Vök – live at The Lexington, London

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Vök

London, The Lexington

“Apparently, our Icelandic gear doesn’t agree with your electricity.”

It’s not really a complaint from the Vök keyboardist, delivered as it is in that languid, minus-two-shits Nordic manner. But the point is pertinent:  there’s a conflict of currents here rarely seen in these parts – a charge of electrical particles that shocks a typically English crowd out of its comfort zone. It’s the Bloody-Nora! Borealis.

Born out of Iceland’s forbidding landscape, Vök’s glacial sound, while unmistakably of its region, forges an identity that’s paradoxically alien. The three figures on stage are certainly of mother-ship material, stationary and rigid as pens shoved up Kraftwerk’s shatwurst, while frontwoman Margret Ran’s voice broadcasts from all compass points, hypnotising in a directionless reverie that retains improbable grounding as it pulls with ferocious gravitational force. A cathedral of sound, the beauty of her voice is so ubiquitous it’s disorienting. Like saccharine strychnine, she sounds like a euthanasian angel of mercy, beautiful to the final breath.

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Circumnavigating this vocal like a centrifuge, the music pulsates with magnetic resistance, a confluence of minimalist old-school analogue through industrial gothic to striated dub-disco that finds light from the darkest sources. In a room so intimate, the effect is womb-like, as if wrapped in fleshy fluidity and amnio. Typified by the sax-led sultry pop-poltergeist of ‘Before’, the almost Brutalist architecture of the music is beyond language, a Tower of Babel that brings its own special electricity from an alien sky, with Ran’s voice weaving a sonic tapestry that makes patterns from half-missed whispers.

Transcendent and intransigent, Vök’s is a tangibly fluid sound channeling Archemides as it moves the Earth while standing absolutely still. It’s a presence that comes from everywhere and nowhere: the Northern Lights on strobe; déjà vu in situ. And once they’re plugged in, there’s just no turning off.

Apparently,  electricity doesn’t agree with them. Tonight, the currents fell in line as Vök settled the argument by giving it watt for.

Aurora? For realis.

Stephen Brolan

*This article is published in Record Collector (UK) and Flood (US) magazines

Vök / Roch – live@ The Lexington, London

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Vök / Roch

London, The Lexington

While we’re principally here for the debut London headline show of Icelandic trio Vök, it would be remiss not to make mention of the support. After all, what grabs our attention is a rare thing, not least on the capital’s live circuit: silence.

On stage, a diminutive singer calling herself Roch (and pronouncing it “rock”) is flanked by two minimalist males (one a Chris Lowe-esque synth zombie; the other strapped to a bass, possibly dead). The noise they make as we enter almost hides in all corners of the room, dark and conspiratorial. Suddenly, Roch locks her voice mid-song. A bassline fizzes, then fades into fibrous silence. In a Wild West scenario, the piano player has just shut the fuck up, and someone is about to get blown away. And when Roch’s crystalline voice, after a seeming eternity, returns to slice the silence like a blade, the entire Lexington saloon is effectively just that.

It’s a rare gift indeed to instil a note of respectful deference upon the capital’s customarily garrulous gig-goons (although tonight’s Vök crowd are not your average ape-like ilk), and for that Roch deserves rich applause. More than this, hers is a contemplative sound composed of such soul-bearing honesty as to expel exhibition: repose, not pose. And while most of the artsy crowd are engaged in the latter, the space in between their practiced stances is suffused by treacle-thick tendrils of noise that recoil and collide with magnetic resistance, with cleverly overlapping, undulating chord structures almost waltzing in opposite directions.

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Roch: star quality

The sound is so familiar yet alien – incongruous, like midsummer currents lost in midwinter. Roch herself is slight and statuesque, with a voice straight from a cloud’s catacombs – weightlessly deep; a million miles away yet somehow in your face. Around the room, dark musical shapes are on the move; Roch’s sonorous vocals sweep them ever on. Truncated beats tiptoe conspiratorially around rhythmic incantations like priests in purple cassocks, and the whole room transmogrifies into a gothic version of Alice In Wonderland directed by David Lynch. So weird; so, so close.

“This next song is ‘Closer’,” she announces, invoking more claustrophobia as the walls get smaller and oxygen darts out the fire exit. We draw a final lungful as ‘Closer’ draws things to a close, its seductive pop showcasing Roch’s Mazzy Star-like bone-china voice, which cracks for the last time like a brittle plate at the Mad Hatter’s party. The crowd remains respectfully silent, still and contrived as statues, but now almost amorphous – a collective closer to humanity than their shapes suggested at the beginning.

And even when we later discover art student Roch is potentially one of them, her craft eschews esoteric posturing in favour of incandescent, insouciant honesty. This is Roch: star (in the sculpting).

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Vok: ahh quality

After which, the organic craft of Vök shows what Nature herself can sculpt with the tools of geographic circumstance. Born out of Iceland’s forbidding landscape, this triumvirate’s glacial sound is one that demonstrates how geometry too can be a compositional element. And while it’s true the sound emanating from their homeland has a tendency to evoke Sigur Rós, Björk et al – just as, on the opposite side of the globe, Australian bands rock in perpetuity on an adolescent highway to AC/DC – the generic strain in the northern hemisphere is one that consistently evolves. The polite term for this contiguity would be ‘homogenous’ (in Oz: ‘homunculus’ ); the similarity, however, is redeemed by one simple fact: they do it so… fucking… well.

In the case of Vök, theirs is an evolution of sound that, while unmistakably of its region, forges an identity that’s paradoxically unidentifiable – alien. The three figures facing us from the stage are convincingly mother-ship material, stationary and rigid as pens shoved up Kraftwerk’s arse, while leader and frontwoman Margret Ran has a voice broadcasting from everywhere and nowhere – a series of points in time that converge at the slightest tilt of her elfin head.

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Surrounded by a mixture of beats and melodies that run the gamut from minimalist old-school analogue through industrial gothic to striated Blue Weaver-style disco, the chaos is anchored by Ran’s nursery-horror vocals that seduce and scathe with alternating abandon like a hibernating banshee. And while she remains fixedly positioned centre stage – flanked by synth-bound goalpost men – her distracted, almost desultory vocals writhe like fidget like knotted serpents brimming with poison. During soporific seducer ‘Waterfall’, the venom is like a whispered osmosis drip-drip-dripping into the heart of a cavernous, black-hole melody that implodes and impregnates itself. It’s as if original sin has found a soundtrack.

But despite the reference points – smatterings of Jan Hammer, Portishead, Kraftwerk, The KLF; Prussian hauteur meets Icelandic auteur – we’re still floating somewhere in the middle of nowhere, neither hot nor cold, neither human nor alien. This is music to simply exist to, with no definitions – no country or boundaries.

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“Apparently, our Icelandic gear doesn’t agree with your electricity,” one of the goalposts says, trying to hook up his synth and unearthing some cantankerous English voltage. The metaphor is as irresistible as the currents apparently are: theirs is a life force that can’t be translated; regions are so alien to their output that special adapters are required. And while their sound is fiercely and studiously confining, it staunchly refuses to be confined.

As the saxophone comes out on the sultry pop-poltergeist of ‘Before’, the musical shift is like a tapestry, its pattern familiar but alien, like déjà vu in reverse, with Ran’s voice running back and forth, weaving in and out, and sculpting itself around the living melody with ergonomic precision. With the sound of water overlain with soporific effects and throbbing, robotic bass, eventually evolving into metronomic beats and saxo-cacophony, it’s like a scene from Bladerunner the porno (dir. Fiddly Scott) wherein replicants upstage humanity with precision love-making. Passion never sounded so mathematical.

By the time the throbbing trance-like genesis of single ‘Circles’ brings us aptly full circle, it’s difficult to know whether this has been a cerebral or a sensual experience. The feeling is like love as an equation: precise as Cupid’s arrow unleashing chaos in the heart. The music is so replete with angles, its architecture a mixture of Brutalist and Romantic, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where and how it comes to meet you. All you know is: it just does. Vök’s music is a force that arrives without invitation, yet is somehow uninvasive; the sound, like the entity that makes it – on the surface of it yet another Icelandic triptych with synths and a frontwoman with airy, Björk-like vocals and dodgy, Björk-like hair stub – is just welcome without rhyme or reason – the expected unexpected. That this collective comes under the moniker of Vök is the only definition on offer.

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In fact, with regards the band’s name (pronounced ‘verk’), rumours abound that it’s a phonetic encryption, a composite word fusing various European linguistic pronunciations to make a rude word (basically ‘fuck’ in three languages). Whether it’s true or not is moot – it’s very apt: this is a sound that ventures out beyond all confines and structures to become something that defies geographical provenance. And a surreptitious, multilingual profanity is fine with us – it’s as good a definition as any: a Fuck-you Tower of Babel set to confound national grids and electrical currents all across Europe and the known world, with everything and nothing lost in translation.

By the end, we’re lost for words. The only thing that springs to mind has, like the music that prompted its utterance, seemingly come from nowhere: Vök me!

Stephen Brolan

* An edited version of the Vök review is published in Record Collector in the UK and Flood magazine in the US

REVIEW vs METAREVIEW: An appraisal and reappraisal of Florence & The Machine

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PART ONE: THE GIG

FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE

Bournemouth, BIC

Her star has risen with all the precipitous urgency of a volcano with a pressing engagement. That Florence Welch has seemingly gone from insecure waif of the side-stage to colossal high-priestess of the centre-stage owes as much to the tabloid circus surrounding her as her increasingly molten delivery.

However, despite the mainstream’s depressingly predictable attempts to mould her into another Amy Winehouse (rather than tapping her phone, they’re spiking her water supply) Ms Welch retains a focus impervious to intoxication, which is her strength under the spotlights, but also forms part of her shortcomings. For though what we’re witnessing borders on bewitching – Raise It Up, for example, has become some sort of incantation, with jutting arms and robes all aflow – there’s something stylised about this performance that flirts with contrivance.

Having seen Flo in, er, full flow upon her emergence – climbing the tent scaffold in implausibly massive platform heels at Reading; freeform howling at Lovebox – there’s a professionalism here that, while admirable, negates the sort of wild abandon that actually got her here.

Early in, What The Water Gave Me hypnotises but its séance-like mechanics also leave you floundering in séance-like wonder: ‘Is, in fact, anybody there?’

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Hostess: Raise it up

Set against a weird kind of art-deco hotel lobby backdrop, there’s a sense of juxtaposition here that kind of disturbs. When she starts thrashing around – in front of two backing singers who look strikingly similar (twins?) – it’s like a scene from The Shining.

It could be that Flo has been ceaselessly touring the same material over and over in a seemingly remorseless PR assault that has turned FATM’s energy into something slightly static. However, some of the newer material aired tonight – specifically encore Never Let Me Go – show flashes of the spectral goddess Florence Welch could and should be – like a version of a former high-priestess, but even more incendiary: yes, occasionally, she’s like a burning Bush. And when she ignites like that, we’re all like a flock of Moseses (Mosi?) receiving our instruction from on high (yes, those platforms are still in evidence) and seeing a vision of what the future holds.

The Machine may be a little rusty, but Florence has got more than enough of the magic, and love, to see her through.

Prephen Brolan (then)

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PART TWO: THE AFTERMATH

MetaReview

Florence And The Machine, Brolan’s Writing Desk

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Sages paraoles, mate

So, I write this review of Florence And The Machine for Record Collector magazine – which is to be every bit the detailed and accurate account you would expect from a trained and critical eye, honed from years of experience in the field of measured deliberation and the darkened realms of cogitation (which sounds like a booth for hire in Amsterdam, but assuredly isn’t).

Absorbing the experience, trusty pen and pad to hand (which is mainly for insurance, and almost certainly for ostentation for lack of a t-shirt saying ‘I Am A Fucking Music Journalist’) the show begins, and so starts the critical scribbles (every venue in the world is pitch black, by the way, and most of what’s actually written looks like hieroglyphics). The eventual report starts to take shape in the portals of a suddenly serious mind, while my companions, oblivious to all this, soak up proceedings with untrained yet enthusiastic synaptic responsiveness.

When my review is written, theirs will be a mere glimpsed experience of what the fully loaded, acutely attuned palette perceives – like they’re seeing some art and going: ‘Yeah, my bed looks like that in the morning!’, while I’m all: ‘Post-cognitive, meta-shambolic anti-creative indictment on the ephemerality of human/sub-meta-humanistic domestic pseudo-rebellious servitude compounded and fractured by Emin’s imperfectly perfect pillow-laced, quilt-like coquettishness. A triumph!’

Or something.

Anyway, I’m feeling empowered. So empowered I have to cross my legs. The pen, think I (probably), is truly mightier than the sword. Just wait til these people get a load of my perspective. At the moment, they’re watching a puppet show, but I’m gonna show them the strings – and what the puppet master looks like… Or maybe it’s a magic show I’m thinking of? Whatever, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about tricks and illusions. There’s got to be.

Anyway, this review is gonna make nails rue the day God gave them a head (stigmata purgation?), such will be the force and accuracy of my hitting them square on.

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Postrogative: a woman’s write

So, job done, it’s time to bring in the readership. And who better than my own gig-going plus-one and, more crucially, girlfriend and most trusted confidante. The one thing I can rely on from such a trusted source is honesty. The other is some lovely love-infused hyperbole. And maybe some after-review backstage action. Um…

Review read, she sits back and pauses, presumably to take in some oxygen after nearly drowning in such depths of perception.

“What gig were you at?” she says, my heart nearly stopping for lack of hyperbole. “That’s not how I remember it.”

First thought: somehow I’ve shown the wrong review; second, I’m with the wrong fiancé. Neither tallies, which leads to the unthinkable third: I was totally fucking wrong.

So, as with so many utterances that issue forth from one who loves me, I’m forced to take a long, hard look at myself – the self, in this case, being this overblown review. And so, after a few mandatory, face-saving protestations – always simmering away in the back of any self-serving writer’s head – a long, hard look leads me into a reassessment of what I’ve written.

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Wrong tree: Dog days are assuredly NOT over

If you haven’t already read it, the review in question is on the blog before this. What you’re reading here is the world’s first (or possibly not) meta-review – a review of a review. And the reason I believe it’s necessary is simply because, as a writer and critic, it’s essential to get to the core of what you’re seeing and feeling, rather than revelling in the sound of your own fatuous ramblings. And to show a fiancé how brilliantly fucking humble you can be.

When you read the review – if, indeed, you can be arsed – there’s plenty of clever talk of contrivance/staged professionalism on the part of the protagonist (Florence) and jarring juxtaposition (her Machine) that seemed to occupy my chief objections. And while I stand by these assertions in the main – I have seen better performances in her earlier, less publicised days – what I’d actually missed was the main point of the show: that it was actually GOOD.

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Full Flo: ‘I’m coming for you, Brolan’

This is what was baffling my fiancé upon reading my words – we’d actually had a great time. The gig was phenomenal (she reports it’s one of the best she’s seen), yet all I could concentrate on was the flaws and, more crucially, the context.

Rather than looking at the show from a fresh perspective, I was contrasting this performance against the backdrop of so many other performances I’d seen of Florence And The Machine, and that’s where I believe I – and possibly many journalists before me – completely lost the point. Suddenly I realise I’ve become just the sort of writer I’ve always despised – the CRITIC: that noisome little entity that will point out the essential flaws in your choice of favourite crisp if he thinks he can elevate himself with it (Salt and vinegar? Tish! A veritable tyrant of a crisp – more like the Sultan Vinegar). What I’d missed here was the essence, and surely that is the job – the absolute obligation – of anyone who makes a living being offered free gig tickets whenever he demands.

And maybe that’s the chief problem. For while 99 percent of the crowd that night would have purchased, ebayed, blogged and begged for tickets – and, once procured, would have counted the days in anticipation – mine (and my beloved plus-one, I might add) was a mere email away. The main problem with this, as I see it now, is journalists in this field are far too blasé about what other attendees see as the highlight of their week, month or year. When attending so many shows throughout a calendar year, it’s hardly surprising the flaws become the primary focus – almost as if I’m trying to justify being there in the first place. While all around me are there for no other reason than loving the act in question, and honestly purchasing a ticket (or desperately mortgaging to a dishonest tout), I’m there mainly because I’m working but, more pertinently, because I can be. Just like that.

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Stage against the Machine

Of course, nobody wants to read a reviewer who writes like Fearne Cotton speaks – i.e. absolutely everything is BRILL-I-ANT – but what my girlfriend’s critique has told this critic is that, rather than concentrate on what makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, or what elevates me beyond the actual content I’m writing about, it might serve to actually absorb the experience, feel the atmosphere and the sheer power of what a truly good performance can do, rather than pontificating on niggling subtext or nagging context.

How about writing what I feel? Perhaps that’s what years of writing about such things has blunted – the essential feeling. The most legendary hack of all, Lester Bangs, once postulated that writing about music is like tap-dancing about architecture. If that is so (which it probably is), perhaps the only thing to do is stop tapping and make some cement.

And there you have it: my meta-review. Might start doing more of these (will, in fact; stand by for magazine launch) – maybe that’s the only way to get to the essence of what I’m bollocking on about in my actual reviews. After all, self-criticism is one of the few ways you can truly understand yourself – and possibly the only way a girlfriend will give you some backstage action, if only for the price of admitting she was right all along.

SB

Stephen Postlan

* Stand by for more MetaReviews with a new magazine launch coming this year…

EMBRACE – Shepherd’s Bush Empire / Absolute Radio review Spanish translation by Nohemi Davila

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fotografía: Julie Burgess

EMBRACE en vivo en London Shepherds Bush Empire y Absolute Radio.
Las sesiones finales.

“Hola, Tally”

La primera cosa que me sucede es ser marcado.

En un pub en Shepherd’s Bush, los fieles de Embrace están esperando. Tan pronto como llego, me es impuesta una etiqueta sobre el pecho cual ceremonia bovina, y lleva como título: “Stephen, el escritor”. Las pegatinas han sido cuidadosamente elaboradas por la devota e incondicional de Embrace, Elizabeth, junto con la calcomanía va lo que ahora se ha convertido en una imagen icónica -las marcas del álbum (Tally)-. A mi alrededor, todo un sector del pub ha sido tomado por la gente que lleva marca similar, se han congregado previo al concierto en lo que parece ser un abrazo masivo.

Esta es la Familia de Embrace -que ahora me han adoptado / secuestrado- un colectivo cuya pasión por la banda es tal que los ocho años de espera por la banda, no pudieron disminuir sino al contrario. Esta es la última etapa de una gira que comenzó con un Concierto Secreto (SG) en el que los fieles se vistieron como zombies y los militares, y termina aquí en una emotiva despedida de muchas personas que han recorrido esta aventura.

Como periodista durante más de diez años, este escritor puede informarle con la máxima autoridad ninguna otra banda tiene un público más ferviente y devoto que Embrace. Hay personas que a lo largo de este nuevo despertar, viajaron desde todos los rincones del mundo -Linelle Bird de Australia y Nohemi Dávila de México, por nombrar algunos- y esta noche hay una palpable sensación de melancolía ya que todo esto está llegando a su fin.

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Myself, and the shady ladies

Bueno, esto no iba a ser una fiesta que termine con un gemido. Desde nuestras bebidas en el pub, el contingente emprende su ruta hacia Shepherd’s Bush Empire y cada persona lleva consigo una con las ahora formidables y omnipresentes marcas de la banda.

Había habido camaradería similar sobre excursiones anteriores -Bristol, en particular, fue un momento culminante (gracias eternas a: Nohemi / Sonia / Eddie)- pero hay algo en esta noche que hace que todo parezca más febril y que nos acerca los unos a los otros.

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Nohemi getting a piece of Danny

¿Qué mejor manera, entonces, para iniciar la noche que con “Ashes”, himno de demagogia. Hasta ahora, la banda se había apegado a su fórmula con la apertura de las tres primeras canciones del nuevo álbum. Esta noche, empezar con un llamado a las armas parece adecuado, ya que realmente han resurgido de sus cenizas y esta noche es una prueba del resurgimiento.

La letra “Mira como me levanto…” nunca se había sentido tan adecuada, los fans sacudieron los cimientos del lugar, como una epifanía musical que recuerda lo que esta banda es capaz de hacer. Mi Familia recién descubierta de inmediato estaba brincando por todo el lugar; y junto a mí, Darren –el fan de Embrace más ávido del mundo, querido amigo y casi maniático- decide que ahora es el momento de exprimir mis ojos fuera de sus órbitas sujetando mi cabeza entre sus manos. Todo en nombre del amor, obviamente.

El recinto, con una sola canción, ha perdido los estribos. Esta pasión desenfrenada por Embrace parece engendrar algo en todos a mi alrededor – el clan con sus marcas del álbum, están con los brazos en alto o bien abrazando a otras personas. ¿Ha habido alguna vez un nombre más apropiado para una banda?

Con canciones como “In The End” -una gran melodía- y “Refugees” teniendo al frente a Richard McNamara, tienen todo el lugar inmerso en un gran concurso de interminables aplausos. Después casi desapercibidamente, siguen con los clásicos que ha mantenido a Embrace en sus altos estándares. Y en algunos casos, les han superado.

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The irrepresible Sonia with my headgear: Hat’s all changed Fooever

El nuevo clásico “Follow You Home”, que tiene un estribillo que te mantendrá despierto por la noche, es constantemente repetido por un nuevo culto de la orden de “Ahh – ohh ahh – ohh” (siendo el sacerdote principal Steven Firth, quien maneja su línea de bajo como una persona que estuviera en un bar durante la hora feliz), es una prueba de que todavía Embrace tiene un don para la melodía adictiva. Una vez que esta canción termina… más bien, simplemente no termina, ya que la multitud se mantiene cantando al unísono, con Firth muy feliz de animar a las masas.

Danny sets the mood (Photo: Julie Burgess)

Danny sets the mood (Photo: Julie Burgess)

Esta canción se ha convertido para Embrace en algo así como el canto de un equipo de fútbol y todos los fans han adoptado esta canción implacable como un llamado tribal a las armas, al igual que imágenes del álbum, que es reconocible al instante y crean un vínculo indeleble.

Por cierto, esta canción fue nuestra despedida para la incontenible y dulce Sonia Foo cuando hacia su salida del lugar, con coro uniforme de ” Foo- ohhh Foo- ohhh”.

La canción se presenta entre otras más antiguas como “Gravity” -una pista que escribió Coldplay que realmente se ha convertido en sub estánda – y el clásico de su álbum debut “Come Back To What You Know”. El hecho de que “Follow You Home” pueda eclipsar estas dos canciones, dice mucho acerca de la nueva obra que surge de Embrace. El término “clásico instantáneo” nunca ha sido más oportuno.

Una vez que el coro con efecto Yo-Yo eventualmente se apaga, otro nuevo clásico llega de golpe, “Quarters” con la que todos levantan sus brazos, al entonar “I feel myself surrender”, pronto todo el lugar sigue su ejemplo. Dan la impresión de haber creado un setlist diseñado para matar por euforia, Embrace continúa luego con “Save Me”, un colosal tema que requiere de una camisa de fuerza para que evitar que llegues al cielo por la emoción. Abajo y frente al escenario, un enorme sándwich, en el que las palabras “Save me ” adquieren un doble sentido: yo estoy con los brazos en alto y al mismo tiempo ahogándome en un mar de personas agitando mis extremidades y dando bandazos a otros.

Rik'n'roll star (Pic: Julie Burgess)

Rik’n’roll star (Pic: Julie Burgess)

Y lo que realmente me “salva” de ahogarme es la llegada de una de las baladas más hermosas jamás escritas. “That’s All Changed Forever”, esta fue la canción que me hizo enamorarme de Embrace, en primer lugar y la interpretación de Danny McNamara esta noche es desgarradoramente tierna -a la vez nostálgica y con una visión de futuro, la realización de la idea de la resistencia del amor-. Lágrimas fueron derramadas, y es obvio que lo único que no cambia es el poder de esta canción – para siempre.

Para cerrar el concierto, una canción casi Gospel, “Thief On My Island” que ha sido fuertemente criticada en esta gira, sobre todo debido a endebles vocales, pero esta noche se eleva absolutamente. Los rumores dudosos sobre la voz de Danny McNamara han abundado desde el inicio de este resurgimiento -y algunos han sido justificados- aunque esta noche ni una sola nota está fuera de lugar.

También hay una sublime elevación de él en el escenario que hace que su condición física y altura sea aún mayor. Está radiante; él está llegando a la multitud, que es probablemente muy familiar ahora – incluso señalando algunas caras reconocibles-. Lo único que le faltó fue lanzarse desde el escenario. ¿Danny? ¿Qué te parece? Ten la seguridad, esta gente te atrapará. Y claro, luego, procederá a comerte.

Después de esto, “All You Good Good People”. ¿Qué más se puede decir? He vuelto al submundo de agitar, brincar y ahogarme, y aquí es donde la multitud llega a ser realmente más fuerte que la banda. Su canción más emblemática le da un gran aire a lo que es más o menos una colección icónica de fans y la encarnación del nombre de la canción… no hay personas más buenas buenas que estas.

Con la multitud entonando “Ahh – ohhs ” en Shepherd’s Bush Empire llega el encore, y luego “Protección” la canción que abre el nuevo álbum y que derrama su electro dark / pop con un vigor de electrochoque a los fans hambrientos. “One Big Family”, por otra parte, tiene a mí y a mis hermanos adoptados en un surfing masivo con las manos en alto, llenos de energía por el sentimiento inquebrantable de la música. Tenemos familia aquí, con seguridad, y el amor que se está compartiendo es absolutamente palpable.

Este espectáculo perenne termina casi demasiado pronto con “The Good Will Out” -un triunfante pasaje musical de unión, y afirmación de vida– que al mismo tiempo es también el sonido que marca el final de este viaje. Mientras que en la audiencia hay ojos húmedos y abrazos tiernos, hasta en el escenario el guitarrista Richard McNamara tiene lágrimas en los ojos. Realmente ha sido un hermoso viaje, y como lo es al final cada verano, el sabor que queda es tan amargo como dulce.

Tuvimos un tiempo – y estos son esos los momentos que uno nunca quiere que terminen…

AREmbrace

Unión Absoluta

Absolutamente Embrace

Y de repente, todo empieza de nuevo.

Después de afectuosas despedidas, al mismo día siguiente, la banda asiste a una sesión acústica en Absolute Radio, una emisora mayormente insípida, que da la bienvenida a Embrace. Los tiempos están cambiando. Yo no estoy programado para asistir, pero fui invitado amablemente por compañeros portadores de Tally (Fuertes abrazos a Katie y DonLo), esto significa que de repente soy el centro de atención, en las oficinas centrales de la estación de radio para una sesión con Embrace…

Excepto que yo no lo soy. Me reúno con el resto de los fieles seguidores en Leicester Square en el edificio de Capital Radio / XFM -donde asumimos que estaban los estudios de Absolute Radio- pero pronto descubrimos, para ser exactos diez minutos antes del inicio de la grabación, que con nuestra maldita suerte, estamos en el edificio equivocado. Absolute, absolutamente no está aquí. Rápido buscamos hacer un inesperado viaje en taxi, toda la situación está empezando a apestar.

¡Taxi!

Al igual que un montón de locos escapando de un manicomio, estamos corriendo hacia un taxista comprensiblemente parco, y una vez dentro es un ¡Tally- ho! Desesperados, gritando, sudando.

En el momento en que entramos en las oficinas de Absolute Radio –tras haber abandonado el taxi debido a las obras viales que nos desviaban y metidas de patas que hasta Noé se hubiera enfadado- estamos en los estudios y en un espacio minúsculo apenas a pocos metros de la banda.

“Hola de nuevo”, nos dice el cantante Danny quien saluda con un toque ligeramente dulce y sarcástico. Está familiarizado con todos nosotros, nos reconocería incluso si estuviéramos allí con un outfit totalmente camuflajeado.

Empezamos el set con un viejo favorito “One Big Family”, que parece bastante apropiado, Richard McNamara adquiere protagonismo y nuestro pequeño grupo está con él cantando hasta el final, entonando los coros con entusiasmo, pero ligera vacilación… (esto se está grabando, ¿no?).

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Los temores se disiparon cuando Danny nos exige unirnos a él en la próxima canción“Ashes”, misma que ayer movió a las masas, una canción de introspección casi triste y que te cala hasta los huesos. Al oír estas canciones en su estado más crudo, se hace evidente que, a pesar de enorme sonido de Embrace, tienen vida propia, no necesitan ser estruendosas, porque tienen sus bases y están construidas desde cero. Son canciones que han sido elaboradas de forma orgánica. Es la manera Embrace que siempre ha funcionado. En este entorno, en el que brillan solas.

Como para demostrarlo, una versión febril de “Refugees”, canción que suena masiva en el álbum, se traduce con una ternura impresionante en un entorno acústico. La voz de Richard es tan delicada, y la música que la acompaña es posiblemente más dramática debido a su subestimada delicadeza. La medida de la buena composición, para este escritor, es lo bien que puede llevar su propia piel cuando no tiene nada para cubrirse. Este material es hermoso en extremo.

La canción final, la ya legendaria “Follow You Home”, convierte este lugar en un escenario hilarante. La multitud reunida sigue siendo muy consciente de la grabación, y por lo tanto dudan si está bien gritar con todos sus pulmones, es una tentación con una canción que es tan difícilmente dejar de cantar ante ellos, es como una escena de Naranja Mecánica, con los fans casi volviéndose locos por restringirse a sí mismos cantar el estribillo de la canción. El lugar está a salvo y todo el mundo simplemente tararea “Ohh ahh – ahh – ohh ohh…”

Después de terminar, la banda se acerca para charlar y tomarse algunas fotos con el grupo más devoto de seguidores y algunas de las personas más especiales que he conocido, por lo que el final de este camino es mucho más conmovedor.

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Good good people with Pieces of Danny founder and your translator, stage right

No hay suficientes paredes y no hay suficientes plumas para hacer que las marcas del álbum representen hasta qué punto esta experiencia ha significado para mí, no sólo la música y el resurgimiento de una banda con la que he amado desde el principio (y el hecho de soy su biógrafo), sino toda la gente hermosa que conocí en el camino.

El hecho es que las marcas Tally son un símbolo apropiado para un grupo de personas que no sólo han estado contando los días, sino que están siempre impregnados por un amor de algo que llevan con orgullo en sus pechos. Embrace, del mismo modo, representan exactamente lo que sugiere su nombre, un abrazo gigantesco de personas que todavía saben amar la música, y reconocer cómo se relaciona al estar unos con otros.

Al final, Embrace encarna precisamente eso: la unión. Stephen Brolan, mayo 2014

Spanish translation by Nohemi DavilaNohemi_Davila

DELAYS – ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ tour. Live review, London Borderline

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DELAYS – ‘Faded Seaside Glamour’ tour

Borderline, London

Backstage, Greg Gilbert is pacing.

This is the first time the Delays frontman has played in the capital for a long time – and it’s showing. Ohhhing and ahhhing in various octaves, his random vocal callisthenics alone are worthy of a favourable review, but even this finely attuned voice can’t help but feel the jitters. A beer is proffered; he declines. I decide it’s time to help out. Hic! Before stepping out into a yearning crowd, he paces some more, a wanderlust that doesn’t quite know which direction it wants to go. Stage time, and there’s another Wanderlust that has to be unleashed onto a crowd that, in the intervening years, has wandered nowhere.

The 10th anniversary of the release of debut album Faded Seaside Glamour has prompted this special tour, and it seems the audience for that particular milestone is still hearing that knocking in their souls. Standing on a small stage with a swathe of expectant faces glaring up at him, Greg Gilbert unleashes his unearthly falsetto – and the whole room draws breath. As reviews go, silence says it all. It seems a decade hasn’t made a single dent in Gilbert’s voice – the angels in heaven are still pissed off they’re playing second fiddle to him. Or harp. Musically, the opening track still retains its ethereal quality, and within seconds the walls of this cavernous venue seem to have evaporated.

Tonight, the entire debut album is played out consecutively, track by track, and once the opening song fades into the ether, Nearer Than Heaven descends like another commandment from on high – dripping with nostalgia, but still as vital and vibrant as when it first emerged. Likewise, crowd favourite and supernaturally sonorous classic Long Time Coming has aged less than if it had a portrait of itself hiding in the attic – a Wilde accusation. How can it grow old? It can’t. And Greg Gilbert’s impassioned delivery paints it as the portrait of perfection it still is.

Track-by-track enactments can be a bit stultifying, though the fresh energy reigniting these tracks feels like a rebirth – You Wear The Sun doing just that, a shimmering mirage of heart-on-sleeve splendour; hit single Hey Girl rocking a little harder than its recorded version, to which Greg Gilbert acknowledges once again his gratitude to Radio 1’s Mark & Lard – staunch supporters of said track.

Midway in the night’s salient track, Stay Where You Are, Greg gives a wave in my direction during the chorus, aware as he is of my love for this song, but also seeming to have settled into himself and his performance – those pre-gig jitters apparently exorcised.Image

Typified by the delicate waterfall of Satellite’s Lost, Greg’s fibrous vocals have never sounded so pure. Finishing the album off with the stunning outro of One Night Away (“The feeling is love”) and an aptly relentless On – which sees Greg’s brother Aaron taking the reigns and conducting the audience into a minor freak-out –the album comes to a close.

But they’re not done yet, the encore reminding how much this band have in their repertoire. Hideaway has the crowd doing anything but – a hands-aloft extroverted celebration that celebrates the joy of life on its sleeve and doesn’t give a shit who knows about it; perennial b-side favourite Lost In A Melody gets the disco started, while the Aaron-led party trick that is In Brilliant Sunshine has the entire room in absolute raptures – the roof under threat from its transcendent chorus.

Finishing off with some of the best tracks from this great album’s successor, You See Colours, Delays close the show in glorious Technicolor, with a garish version of You And Me and the most roof-raising interpretation of Valentine that threatens to bring the house down. “We are Delays,” Greg says humbly to an audience who, on this showing, will never will forget just who they are.

They exit, with a tidal wave of applause and admiration flushing them out the doors.

What the hell was there to be nervous about?

After the show, we’re backstage, and Greg Gilbert is pacing again. This time it’s a different kind of wanderlust – these footsteps are alive with anticipation. The nerves have been exorcised, and it seems he can’t wait to get going again.

Nothing has faded; the glamour remains.

Stephen Brolan

*An edited version of this review will appear in Record Collector magazine in the UK and Filter magazine in the US

EMBRACE #SG21 review

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EMBRACE

Secret Gig 21: OCCUPATION – ‘A GORIER DAY’

Holmfirth, West Yorkshire

06.04.14

When you find yourself dressed in combat gear and smeared in badly applied camouflage facepaint, legging it across a cricket field somewhere in Yorkshire pursued by zombies, you know you’re not at your average, everyday gig. In fact, when you’re flailing just around mid-wicket, with pint in hand and an air-raid siren howling that the undead are on their way, the thought tends to occur: what the fuck is going on here?

Welcome to Embrace’s 21st Secret Gig – the aptly titled ‘Occupation’ – wherein a small, quiet town in West Yorkshire, famously the location of the sedate northern comedy Last Of The Summer Wine, is transformed into a hideous re-enactment of a George A. Romero film. In this scenario, Compo is more de-Composition, and the last of anything seems to be a writer’s whine as his beer flies in his face and he flings himself for six over the boundary.

Embrace have been staging these secret gigs for almost as long as they’ve been around – an impromptu series of increasingly bizarre concerts that test the true devotion of their fans. After a prolonged period of absence, you might suspect the ardour for the band has dissipated. If you thought that, you probably don’t know an Embrace fan; this lot are rabid. Today, pretty much literally.

This time around, factions have been devised; instructions are for half of the devotees to get absolutely gruesome and make like they’ve just risen from the dead; the other half – into which yours truly has been allocated (cheers, Danny) – are told to camouflage up, and get chased all over the town like militaristic chickens by blood-soaked flesh-eaters.

Yes, it’s the copses verses the corps in a bizarre game of tag – we, the army, have been branded with a sticker which they, the armless, have to retrieve.

Having evaded the initial corpse invasion by hiding out in a copse by the side of the main road – not before playing Mulberry-bush chase-me shit with the whole of zombiedom around the public toilets – I eventually stroll out with victory beaming through my grease paint, only for a casually passing girlie ghoul to de-sticker me with a swift swipe of her grisly hand, despite a feeble attempt to hide it with my pint of lager.

Passing members of the platoon who’ve also been deaded are a consolation. And as fallen troops who’ve been kettled by the cadavery, we head for the centre of this small town, all clad in military gear, facepaint and mostly exhibiting the tally marks that is the new album’s motif.

Suddenly, Holmfirth is besieged by the Tallyban.

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The Tallyband

 

And thus captured, we military folk are shepherded into the venue’s courtyard where we’re inducted into the ranks of the undead, our faces being caked in ghoulish white and our mouths bloodied (not literally – thankfully, the bouncers aren’t applying the effects). Once made-up, it seems the undead look is definitely more me. And it’s so now (or should that be once-was?)

The make-up is pretty cool –­ a nifty touch-up job from the staff on hand – but the effort made by some who actually turned up as zombies is quite exceptional. A shout-out to Kiwi lass Linelle is required here, done up as she is in a friend’s wedding dress, torn to shreds and bloodied, while carrying a severed head – presumably the groom – and generally eliciting an air of eerie disquiet.

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LinHell: giving head, and eerily calm about it

The fact that I, as writer of the band’s biography, get spotted a few times, even as I’m done up like Tom Savini’s savage Savoy cabbage, leaves me in deep consideration about my general appearance. Maybe it’s time to ditch the ‘got out the wrong side of the grave’ look?

Inside the venue, this historic pre-war converted picturehouse is now, in its new incarnation as a music venue/charnel house, bestrewn with cordon tape, warning signs and red lights worn and brandished by around 700 zombified Embrace fanatics. It’s come a long way since 1913, for sure.

Having purchased my own special Embrace red glowstick – from keyboardist Mickey Dale, who’s manning the merchandise stall – it’s up to the balcony where the view of the undead red army below is as surreal as it is spectacular.

Starting things off with album opener Protection, with its ominous, siren-like electronics – a sonic, post-apocalyptic air-raid – is a pretty apt place to start. Singer Danny McNamara, stage front in orange boiler suit, hits the first notes of the apposite first line “It wasn’t perfection I was expecting” with some hesitancy. Soon after, he warms up – the resonance evident in the recording filling his lungs, and suddenly this small former cinema is filled with a Cinemascope vocal, made all the more epic by Richard McNamara’s choral mountaineering.

In fact, pre-gig rumours abounded that Richard had contracted tonsillitis and there were doubts about his vocal range – or even whether he’d be even able to perform. If the rumours were true, it certainly doesn’t affect his performance – his impassioned rendition of EP gem Decades being one of the highlights.

In fact, all tracks from the Refugees EP, the first release from the band in seven years, are played out tonight. Possibly their greatest EP ever – from a band renowned for its EP brilliance – this collection of tracks are more companions to the album than mere throwaway tracks. Here in the Picturedrome, the undead mongregation are going crazy for these songs, marking as they do the band’s glorious resurrection.

Tonight, the new album is played out in its entirety. And even though still unreleased, the reaction is nevertheless an ardent and rabid one from a crowd for whom that same description can be applied. Of course, your correspondent has heard the album, and for the most part, the performance is a faithful, incendiary enactment of the new material – particularly brilliant new single Follow You Home, which seems to have unearthed a new sing-along chant with its “Aaah-ohhh, aaah-ohhh” refrain, which is reprised quite a few times, the crowd becoming instantly infected by its almost hymnal call-to-arms.

Sandwiched in between the new material, Embrace play to their greatest strengths – the likes of the glorious Ashes and a rousing rendition of All You Good Good People – it becomes clear this band’s return, even after such a prolonged absence, is pretty seamless. Suddenly, it’s as if they’ve never been away, and the new tracks effortlessly meld themselves with older classics, nestling with a certain familiarity while still pushing the development and evolution of the band’s oeuvre further still.

Case in point, preceding single Refugees is the perfect crossover point, a wake-up call that couples the quiet contemplation of its verse with an explosive chorus that, tonight, threatens this venue’s frail 1913 foundations – not just with the untainted, unrestrained vocals of Richard but the euphoric, red-rod waving stampede of hundreds of reanimated, loved-up, emotionally pregnant undead believers. Truly, you’ve never seen such a jubilant collection of corpses.

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All you ghoul ghoul people

On this kind of showing, Embrace really expose not only what they are about, but also what they instil in their fans. This is music for whom, as befits the band’s moniker, is something to hold on to for dear life. An Embrace fan is not merely an enthusiast; this is a group for which, in keeping with both of today’s army and zombie themes, people live and die for. And, um, are brought back from the grave for.

Musically, Embrace just seem to have that uncanny way with melody – they pretty much hit the target every time, and have a knack for soundtracking the soul; lyrically, there is something a lot deeper – these words speak on a fundamentally humanistic level, reaching places of the heart into which many other bands can’t (or won’t) delve. When Danny intones: “Everything that matters is broken, lost and shattered” on At Once, it’s impossible to not be drawn in; tonight, the haunting rendition leaves the undead aptly breathless.

Finishing with their perennial grand finale The Good Will Out (of which we’d heard rumours they would no longer play live), the resurrection is complete and, by the end, the congregated afterlife are howling, rapturous, looking like death and loving it, in reanimated synchronicity as the night of the living dead draws to a close… and the dawn of a new Embrace arises.

The good has come back.

Stephen Brolan

* An alternate version of this review will be published in Record Collector magazine in the UK and Filter magazine in the US

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DANIEL GLOVER

The Heavy Mind Sessions

(Lost Chord)

They’re everywhere, aren’t they: acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriters, who seem to monopolise every wedding party, festival love-in and street corner going, baring their souls willy-nilly like emotional streakers with a loose g-string. In such a ubiquitous field of rampant earnestness, it takes something pretty special to stand out from this militia of melancholy.

That our first encounter with Daniel Glover was a live show performed at a tribute night to Bill Hicks was an apt context in which to encounter such a talent – someone who, like the great comedian himself, really seems to mean it. The Heavy Mind Sessions is a live-recorded mini-album that delves deeper and ranges further than most manage in an entire, fully rounded album.

A solitary artist, Glover’s songs nevertheless conjure orchestras and elaborate arrangements that transcend the rawness of their delivery. Opener Chase Our Dreams elicits the ghost of Jeff Buckley and aligns it with Mumford & Sons’ sporadic playfulness – a haunted house that howls with insouciant joy; the title track recalls Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah with some additional aggression, while Wasting My Life closes the record with a heart-on-sleeve candour that parallels the conviction of Bill Hicks – completely and utterly playing from the heart.

Beautiful, passionate and replete with soul, Daniel Glover’s place in Hell is assured. After all, that’s where all the best tunes are.

Stephen Brolan

* Full album review will be published in the April edition of Brumnotes magazine

Daniel Glover – The Heavy Mind Sessions (album review)