Esuna: New band members, math rock and Oxjam Cardiff Takeover

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

Last Sunday I caught up with Esuna to have a chat and record a short podcast. They’re playing the Oxjam Cardiff Takeover, and were kind enough to agree to be interviewed about their new band member, their new material and the bands you should check out at Oxjam (spoiler: Masts, Safari Gold and How I Faked the Moon Landing).

They’re a great live band, and I last saw them at the Save Le Pub gig a couple of weeks ago. They were part of an amazing line-up that featured Samoans, Kutosis, Mimas and Dad Rocks!, but they more than held their own with a pretty epic live set.

Esuna at Buffalo Bar

Esuna at Buffalo Bar

If you’re heading to Oxjam (and you definitely should), then I strongly suggest you check these guys out. In the meantime, check out their new EP on Soundcloud– available soon on Jealous Lovers Club.

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Slowly Rolling Camera vs the Middle of the Road

Slowly Rolling Camera at Clwb Ifor Bach

Slowly Rolling Camera at Clwb Ifor Bach

The old saying is if you stick to the middle of the road you get mowed down, and possibly made into some dubious taxidermy (the latter part may just be my addition).

Crap Taxidermy

The joy of being an alternative music fan is that you’re watching the alternative, so it’s not very often you end up watching bands that you’d normally see at a tricked up wedding.

Last Thursday I went to see Slowly Rolling Camera play at Clwb Ifor Bach. They’re a band I’ve been meaning to check out for a while, but because I’ve been a bit lazy (and their last gig in Cardiff sold out before I got a ticket) I haven’t managed to.

The signs weren’t good. The support bands were slick, to the point where the use of the word ‘soul’ was ironic. Vocal histrionics took the place of lyrics, and X-Factor style over substance took over from any semblance of feeling. Otis Redding begging for a bit of tenderness this was not.

At this point I was worried. If this was the starter, then the main course was going to be a shocker.

Except it wasn’t. If I’d sorted my life out and listened to them beforehand, I’d have known that whereas the support were defined by their genre, they were just starting points to Slowly Rolling Camera. There was a saxophone, but like every other element in the band, it was about subtlety. The support bands’ over-reliance on crisp high hats were replaced by rolling drums and off beats. All of a sudden there was a contrast in the songs, where both lyrics and music were given time to breathe. There was production and a MacBook, but it was the punctuation rather than the whole sentence.

And just in case you think I was alone in thinking they were awesome, pre-orders of their EP are flying out in record time. And their LP has been nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. Time for me to get myself in gear and get listening.

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Free gigs: How I Faked the Moon Landing, Esuna and Safari Gold

Esuna at Buffalo

Esuna at Buffalo

I’m more than happy to pay to go to a gig. It’s for the same reason as I pay for records – I want to support the artists in what they do. Illegal downloading is all fun and games until your favourite band decides to quit because they can’t make a living.

On Tuesday though I went to a free gig at Cardiff’s Buffalo, and the one thing these type of events do is make you take a punt on bands you wouldn’t normally check out. So hello Safari Gold, Esuna and How I Faked the Moon Landing.

We didn’t get the full Safari Gold experience as they were sans-rhythm section. But they were slick enough to suggest that they’d be technically tight as a full band. Both vocals contrasted nicely with each other, with a mid-range and higher end vocal giving a nice balance. They were also more than willing to poke fun at their rhythm-sectionless sound by repeatedly referring to themselves as lounge music. Their studio stuff sounds promising enough to make them worth checking out the next time they’re out and about.

I’d heard some good things about Esuna from some mates after they played Gwdihw earlier in the year. The fact that I’m still trying to figure out what exactly they sounded like is a good thing. A friend suggested that they might be a bit like a slightly heavier early Bombay Bicycle Club, with a bit of a math rock twist. That’s as close as I can get, but given that I like Bombay Bicycle Club and math rock, it’s no surprise that I like these guys too.

How I Faked the Moon Landing kinda reminded me of a fervent Two Door Cinema Club. Quite quirky single string guitar lines, with a fair bit of hi-hat in the drum parts. With a pretty intense singer. Two Door Cinema Club are too inoffensive to be intense, a criticism that can’t be levelled at these guys. There’s a hint of a Morrissey in the vocal delivery, in and amongst the shouting.

So that whole you get what you pay for thing is rubbish. Cos I paid nothing, but got to see three decent bands. It’s well worth getting out there and supporting your local scene, even if it is just to be an extra body at a gig.

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Oxjam Line-up: Part 2

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

If like me you managed to miss out on the Oxjam Cardiff Takeoff for 2014, then I think it’s fair to say that we missed out. I saw Dominic Griffin play not too long ago, and he (and his band) were pretty immense. On the night Dominic was giving half of the cash raised from selling his Yangshuo EP to Oxjam, and if you get a chance I strongly suggest that you invest in it. The combination of lush production and beautiful melodies give it an epic sound, which is strange given the stripped back nature of the arrangements.

We didn’t just miss out on good music though, we also missed out on the latest Oxjam line-up announcements. As if the line-up wasn’t already strong enough, there’s a load more awesome people that have been added to the bill. For those of us that missed it, the rest of the line-up is being formally announced on Wednesday. But in the meantime, here’s some people who are on there that are well worth checking out.

Rhodri Brooks has been pretty incredible whenever I’ve seen him in Cardiff. It’s easy to label any musical outfit as having an individual sound, but I genuinely think that Rhodri does. Both his solo stuff and full band efforts draw on elements of lo-fi, Americana and country. His sound is unique without ever going so far as to be twee or quaint, which so many bands end up doing when they go down the road of making country influenced music.

Since getting involved with the Oxjam stuff, I’ve seen and heard a lot of Albatross Archive’s material. They seem to be doing well for themselves since winning the big gig, and it’s not hard to see why if you see them live. The quirky piano lines, big vocals and what sound like spontaneous rhythms (but that I imagine are bloody well-rehearsed) make for a big sound, and their use of visuals also mark them out from the crowd. So I’m massively intrigued to hear how Richard Jackson’s solo show goes down at Oxjam. I’ve never had the chance to see him solo before, so this should be well worth going to.

So to keep up to date with what’s going down, the best thing to do is to like Oxjam Cardiff on Facebook, where you’ll hear the announcement as soon as it’s out in the wide world. And if you still haven’t done it, chuck 16 November in your diary and get involved with Oxjam. Great bands, even greater cause.

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4 gigs in 5 nights: a mixtape

Mixtape

I’ve had a storming rock n roll week since last Thursday, which has left me in the enviable position of not having enough of a chance to blog about any of the gigs that I’ve been too. So in homage to the mixtape, I’m putting a compilation together.

Whilst I still enjoy putting a CD or playlist together every now and again, it’s not quite as fulfilling as the sheer effort involved with tapes. I remember spending hours trying to seamlessly get songs to fade in and out of each other, or trying to juxtapose a quiet, thoughtful tune with an absolute belter.

Last Thursday it was great to head to Le Pub to check out Rough Music. They haven’t played a gig for quite a while, so despite being a Cardiff band, I’ve never managed to catch them live. They’re a pretty heavy band with punk roots, but the distorted guitars and screaming was always pinned back by a tight as you like rhythm section. Welcome to Shanghai is a pretty good indication of where they’re at, but having debuted some new material at the gig, it’ll be interesting to see how they take it forward.

Rough Music at Le Pub

Rough Music at Le Pub

On Saturday I ended up at Buffalo to see both El Ten Eleven and Nanook of the North. I’ve talked about how brill they both are a fair bit lately (here and here), so instead I’ll head straight into Sunday’s gig at The Moon Club. I haven’t seen such a varied line-up for quite some time. The night kicked off with Right Hand Left Hand playing probably the best gig I’ve seen them take on. Their instrumental post-rock relies on playing an unbelievably tight set, something that they always manage to do. The Moon suits them as a venue too, as it really gives the audience a chance to check out the band dynamics.

They were followed by The Jelas, who split opinion amongst the people I was with. I thoroughly enjoyed their 1990s lo-fi sound, which sounded a bit like a pumped up Pavement. The jaunty aspect was quite a clash with what came next. The Sleaford Mods‘ electronic beats sit quite under the radar next to Jason Williamson’s intense delivery. Despite regularly checking out hardcore bands, I haven’t heard such a ‘punk’ vocal delivery for quite sometime. There’s such anger and vitriol (and humour and profanity) in the delivery. It makes for quite a thrilling experience.

Having listened to a stripped back electronic effort the night before, Sam Duckworth’s efforts are a bit of a contrast. In his last set in Cardiff as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, he played the full set of Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager. There was a good article in the Guide this week on why bands playing their classic LPs live isn’t a good thing, and whilst by and large I agree, Duckworth neatly avoids the predictable aspect by mixing up the order and messing about with the drum n bass heavy backing tracks. In and amongst the lyrical naivety (he was after all a teenager, and a more talented one than me), there are some fantastic song arrangements. All in all, a strong trip down memory lane before he retires the Get Cape Wear Cape Fly monicker.

So now I’m off to recover and rest. But it was worth it.

Posted in Folk, Hip-hop, Punk, Rock | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

ArcTanGent: Maths can be fun

Tall Ships at ArcTanGent

Tall Ships at ArcTanGent

For the best part of a decade the tail end of my August was reserved for Reading Festival. I loved the fact that I could watch such a variety of modern indie and rock music with some great friends. But then something changed. A couple of years ago there were gaps in my festival schedule for the first time and I never went back.

This year I attempted to fill that gap by heading to ArcTanGent, a post-rock festival that’s particularly heavy on the math rock bands. It is cool for many reasons, but one of the big ones is the vibe at the event. The niche musical market of math rock all converges in one place. I lost count of the amount of times I heard bands say “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played to”. Bands mixed with fans, bands were fans of other bands. It felt like a celebration of good music. The line-up was incredibly well-arranged too – if you hit the instrumental math rock ceiling, there were plenty of other bands who brought a very different take on the genre to the party (AK/DK being a particularly fine case in point).

Baby Godzilla's cab goes walkabout

Baby Godzilla’s cab goes walkabout

I’ve already blogged recently about some great bands who played the festival and that I knew would be brill. Samoans and Olympians were predictably awesome, as were ttng and Tall Ships.

For me the exciting part about every festival are the new discoveries. Human Pyramids are an incredible concoction of post-rock and classical arrangements, with more members than you can shake a stick at. Their live show was unreal, with an incredible light and shade in what they produce because of the sheer number of instruments involved. They were an incredible live experience.

I’ve loved Appleseed Cast and Jeniferever for years, and EF fitted nicely into that bracket of ambient guitar, big drums and sparse vocals. They were an intense live band, so I would dearly love to see them take on a small club. El Ten Eleven were choc full of amazing musicianship and were a great live act too. Jealous Lovers Club are putting them on in Clwb Ifor Bach on Saturday, so if you’ve been bitten by the math rock bug I strongly recommend getting involved.

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Oxjam Line-up: Stronger than builder’s tea

Oxjam Cardiff 2014

So yesterday the first wave of Oxjam bands were announced for 2014. 16 November is a date to chuck in your diaries now, because there’s more good bands than you can shake a stick at. It’s all for the bargain price of eight pound if you want to see any band in any venue (down to a fiver if you’re only keen to go to a couple of venues). If you’re still not convinced, check out this awesome playlist they’ve put together.

I’ll be writing some more posts on the bands in the run up to the whole shebang, but in the meantime here are some good places to start:

The Gentle Good

The start of the new Gentle Good LP Y Bardd Anfarwol (The Bard Immortal) has echoes of King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Diamond Mine, with gentle music kicking in over some background noise. And that’s not where the similarity ends, with some really beautiful tracks and some great fingerpicking work. The latest album is an intriguing prospect as it’s a clash of two cultures, with Gareth Bonello singing about his experiences in Chengdu in my ‘mamiaith’ of ‘Cymraeg’ (or mother tongue of Welsh). I’m massively intrigued to see how it all comes over live, and I reckon it’s gonna be a winner.

Nanook of the North

I saw Nanook Of The North play an acoustic set in Gwdihw not long ago, and they played a really beautiful set (more details about their awesomeness here). They play some great ambitious but thoughtful rock music, and I can’t wait to see their full live set complete with massive sounding guitars again. As I mentioned in the original blog, Panda Eyes is a good place to start with them, but if they have an EP for sale it’s well worth shelling out for some more. You can also check out Sweet Jubilee on Bandcamp.

Scriber

In my last post about Scriber, I described his material as being like Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes, but his stuff easily stands on it’s own two feet. Get ready for some intricate guitar and some intimate vocals. Whether he plays a solo stripped back set show or with other musicians, I  guarantee you’ll feel moved by the end of the set. If not, then you have a heart of stone. Check out this effort on Bedroom Live.

So that’s eight quid well spent and I’ve only talked about three acts. We’d all best get investing.

Posted in Folk, Rock | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment