Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Skinny's 6th Favourite LP of 2010: Beach House - Teen Dream

Top 10 of 2010:
No. 6 Beach House - Teen Dream
interview for the skinny

Beach House were fully aware of the majesty of third album Teen Dream as they were preparing it this time last year. “At one point I was more excited about every single song [on Teen Dream] that I had ever been before,” guitarist Alex Scally tells The Skinny, “even songs where I don’t really do anything, like Real Love. There was a recording of that we made and I was trying to figure out how to make this thing hold and I probably listened to it fifty times, every time enjoying every single second of it.”

Teen Dream has been a breakthrough for Beach House, who are now touring with some of the biggest bands in indie music, but they say nothing’s changed since their self-titled debut and its acclaimed follow-up Devotion. “Every record is a different world,” singer Victoria Legrand says, “but the attention on us now I feel is the result of our steady and persistent working. It doesn’t feel that different from what we were doing before but people are now noticing more.”

It’s not glamorous, they insist, and work it certainly is: “I think we’re at the 150 [shows] mark right now for the year, which is pretty crazy”, Alex says. But now that they’ve got here, he doesn’t see the band getting any bigger.

“We make music that’s all about intimacy, I don’t think that would translate to an arena. We played at a 1,500 person place and that blew our mind, it felt great, but I think that might be the limit. We just did a tour with Vampire Weekend and 14,000 people were at the Hollywood Bowl, I think it really taught us where we think the upper extent of our music is. Even if we could sell a show of 2,000 people, it might not work.” Such music-over-money ideals are admirable, and they’re surely about to be tested.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Caribou @ ABC, Glasgow

Caribou, Four Tet, James Holden @ ABC, Glasgow, November 21
live review for the skinny

With a line-up of James Holden, Rocketnumbernine, Nathan Fake, Holden again and Four Tet before Caribou, Sunday evening’s ABC lineup has a mini-festival feel to it. James Holden's mercurial dinner time techno slot tricks this sell-out crowd into thinking it’s 2am Saturday night, partly because we've been dancing for a couple hours already. He slides between bass-heavy bangers, slivery grooves and laser-driven mechanical shuffles until we’re all just about ready to spill out home to bed.

But it’s still only 10:15, and time for Four Tet to take over. Despite his albums’ more delicate style, now is definitely not the time for Kieran Hebden to slow down. So Holden's huge 4/4 kick drum remains, but louder now, so that its low frequencies grind all over the more fragile sounds of his new album. Everyone keeps dancing, of course, but there’s a feeling that Hebden might’ve been able to exercise a little more subtlety had he played earlier in the night.

After five hours of continuous beats, the 15 minute break for Caribou to set up as a four-piece band is a bit of a mood-killer. For their first few songs the crowd seems tired, and faced with Caribou’s more complex rhythms it takes some cajoling to get everyone moving again. That we would could never have been in doubt: a spectacular Niobe, propelled by clattering cymbal fills on every eighth bar, sets it up; more terrific drumming and scintillating noise for Melody Day ratchets the energy levels up again, and we’re not even on to the Swim stand-outs yet.

Jamelia, sung well by an unwell bass player in the absence of Born Ruffians’ singer Luke, swings cutely over a clickety woodblock rhythm before exploding in shimmering squall; Odessa's deep parping bassline and clattering rhythms sound profoundly weird and utterly compelling on this huge scale; and trippy encore Sun is stretched and pulled and pressed and dropped and revived til it’s mesmerised us all three times over. It’s a huge end to a night that seemed to have peaked too early, before Caribou proved it had never peaked at all.

Beach House @ Oran Mor, Glasgow

Beach House @ Oran Mor, Glasgow, November 20 (****)
live review for the skinny

Dream pop duo Beach House are a band whose live reputation is always going to be closely tethered to that of their albums; they’re perfectionists in the studio, so there isn’t much space for reinterpretation, and they’re permanently bereft, so they’re not much in a mood for energy. But in the darkness of Òran Mór, with a golden light fading in and out with singer Victoria Legrand’s breathy intros, fairy lights behind them twinkling like stars, and the aural haze enveloping each lovelorn song, they create a dramatic and intimate atmosphere.

There’s a stream of highlights from 2008s Devotion and this year’s Teen Dream, but the biggest moments come towards the end of the set. Heart of Chambers allows Legrand to really open up, roaring the melancholic chorus like it still hurts two years later, and mighty kick drums lend encore pair Real Love and Ten Mile Stereo an explosive edge. At the end of an evening of melancholy, the mimicking of Alex Scally’s skyscraping guitar line by the shimmering stars behind him makes for a stunning finale.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Last Battle - Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea

The Last Battle - Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea (**)
album review for the skinny

For a band of six, Edinburgh’s The Last Battle sport a frail, minimal sound on debut album Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea, based almost entirely on singer Scott Longmuir’s acoustic guitar. Tasteful cello flourishes and wispy female backing vocals don’t do much to fill out the palette, so The Last Battle ensure there’s some variation by, for example, splitting the short record with a monologue from a deep-voiced bandmate, and introducing a shuffling squeezebox to Cutlass.

Despite the stylistic difference, it’s that monologue, Photographic Memory, which encapsulates the album’s main problems: it’s sorely earnest and full of lyrical clichés. Heart of the Land's relentless sincerity becomes difficult to stomach if you’re not in a teary mood, and lines like "I'd like to sail away with you forever in a heartbeat" would surely earn derision were they to come from a soppy pop star, however melodiously they're delivered.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Brian Eno - Small Craft On A Milk Sea

Brian Eno - Small Craft on a Milk Sea (**)
album review for the skinny

Warp’s signing of Brian Eno was a symbolic coup for the label, the spiritual homecoming of a common ancestor to their entire roster’s two-decade output. But Small Craft On A Milk Sea does not indicate a return to the cutting-edge for Eno, who’s been wallowing in abstract ambient sound design for longer than Warp’s lifetime.

When Small Craft summons some energy, as in early tracks Horse and 2 Forms of Anger, racing drums, buzzing insects and squawking mechanical birds form a frightening scene, before the latter track’s guitars explode and enflame for a full minute.

But for the most part, Small Craft drifts aimlessly in featureless ambience. For all that he achieved in his first decade-or-so as a musician and producer – and his legacy of innovation in rock and electronic music is peerless – it’s difficult to detect anything of genius or inspiration in his 2010 output.