This Friday is a big day, not just for Manchester music, but for UK music in general.

They're BACK!!! Tha mutha-fuckin' LONGCUT!

They're BACK!!! Tha mutha-fuckin' LONGCUT!

The Longcut – one of this city’s finest bands – make their much-anticipated return to live duty with a show at The Deaf Institute, ahead of a second album that proves they’re here for the long haul.

Expansive, intelligent, potent and urgent, Open Hearts will delight exisiting fans and convert swathes of the uninitiated to The Longcut’s cause.

Open Hearts is an incredibly natural-sounding, confident recording, which demonstrates the strides the band have made since the release of debut album A Call and Response in 2006.

By turns searing, forbidding, meditative and reflective, its beautifully poised, occasionally ferocious sound is an inviting backdrop for lead vocallist and drummer Stuart Ogilvie.

Ogilvie’s voice has always split opinion. Fans love him for his impassioned, yearning delivery and candid, emotionally forthright lyrics, whereas others remain totally immune to his style, citing a limited vocal range.

The singer himself is aware of this.

“I’ve started to sing a lot more on this album, really trying to use the full range of my voice on a lot of the songs”, he explains.

“I think a few people are going to be a bit surprised.”

Whatever your opinion, it’s undeniable that Ogilvie has an instantly recognisable, easily mimicable tone, in the same way that Bob Dylan does.  And even his detractors will be unable to deny that Open Hearts shows Ogilvie to have developed exponentially since the last Longcut record.

His Bobness - Has his detractors

His Bobness - Has his detractors

Since A Call And Response, he has added more subtlety and variety to his core approach – the unmistakable, signature yowl that elevated the fearsome instrumental churn of early singles ‘Transition’ and ‘A Quiet Life’, songs which match anything produced in Manchester this decade for soul-stirring, anthemic fire.

It’s those mercurial, thunderous songs that never fail to incite their loyal hometown crowd, who never fail to see a local Longcut performance as an excuse to kick off in style.  So the group’s long-awaited return to live action at The Deaf Institute – itself developing a fine reputation as a live music venue – promises to make for a sensational night.

“We miss the madness and the adrenaline so much when we haven’t played in ages. We’re planning a pretty full-on set”, promises Ogilvie.

And why not, when their fans turn the floor into a writhing mass of sweaty excess every time they hit full speed?

“It’s just a shame we can’t get in there with the fans and properly experience it”, laughs Ogilvie.  “It looks like fun in there!”

Not that anyone should believe that The Longcut are simply a high-energy live act, intent on giving the kids what they want.

The lyrics to ‘Something Inside’, say, detail the aftermath of the hedonistic impulse, whilst its brooding bassline stalks the wired, distressed vocal.  Then the album’s title track features a tender vocal delivery and patient, unimpulsive, slowburn build.

Then there’s the superb, tech-pop swirler ‘Repeated’.  This stand-out track builds on the template of the underrated ‘Tried and Tested Method’, from A Call and Response – and when its chorus resolves itself into a moment of logical, inevitable glory, you’re left wondering how something so complex can sound so organic.

A Call and Response - top debut, topped.

A Call and Response - top debut, topped.

Simply put, it’s the human touch that Ogilvie’s, well, open-hearted delivery adds to the stern, almost Teutonic efficiency of the musical machine manned by bassist Jon Fearon and guitarist Lee Gale.

They’re a thinking man’s band, who use their brains first and hit the overdrive pedal second – and when it matters.

Perhaps fittingly for a group whose new record affirms their unique, groundbreaking sound, The Longcut have even handled the release of Open Hearts in a distinctive way.

The album is now available for pre-order, but fans who reserve it will be permitted to download the mp3 or FLAC files instantly, before receiving their CD or vinyl copy when it comes out on Melodic Records in October.

The reasoning behind this is linked to a major problem faced by bands in the internet age – the issue of advance ‘promo’ copies of albums being leaked onto the web, meaning that new records by high-profile bands are routinely heard by digitally savvy fans far in advance of official release date.

“Our biggest concern was people getting hold of a poor quality version of the record before it even came out”, explains Ogilvie.

“This way, we know that everybody listening to it, whether pirated or not, is going to be hearing it as it should be heard.”

“Almost every album that’s released now is out unofficially on torrent sites two months or so before it’s in the shops, so we’re allowing people to get a high quality version from us instead”, adds bassist Jon Fearon.

Are the band upset to think that Open Hearts – painstakingly compiled with production help from close friend David Jones, of Nine Black Alps – will be accessible to online pirates for free?

“It’s a problem you can’t solve without overhauling and limiting the internet, which isn’t going to happen,” considers Fearon.

“You have to be realistic that not everyone who likes you will buy the record, but personally, I feel a bit guilty if I’m constantly listening to a band that I’ve not supported in any way.”

“Worse piracy has happened at sea”, shrugs Ogilvie – but it’s a knotty problem and one that does impact upon the chances for artists, especially independently-releasing ones, to make a living from their music.

Piracy - "it's wrong... It's wrong!"

Piracy - "it's wrong... It's wrong!"

“Bands will always need investment from somewhere, so if there’s no money from records, they’ll have to sign away something else to get the cash that labels used to provide”, says Fearon.

“I do think bands should try and do things themselves and keep control as much as possible though.”

This last statement is not just rhetoric.

By recording Open Hearts independently, The Longcut have given the lie to the apathetic convention that bands can’t do anything without the help of major labels and a huge budget.

Parting company with their previous label, Sony, only seems to have galvanised and liberated the group as a creative force.  Such heavy blows have crushed many a promising British band, but The Longcut are made from steelier stuff than most.

As the oddly-titled, but scenic and impressive piano-led study ‘Boom’ prettily burbles from my speakers, I think about the hard graft that has gone into the making of Open Hearts – not just the recording process, but the construction of each song.

The sleek lines and watertight integrity of each structure leave me in mind of a monstruous, beautiful ocean liner, carving an inexorable path through difficult waters.

“I think we’ve become a lot more tight as a band.  There’s a few tricks on Open Hearts that we couldn’t have pulled a few years ago”, decides Ogilvie.

"We've become tighter as a band"

"We've become tighter as a band"

“I think on Call and Response, everything was just so intense that it could get a bit much at times. This album is much better balanced.”

Meanwhile, the very title of this album reflects the songs’ lyrical candour perfectly.

“I’ve tried to rely a lot less on metaphor to express my feelings on this album and I think that’s brought out an honesty and an emotional core to the lyrics”, says Ogilvie.

“There were times when I had to stop and question whether some of the words I was writing seemed too obvious or clichéd, but then I could never think of a better or clearer way to express them.  I hope that makes it easier for people to relate or connect to the songs on the album.”

The Longcut play The Deaf Institute on Friday June 12th, with support from Kingtree & The Roots.

‘Open Hearts’ is available to preorder on CD or vinyl from http://thelongcut.melodic.co.uk, with the digital download issued immediately.

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It’s fucking good.

Feature to follow.  For now, here’s the link

'Open Hearts' front cover, by Liam Palmer

'Open Hearts' front cover, by Liam Palmer

The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

MOST musicians are thrilled and excited to talk about the release of their debut album, but for the prolific Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, the situation is a source of befuddlement.

His as-yet unreleased ‘second’ album was actually meant to come out before his eponymous ‘first’ record – which was released this month.

“I’ve recorded the second album. That was done in December of 2007. I thought it was going to be my debut album,” says a bemused Robinson.

“The album I wanted to release as my debut has now been around for 16 months, while another one has snuck out of the gates and caused me all sorts of dizziness.”

Meanwhile, a third record is already written, too…

“The third one’s all written, but now I feel strange, because people are gong to look at the second album as a follow-up to the first one – whereas it really wasn’t,” protests Robinson.

Confused yet?

Chaos seems to have stuck to this 26-year old Brooklyn resident ever since he arrived in New York City with a desire to make music, but a college scholarship to make movies.

“I was a film major [at the prestigious NYU art school], but after three months I had no interest in making films,” he explains.

“They had a music recording studio that no one ever used, so I stayed around for that.  I recorded seven albums while I was there – really, my life was an incredible privilege to be able to do that.”

Of course, this rarefied lifestyle came at a premium.

“I’m in just the absolute depths of debt. Last I checked it was $80,000, but God knows what’s happened over the last couple of years… if there was a debtor’s prison, I would be in it”, Robinson admits, ruefully.

Not that such an eye-watering personal deficit bothers this singular songwriter too much.

“I doubt they’d come chasing me – I don’t own anything, so you know, there’s nothing to take. It’s like, ‘fine, take everything I have.  Would you like my used records? Cigarette butts?’”

This ‘let it happen’ approach to life is written all over Robinson’s debut album.

Nice album.  Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

Nice album. Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

It’s a sprawling affair, with touches of the acutely personal Elliott Smith brand of songcraft and echoes of the raw, scrappy sonic beauty of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

And it was recorded in a suitably unconventional style by a man seemingly incapable of doing anything by the book.

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear)

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear, superbly photographed by Samantha West - http://www.samanthawest.net)

“With the first album, I paid my housemate’s rent for a month. We turned his bedroom into a control room and set up the drums and everything in my living room; we basically recorded the album in my living room.”

Not that Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson was likely to sound ramshackle, when the studious and highly-talented Chris Taylor – of world-class New York indie quartet Grizzly Bear – was on hand to produce the album.

“We had been playing shows together all the time, becoming great friends in the process,” explains Robinson.

“I hoped that [Grizzly Bear drummer] Chris Bear and Chris Taylor could lend their talents to some songs I was writing. I was about to ask Chris Taylor, when he said, ‘I really feel like you should do a solo record, I feel like that’s your strength. I’d love to produce’. So I gave him a bunch of demos.”

So you never intended to be a solo artist, it just, sort of, happened?

“My last band broke up because everyone started having infidelities with the other people in the band. I decided to quit bands forever,” reveals Robinson.

“The touring band I have at the moment are fantastic; if they didn’t already have obligations, I would love to call them my band forever, but I’ve learned my lesson with that. Everyone always leaves. We all die alone…”

A slightly spooked, bruised and emotional worldview comes across in Robinson’s lyrics.

Doozies like ‘I’m not sure that I want to stay alive / It’s so expensive…’ (from the suitably-titled ‘The Debtor’) rub shoulders with stark tales of drug addiction and its attendant malaise (“Met a girl who said ‘hey boy, you’re a death-head / I bet you’d be alright in bed / still, I’ll take sleep instead’”, from the excellent, stomping ‘Woodfriend’).

Then there’s a weirdly affirmative scream of ‘Believe me, I wish that I was dead’ on the grandiose and superficially joyous album opener ‘Buriedfed’.

There are contradictions all the time with Robinson – his music generates genuine vitality despite the constant shadow of depression. A wicked sense of humour emerges from the murky depths, whilst unbearable pangs of dissatisfaction emanate from a situation of genuine privilege.

But then, since when have people been logical?

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

Fortunately for a clearly volatile and mercurial young talent, a ‘big brother’ figure is on the scene, in the imposing figure of Kyp Malone.

Malone, instantly recognisable by his spectacles, monster Afro and equally impressive beard, sings in one of New York’s most celebrated bands, TV On The Radio.

And after Taylor introduced Malone to Robinson’s music, they struck up a lasting friendship.

“He lent me five CDs the first time I met him. And he’s become one of my best friends – like an older brother taking care of me at weird times in my life,” gushes Robinson.

“Kyp’s not actually related to me, he doesn’t have that obligation – yet he’s taken care of me like family for years. It’s amazing.”

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is out now on Transgressive Records.

Kingtree & The Roots

May 30, 2009

A new band is born.

band

The Roots live at the Tiger Lounge, Manchester (L-R Phil Arnold, Tom Mills, me, Trevor Pattinson - Seamus O'Kane (drums) out of shot

Kingtree (Trev and me) live at Upperspace, Manchester.  We usually play a couple together before the rest of the band come on.  This was a duo set, though.

Kingtree (Trev and me) live at Upperspace, Manchester. We usually play a couple together before the rest of the band come on. This was a duo set, though.

It’s really nice.

“I never realised how young you were…” – Bob Dylan

12644-the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heart

I was offered the chance to interview The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ahead of this show, but on first listen, I was totally underwhelmed with them.  This album is just derivative, I thought.   It’s just early My Bloody Valentine (‘Come Saturday’), for God’s sake.  With a dash of The Smiths (‘The Tenure Itch’).  And The Cure (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’).  Oh and there’s that one that sounds a lot like ‘Vapour Trail’ by Ride (‘Stay Alive’).

The songs were catchy, there was no denying that.  It’s just that the band were so nakedly in thrall to their eighties British indie influences.  It’s cynical, I decided.  These must be ageing, jaded New Yorkers trying to make money out of nostalgia.

They’ll get nothing from me, I decided, with a huff and a crossing of my arms.

Then a friend persuaded me it would be interesting to speak to them, seeing as they are one of the more hyped bands to come out of NYC this year.  I gritted my teeth and started to come up with some questions.

Here are the first three that came to mind:-

  1. Is it easy to get away with ripping off ’80s UK indie in the States?
  2. Are you surprised at the success of your new album, given that it is so derivative?
  3. Will your next record be less derivative?

I decided not to go ahead with the interview.

A couple of weeks passed and once I’d quite finished with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, I felt an unexpected urge to go back to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.  Those jangling hooks had barbs.  That winsome, pure pop instinct wouldn’t leave me alone.   To my shock and surprise, when I put the album on again, I realised that over the past couple of weeks, without realising it or particularly listening to them, I had totally accepted them for what they were.  I started to like them.

I awarded the song ‘Young Adult Friction’ five stars on my iTunes rating.  But by this time, it was too late to sort out the interview.

The day of the Irish Club show came around. I was playing a set myself, in the snug room downstairs, before the Pains went on upstairs.  So I did my gig, then grabbed a couple of beers and went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

First of all, God, it was hot up there…  So many bodies, so little ventilation.  Sweat was pouring from everywhere before the headliners had even taken the stage.

Then, up they popped… and boy, did I feel like an idiot straight away.  They’re so young…

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

Bassist Alex Naidus’ killer Malcolm X glasses can’t disguise the fact that he can’t be a day over 23.  Keyboardist Peggy Wang is a classic indie poppet.  The second guitarist is so patently into it that his demeanour quite disarms you.  Singer Kip Berman is smiling fit to burst as soon as they burst into ‘Come Saturday’ and the crowd instantly goes for it.

By the time they get to ‘Young Adult Friction’, there is a bona fide moshpit and Berman just gazes across his crowd, with genuine delight in his eyes.  He is touched, you can see it. Wang half tries to retreat behind her hair, bashful, as the front few rows sing her vocal parts for her, but she can’t hide her smile.

They didn’t expect this; they are in no way blasé about the pleasure they have given to these strangers from the island that sired their music.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have touched a nerve.  Their unashamedly nostalgic music is (fucking) right for this crowd, right for this room.  It’s just like it must have been the first time around – the romantic introverts, bedroom poets and literate loners are brought back together by sugar-edged guitars, untutored boy-girl harmonies and dreamy, shimmery clouds of languor.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s nothing new.  People don’t care that it’s all happened before.  It doesn’t even matter that these American kids are bringing our own musical heritage back to us.  This crowd do not care who the band are, where they’re from, what year it is, or who they’ve ripped off.  They just like the songs.

The moshpit swells as more and more adults (some young, some not so young) are convinced to dive in and accept The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I fight my way out of the hall, walk into the gents’ and look at myself in the mirror.  My shirt is doused in beer and sweat.   They’ve just played ‘Stay Alive’ and Berman has dedicated it to Manchester, ‘because we stole your drumbeat.’  Well, that one came from Oxford, actually, I thought to myself.

It doesn’t really matter.

the pains of being pure at heart

I liked it. Click here to see the article on citylife.co.uk,

There’s something very special about Veckatimest.

In this era of illegal downloads and plummeting CD sales, it’s becoming increasingly rare for an album to arrive with a real sense of occasion, but Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough LP will rightly draw critical praise right across the spectrum and catapult this New York quartet to a new level of fame.

Named after an uninhabited island in Massachusetts, Veckatimest exudes quality.  Every note seems to have been closely studied and considered, before being painstakingly stitched into its proper place within a richly textured backdrop to the flawless vocal harmonies.

Acoustic guitars and swoonsome backing vocals breathe a wistful, time-out-of-mind atmosphere into opener ‘Southern Point’, before a series of powerful electric crescendos – best exemplified by the staggering, rollercoaster-drop chorus of ‘While You Wait for the
Others’ and the controlled, almost Godspeed! You Black Emperor-style noise classicism of ‘Fine For Now’ – force their way into the forefront of your consciousness.

The general sense of Veckatimest as a serious (important, even) record carries through into its lyrics.  Poignant, perceptive one-liners abound – “We’re all faltering / How can I help with that?” is a personal favourite, best heard in the context of its complex, soul-stirring ‘Fine For Now’.

Picking fault, their undeniable musical flair can lead them into some overly showy moments.  The falsetto backing vocals on ‘Two Weeks’ are perhaps a touch too theatrical – and there’s a hint of Arcade Fire at their more bombastic in ‘I Live With You’, for example; but measure that against the fact that the same song features gorgeous, sinuous horns reminiscent of the lunar, ebb-tide grace of ‘Art Decade’ from David Bowie’s Low.  The occasional ostentatious moment has to be forgiven.

Congratulations, Grizzly Bear.  Now, get yourselves to Manchester and take a bow….

veckatimest

http://www.strandedinstereo.com/interview_thenightjars.shtml

Nightjars cover art by Sam Garrett

Nightjars cover art by Sam Garrett - click to view our discography

deerh_micro_pr2_300d_020908

I feel like I’ve said enough about Deerhunter for now, but if anyone’s burning to read more, the piece I wrote after interviewing Lockett for City Life is here….

The full transcript of our exchange follows.

OLLIE: How does the Deerhunter songwriting process work, as a rule?  I heard Bradford giving you credit for writing ‘Agoraphobia’, for example.  Is there a main songwriter, or do ideas come from all corners, then get worked up collaboratively?

LOCKETT: The songwriting process varies from song to song. Some are very collaborative and ideas are worked out in a studio, or discussed in advance. Others might be a demo that Brad, Josh, or I will introduce and the song will remain exactly as is, or it could be completely changed into a collaborative effort. It all depends on what the song calls for. There isn’t a consistent process really.

OW: Are you guys able to make a living through music now, or do you have to work day jobs?

LP: Yea, we do OK now. Some time within the last year and a half it was possible to make a living doing what we do. I think I am the only one who still works a day job though. Just a few hours a week really. Otherwise I get lazy.

OW: What can we expect from the Lotus Plaza album?

LP: Well, most of the stuff I did for that album was recorded shortly after Cryptograms came out, so it follows a bit in that vein. It’s ten songs, a few of which were given away on the blog. I recorded myself in my room and played all the instruments on it. Brad plays another drum track on it in a song called ‘Different Mirrors’. It comes out officially on March 23rd.

Lotus Plaza

Lotus Plaza

OW: I’m still pissed off that I missed your last Manchester gig, which was at Café Saki, I believe.  How was that tour?  Looking at the venues for the upcoming British tour, it looks as though you’ve moved up a notch.

LP: That was our first tour of England, really. We had played shows there before but it was the first time we had gone to more than just the few cities we had been to previously. Things went really well on that tour. We did a TV show there in Manchester with Liars, hosted by a guy named Frank Sidebottom. Was pretty fun. I had no idea what to expect going into that. He recreated the likeness of the Tiananmen Square protest on a miniature soccer field. with plastic soldiers and tanks while interviewing the bands.

OW: I understand that you and Bradford have been friends since you were kids.  What was the situation with you joining the band?  At what point did you get involved – were Kranky already on the scene at that time?

LP: I had been away at college for a few years and when I returned back home, Brad asked me to join. This was probably a year or so before Cryptograms came out. They had toured before i joined the band, but things were still at a much different level. Kranky expressed some interest and came to one of our shows in St. Louis, where we played this small arts space. They were into our show and we signed with them.

OW: I haven’t heard too much Lotus Plaza, but the majority of Deerhunter / Atlas Sound material prior to Microcastle leans towards the ambient and experimental – yet there’s never a total junking of melody.  Is Microcastle an indication that we can expect future Deerhunter releases to continue in the pop vein, whilst you guys work out your more esoteric urges through the side projects?  Or will you keep pursuing the ‘twin track’ approach – i.e. packaging the lo-fi with the hi-fi (Microcastle / Weird Era Continued)

LP: Microcastle is just something different, but not necessarily an indication of what’s to come. We still use a lot of the more ambient stuff during our live sets, but didn’t want to make another Cryptograms on record. It’s more fun to kind of expand your horizons musically from record to record.

Microcastle

Microcastle

LP: The Microcastle/Weird Era combination was sort of impulsive; since the album had already leaked, and gotten out so early before the release, we wanted to make it so that the people who still wanted to buy it would get a surprise along with it. We recorded most of the songs on Weird Era ourselves, with a few in the studio. We kind of wanted it to have an old and haunted vibe in regards to the production of the songs. Probably not something that we would do again.

OW: One of my musical obsessions is this idea of ‘formality’, which I can’t really define without relating it to specific songs.  I think ‘Agoraphobia’ is a good example of a ‘formal’ song… Does that make any sense, in relation to how you guys write?  I suppose I mean that I consider it to have been intelligently structured and played with discipline – specifically conceived as a pop song and performed as such, without ego.

LP: Yea, that makes sense. It is a pretty straightforward song. It’s fun to try and deliberately write a song like that. It’s also difficult at times. Most of the writing I do, as well as Brad, is a more stream of consciousness sort. Then you kind of go back and piece it together into something better or maybe not. Sometimes it works how it is.

When writing a song and trying to make it “formal” from the beginning, it can become a lot harder to get through. There are a lot more filters going through my head before I even start a song or at any stage during it, instead of just picking up an instrument and starting something to make sense of afterwards.

Cryptograms-by-Deerhunter_A4R9rCQuB_Ex_full

Cryptograms


OW: I understand that Cryptograms was quite difficult to put together, being split over different sessions and remixed. Was it easier to make Microcastle and how closely involved with the mixing process was the band?

LP: Microcastle was a lot easier from the beginning. There wasn’t as much grey area or indecision going into the making of it. We had more direction and experience with the songs before we went into the studio. We were all in a different state of mind during Cryptograms and I think  Microcastle sort of caught us at a better and more prepared time. We also had a lot more time in the studio to make it happen than we had with any previous album.

The mixing was done with everyone sitting in a room with Nicolas, the engineer, playing and tweaking the song. He would do his thing and we would respond or we would tell him how we wanted it to sound. Mixing on pretty much everything we have recorded thus far has been a collaborative effort.

OW: Just a personal one, this – ‘Dot Gain’ (from Weird Era Continued).  That chorus guitar break is euphoric, absolutely brilliant.  Were you not tempted to do a hi-fi ‘proper pop’ production on the song?

LP: No, not at all. I actually like it the way it is. I think it would lose the energy it has if it were to be recorded better. I guess I’m used to how it sounds as it is. I couldn’t really imagine it taking on a more hi-fi form. Some things just sound better kind of dirty.

OW: As I might be taking this piece to the Manchester Evening News, I’ll ask a Manchester-related question.  Are there any Manchester groups that influenced you guys? I heard Bradford reference Martin Hannett, in relation to the production style of Cryptograms – and The Fall, with relation to the first album.

LP: Yea, I think we all had a few of those bands in mind like The Fall, Magazine and New Order. They definitely kind of fell in the mental climate we occupied during the writing and recording of Cryptograms. Definitely some of the bands that we can all agree on.

OW: I’m sure the ‘major labels’ must be sniffing around you guys.   Would you consider signing to one of them, if offered?

LP: Kranky rules.