October 3, 2011
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August 7, 2011
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Today, DIY Radio broadcast the first episode of my new weekly show, The Folk Bloke, and that’s what you can see above. If you like the kind of thing I post here, you’re more than likely to approve of the show, so please do listen in. Please? Oh, go on. Please?
June 23, 2011
This post will offer you nothing new if you’ve already read the previous one. It’s something of an experiment, as the Hype Machine doesn’t appear to be recognising when I’ve posted Soundcloud tracks and, given that it’s my main source of traffic this seems like a bad thing, especially when I really want people to hear artists like James Mathé (on a side note, if you come here specifically because you want to, I love you). Below are all three tracks from his new EP, Memory Laps. Below those, in the last post, I extol the virtues of both EP and artist. To those who have already seen/heard this, I apologise for nothing. To those who will (hopefully) see/hear this because of Hype Machine, I am vindicated!
James Mathé – re:stacks
James Mathé – Turbine
James Mathé – What Do We Know Love?
June 22, 2011
After seeing him live and hearing various bits and pieces since then, I’ve been under the impression that James Mathé’s move away from his Barbarossa moniker was characterised by his rejection of guitars in favour of casiotone and drum machine beats. With reference to his new Memory Laps EP, I’ve been wrong all along, as these three new tracks see him embrace the ol’ six-string once more.
Mathé opens with a reworking of Bon Iver’s plaintive album closer ‘re:stacks’ that moves it away cabin-bound strumming and closer to shimmering bedroom pop, with gentle, floating synths backing up sometimes spindly, sometimes rich and reverb-laden guitar work. It’s a pleasant start but, to Mathé’s credit (or Justin Vernon’s denigration, I’m not sure), it’s a solid beginning to the EP, rather than the early show-stealer. ‘Turbine’ is easily the most surprising track here, and probably my favourite because of that. Setting itself up as a White Stripes stomper, Mathé’s leisurely vocals somehow warp this tried-and-tested garage format into something more funky and consistently engaging, with loud-quiet progressions the name of the game. Closing proceedings with ‘What Do We Know Love?’, Mathé returns to a more recognisably, but still distinct, set of musical conditions. A simple vocals ‘n’ guitar affair is aided immensely by some gentle background distortion and a wonderful sharpness to the guitar production that turns what could have seemed a perfectly good, if unremarkable track into something far more intimate and beautiful.
If I’m honest, I would have liked a little more than the three tracks I’ve been given here but that’s only because my interest has been well and truly piqued. After comparison to the last EP, my expectations of what James Mathé can offer in a full length has been completely rewritten with Memory Laps. From keyboard to fretboard, he seems to offer a Mathé-shaped interpretation to every genre he touches (see: ‘Pallyacho’ for minimal electro, ‘The Load’ for soul, and the afore-mentioned ‘Turbine’ and ‘What Do We Know Love’ for garage rock and folk-pop respectively) so God knows what he’ll do with eleven or twelve tracks worth of material. I can’t wait to find out.
That’s the entirety of the EP up there but, frankly, it’s currently £4 at Rough Trade, so why not just buy it? There’s only 200, so you’ll be in a little club. With me.
March 1, 2010
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I’ve been to Newcastle’s fantastic bar/restaurant/venue The Cluny a fair few times now, but I’d never yet ventured to the far end to have a look at Cluny 2, the newly added extra bar and venue space. Well, not only did I get to have a good look round on Saturday, I also got to see the magnificent Johnny Flynn as part of the bargain. And not only that, this was the first gig I’ve been to for a long time where the support bands have been any good at all – and these two were both pretty wonderful.
Cluny 2 used to be (and I think, still is) a theatre space, meaning the stage is placed amidst seating, and there are balconies overlooking it all, meaning it’s pretty intimate to begin with. As we walked in, we realised that the audience didn’t believe in personal space and had stood right next to the already enclosed stage anyway, so taking our position we watched the first act, James Mathé. A permanent part of The Sussex Wit himself, Mathé played rickety old keyboards and sang whilst Mr. Flynn himself took turns providing backing vocals and violin accompaniments. What we heard was a beautifully stripped down set of folktronica at its purest – folk melodies and styles set (mostly) to electronic instrumentation. Mathé’s voice is usually restrained and slightly affected (think a more downbeat Alexis Taylor), but at its wildest grew into a heartrending keen as he put his whole body into singing out what he had to say. It was a lovely start to the gig – as Mathé himself put it, ‘it isn’t music to dance to’, but it’s music to relax to. His Myspace offers a few tracks that seem further fleshed out and more obviously indebted to electronic and pop music, but it’s still lovely – ‘Bloodline’ in particular is a masterpiece of laid back heartache pop. I can’t offer any tracks as yet, but hopefully some will be forthcoming.
Next up was Anna Calvi who I understand has garnered the affections of Xfm legend John Kennedy and a certain Devonté Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion), and based on this performance it’s perfectly understandable why. She opened with a virtuoso solo performance on her guitar, alternating between furious picking and harplike strums before segueing into the first track, fixing the audience with a steely glare and billowing her deep alto vocals as her bandmates both provided the percussion for her wild guitar work. The immediate impression was one of amazement – it’s unfortunately rare to be met with a new artist so accomplished at their chosen instrument. The set continued in a similar vein, full of tracks that oscillated between the ‘silence as instrument’ aesthetic championed by The xx and the pure overblown guitar theatrics of Showbiz-era Muse. Calvi seems completely unlike any artists in the current scene – completely comfortable in her own skin and with her own skill. But it’s her bandmates who make Anna Calvi as good as she is, providing the perfect, restrained accompaniment, keeping her in line and grounding her but letting her soar when she needs to. She truly is quite special, and the demos on her Myspace page help prove that with ‘Blackout’ a highlight of both that page and the set.
After two such good support artists, I’d almost forgotten that we’d come to see Johnny Flynn, but sure enough he appeared, bandmates arrayed around him to the screams of the strange group of folk groupies that seem to have sprung up from the depths of Newcastle. Before I go on, I’d like to mention these idiots. As talented and good-looking as Johnny undoubtedly is (my girlfriend didn’t stop telling me so for a fair while afterwards), when your inane screaming of his name is clearly making him nervous and uncomfortable onstage, and therefore disrupting the gig, maybe that’s a signal that it’s time for you to grow up and stop acting like a tween at a Jonas Brothers concert. Just a thought. Anyway, aside from half the crowd acting like braying twats, Johnny and his Sussex Wit played a fucking blinder of a set all in all. Opening with ‘The Box’, he was immediately met with singalongs and a full-on hoedown which more-or-less continued throughout.
Brilliantly, the band opted to alternate between songs from the first album and new tracks from the forthcoming sophomore effort, meaning the crowd’s interest neevr waned, but we were all treated to tasters of what’s to come. And if the gig was anything to go by, the second album will be just as good as the first. Sounding, literally, a lot more rhythm and blues than A Larum, the new songs see Johnny playing his usual dobro alongside banjo, trumpet, violin and god knows what else whilst his band sound far more amped-up and foregrounded than before. The older tracks sounded better with live experience too with ‘Brown Trout Blues’, ‘Cold Bread’ and my personal favourites ‘The Wrote and the Writ’ (which I have written about elsewhere as being pure poetry set to music) and ‘Tickle Me Pink’ (the first Flynn song I heard) receiving a hugely warm reception. It was a stunning set and performance, and judging by the extended cheers and applause of the crowd afterward, one I wasn’t alone in wishing it hadn’t ended when it had. Oh, and new-folk fans, there’s a confirmed Laura Marling appearance on the new album. Be excited.