Opera North

Music Reviews: April - May 2012

12 April 12 words: Various
August Actually, The Barnum Meserve, Jake Bugg, Great British Weather, Guilty Parents, Seas of Mirth, The Smears, Framework and VDU
 
August Actually - Songs From The Lighthouse

August Actually - Songs From The Lighthouse
 

August Actually
Songs From The Lighthouse
EP (House vs Home)

The closest that Nottingham gets to sun, sea and sand is that naff beach that they drop on Market Square in the summer. If strutting around the town centre in your Speedos to dip your feet in murky waters is your idea of fun, then good for you – but for the rest of us, Notts indie-folkers August Actually get us closer with their concept-based nautical rock. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Song is a warm and frivolous folk-driven shanty - think Brown Eyed Girl re-imagined by Belle and Sebastian, a tad twee without being sickeningly sweet. Whale Of A Tale more than fulfills the epic scope of its title. With all of the vivid imagery of The Decemberists delivered with a horn-fuelled escapist soundscape that recalls the sound of Beirut. There’s a quintessentially British sensibility and sense of humour that runs throughout as frontman Alex pines; “It’s a whale of a tale…it’s this tale of a whale.” Lost At Sea is a toe-tapping tale of loneliness and cabin fever. This could be their party piece, and you can’t help but blurt a shameless laugh at the line: “Everyone I’ve met out here’s an arsehole, and the milk of human kindness is stale and dry.” We may well be 75 miles inland, but with August Actually on the scene, Nottingham has never felt closer to the sea. Andrew Trendall

Available online and at gigs
August Actually on Bandcamp
 

The Barnum Meserve - Broken Window EP

The Barnum Meserve - Broken Window EP
 

The Barnum Meserve
Broken Window
EP (Self-release)

When a piece of art arrives burdened with the weight of high expectations, it’s almost inevitable that it’ll be a letdown. The Barnum Meserve, one of the hottest live acts in the city, have that kind of reputation to uphold, but this EP is so jaw-droppingly good that they have nothing to fear from anticipation. Broken Window is an Earthshattering opener that will hopefully be either the first or last song at every gig they ever play, and the perfect scenesetter for both band and EP.
Spiralling sees cinematic piano and Leon Whiley’s wailing vocals joined by pounding drums and weeping strings. As the song explodes into a chorus so ridiculously stadium-sized, you can almost hear Chris Martin whimpering in fear. The rest of the EP follows pretty much the same formula, but there’s not a damn thing wrong with repeating such a brilliant trick; this is what everyone was falsely told Arcade Fire sounded like in 2004 – stringdrenched, anthemic and quite unlike any of their peers. If there’s any current band in the Nottingham music scene that has a chance of ‘making it’, my money is on these guys. With the EP available to download for free, there’s simply no excuse for not having a listen, even if only for the title track. Gareth Hughes

Available online and at gigs
The Barnum Meserve website
 

Jake Bugg - Trouble Time

Jake Bugg - Trouble Town
 

Jake Bugg
Trouble Town
Single (Mercury Records)

In the space of two short years, Clifton’s Jake Bugg has gone from playing on Nottingham’s open-mic circuit to performing live on national TV. Anyone who caught the young singer-songwriter playing this tune recently on BBC 2’s The Review Show or have seen him doing his thing around the city will know that this is a young man with a taste for the past. This song, currently available as a free download from his Facebook page, is the perfect showcase for his talents; mining late-fifties/early sixties country with that classic Johnny Cash-style ‘shuffle’ and singing with a nasal twang akin to a young Bob Dylan. Even the way the track has been produced evokes some crackly, long-lost Sun 45. This is ‘retromania’ in full swing; nothing about this track suggests that it was made in the 21st Century. You can see why the A&R bods at Mercury Records have decided to take a punt on his talents and snap him up; Jake Bugg has a very marketable sound and image. His music, a hybrid of early country and rock n’ roll, is very pleasing on the ear and put simply, he’s just very good at what he does. We wish him all the best for the future. Paul Klotschkow

Available online
Jake Bugg on MySpace
 

Great British Weather - Current Climate EP

Great British Weather - Current Climate EP
 

Great British Weather
Current Climate
EP Self Release

Graduates of the Nottingham Music School, they’re still teenagers but already the winners of several battleof-the-bands competitions. Consisting of singer/guitarist Andrew, Tom Sellars on guitar, Lewis on bass and Tom Wormall on drums, they might be frighteningly young, but are precociously talented and imaginative musicians. Listen to Anchor and you’re pretty much there; indie-dance with shades of Bloc Party, The Cribs, Wild Beasts and The Maccabees, with occasional hints of punk rock guitar for good measure too. Find Me hints at the swaggering cool of The Strokes, wobbly Julian Casablancas-style vocals and all. Essentially, we’re talking about a distinctive take on post-punk, post-rock, feel-good tunes. Anchor features interlocking guitars underpinned by a prowling bass and machine-gun drumming. Empty Space kicks off with a Buzzcocks riff and then the guitars lift the whole thing off the ground and into the stratosphere towards a killer chorus. Saving the best until last, Supermarket Blues takes a sideswipe at consumerist culture with a ferociously catchy riff and pumping beat. They might be young, but The Great British Weather are one local band that are clearly going places. Tim Sorrell

Available online
Great British Weather on Facebook
 

Guilty Parents - Slimewave

Guilty Parents - Slimewave
 

Guilty Parents
Slimewave
EP (Self Release)

My Severed Head blasts off this EP with a Ramones-esque “1-2-3-4”! but soon goes off into a world entirely of its own: murky riffing and driving drums with a shouted vocal buried so far down in the mix that it’s almost not there at all. A short, sharp shock that serves as the perfect introduction to a band that describe themselves as “Nottingham three-piece punk slime”. The vocals might be buried beneath a wall of guitar and thumping drums, but it would be a mistake to think of Guilty Parents as mindless punks. The band cite influences of Black Flag, Throbbing Gristle and Die Kreuzen and it’s not hard to see why: this is lofi, driving rock and roll, but there’s some real subtlety here too. Just listen to the layers of echo and reverb working beneath the scuzz on Wild White Horses, or to the Clangers-like sound effect that introduces Gush. There’s clearly a lot more to this to this band than an all-out aural assault. On an EP that lasts barely twenty minutes, Night Birds represents the band’s epic; the pace drops and a brooding, smothering intensity grows around the ominous guitars and now suddenly sinister vocals. It’s a devastatingly effective tactic. The pace shoots back up for closing track Something I Learned Today, and then before you know it, it’s all over. Tim Sorrell

Available online and at The Music Exchange
Guilty Parents on Bandcamp
 

Seas of Mirth - Phantom Vessel

Seas of Mirth - Phantom Vessel
 

Seas of Mirth
Phantom Vessel/ Ly Ly Ladyboy
(Self-Release)

Avast, me hearties. Here be a great big band made up of nine ne’er do well musicians from around these shores and beyond. When these scallywags aren’t sailing the mirthy seas, they also be in another band known by the mysterious moniker of Hallouminati, but for now we be dealing with the pirates only. This booty be their debut release, featuring two brand new shanty tunes. Opener Phantom Vessel be a most hearty singalong sounding like the Levellers loaded to the Gunwales on brown acid. Ly Ly Ladyboy be a more sensitive and emotional affair about the confusion a sailor can have when he finds himself in the company of a lass that might also be a shipmate. These be the challenges facing a gentlemen of fortune, especially when he has a few spare doubloons in his pocket and a belly aching for more rum. Halfway between Fiddlers Heaven and Davey Jones’ Locker, Seas of Mirth be taking Nottingham by storm with live shows – including The Maze on 5 May. Expect the unexpected as they challenge the crowd to a tug-of-war contest and see the skipper leave his crew mid-song to go and battle an evil crab-man. Quite a spectacle they arr! Macon Smithe

Available to buy at gigs and online
Seas of Mirth website

 

The Smears - Dirty Protest

The Smears - Dirty Protest
 

The Smears
Dirty Protest
LP (Headcheck Music Group)

Nottingham might be teeming with female solo artists of the soulful and folky variety, but the pickings are leaner at the alternative, collective end of the scale, where – more often than not - the only sisterly representation on a gig night is some depressing and hugely passé burlesque nonsense. Thank God, then, for Maimee V, Miss C and C-Doll; three years on from debut Hell In High Heels, and a string of nationwide gigs and motherhood later, they’ve come back harder, faster and stronger. As the title suggests, whatever they’ve thrown at the wall has stuck; because Dirty Protest is a huge raising of the bar that draws upon the twin wells of post-punk clatter and mid-nineties Riot Grrlieness and spits out a twenty-minute blast of controlled aggression. If you’re of a certain age, you half-expect to hear John Peel blurting out the name of each song after they end. The immediate stand-out tracks - Rise of the Liars and Halloween – encapsulate the new direction: the former’s rougharsed swooping lead vocal and pounding drums touch upon Scream-era Siouxie and the Banshees, while the latter, both musically and lyrically, takes the attitude of L7 and drags it to this side of the turn of the century. Recorded in Notts, mixed in LA, Dirty Protest is a beast of an LP, and a gauntlet (albeit with lacy fingerless bits) thrown down at the feet of every other rock act in town. And don’t you dare make us wait until 2015 for the next installment. Penny Chiou

Available online and at gigs
The Smears on MySpace


Various Artists - Framework

Various Artists - Framework
 


Various Artists
Framework
LP (Nu-Start Records)

The local music community have always been good for the money when it comes to charitable whatnot, and this release is another great example of that. It’s something a little bit special that doesn’t come around very often: a special vinyl-only compilation of Nottsmusic released to celebrate Record Store Day that will be exclusively sold through The Music Exchange. The profits raised are going directly to Framework - a Nottingham based homeless charity - put together by Nu-Start Records, a record label run by students based at the Nottingham University Samworth Academy. Over the ten tracks of this record, pop and hip-hop rub up alongside math-rock and folky songwriters, showcasing the wide ranging musical talent found in the city. Mountain by Starr and Roosy is a breezy slice of soulful pop, whilst Tray Electric’s Hey You (Don’t Touch My Stereo) sounds like he’s hacked in to his sequencer and made it run on sugar and amphetamines. Naturally, anything that features heavy hitters such as Hhymn (Land of Souls) or Souvaris (Pibno) is always going to be a winner. Paul Klotschkow

Available exclusively from The Music Exchange
The Music Exchange website


VDU - Past Future Sequence

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VDU
Past Future Sequence
Album (Self Release)

VDU is the new alter-ego of Noel Murphy, an electronic composer and digital artist who also designs music software and hardware. Along with Tom Hill, who subsequently founded Origamibiro, Murphy first established his reputation with Wauvenfold, with releases for the Wichita label and remixes for Super Furry Animals and Brothers In Sound. Last year, the duo reunited for the Blockwerk Orchestra sound installation at Nottingham Castle, and Hill also helped with the mastering on this eight-track collection of instrumental mood pieces. “I have been lamenting the general lack of futurism that has been the noughties”, says Murphy. These feelings of nostalgia – for a future which never actually happened – form the emotional starting point for Past Future Sequence. “It might not be the robots and jetpacks we were promised”, he explains,” but if you close your eyes and listen to it whilst wearing a hat fashioned from tin foil, it might go some way to scratching that itch.” Spanning moods that range from the ethereally soothing, pstftr to the fidgety and restless, Toad Skull, the mini-album begins with the smoothly undulating D.A.R.P.S, whose constant speeding up and slowing down could have been gimmicky – and yet , somehow, it sounds wholly natural and unforced. Emerging quietly with next to no promotion, Past Future Sequence deserves the attention of everyone who has an interest in electronic music. Mike Atkinson

Available online
VDU website

 

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