Sunday, 28 April 2013

REVIEW: Efterklang @ O2 Academy Oxford 18/4/13

*Originally published for the Oxford Mail (23/4/13)

Cinematic pop lot Efterklang are huge in their native of Denmark and it seems us Brits are pretty fond of them too. In fact, Oxford's very own Foals had them support their sold-out show at the Royal Albert Hall last month. 

It's surprising then to find the six piece playing upstairs at the O2 Academy Oxford last Thursday, though it's to no detriment. One song in and the intimate upstairs venue already feels appropriate for a measured band like Efterklang. Opener 'Hollow Mountain' is flawless from the offset with crystalline female vocals, progressive bass and shimmering synths. 

'Frida Found A Friend' sees the band darting around the stage, swapping instruments and pressing buttons like mad scientists. It's rather unsettling to watch but it's also fascinating to listen to. This experimentalism really is at the heart of everything Efterklang do: making music to take apart and put back together again. 

Providing some light relief from the more leftfield numbers, the group bring in the catchy off-beat rhythms and chirpy brass of 'Black Summer', later treating us to gorgeous three part harmonies in 'Dreams Today'. It's one of those gigs that just keeps getting better and better. 

The end of the set is dominated largely by songs from their award-winning 2010 album, Magic Chairs. The scratchy guitar riff of 'Raincoats' gets heads bobbing but crowd-favourite 'Modern Drift' sounds even more sure of itself live with classic piano notes cutting through the track's orchestral makeup. 

Just as everyone thinks they've been spoilt enough by Efterklang's unquestionably slick showmanship, the band returns for an encore. 'Between The Walls' is breathtaking and the experimental track that follows has frontman Casper Clausen instructing the crowd to stomp and sing in two-part harmonies. It's hypnotising and beautiful. 

Closer 'Alike' is full of life and really allows the band to let themselves go: arms flailing, hair flicking and hands clapping in every direction. The track's urgent beat, robust group vocals and warm root notes leave the set on a high and it seems that nobody wants them to go. Perhaps we should adopt these Danes after all.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

PREVIEW: Sweet Baboo, Toliesel & more at BBC Introducing in Oxford gig

*Originally published for BBC News Oxford (23/4/13)

Welsh singer-songwriter Sweet Baboo will be supported by four rising Oxfordshire acts at April's BBC Introducing in Oxford live gig.

Toliesel, Nairobi, Jordan O'Shea and Katie & Jess join the line-up at Upstairs at the O2 Academy on 24 April.
Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, said he was looking forward to returning to Oxford where he has previously toured with Slow Club and Cate Le Bon.
"I don't think I've played Oxford as Sweet Baboo but I'm excited to return to Oxford - it's a beautiful city," he added.
Whilst his music is essentially pop he thinks his new album, Ships, is something different.
"It's mainly brass and noise," he explained.
Critics have compared Sweet Baboo to other Welsh act Super Furry Animals.
He has embarked on a UK tour to promote his fourth studio album before appearances at major music festivals over the summer.
'Stamp of approval'

Indie/Americana outfit Toliesel said they were "excited" to be invited back to play a BBC Introducing gig, where they first played as a full band.
Guitarist Tom Jowett called the Oxford music scene "one of the best scenes in the UK".
He added: "I come from a sleepy town in the Midlands so when I moved to Oxford seven years ago I felt very privileged to be welcomed into it.
"I noticed quite quickly just how supportive musicians are of each other here [but] there needs to be that Oxford stamp of approval - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"The crowds here just have high expectations and that's healthy."
The band release their debut EP later this year.
Africanised math rock lot Nairobi also return to the O2 Academy on Wednesday.
Guitarist Pete Hughes said: "Our music is basically killer rhythms from top to bottom. It's all about getting odd time signatures to be super-danceable."

Nairobi have been compared to the likes of Paul Simon, largely due to the many "African-style guitar licks" in their songs.
Pete added that his favourite Oxford band is a "female-fronted, six-person samba pop band called Duchess".
"We're also playing a slew of great gigs this summer at the little parochial festivals in Oxford and even popping over to France," he said.
'Essential hub'

Unlike the aforementioned acts, it is young singer songwriter Jordan O'Shea's first time at the O2 Academy.
He said: "I'm feeling very excited about it, but also incredibly nervous. I'm playing alongside some amazing talent, so I hope I match them."
Jordan writes "music you can get lost to" and counts Keaton Henson and Daughter amongst his influences.
The Oxford music scene "is a pretty positive thing to be a part of" he added.
"The great thing is having the music magazines and websites that are Oxford-based. Having Truck Store as a hub is also essential for uniting and maintaining a scene."There are so many bands and solo artists so it can be hard to try and be noticed here, but there are opportunities like this to promote yourself."
He recently released his debut album through local music and art collective Bear On A Bicycle and is playing in London later this month,
Every month a selection of local talent play the regular band nights at the O2 Academy, with highlights featured on BBC Introducing in Oxford.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

REVIEW: Stornoway - Tales From Terra Firma

*Originally published for Artrocker (12/3/13)

When this studious Oxford bunch were tipped for big things in 2010, there was little doubt that their charming folk pop would appeal to the mainstream. In the years since, Stornoway have toured extensively, signed to 4AD and released their praised debut, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. But breathe their name and some people still think you’re talking about that Scottish town on weather forecasts. Perhaps their second release will put them on the map.

‘You Take Me As I am’ welcomes listeners in medias res, with burring gospel keys, playful bass and drums akimbo. Unfortunately, it feels as if you are trespassing upon the band’s hodgepodge experimentalism and it's a messy introduction to Tales From Terra Firma.

Following track, ‘Farewell Appalachia’, is arguably the strongest on the album. A Middle-Eastern zither dances around warm acoustics and harmonies, whilst jazz rhythms carry a dulcimer in woozy enchantment. It’s a triumph and will compel you to hit repeat.

Exasperatingly, the mature moments stemming from tracks like ‘Farewell Appalachia’ are very few and far between in the album’s early stages. ‘The Bigger Picture’sees a return to Stornoway’s idiosyncratic happy-go-lucky pop and feels like it belongs to their previous release, save for the rather REM-inspired mandolin. Brian Briggs’ sparkling vocals often fail to command attention above the rollicking rhythms and, sadly, the tune fades into the ether. 

'Hook, Line, Sinker’ tells a nice story of journeying by the Thames to meet a lover, but musically-speaking,what the hell is it? Oddball phaser effects, rhythms unsure of their direction and removed vocals are but a few of its quirky components. It’s a confusing listen, written in what appears to be a wacky stream of consciousness. If opener ‘You Take Me As I am’is a bit messy, this is chaotic. 

The cascading guitars in ‘(A Belated) Invite To Eternity’ owe a lot to Vampire Weekend and nicely break up the early tracks. Rather cleverly, Stornoway have planted the strongest songs in the second half of the album, leaving a lasting impression of infectious melodies. 

Among these is the meaty ‘Knock Me On The Head’ with its joyful bass, seaside keys and trigger-sharp harmonies and the back-to-basics folk ballad, ‘November Song.’The most dramatic song on the album, ‘The Ones We Hurt The Most’,hears an Appalachian dulcimer glide over rich bodied harmonies –something Fleet Foxes could have penned. Briggs and co. have absolute conviction in every word they spit whilst this brooding, experimental Americana builds and builds, and it’s beautiful to listen to.

With its smorgasbord of instruments, Tales From Terra Firma is much bolder than its predecessor, but its weakness lies in the frustrating dichotomy between fresher sounds and the band's old folk-pop roots. Thankfully, it’s a healthy step forward.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

FEATURE: Nadine Carina

*Originally published for The Tipping Point (2/4/13) 

LIPA is currently churning out a great deal of exciting artists. Former Tipping Point stars Dan Croll and Ady Suleiman are exemplary students past and present, but today it’s all about their equally-promising classmate, Nadine Carina.

'Chocolates And Cigarettes’ is a welcome introduction to the Swiss singer-songwriter with its sleepy acoustics and shuffle drum patterns. Carina’s vocal has a likeness to Regina Specktor – its off-kilter swing and quirky enunciations (“chocolayte and seegaretts”) sitting comfortably beside the track’s cut 'n' paste instrumentation.

Dustbowl guitars nod to the blues and boast of Carina’s ability to jump between guitar, piano and pedals. Playful harmonies that hark to 50s radio showgirl announcements are neatly interspersed throughout, making the track just that little bit more fun to listen to.

‘Chocolates And Cigarettes’ is refreshingly simple and Nadine Carina certainly adds to Liverpool’s roster of musical talent.

Tip courtesy of Darren Roper (Liverpool Sound City)