Heaven up Here
Manchester, UK, thrashes the rest of the British Isles 27 ways from SXSW
Despite frequent appearances to the contrary, the United Kingdom remains a monarchy, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its musical output, an ongoing struggle between the established yet ever-changing rulers of everything and the pirate underground, dodgy warehouse parties and all.
2005 might as well have been christened the year of the Bloc Party; not only did the post-power-punk melodics rule Britannia, thanks to their smashing turn at both South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Festival last year, they managed mammoth inroads into these selfsame colonies, more so than most Brit invaders since those Gallagher lads erected a wonderwall around a befuddled Casey Kasem back in 1995. With some 120 English, Scottish, and Irish bands slated to perform during SXSW 2006, this year's continental armada promises to be no less imperious in its storming of south by southwestern shores, even if perpetual court jester Pete Doherty, late of the Libertines, Kate Moss, and, more recently, Her Majesty's Clink, will sadly be unable to attend due his current state of shambles, baby. No matter. Anyone with an ear to Radios 1 through 6 of the BBC will recognize the sovereignty soon colonizing the United iPods of America and beyond.
Kings 'N' Queens
Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant formed Liverpool's legendary Echo & the Bunnymen all the way back in 1978, marrying ripe, shimmery melodies to Lennon & McCartney dramatics in a twilight ceremony whose lasting impact has only recently been fully appreciated thanks to cult film Donnie Darko and championing by the mouthpieces of both U2 and Coldplay. As for new CD Siberia, produced by Hugh "Heaven Up Here" Jones, it's their finest since 1984's Ocean Rain, all foggy squall and sun-swept loveliness.
Speaking of the Eighties, would you buy a used band from a man named Youth? Nor would we, but Jaz Coleman's seminal post-punk-industrial dirgers Killing Joke are the exception that proves the drool, having penned more maniacally memorable yet curiously danceable guitar-driven aural assaults than whatsisname from PIL ever dreamed of. Not content to rest on their spiky laurels, Coleman and co-conspirators Martin "Youth" Glover and (just) Geordie have just released the new Hosannas From the Basement of Hell, which, if all goes according to plan, will obliterate everything in its path.
And now for something completely different: Glaswegian septet Belle & Sebastian wrote the book on lazy summer Sunday pop tunes and then reinvented themselves, sort of, with 2003's deliciously rocking Dear Catastrophe Waitress. New Matador release The Life Pursuit remains giddy in all the right ways, even if you're feeling sinister.
Also Scottish and rather mad for sadness are the boys in Arab Strap, Falkirk duo Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, whose searing new The Last Romance is anything but. Nevertheless, their achingly gritty songs of loss, love, and yet more loss (and still more love!) are as disturbingly real as it gets without involving actual sex and/or bloodshed.
London-based troubadour-cum-activist Billy Bragg is more romantic than you could ever hope to be. It's a wonder he hasn't stolen your girlfriend yet, frankly, but then maybe she's tiding herself over with Must I Paint You a Picture?, Rhino's triple-CD best-of compilation. Goodness knows we are.
Most of the time they're happy but, you know, they're weirdos: London's Charlatans have remained a cornerstone of Britpop long after the rest of the class of '94 faded into obscurity or Gorillaz-dom. Tim Burgess and crew routinely put on some of the most exhilarating live shows ever to come out of music-mad Manchester, and new disc Simpatico is hands down one of their finest ever.
Is that a Sex Pistol in your pocket or are you just happy to see Glen Matlock & the Philistines? Oh. Alright, then. But we swear to God we're totally skint, mate. Straight ahead punk rock & roll, the way your mama liked it.
Dukes and Duchesses of the Stratosphere
Keep your Eye to the Telescope and you're bound to spot the heavenly body (of work) that is London's KT Tunstall, who's first kidhood album was the soundtrack to The Neverending Story. Things have progressed apace since then, thank goodness, with her winning, breezy single "Suddenly I See" meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy in all the right ways tearing up Radio 1 and putting the lie to the idea that just because a female singer-songwriter lists Rickie Lee Jones among her influences doesn't make her predictable, although she has been nominated for "Best Breakthrough Act" in the 2006 Brit Awards.
We understand you've been off on a mission to the farthest reaches of Santa's Village to check out this global-warming brouhaha, which explains why you've yet to hear the hullabaloo regarding Sheffield's mind-bogglingly popular quartet the Arctic Monkeys, who are also nominated for "Best Breakthrough Act" at this year's Brits. Single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" looks and sounds like a big, sticky bit of all right from where we're sitting (in the middle of the dance floor, so watch it, you), while debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is now officially the fastest-selling British opener in the history of the universe and wherever else Arsenal FC is underappreciated.
Fresh from the What Does Thom Yorke Have to Say About This? Department comes London crooner-cum-tweener-object-of-desire Jamie Cullum, whose spare, piano-driven cover of Radiohead's "High and Dry" is far less annoying than one might think and has the added bonus of getting your paramour in the mood as opposed to the original, which, as you'll recall, just made her sob inconsolably. Not so Cullum's cover of the Cure's "Lovecats," performed with Katie Meluaat the 2004 Brit Awards, which resulted in yet more smearing of Robert Smith's mascara and the House of Commons' draconian ban on effervescent Cure duets at British awards programs.
Inside every good music writer is a Kraftwerk-addled android just itching to get out and do the Robot. Thus we have the inimitable electronics of Liverpool's Ladytron, whose new Witching Hour takes a step back from the Gary Numan-izations of forerunner Light & Magic, adding some serious wall-of-skronk and perfecting the art of kiss-off singles with the vicious and delicious "Destroy Everything You Touch."
What we meant to say was "wall of sound" since Manchester trio the Longcut might as well be on a mission to bring back the thunderously epic shoegazing blast of Ride matched to the squealy vocal histrionics of no less than post-punk icons Joy Division. Single "A Quiet Life" is a ravenous, sinewy thing of beauty, all pounding low-ends and skyrocketing guitars. Genius.
What is it with Manchester, anyway? Must be something in the lager. Manc quartet Nine Black Alps, recently nominated for Spin magazine's prestigious Band of the Year prize, sound like their namesake imploding, but in a good way. "Cosmopolitan" is all rushing guitars and shouty vocals that'll have all but the recently deceased relearning how to pogo
More Manchester Madness, Mate: SXSW returners the Earlies' psychedelic bent are all over the place on their debut These Were the Earlies, from loping, keyboard-heavy oddities like the lovely "Bring It Back Again" to the odd birdsong and inscrutable little doodles that mark the entrance to their Web portal. Pass the, uh, waterpipe!
What's that you say little girl? You haven't heard of Manchester songsmith Stephen Fretwell? Just you wait; debut, Magpie is as close to beauty and loss as you can get without actually returning to your first, best love. (Yikes!) Single "Run" is a lamentation so gorgeous, swaddled as it is in cascading piano lines, that it deserves its own show on the WB.
LoneLady's eerie, catchy "Hi Ho Bastard" confirms what we've suspected all along: give a lone Manc lass a four-track and a whip-smart sense of foul play and you're going to end up with a lo-fi classic that'd give Scout Niblett (who also returns for her third SXSW showcase this year) pause. Oddly endearing, endearingly odd, and very likely the one your mother warned you about.
Peers of the Realm
"Two people, one sound, perfect pop music" is how Belfast, UK-based Oppenheimer describe themselves, but we like to think they owe a sonic debt to Stereolab, Eno, and any electronic keyboard capable of creating warm fuzzies out of pure electricity. Single "Saturday Looks Bad" sounds like the background heartbeat to a million springtime flings without the cloying aftereffects of the real deal.
And you thought Hey Negrita was just another Stones track. Foolish Yank. This London-based duo, the single-monikered Felix and Hugo "3 Horse" Hellman, was born of desperation, specifically the former's desperate bid to outlive heroin addiction, which resulted in a Floridian relocation and their immaculately filthy We Are Catfish, a grimy, bluesy, Keith Richards-ain't-got-nothin'-on-us slab of survivalism set to a dirty beat you can either dance or die to.
There's no better place to "Be Yourself" than at a mightily soulful blowout by Leeds funkateers the New Mastersounds, unless, of course, James Brown happens to be your roommate. Since that's almost certainly not the case, let the hot, molten licks of guitarist Eddie Roberts and Lord of the Hammond organ Bob Birch remind you that the word "funk" was first and foremost an acronym for "Free Up your Nalgas, Kiddo." Keb Darge Presents ... The New Mastersounds is as close to the mindset of the Godfather of Soul as you're likely to get without embarking on a PCP 'n' crack-fueled interstate pursuit with the Ohio Hi-Po, and even better, you don't have to worry about what your mom will say the next day.
"If You Talk Too Much My Head Will Explode" is simultaneously one of the best song titles ever and the new single from People in Planes. It's also a prime example of the Cardiff, Wales-based band's innate ability to come up with simple but never simplistic strains of good old fashioned rock and/or roll, backed by killer harmonies and enough six-string hookery to completely erase the memory of Donny Osmond, who, as many apparently misguided Welsh music fans are far too quick to point out, is of Welsh descent. Uffar gwirion!
Upstarts Most Likely to Stage a Palace Coup
Despite their name, Wendover's insanely sunny guitar-popsters the Boy Least Likely To are, in fact almost certain to. Likewise Glasgow's punchy, frenetic, and quite punk rock in the classic '77 sense Biffy Clyro, who aim to inflict "Glitter and Trauma" on anyone foolhardy enough to hit the loo during their showcase. Unless, of course, you cartwheel your way there and back.
"How Many Times" can you experience the sheer la-la-la bliss-out of Carina Round's aching, Birmingham-based laments before tossing out all of your old PJ Harvey LPs? Twice. We checked.
Don't call her a "chav" unless you want your collarbone refunkified, yobbo: Lady Sovereign is UK hip-hop's fastest rising "little midget" and a rhymer to reckon with. Single "A Little Bit of Shhh" has been remixed by no less than Beastie Boy Ad-Roc hisownself.
The first time we saw them we wanted more than just to hold them we wanted to bend them and fold them. But hey, that's London's Art Brut for you, one of a host of new UK outfits who owe more than a little to the Fall's vox populoid Mark E. Smith, no matter how many times they reference Jarvis Cocker. Their Fierce Panda debut, Bang Bang Rock & Roll, plays, as Smith himself would doubtless toothily enthuse, "Fooking bootifuh, mahrn!"
Leeds' ¡Forward, Russia! are into numbers, as in the title of debut Twelve, a sonic fracas that wouldn't sound at all out of place on CBGB's stage circa 1979.
The Dirty Pretty Things have arisen from the ashes of the Libertines, or at least guitarist Carl Barat has, forming this gawky-smooth spit-in-the-eye of former bandmate and current Least Likely to Be at Least a Little Likeable posterboy Pete Doherty. The unvarnished truth? They fucking rock. Hard.
Q magazine called Corinne Bailey Rae "Norah Jones meets Led Zeppelin," but we believe that does a great disservice to the lovely Ms. Rae, whose opening salvo Like a Star overflows with the cigarettes 'n' gossamer pure pop panache of perfection in the making. Burt Bacharach loves her need we say more? Prepare to weep in joy.
The Universe Through URLs(all showcases subject to change)
Aberfeldy (Edinburgh) www.aberfeldys.com; Karma Lounge, Sat, 10pm
The Aeroplanes (Liverpool) www.theaeroplanes.co.uk; Spiro's, Fri, 1am
The Answer (Downpatrick) www.theanswer.com; Exodus, Thu, 10:45pm
Arctic Monkeys (Sheffield) www.arcticmonkeys.com; TBA, TBA
Art Brut (London) www.artbrut.org.uk; The Parish, Wed, 1am
Battle (London) www.thisisbattle.com; Fox and Hound, Sat, 10pm
Belle & Sebastian (Glasgow) www.belleandsebastian.co.uk; Stubb's, Wed, TBA
Blackbud (Bradford on Avon) www.blackbud.co.uk; Dirty Dog Bar, Sat, 11pm
Black Moses (London) www.blackmoses.co.uk; Blender Balcony at the Ritz, Sat, 1am
Blue Aeroplanes (Bristol) Karma Lounge, Sat, 11pm
Boy Kill Boy (London) www.boykillboy.com; Eternal, Thu, 10pm
The Boy Least Likely To (Wendover) www.theboyleastlikelyto.co.uk; Elysium, Fri, 12am
Billy Bragg (London) www.billybragg.co.uk; Cedar Street Courtyard, Fri, 9:30pm
Brakes (Brighton) www.brakesbrakesbrakes.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 8pm
Bromheads Jacket (Sheffield) www.bromheadsjacket.com; The Parish II, Wed, 12:30am
Archie Bronson Outfit (Putney) www.archiebronsonoutfit.co.uk; La Zona Rosa, Fri, 12am
Bullet for My Valentine (South Whales) www.bulletformyvalentine1.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Wed, TBA
Camera Obscura (Glasgow) www.camera-obscura.net/; Antone's, Sat, 12am
Isobel Campbell (Glasgow) www.isobelcampbell.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Fri, 9pm
The Capes (South London) www.thecapes.co.uk; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 1am
Captain (London) www.captaintheband.com; Opal Divine's Freehouse, Thu, 11:15pm
Cayto (Glasgow) www.cayto.com; Karma Lounge, Sat, 12am
The Charlatans (Manchester) www.thecharlatans.net; Exodus, Sat, 1am
The Cinematics (Glasgow) www.thecinematics.co.uk; Soho Lounge, Sat, 1am
Comanechi (London) www.comanechi.com; Molotov Lounge, Sat, 1am
The Contrast (Peterborough) www.thecontrast.net; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Sat, 9pm
The Cribs (Wakefield) www.thecribs.co.uk; Exodus, Fri, 12am
Jamie Cullum (London) www.jamiecullum.com; Eternal, Fri, TBA
Dirty Pretty Things (London) www.dirtyprettythingsband.com; Eternal, Thu, 12am
Duels (Leeds) www.duelsmusic.com; Exodus, Fri, 11pm
Duke Special (Belfast) www.dukespecial.com; Hilton 406, Thu, 11pm
The Duke Spirit (London) www.dukespirit.com; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 11pm
Echo & the Bunnymen (Liverpool) www.bunnymen.com; Town Lake Stage, Thu, 8:30pm
Editors (Birmingham) www.editorsofficial.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 11pm
The Eighteenth Day of May (London) www.theeighteenthdayofmay.com; Emo's Jr., Fri, 7:30pm
The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (Brighton) www.myspace.com/eightiesmatchboxblinedisaster; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 12am
The Electric Soft Parade (Brighton) www.electricsoftparade.com ; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 1am
Th' Faith Healers (London) www.badabingrecords.com; Blender Balcony at the Ritz, Fri, 12:45am
Newton Faulkner (Crewe) www.n-b-f.com; Maggie Mae's, Wed, 9:45pm
The Feeling (London) www.thefeeling.co.uk; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 1am
Field Music (Sunderland) www.field-music.co.uk/; Emo's Main Room, Wed, 10pm
David Ford (Lewes) www.davidford.mu; Copa, Thu, 10:30pm
Forward Russia (Leeds) www.forwardrussia.com; Fox and Hound, Sat, 9pm
Stephen Fretwell (Manchester) www.stephenfretwell.com; Exodus, Sat, 10pm
Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (Southend) www.getcapewearcapefly.co.uk; Buffalo Billiards, Wed, 10pm
Goldfrapp (London) www.goldfrapp.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 12:45am
Goldrush (Oxford) www.myspace.com/goldrushMusic; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 9pm
Gomez (Southport) www.gomez.co.uk; Stubb's, Thu, 12am
The Go! Team (Brighton) www.thegoteam.co.uk; Exodus, Wed, 1am
Grand National (London) www.grand-national.net; Spiro's Patio, Thu, 10pm
Guillemots (London) www.guillemots.com; Eternal, Thu, 8pm
Hard-Fi (Staines) www.hard-fi.com; Exodus, Fri, 1am
Harrisons (Sheffield) www.harrisonroad.co.uk; Red 7, Sat, 12am
Richard Hawley (Sheffield) www.richardhawley.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 11:30pm
The Hazey Janes (Dundee) www.thehazeyjanes.co.uk; The Drink, Sat, 8pm
The Heights (London) www.theheightsmusic.com; Exodus, Fri, 10pm
Hey Negrita (London) www.heynegrita.com; Buffalo Billiards, Wed, 1am
Hot Chip (London) www.hotchip.co.uk; The Parish, Sat, TBA
The Hours (London) www.thehoursmusic.com; Oslo, Thu, TBA
Hayley Hutchinson (York) www.hayleyhutchinson.net; Hilton 406, Fri, 12am
IV Thieves (Nic Armstrong) (London) www.nicarmstrongandthethieves.com; La Zona Rosa, Thu, 11pm
Jont (London) www.jontmusic.net; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 8pm
The Kooks (London) www.thekooks.co.uk; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 9pm
Sharron Kraus & Christian Kiefer (London) www.sharronkraus.com; The Hideout, Fri, 11pm
Ladyfuzz (London) www.ladyfuzz.com; The Parish II, Wed, 9:30pm
Lady Sovereign (London) www.ladysovereign.com; La Zona Rosa, Sat, 12am
Ladytron DJs (Liverpool) www.ladytron.com; Karma Lounge, Fri, 12am
The Len Price 3 (Chatham) www.thelenprice3.co.uk; The Drink, Sat, 12am
T.D. Lind (London) www.tdlind.com; Tambaleo, Wed, TBA
LoneLady (Manchester) www.lonelady.blogspot.com; Hilton 406, Sat, 12am
The Longcut (Manchester) www.thelongcut.com; Exodus, Sat, 11pm
Lucky Luke (Glasgow) www.luckyluke.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Wed, TBA
Mad Staring Eyes (London) www.themadstaringeyes.com; Soho Lounge, Sat, 11pm
The Magic Numbers (London) www.themagicnumbers.net; Stubb's, Fri, 12am
Glen Matlock & the Philistines (London) www.glenmatlock.com; Friends, Thu, 10:30pm
Merz (Huddersfield) www.merz.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Thu, 8pm
The Mighty Wah! (Liverpool) www.petewylie.com; Red 7, Sat, 11pm
Mogwai (Glasgow) www.mogwai.co.uk; Stubb's, Wed, TBA
Mohair (London) www.mohairmusic.com; Emo's Jr., Fri, 1:15am
Morrissey (Manchester) www.morrisseymusic.com; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 9:45pm
The Mutts (Brighton) www.themutts.com; Fox and Hound, Fri, 11pm
Mystery Jets (London) www.mysteryjets.com; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 12am
Neck (London) www.neck.ie; Pecan St. Ale House, Fri, 1am
New Mastersounds (Leeds) www.newmastersounds.com; Caribbean Lights, Wed, TBA
Scout Niblett (Birmingham) www.scoutniblett.com; Club de Ville, Thu, TBA
Nine Black Alps (Manchester) www.nineblackalps.net; Exodus, Sat, 12am
Jim Noir (London) www.jimnoir.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 10pm
Noisettes (London) www.thenoisettes.com; Stubb's, Thu, 9pm
Paolo Nutini (Paisley) www.paolo.uk.com; Whisky Bar, Sat, 12:45am
Oppenheimer (Belfast) www.myspace.com/oppenheimer; Friends, Fri, 9pm
Beth Orton (London) bethorton.astralwerks.com; Antone's, Wed, TBA
The Others (London) www.letskilltheothers.org; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 10pm
Our Small Capital (Stornoway) www.williamcampbell.co.uk; The Drink, Wed, TBA
Paris Motel (London) www.parismotel.co.uk; Pecan St. Ale House, Wed, TBA
Part Chimp (London) www.partchimp.com; Soho Lounge, Thu, 12am
People in Planes (Cardiff) www.peopleinplanes.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 12am
Piney Gir (London) www.pineygir.com; Nuno's Upstairs, Fri, 8pm
Plan B (London) www.time4planb.co.uk; Red Eyed Fly, Sat, 9pm
Polytechnic (Manchester) www.wearepolytechnic.com; Exodus, Sat, 8pm
The Pretenders (London) Stubb's, Sat, 12:30am
P.u.M.a.J.a.W. (Perth) www.pinkiemaclure.co.uk; Molotov Lounge, Fri, TBA
Corinne Bailey Rae (Leeds) www.corinnebaileyrae.net; 18th Floor at Capitol Place, Thu, 1am
The Rakes (London) www.therakes.co.uk; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 1am
Ralfe Band (London) www.ralfeband.com; Creekside at Capitol Place, Wed, 10pm
The Rebel (London) www.therebel.co.uk; The Jackalope, Wed, TBA
The Research (Wakefield) www.theresearchgopop.com; The Parish II, Wed, 10:30pm
The Rifles (London) www.therifles.co.uk; Soho Lounge, Sat, 12am
Carina Round (Birmingham) www.carinaround.com; Dirty Dog Bar, Thu, 10pm
Rumble Strips (London) www.rumblestrips.co.uk; TBA
747s (Liverpool) www.747s.co.uk; Exodus, Fri, 8pm
Snow Patrol (London) www.snowpatrol.net; Stubb's, Fri, 1am
Striplight (London) www.striplight.net; Pecan St. Ale House, Fri, TBA
The Subways (Welwyn Garden City) www.thesubways.net; Stubb's, Fri, 10pm
Sway (London) www.swaydasafo.com; Caribbean Lights, Sat, 1:15am
Switches (London) www.myspace.com/weareswitches; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 8pm
Tenebrous (London) www.tenebrous.tv; The Hideout, Wed, TBA
Test Icicles (London) www.testicicles.com; La Zona Rosa, Fri, 11pm
TODD (London) www.southern.com/todd; The Velvet Spade, Fri, TBA
Towers of London (London) www.towersoflondon.co.uk; La Zona Rosa, Sat, 11pm
Tunng (London) www.tunng.co.uk; The Velvet Spade, Thu, 10pm
KT Tunstall (London) www.kttunstall.com; Blender Bar at the Ritz, Fri, 12am
Vega 4 (London) www.vega-4.com; Stubb's, Fri, 8pm
John Watts (Brighton) www.johnwatts.co.uk; Hilton 406, Sat, 10pm
Whitehouse (Edinburgh) www.susanlawly.com; Room 710, Thu, 1:15am
White Rose Movement (London) www.whiterosemovement.co.uk; Stubb's, Fri, 9pm
Working for a Nuclear Free City (Manchester) www.myspace.com/wfanfc; Exodus, Sat, 9pm
World Party (London) Exodus, Wed, 11pm
The Young Knives (Oxford) www.theyoungknives.com; The Parish, Wed, 9pm
The Zico Chain (Brighton) www.thezicochain.com; Flamingo Cantina, Wed, 9pm
the Zutons (Liverpool) www.thezutons.co.uk; Austin Music Hall, Thu, 8pm
The Alarm (Rhyl WALES) www.thealarm.com; Elysium, Thu, 1am