Review of Why Make Sense? Hot Chip, May 2015

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Why Make Sense?

As the sun threatens to poke its shiny little face from behind the clouds, here comes a summertime album so summery it has me scraping last year’s leavings from the barbeque in my filthy festival footwear.

Carbonised cow carcass aside, Hot Chip will likely cement their status as the go-to electro- pop-house- dance act for music festivals this summer with the inevitable success of their new album Why Make Sense?.   With performances due at Glastonbury, T- in the Park and Lollapalooza, expect to see Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe presenting a highlight reel of irritatingly good looking young people bopping away in the dark to some immensely danceable beats.

This latest release Why Make Sense?  is a much more chilled affair than 2008’s Made in the Dark or 2012’s In Our Heads. In fact, it’s darker. It still retains a distinctive Hot Chip sound but tonally and lyrically, this album feels much more introspective. Alexis Taylor has such a distinctive and delicate voice that the melancholy is tangible in songs such as Dark Night: the sadness lifted by a hopeful major key change.

The first single to be lifted is Huarache Lights, a pulsating mid-tempo floor shaker that feels like the most familiar of the new tracks. From here on in we have hints of 70s disco with the clavinet led Started Right. Or the falsetto styled, Timberlake-esque Love is The Future interjected with a rap from De La Soul’s very own Pos.  The anthemic stand out track is album closer Why Make Sense? staccato crescendos lifting and soaring. This is a summer album, but the sun is setting: a golden glow of red twilight skies.

Taylor excels on So Much Further to Go which is tender and soft. It’s practically a ballad however- not what I expected at all. Whilst there certainly seems to be a cathartic process at work here Taylor’s voice is incredibly engaging and induced a kind of empathy from my second and third listen.

I say second and third because my initial expectations of the album were slightly different. Promotional photos of Hot Chip suggested a Kraftwerk style post-punk sparseness and the pastel pink of the album cover evokes an inverted image of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure cover art. Furthermore the album title is a bit close to  Talking Head’s Stop Making Sense don’t you think? Although the album doesn’t share its intensity, tempo or angular riffs it does feel powerful. We still have deep beats and catchy pop choruses. Whilst the album is interesting and engaging it feels almost, if you can excuse the pun, too laid back to excite. I don’t think that’s the intention here however.

Mostly moogs and micro-korgs, big bass-synths and break-beats, this is a beautifully produced and thoughtfully crafted record. This is largely due to the Sarah Jones’ live drum kit which blesses the synthetic ambience with an organic soul.  This and Taylor’s often humorous often tragic song-writing show how much this band has grown.

It’s a good album but not the one I expected. And that’s just what I like in a band.

Review by Paul Bentley

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Parliament/Funkadelic @O2 Academy Newcastle 24th April 2015

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Funk is a peculiar word isn’t it? It sounds so very much like another word…

That soft and sensual initial consonant ‘fff’ that whispers from your lips followed by the ‘Uh’ . Say ‘uh’ a few times. Go on. Filthy. Then that plosive and percussive ‘nk’,  like a snare drum punctuating the end of the word. Or the slap of bodies. Like erotic onomatopoeia.  Ooh it’s so dirty.

That’s the kind of funk George Clinton and Paliament/ Funkadelic pimped to us on Friday night.

Whereas James Brown ‘s funk will drag you along with speed and intensity, keeping you on your dancing toes with fluttering 16th rhythms and percussive guitars- Clinton slows it doooown so you feel the grooves  groinally. Yeah, that’s a word. It’s a type of funk that aims to move you as well as your feet. Musically and lyrically P-Funk is full of a sexual imagery and energy that permeates their sound. A sound that has you moving your hips in ways you never knew you could.

This current generation of the P-Funk mob are sixteen strong, led by seventy three year old  Grandfather of funk Clinton who orchestrates the jams and conducts the audience- a showman who laps up applause and redirects the appreciation to his musical entourage. Whilst he takes centre stage on some tracks- lead vocals are shared amongst the band to the point where Clinton is at times peripheral but at the same time an omnipresent sprite in tweed.  Part of Clinton’s genius is that he surrounds himself with energetic musicians, young and old bringing fresh new interpretations to the signature P-Funk sound. There’s a wonderful quote in his new autobiography where Clinton sums this up:  “(as an artist) I knew my limits. I knew what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t play an instrument. I couldn’t sing as well as some and I couldn’t arrange as well as some others. But I could see the whole picture from altitude, and that let me land the planes”.

 The new tracks performed tonight from ‘First Y’all Gotta Shake the Gate’ are decent and it’s certainly a family affair tonight with Clinton’s grandchildren serving as vocalists in the poly-choral line-up: the star of which is rapper Tra’zae Clinton who took centre stage for Not Your Average Rapper. The track Get Low is tight and punchy: pure hip-hop in which the family members reference ‘Navigating the Mothership’ and later ‘The funk is in my DNA’.

The older songs were often delivered as new arrangements and at times some numbers in the set were performed as medleys which I found a little off putting.  There’s no denying, however, the quality and diversity of these songs. The horn section was blistering, the bass guitar a squelching syncopated beast whose bottom end moved many a bottom. Disco classic Flash Light  was quite rightly accompanied by Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk (a personified fictional disco villain pimp in Clinton’s Sci-Fi mythology who finds The Funk and therefore his soul… listen, just  Google him will you- he spent half the night grinding against a woman from Shields on stage ) One Nation Under A Groove had the dance floor shaking. Atomic Dog had the crowd Bow Wow Wow Yippee oh Yippee yay..ing.  My personal highlights were when guitar heroes DeWayne ‘Blackbird’McKnight, Richard ‘Ricky’ Rouse and Garrett Shider shredded Red Hot Momma and then brought a tear to my eye with the epic Maggot Brain as Clinton waved to the enraptured Newcastle crowd.  We laughed, we screamed and we danced as well as a room full of white folk can to funk music.

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It was an absolute privilege to see George Clinton play tonight.  An eclectic and eccentric writer, performer and producer whose influence has cast a psychedelic rainbow throughout rock, hip-hop, soul and funk for decades. Despite succumbing to the o2 Academy’s ridiculous ten o’clock curfew we stayed and bade farewell to our heroes as the stage lights were unceremoniously killed. The band waved, chatted, celebrated and embraced as the drums and bass played on relentlessly and defiantly. We couldn’t leave- the party was just getting started-we were the Geordie Nation Under a Groove.

Review by Paul

Photos by visual360.co.uk

Review of The Blockheads @The Sage Gateshead, 12th December 2014

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Reasons to be Cheerful

 It must be a strange experience for the legendary Blockheads– incredibly talented musicians in their own right, to perform without their close friend and iconic mouthpiece Ian Dury. After all, it’s his lyrics they’re delivering- his bitterness, his joy, and his working class experiences often spoken to the listener like words from a humorously tragic secret diary. He was the soul of their music. How do you replace that or replicate it? Well of course the answer is you can’t. What The Blockheads attempt to do however is make sure that he is celebrated through their music. Not once was he mentioned on stage but his cheeky chutzpah was infused and ingrained in all they did. And whilst current front man Derek Hussey didn’t deliver the lines with the same venomous velocity or satirical sadness there was enough observational drawl in his cool cockney twang to adequately support the music and engage the expectant audience.

Much of their music tonight is brilliant. There are a range of influences within their songs that veers across musical styles- from two tone ska, dancehall funk, jazz, rock and roll, balladry to punk. And yet despite this, the old songs feel seamlessly cohesive and exciting.  Technically, The Blockheads deliver within the confines of the song and through extended instrumental sections- significant parts of their live performance that never felt laboured or contrived. The soloists surprised their fellow band members with improvised hints of Coltrane and Hendrix – challenging each other’s musicianship with ‘question and answer’ lines. Despite the band’s musical brilliance, however, it felt like the vocals were merely supporting the epic instrumental sections: lyrically they’re witty and engaging but I was acutely aware of Dury’s absence.

I also found it unusual that they decided to open with a new track called Look the Other Way from their most recent release Same Horse Different Jockey. It almost felt like an anti-climax- much of the audience anticipating something from the back catalogue to kick the evening off. I was also slightly disappointed that it took current drummer Dave Roberts so long to make eye contact with Watt Roy who was eagerly trying to incite some psychic musical connection amongst the rhythm section. There was a distinct hint of ‘session player’- technically gifted but delivered with no real passion until later in the set when suddenly he smiled and he looked like he was in the band again. It lifted the whole band.

Despite this, the audience, including myself, danced throughout and sang along to every hook-line and ‘Oi Oi’ that was thrown at us. Songs such as Wake up and Make Love to Me, Hit me with Your Rhythm Stick, What A Waste, Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) and Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll are New Wave classics that lit up Hall Two of the Sage. The songs are great and the musicianship is excellent but it was the juxtaposition of Dury’s darkness with the dance grooves that made Ian Dury and The Blockheads so captivating and enthralling. The grooves are there but it is the lack of anger and bite in the vocal delivery that is lacking in tonight’s performance.

Most pleasing to me is that Norman Watt Roy, front and centre of the stage, drives the band with some of the best bass playing you will hear. As a fellow bass player, he is one of my heroes. Percussively and melodically he leads the band and many of their tracks sound like they’ve been written ‘bass up’; his grooves underpin Turnbull and Jankel’s disciplined rhythmic guitars, patiently waiting to serve up some beautiful solos when the song allowed. Watt Roy is a legend- he still performs as if every note is important. His line in Hit me With Your Rhythm Stick is technically and musically magnificent. He hasn’t lost the chops or the stamina and his passion for performing still exudes from the stage. If anyone embodies ‘funk-punk’ it’s him. I really enjoyed the gig; I smiled and wiggled throughout and I felt inspired after watching and listening to those bass lines.

It’s all about that bass…

Review by Paul Bentley

Photographs by Graeme J Baty

Happy Halloween

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The Wolf of Woodhall

A whispering wind blew crisp white snowflakes from the hanging branches as he crunched along the icy forest path. Moonlight filtered by tall oaks lit the silence- disturbed only by desperate footfalls. Winter’s touch kissed him cruelly, burning his lips and neck as his shallow broken breathing betrayed his path with plumes of frosty breath.

Somewhere a wolf howled.

Oh how she wanted him; she yearned for him: his teary eyes and his tight embrace: the salt of his skin and his touch so familiar. She would follow him and she licked her lips at the thought of it. She craned her neck towards the soft white light and cried her love.

The woodsman hurried down the path and opened the cabin door. In the centre of the room the embers of the fire glowed brightly and swelled as the wind exhaled new life into them. The door slammed shut behind him. He bolted it and turned the worn iron key to keep out the terror. He unscrewed a cold copper cask with shaking fingers and drank deeply from it. But the burn of the amber liquid did not warm the chill of fear he felt for what stalked outside.

He reached for the gun above the door and fumbled in a box on a dusty shelf. The weight of it gave him small comfort as he stared anxiously out of the frosted window to the forest. He clumsily grasped a handful of shotgun shells, loaded them quickly and snapped the barrel closed kicking a scattered few under the bed where the children slept. Woodhall village was not far- a mile’s walk from the cabin during the safety of the sunlight. But at night, the gas lit lamps: scarce sentinels that lined the forest path, were too few to guide travellers. Especially now.

The forest was quiet. Sound deadened by the veil of snow. He hoped she would not come.

Paw over paw she wound around the trees through the strobe light of snowfall. Twisted branches reached out and snagged at her fur from knotted gnarled fingers but she was close now. Her breathing became desperate and shallow. ‘My love, my love, my love’ she panted.

Woodhall village slowly drifted into silence and sleep.

The last dregs of sticky sweet beer dried on the tavern floor. The fisherman wiped his mouth and stood swaying unsteadily. He lit his pipe letting a wisp of smoke drift across the room and scattered a few coins onto the table. He made sure the barmaid knew he was leaving. His eyes lingered at hers, waiting for reciprocation. Louisa? Did she say her name was Louisa? She smiled back. A practised smile he felt. He nodded his farewells and opened the door to the night. Outside, clouds moved too quickly. Like blown silk they drifted whilst the world lay frozen below. Boats bobbed in the harbour like floating corks.  The lighthouse, broad and proud was a looming watchful monolith. Despite its beacon it cast a long shadow over the village path gently suffocating with snow. Laughter spilled from an upstairs window. Silhouettes danced misshapen forms behind winter curtains.  The freezing stars were cloaked behind thick mist but the moon, like a round eye, gazed on hungrily. The darkness was listening. A brown wolf, head bowed, eyes fixed, stalked from the forest onto the path. Her tongue lolled eagerly and licked at pointed teeth as sharp as knives. Staggering from lamp post to lamp post the fisherman puffed at his pipe and began to sing.

 O’er the crest beneath the moon

The perilous swell we ride.

On wooden steeds we horsemen gallop

Swept by frothy tide.

As the eye above us blooms

From home we sail souls hollow

Salty splash of ocean wash,

as thunderous waves devour.

Hot and soft. She felt the body tremble and struggle. The resonance of the fisherman’s yell turned to a shrill scream as he felt his flesh rip and shred to silk ribbons. There was a last violent sweet and sudden shudder as she sank her teeth into his throat, twisting and tearing to break his neck with a brittle crack. A pool of deep crimson as red as roses bled into the snow. When the cold corpse lay lifeless and still she tugged at the sodden meat, dragging it back into the darkness of the trees and fed.

 The faint echo of a scream filled the woodsman with a guilt that clenched at his stomach. Tears ran in silver streams down his tired and weathered face. The framed photo of his wife smiled down at him: a memory of happier times that began to blur and distort. He wiped his streaked face with the back of his hand and kissed the photo. In a whispered voice he recited his promise. He picked up the shot gun that leant on the hearth and traced a cross over his heart. The ropes had not held. From a chest at the foot of the bed he pulled a snakelike iron chain and wound it over his shoulder and round his waist. Still crying he strode back out into the soundless blizzard ignoring the pained and frantic scratching coming from the hatch hidden beneath the worn carpet.

She lifted her wet bloody nose to the air. Her howl burst the silence. He was coming.

It came from the harbour. His pace quickened. His eyes burned. His throat and lungs were aflame. The painful pulse pounding in his temples fell in syncopated bursts with the thump of his steps in the snow. He finally saw the intermittent glow from the lighthouse flickering through the trees and knew he was near.  He crashed through into the clearing and onto the path. It was too late.

Louisa stood helpless and frozen; her shawl pulled protectively and uselessly close. A scream died in her throat. Speechless she staggered backwards as the large wolf crept towards her baring its teeth exposing a bloody and aching chasm. The wolf’s flanks, matted and damp heaved with excitement as it menaced closer. Strings of saliva dripped from its jaws. The woodsman, raised his gun, and stepped purposefully past the frightened girl towards the wolf aiming the barrels at its head.

‘Stop! , get back’ he shouted. ‘Please, I can’t do this, please stop’. He begged.

Ravenous golden eyes glowered back at him. But the wolf had stopped moving. It growled and snarled, snapping its jaws, turning itself in circles. It began to whine, its tail between its legs confused and suddenly lost. It fell to its side convulsing. The woodsman moved forward with a sympathetic outstretched hand stopping a short distance from the beast as it writhed in the melting snow. Above their heads in the inky night, the moon like a silver coin began to turn. From the she-wolfs body came the snap of breaking bones; it howled and thrashed in the red snow. Its spine, cracked, flesh and fur peeled away from its body and fell in steaming fleshy lumps from the struggling form. The teeth in its jaws shattered and splintered as they grinded together. The beast raised its head towards the moon and howled pitifully, full of sorrow it slumped to the ground broken and still.

Silence. The mournful cries of the beast had stopped. The amorphous bloody sac that was left breathed slowly. Something alive from inside pushed at the translucent skin, stretching it- distending the sheath until it began to tear. Firstly a hand, reaching, clawing at the snowy earth pulling itself out: an arm, a shoulder and then a head, struggling for breath until a body slipped free: slick, desperate and shivering. A woman. His wife.

Crawling on all fours like an animal towards the woodsman, ‘My love’ she wept.

Louisa, stunned with deep dread found her voice and screamed. She turned and began to flee, stumbling frantically towards the safety of the village.

He gazed into his wife’s pleading eyes. ‘I’m so, so sorry. I love you. I love you’. He told her.

He raised the gun and pulled the trigger.

The thunderous echo of the gunshot stirred the village to life. The alarm bell shrieked, banging and clanging as Policemen pulled on their boots and winter coats and hurried outside. The blizzard continued; slant drifts of silent snow fell in blankets. Anxious folk stood muttering in their doorways holding lanterns as husbands and sons, their dogs straining at their leashes, joined the hunt. They thudded down the harbour path between the forest and the water painting lantern light in panicked splashes and yelling. They found Louisa nearby dead in the snow. Her face contorted in terror, her body bloodied and punctured by the gun shot. A maelstrom of flesh further down the path sent the dogs into frenzy.

They howled to the waning moon.

From the warm glow of the woodsman’s cabin, three trembling children, the remnants of matted fur clinging to their damp naked skin crawled from the open hatch and nestled themselves closely in their mother and father’s loving arms.

Bazaar by Wampire

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My first published review on NE:MM website. ‘Retweeted’ by the band themselves last night.

NE:MM link below.

Bazaar by Wampire.

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Bazaar is Wampire’s second studio album to be released on the Polyvinyl Records label following 2013’s critically acclaimed Curiosity. Hailing from Portland, Oregan, core members Eric Phipps, Rocky Tinder and the expanded Wampire horde of Cole Browning, Owen Thompson and Thomas Hoganson have created an album that is both accessible and challenging enough to ensure fans of the band and newcomers alike will be listening again and again in the months to come.

Bazaar sounds darkly energetic in places and delicately psychedelic in others. The wonderful opening track The Amazing Heart Attack reminds me a little of Bauhaus with ambient gothic chiming bells and sinister vampiric (wampiric?) laughter haunting the opening few seconds before the distorted bass guitar grabs the listener by the scruff of the collar and riffs them kicking and screaming to the 3.30 mark.

Bad Attitude sounds like the love child of the B52’s and The Stooges and it aggressively picks up the pace where The Amazing Heart Attack left off. This is my favourite track on the album. It’s the one that made me move the most. I read Wampire played a lot of house parties in their early days; the grunginess of it really suits that stoner/slacker party image. This song will have every dance floor singing along and shaking their hips to the 60s style punk groove. They’ll be playing this song early in their live sets- before the audience gets too high. This song has a ton of attitude and exudes coolness. Disappointingly, with Wampire’s more rocking numbers Heart Attack and Bad Attitude feel occasionally slightly repetitive and sometimes fail to shift into any new territories during the middle eights. At least the guitarist gets the chance to show off his chops with a blistering solo in Bad Attitude.

The standout track has been chosen as the band’s first single: Wizard’s Staff. It immediately brings Pink Floyd to mind. There is a distinct retro sounding chilled psychedelic blues feel that soars and swells; it’s the kind of track that will convince your dad that Wampire are an awesome band, especially with the prog-rock style art work that accompanies the single. They were all partial to a bit of wizard back then weren’t they? Perhaps Sticking Out is the only other track featured on Bazaar that will have audiences cocking their knees and stamping their grungy glam rock heels as the album takes a tonal shift to the celestial.

Tracks such as Millennials and People of Earth are beautifully crafted songs with dreamy choral effects that tonally soar to different astral planes. However, this shift in style doesn’t jar because the ethereal vocal style, lavished with digitised effects, is fairly consistent across the album. Admittedly, at times, lyrics can be hard to understand because of this; however they are delivered deliberately languidly and so full of character that I didn’t mind: This is no pop record after all.  The dreamy synths in the waltzing People of Earth evoke soft focus images of 80s science fiction and brings the album to a gentle close.

More experimental than their debut Curiosity, Bazaar is nevertheless equally as entertaining and always held my interest. Stick it in your ear pipes and smoke it up maaaaan.

Paul Bentley

Why I love to be scared.

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I’m just about to belatedly finish reading The Shining by Stephen King and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’d been reading other tales of horror and the supernatural  alongside it: M.R James Collected Ghost Stories and Haunted Castles by Ray Russell; it dawned on me- sneaked up behind me cloaked and murderous- a stabbing realization…

I love to be scared.

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I have a really strong memory of sneaking downstairs when I was very young and hiding behind the sofa whilst my dad was watching The Amityville Horror. It must’ve been 1985 or 1986. Perhaps the first time I’d felt feeling that adrenalin rush of terror. Firstly there was the tension of controlling the trembling muscles in my legs as I tiptoed down each step, slipping through the crack of the door into the darkened room to crouch in suspense behind the sofa.  I’d convinced myself that this was life or death. It was so exciting. There I was, the forbidden late night TV in front of me!

 And then I began to watch the movie.

I had no  conscious understanding of plot but I knew quite quickly that there was a reason I shouldn’t be watching. What it was about the film that disturbed me so much I can’t remember but I didn’t watch for long. It suddenly wasn’t  a joyful thrill anymore. I remember a deep sinking feeling of dread and horror as I crawled back out into the hallway and made my way back upstairs to bed pulling the covers tightly around me and gazing fearfully around my blackened room until I passed out to  sleep.

If you know me, you’ll know I have zero memory. I can’t tell you what I had to eat yesterday or things that have been said to me. This lack of recollection often gets me into trouble but sometimes it’s great because I can re-watch films and re-read good books and get re-surprised. So why do I remember this so memory so vividly? I can remember the layout of the bedroom of my eight year old self, the feel of the carpet, the thickness of my pillow, the Superman bed spread and the Optimus Prime on the window ledge BECAUSE of this fearful experience. If I need to remember the shopping list  I should perhaps add an element of danger to the experience.

At University I learned that the sensations of horror and terror are feelings that link to the ‘sublime’, where we experience something so intense it  that affects us beyond our control and rational understanding or perceptions. Spirituality is another way many people experience the sublime. People love being scared or exposed to sensations that remove them from the ordinary. Of course fear heightens awareness by flooding the body with the adrenaline needed for that inherent fight or flight mentality. I crave the sublime. It’s addictive. Fear is my drug.

I have to admit, I’d seen Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining  years ago and always thought I’d known the story of Jack, Wendy and Danny; I really loved the movie. I think it might’ve even been the first scary movie I’d seen all the way through. The novel is much more intense. Jack is a much more likeable character so his descent into insanity is much more tragic. His inner frustrations and anxieties are shared only with the reader through internal and later external monologues that drives the tension and underlies his dialogue with Wendy with a sarcasm and passive aggression that boils with frustration and anger. Before the ghoulish goings on in room 217 we are already tightly wound. A suggestion here, a hint of the unusual there. When the supernatural appears our resolve is already weakened and the horror is magnified.

It’s the craft of the writer that brings us fear. The careful manipulation and pacing of events and exposition of character that contrives to accentuate the tension. It’s why I’ve struggled to enjoy most modern ‘horrors’ lately. There’s too much focus on the diresome denouement – the gruesome set pieces with no real regard for the psychology of fear.

So I’ll keep reading. It’s the English summer so I’m sure there’ll be an overcast day around the corner to set the appropriate ambience. I aim to post some book reviews on this blog so now you’ll understand why most of the material I read and the material I write is linked with my craving for the sublime.

Paul