY aesthetic, running your own label, releasing your own material, offering free downloads – do you feel your new-found fame will stop you from continuing that?
No I think that’s a really important part of it all and I think it helps people feel part of something that’s important. It’s about writing your own blogs, signing CDs and vinyl with stupid messages, replying individually to people on Twitter. Silly small incidental things which seem kind of natural for us, people appreciate that stuff too and it’s also nice to know the people that come to our gigs etc, it makes it all worth while.

You still often play shows in your hometown [Tunbridge Wells], did the music scene there inspire you onto what you’ve achieved so far, or is it just a desire to keep playing when you’re not touring?
Tunbridge Wells is a chance to play to friends and family and just try and relax a bit, although I always find those shows the most stressful! We’ve had so much of support and love from our local scene that it would seem treacherous to not play there as much as possible. All the guys that run The Forum, local label Unlabel (who help us release all our vinyl) and local studios etc. have all been a big part of our story so far and I hope they will be in the future too.

Your debut album, Too Slow, has a real emphasis on storytelling – do you write the music for the stories, or do they evolve independently?
I tend to write the lyrics first which might explain that, although there of course exceptions to that rule. It is quite hard, however, to write a song that doesn’t develop some kind of timeline through it’s 3-4 minutes, or maybe it’s just the song writing I’ve been brought up on. It’ll change in the future I’m sure, as my record collection evolves but stories is what I’m in love with at the moment!

There’s a definite sense of social consciousness that comes out throughout the album – how do you perceive Britain today?
I made quite a massive effort to not make any sweeping statement about the economical / political / social state of Britain, rather focusing on individual’s plights. I’d hope that any view on how Britiain or the UK functions or succeeds / fails is implicit in the well being of the individuals in the songs.

Do you feel there’s a lack of British artists truly commenting on the world around them at the current time?
I think it’ll come, out of great hardship comes great songs and everything’s feeling very 1970s at the moment.

You played five sets at Glastonbury last year – why so many? Any plans to beat that number this year?
Haha we’d love to, hoping to sort that kind of stuff out asap. I think if we play again this year we’ll just play one or two. It was so exhausting but so so much fun, playing everything from the Avalon Stage to tiny tents in the Green Fields with sound systems powered by bicycles, we went for the complete Glastonbury experience.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2011?
I’ve got a mountain of new songs the boat need to get their teeth into, we’re recording on the odd weekend in Boat HQ in the heart of Kent, in a massive open barn that’s also a working brewery so the recordings are sounding very different but fantastic. Lots of gigging, lots of festivals, lots of recording and lots of good times.

Tom Williams & The Boat – Denmark (YSI) Removed by request.

What do you get if you take Robbers & Cowards-era Cold War Kids to a really great party?

‘TAOS’ by Menomena.


Menomena – TAOS (YSI)


I’ve spent the past few days writing about postmodernism (well, that and I rode on an off-road Segway), so here is a postmodern band:

Deerhunter – Never Stops (YSI)

This blog is nothing if not appropriately (and uselessly) personal.

I’m not one for summery activities. On beautiful days like this, I prefer a lazy day in the garden, beer in hand and sunglasses suitably in place. I can never understand playing football, cycling or even just moving in good weather (I’d probably die of obesity, starvation or just plain inactivity if I ever lived in Australia), which is why Mountain Man’s Made The Harbor remains my favourite album for just switching on and vegging out to. The a capella style allows the sound of birdsong through, and the beautiful mix of traditional folk standards and orignial compositions never gets stale despite the particularly sparse production. It’s as intimate, timeless and utterly, peacefully wonderful as days like this deserve.

Mountian Man – River Song (YSI)

In making the last two years’ end of year lists, it has occurred to me each time that many of the albums I laud are being lauded by me, at least in terms of this blog, for the first time, usually because I’ve written about them elsewhere. So, in a slightly lazy, BUT ALSO PRODUCTIVE AND INFORMATIVE attempt to rectify that, I’m going to start putting up reviews of albums I really like here, after they’ve gone up where they’re supposed to be. To begin with, here’s my review of my favourite album of the year so far, Josh T. Pearson’s spectacular Last of the Country Gentlemen, first published on This Is Fake DIY*:

In today’s fast food music culture, where artists are lauded for quick turnover, surprise releases and pre-sale downloads, it’s rare to see someone taking real time over their music – especially when it’s been quite as long in coming as Josh T. Pearson’s debut album. His first band, Lift To Experience, took five years to release their own debut, 2001’s hugely acclaimed The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads whose Biblical-scale shoegaze impressed the late John Peel so much that he invited them into session no less than three times in five months. But within the same year, Pearson had disbanded the group, and has waited ten years to produce his next full-length record, this time with a far more muted, country-folk aesthetic at its core. It’s a staggering amount of time to take over a single album (and if reports are to be believed, many of the tracks included have been around in one form or another for much of that ten years) but in listening to Last of the Country Gentlemen, it quickly becomes clear that Pearson was made to take his time.

With four of its seven tracks clocking in at over ten minutes long, this album refuses to be hurried, as songs softly mutate and repeat throughout, with guitar sequences reappearing as if they’d never gone at all. Amongst his many obvious musical gifts, Pearson’s greatest is in carrying the listener along, alternating between almost unbearably honest lyrical work and deceptively simple yet rewarding instrumental passages, replete with acoustic guitar that ranges from the most softly plucked to almost devastatingly attacked, often within moments of each other. It’s this ability to manipulate his music, and the listener’s perception of it, which makes Pearson’s debut album quite as phenomenal as it undoubtedly is.

From the tumbling guitar sweeps of opener ‘Thou Art Loosed’, Pearson has you in the palm of his hand for the whole of the next sixty-odd minutes, striving to hear every new strain of the country fiddles that intermittently haunt the whole piece, each change in tone and every stricken lyric. It’s these lyrics that become the most compelling facet though, a tumultuous look into a cracking psyche that’s spilling forth every thought, light or dark, no matter whether or not it seems right or wrong to do so. From tales – and these truly are tales – of the anguish of extra-marital love (in the exquisitely-named ‘Honeymoon is Great, I Wish You Were Her’), alcoholism (“Honestly, why can’t you just let it be, and let me quietly drink myself to sleep” – ‘Woman When I’ve Raised Hell’) and ‘Sorry With A Song’s epic apology letter from a man who always repeats his mistakes, despite his wish not to, each song is a journey through the mind of someone who can’t help but reveal his secrets, even if he doesn’t want to – he himself sings “Don’t ask me what I’m thinking”, and in the circumstances, it seems like a plea, not a warning.

Every song is confessional and almost uncomfortably intimate, like reading someone else’s mail, and it makes for a listening experience that hasn’t been quite so powerfully manifested since the likes of Kid A – this is an album of such profound power and darkness that it becomes hard to listen to, but becomes harder and harder not to throughout. It’s the brief moments of relief that the listener finds themselves clinging to then, relatively short snatches of respite where there appears to be light behind the dark clouds conjured by the rest of the album. Pearson’s whispered admission that “I know it don’t make it right, singing a simple lullaby, but please accept my sorry with a song” is followed by a blissful period of tempered, skipping guitar that never sounds quite upbeat, but holds a sense of  respite somewhere within, finally allowing for a moment to breathe and let it all make sense.

After all of this focus on lyrics, it seems fitting then that Last of the Country Gentlemen can be summed up in its first lines: “Don’t cry for me baby, you’ll learn to live without me/Don’t cry for me baby, I’ll learn to live without you” – the competition between desperate sorrow and ultimate release is never resolved. It’s never clear if the album is one of catharsis or self-immolation for Pearson, and it’s in this indecision that the truth of the work is revealed. The lack of any concrete resolution reflects the endless back-and-forth of a mind wracked by guilt, despair and temptation that equally wants to let go and be at peace and in presenting this, Josh T. Pearson has created an album of genuinely breathtaking emotional heft, and one that dwarfs the ambitions of the many others that have tried to achieve much the same thing in the ten years it took to reach us. Astounding.

*I originally gave this a 10/10 by the way, not sure why that was changed.

Josh T. Pearson – Woman When I’ve Raised Hell (YSI)

Not that I’m ever wrong, but when I reviewed Timber Timbre’s new album,  Creep On Creepin’ On, for For Folk’s Sake, I was wrong.

After loving the last album, and particularly its laid-back folk charm really rather a lot, Timber Timbre’s move into what seems a little like horror-movie versions of ’60s crooner-pop and lounge music took me aback somewhat (and still does, but in a much better way). It’s not my observations of what the music actually sounds like that are wrong, it’s how I envisaged what that meant for the band. I said:

Just like the genre films it brings to mind, this album is held back by its own imprisonment in a set of immovable conventions.

It’s a shame a sentence so superbly written is just so plain incorrect. When I’d finished the review, I still felt compelled by the album’s strange mix of the unsettling and the familiar and, after one more listen, it clicked. Those “conventions” the album takes on may be cliched, overfamiliar and unfashionable, but it’s their twisting into gargoyle shapes that breaks them free. Take the twanging guitar and gentle, squealing violin of the intro to the title track. That sound is so immediately familiar that it makes the fact that it gives way to a song characterised by lyrics like “move her hair onto my chest, exposing her neck. And I tear through” even more brilliantly surprising. Creep On Creepin’ On isn’t held back by its recycling of hackeyed sounds, it’s positively set free, able to work its disquieting magic on the listener with no fear of them having to stop and try to “understand” the music. So, ignore that review, just listen to me now – this is one of the best albums of the year so far – positively Freudian in its uncanniness and endlessly inventive. But, obviously, I’m not wrong about anything else so, you know, keep reading. Please?

Timber Timbre – Creep On Creepin’ On (YSI)

With the return of the sun this week, I’ve had a hankering for a little of what soundtracked the last time I was in its rays. Well the hottest part of last summer (in England at least) was undoubtedly Glastonbury for me, and it was Loudon Wainwright III who became a major part of that particular warm weekend for me.

In a bit of downtime amongst my militantly self-enforced schedule, a friend guided me to the acoustic tent to watch the man who I simply knew as the one half of those who spawned Martha and Rufus. What I heard was the work of a man who knows how to spin a fantastic tale – ranging from comedic rant to the most heart-warming stories of fatherhood, Wainwright can hold an audience completely captive with his (surprisingly youthful) voice alone. But it was the simple two and half minutes of a single song, ‘The Picture’, that transformed this performance from an engaging one to something altogether more meaningful. As the sun warmed my back, this memorial snapshot of a song permanently installed itself as a memory in my own head. The simple description of the context of a photograph of Wainwright and his sister as children could seem irritatingly personal, but the nostalgia is haunted just enough by the final lines (‘In forty years the world has changed as well as you and I‘) to reflect itself on anyone who’s had a similar experience in thinking about the past. There’s no great theory at work here, just simple, timeless feelings expressed perfectly, and it was shown in the sheer appreciation of the audience for him having played it.

This is no ‘summer song’ in the more traditional sense, but its connection to my summer is as nostalgic as the song’s content itself.

Loudon Wainwright III – The Picture (YSI)