Thursday, April 22, 2010

Live Review: Wild Beasts, Villagers and Lone Wolf @ The Academy [27th March 2010]

Having originally booked tickets solely for Wild Beasts at the Academy last month, I was over-joyed when I discovered the support slot would be comprised of none other than Villagers; the collective term for previous The Immediate member Conor O'Brien's solo endeavour. Having pinned my hopes on the now defunct The Immediate as the saviour of the Irish music scene, I had been desperate to catch Villagers since hearing their first snippets of material last year. Such wishes had been dashed by a series of unavoidable events, thus on a balmy Saturday evening I set forth for The Academy; ticket super-glued to my head, masses of time to spare and brimming with excitement. 

Alas, 'when it rains it pours', 'wait all day for a bus and two come at once'...pick whatever trite saying necessary, but it appeared my luck of the Villagers support slot was well and truly in tow as I stepped into the venue to be greeted by an unassuming bloke with a guitar. This bloke turned out to be Lone Wolf, who in turn, transpired to be a truly excellent song-writer. Despite having no backing band (living up to his name...dum dum tish), and several sound issues, the couple of dozen souls in attendance were greeted to a treat, as he bucked the trend of the typical singer songwriter, serving up carefully layered, joyous songs with a rousing backbone. Particularly captivating was latest single 'Keep Your Eyes On The Road', which harbours enough creativity to be spread across three separate tracks, yet dips and weaves unexpectedly to develop into one of the songs of the year so far. Accompanied by a stop motion promo-video of equally astounding quality, the track will find it's home on Lone Wolf's latest album The Devil And I, which shall be eagerly sought out upon it's release on May 17.

Meanwhile, the buzz which has surrounded Villagers  in recent months was evident as the sold-out crowd filled close to capacity as Conor and comrades took to the stage. Fresh from SXSW, where they received rave reviews, and with the American release for their debut subsequently secured, they launched into a stirring set with the confidence of a band who know they're onto something special. The crowd hang on O'Brien's every word as he delivers a masterclass in songwriting; delicate arrangements give way to surging finale's and the air hangs silent in The Academy as O'Brien's voice transforms into a series of surging, eerie howls at the end of Pieces. There's an incredibly emotive and personal element to Conor's work and though it is clear the songs were crafted through a solo endeavor the presence of the other members of the band should not be understated as their subtle arrangements yields a depth far greater than the typical backing band's endeavours. Having recently signed to Domino Records and having performed on the Jools Holland show last week, these are exciting times for Villagers and it's truly heartening to see such a shining light rise from the ashes of The Immediate. Impassioned, memorable and well and truly worth the wait.

As the masses retreat to the bar, drained and amazed by Villagers stirring efforts, the pressure was on Wild Beasts to reassert their headline status. Thankfully, they rise to the occasion. Taking to the stage amid a background of pulsing fairy lights, Conor O'Briens lingering howls are soon replicated by a haunting set, full of the verve and darkness for which they have come to be known. From the settled opening of The Fun Powder Plot to the playful Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants (which one suspects is the closest they'll get to a conventional pop song), the set gains momentum which each track as Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming swap vocal duties with equal aplomb, meandering through tales of troubled anarchy and aristocracy. Brooding and reflective, Wild Beasts are as captivating live as on record and for a band with one of the best album's of recent years in the form of Two Dancers, this is a high compliment indeed. A night of three very different yet equally rewarding artists comes to a close amid the finale of 'Hooting and Howling' which presents the closest to a mosh-pit one would find at a gig of this kind. Although on the whole Wild Beasts' set may lack a certain sing-along element, one feels there are enough identikit bands providing such a feat week in week out for this not to matter. True originality is there to be celebrated and it is the inability to pigeon hole Wild Beasts that is perhaps their greatest strength, such is their awe-inducing creativity. Weird, wonderful and incredibly unique, Wild Beasts are the introspective loner of the classroom, skulking quietly misunderstood in the shadows yet seemingly always destined for greatness.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Return of The National - High Violet

After they shattered all expectations with 2007's imperious Boxer, The National return on May 11th with new LP High Violet and this, the latest track to be debuted from it, is the greatest indicator yet that they're set to repeat such a feat. Expectations for High Violet have been climbing steadily since the first details emerged in early 2008 and the band's appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show, coupled with the subsequent leaks, have helped ensure High Violet's status as one of the most anticipated album's of the year. 

'Afraid of Everyone' bears all the hallmarks of The National's greatest output thus far, as an understated riff slowly builds beneath Matt Berninger's hallmark baritone. Amid a swirling mesh of gun fire drums and Sufjan Stevens swooping backing the track then builds delightfully into a deafening crescendo of fear and self-doubt as Berninger makes a series of strikingly impassioned pleas. This is The National at their very best and yet undoubtedly also their very darkest, as lyrically the ominous tones which have characterised much of their previous work shine through once more. Despite this, one could never accuse the subject matter of being trite in nature, and as Berninger emphatically proclaims, "I don't have the drugs to sort this out", one can't help but feel stirred. 

Full of macabre imagery and drenched in self-deprecation, this is a rousing retort to the cracks in the world, reinforcing The National's status as one of the most important bands in the world. To hear a band of such intelligence and quality at the peak of their game is a true joy and in a fair world the incredible rousing finale of "Your voice is swallowing my soul" would be this summer's most unlikely festival anthem. Roll on May 11th...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Delays - 'Valentine'

I've just noticed the last three songs I posted were of a somewhat downbeat, melllow vibe and as Ireland experiences an unprecedented early Summer, a more suitable tune is needed before we inevitably slide into monsoon season once more. 

Valentine,  lead single off Delays second album You See Colours is the perfect respite,  as it zips along for four minutes of glowing, synth-driven verve. To claim it is the best thing the band have done would do a disservice to their debut LP Faded Seaside Glamour which held a number of gems, most notably the rousing Long Time Coming, yet it is certainly their most radio-friendly and should have served as the perfect catalyst for the band's elevation. For some reason, this never materialised and their recent support to local band Codes was the perfect representation of this; though Codes are an admittedly fine band, supporting them is hardly the slot one would expect for a band who were present at a swathe of major summer festivals in 2008. That aside, there is no denying the brilliance of Valentine; a perfect pop song, full of effervescence and vibrancy, with lead singer Greg Gilbert's outstandingly unique high-pitched vocals in full flow.

The electro-vibe present here fits perfectly with the recent resurgence electro has received (stand up La Roux) and with new album Star Tiger, Star Ariel out June 7th, preceded by the single Unsung, perhaps Delays time has yet to come. Delays can be found @ Myspace. While a free download of the opening track from their aforementioned forthcoming album is available from their official site.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Video: O Emperor - Don't Mind Me


An excellent live performance from Waterford natives O Emporer, who have been receiving growing attention since their appearance at last year's Hard Working Class Heroes in Dublin.

Following on from the truly excellent lead single Po, 'Don't Mind Me' is a calmer affair, offering up a shimmering slice of carefully crafted soothing tones, with Keyboardist Phil Christie's earnest vocals particular note-worthy. Standing somewhere between dreamy '70s pop and the modern day output of Grizzly Bear and Midlake, this is a further indication of the bands potential, as expectation for their debut album, due out around September, continues to heighten.

Instantly memorable and intelligently layered, O Emporer are one of the brightest prospects in a prosperous Irish music scene.The band, who are signed with Universal Music Ireland, will release their Reverie EP on April 16th and you can catch their wonderful harmonies as they embark on a nationwide tour from this month, which will also see them make an appearance at Cork's Indiependence festival in August. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mercury Rev - 'Holes'

Time, all the long red lines, that take
Control, of all the smoke-like streams that flow into your
Dreams, that big blue open sea, that can't be
Crossed, that can't be climbed, just born
Between, oh the two white lines, distant gods and faded
Signs, of all those blinking lights, you had to pick the one tonight...

The news that Mercury Rev were to play this year's Castle Palooza festival in Tullamore reminded me of my love for this track, which to me, is their finest moment...

Sometimes in life we slip away from where we see ourself. Youthful exuberance gives way to a subtle ambling, as we meander along life's network of avenues until the plans we have made serve as nothing more than a nagging reminder of where we could, and perhaps should, have gone to. In the face of such a fate, we are left to contemplate the intelligible intricacies of the world, the very forces which have explicitly led us to this point, yet are seemingly as intangible as the wind which surrounds us; present solely for a fleeting moment. To me, this song represents that moment of realisation, where the downfall of one's plans and ambitions, are coupled, bitter-sweetly, with the sheer vastness of the world we live in and the dull acceptance of a force bigger than us.

Whether it's the loss of a loved one or the failing of a relationship, the subject matter is entirely subjective, and as with many great songs the words can be construed so as to fit a myriad of personal situations. The overriding emphasis however, is a mournful lament at the wonder of life, how it drags us along as we try to make those "endless ends" meet.

Dreamy, contemplative and full of potent imagery, this is a life-affirming piece of music and a true classic.