Mac DeMarco ::: ‘This Old Dog’

Mac DeMarco was always going to be a difficult artist for me not to like. He ticks all the boxes in terms of my personal tastes. Melodic songs. Check. Self-produced in a bedroom. Check. Kooky personality that has a life of its own apart from the music. Check. Down to earth and happy to chill with his fans rather than being an aloof dickhead. Check. My first taste of THE MAC was the album ‘Salad Days’. I was instantly addicted and began exploring his other albums. It’s always nice when you really like an album by an artist and then check out their other stuff and find another record you like even more and that was the case when I started listening to ‘2’ which I prefer to Salad Days but only just. So what of his latest releases? Well I like the fact DeMarco is reasonably prolific but I can’t say I’ve listened to the EP ‘Another One’ as much as his other releases. However, new LP ‘This Old Dog’ stands a real good chance of repeat listens…

DeMarco has openly stated his love for Neil Young’s output, in particular the album ‘Harvest’. Well, not only do I share his love of that particular record, but I’d also assert his adoration of the Harvest sound sometimes shines through in his work, not least on the title track. Listen to the way in which the kick and snare snap and drift through the arrangement before the pedal steel (real or midi it’s hard to tell these days) woozes in and out. It really conjures up ‘Out On The Weekend’ and the aforementioned album in general one could argue. Before that we have the track ‘My Old Man’ a very honest opener with some delightful electronic meanderings backing it all up. By track 3 there’s something of a break from the melancholy with ‘Baby You’re Out’. OK this is hardly a song suddenly setting off at a breakneck speed but it does retain a quirky groove that might remind you of certain tracks on the album 2. It’s on songs like these that I could really imagine DeMarco straying into Dr John territory at some point. ‘For The First Time’ recalls another familiar side of this artist to those that know him, the cheap keyboard sounds flailing around a rich-sounding bass guitar before we go back into acoustic groove territory with ‘One Another’.

Another endearing quality of Mac DeMarco is he’s not afraid to slow things down in an age where much music that fits into the rock and pop bracket, especially that aimed at a young audience, is often served up at a high thumping tempo leaving not much room for the music to really breathe. Playing slow and measured is a real skill and something DeMarco is really starting to excel at. Pleasing for the stoner crowd too no doubt. The flip side of this though is that you sometimes wonder whether DeMarco is getting a little too settled into a comfort zone. It’s fantastic to hear a still quite young artist so comfortable in their own skin and self-assured about what their strengths are. But sometimes you just want Mac to change gear a little and throw in a few surprises. ‘On the Level’ is a great example of what he can achieve when he gets a little more experimental. Sure, we’re kind of back to the same keyboard and bass territory mentioned previously in ‘One Another’, but the production is just sublime and it’s no surprise this track is getting radio play.

My verdict? This album is a great addition to the DeMarco catalogue and well worth your time.

2017 Quarterly Roundup 1 ::: Spring, Stars Float Along The Void

We’re going to try and a bit speedier with our quarterly roundups this year. Partly because we’re doing full reviews of more albums anyway at the moment. And partly because I drank too much ale last night. I just want to be honest with you dear readers.

First of all, Bonobo’s ‘Migration’. Perhaps the term ‘intelligent dance music’ or IDM is one that is overused. Perhaps it’s also time we got over the fact that very clever people make electronic music. Sam Shepherd (AKA Elaenia) is a neuroscientist for crying out loud. Anyway…after stating all this, Bonobo’s latest offering does come across as pretty err intelligent. Loving the African influences on ‘Bambo Koyo Ganda’ (featuring Innov Gnawa). If this isn’t your usual genre of music and you’re looking for a way in, this is a very good option and arguably Bonobo’s most accessible outing to date.

It’s time for another Flaming Lips album. Great. ‘Oczy Mlody’ sees the group continue to explore the darker psychedelic fringes of their already sizable output rather than revert back to the type of earworm songwriting that saw them winning over a broad spectrum of music fans in the past. It’s a bit ploddy at times but not in a completely unappealing way, particularly if you’re listening on your headphones and catching some relaxation time.

Foxygen, ‘Hang’. Often seeming like a hotchpotch of various acts from the 60s and 70s, think Donovan meets Jagger meets Bowie meets well whomever they feel like meeting, Foxygen have always surfed the retro tide in a bit of a quirky and tongue-in-cheek way. With this record that strand running through their output is still very much in evidence, but a progression has been made to a smoother, more studio-crafted sound where arrangements have been nailed down hard. Suddenly Foxygen seem to have gone from japery to serious contenders who might just be sticking around for some time yet. We’ll see.

Japandroids are a lot of fun if you’re in the mood. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear some unabashed rock blasting out your speakers. If that’s your bag then you’ll probably enjoy ‘Near to the Wild Heart of Life’ though is it just me or has this album been smashed a bit too hard during the mastering process? Personally I think the final product doesn’t quite let the songs, which are catchy and fun, breathe enough. Come on music industry, I thought we were over this loudness war bullshit. That aside I bet these tunes would be great at a gig. Any plans to visit Zhejiang lads?

Quite appropriately, now we’re on the subject of loudness wars, Elbow are a group who have strived to not play that game and their music really does quite obviously benefit from a more softly, softly approach. This is again apparent on their new album ‘Little Fictions’ which is a really moving listen right from the off. This is a group reinvigorated perhaps by matters close to the heart (is love in the air?) but also perhaps by fresh approaches and angles to making music which gives this LP a light, airy and bouncy feel whilst still somehow remaining classic Elbow. Try it.

If Elbow’s record sounds like a man falling in love then Ryan Adams’ latest offering ‘Prisoner’ is an audio testament to a relationship breaking down. Adams in his more recent offerings has given in to his more AOR (MOR even?) leanings but, weirdly, although I at times questioned whether listening to his 2014 album ‘Ryan Adams’ was something of a guilty pleasure, music often works best when an artist is simply being true to themselves, whatever type of tag we try and place on them. If this release doesn’t quite catch fire in the same way as the 2014 release does then that doesn’t mean it’s not still a thoroughly engulfing listen. I’m enjoying it and you might too, especially if you’re a Springsteen type of person of which there’s more than a hint of here, most notably with the title and vibe of the song ‘Outbound Train’.

Sampha’s ‘Process’ is an album which had me all excited when I read reviews of it. The opening track is a belter and early on this record showcases one heck of a talent. But, for me anyway, it gets a bit lost and muddled along the way and never quite builds on its early promise. You can do a lot worse than check it out though – certainly an artist to keep an eye on.

Surfer Blood had a hellish time of it with the loss of member Thomas Fekete from a rare form of cancer. If you haven’t already, check out Fekete’s album ‘Burner’. It’s fantastic. For Surfer Blood to return from this tragedy with the amazing ‘Snowdonia’ is nothing short of a massive triumph. This is a fun, guitars chugging along pleasingly, melodic, little pearl of an album, which somehow reminds me of Swedish group Bob Hund. Is that just me?

It’s probably about time we mentioned some hip-hop. Thanks for helping us out Oddisee with your new album ‘The Iceberg’. Yes. We’re liking this. A friend once told me hip-hop is the new blues because it tells the stories of ordinary people, from the fun to the deadly serious, provides social commentary, and at times a social conscious. Well with evidence such as this who can disagree? Just as we argued with the Tribe release last year, this is the type of hip-hop the world needs right now. Loving the live feel to the tracks too. Check it out.

Pissed Jeans ‘Why Love Now’. It’s loud, thick and crunchy. If that sounds like audio granola then perhaps that’s because it is. In that it’s good for you and very tasty. If you like rock music rough and raucous then I think this is the band and the album for you. On ‘The Bar is Low’ the vocals sound distinctly Lemmy which can only be a good thing surely. Thanks yet again Sub Pop.

For those wishing to challenge themselves we’d urge you to listen to ‘World Eater’ by Blanck Mass. You might know of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons. You might not. But either way, when it comes to pushing the boundaries with noise, for want of a better description, he’s way out there on the boundaries – a veritable pioneer. If you’re after something prettier, then the aforementioned Bonobo might be for you, but for those into the heavy or industrial side of rock music – if you’re looking to flirt with something more electronic then this could be the one.

Grandaddy is/are back with ‘Last Place’. Much like The Shins being back it’s difficult for such bands to compete with their classics. Whilst those who are unaware of Grandaddy might be best trying out The Sophtware Slump to see what the fuss is about, those who do dig the output of Jason Lytle should be perfectly happy with this record. And that very much includes me.

Laura Marling is an artist I’ve witnessed perform live and I have to say I was completely blown away. Despite this, and despite her recorded output being perfectly credible in that it’s well recorded and showcases great songwriting and musicianship, for some reason it’s always generally left me slightly cold. Up to this point my favourite record of Marling’s is probably ‘I Speak Because I Can’ but her new release ‘Semper Femina’ has definitely started to win me over. Give it a spin.

You might remember we covered Conor Oberst’s ‘Ruminations’ in our previous roundup? Well now he’s let us down by re-arranging that record and performing it with a full band. Ha. Only kidding. OK, it’s true we did like the stripped down and honest way in which the initial album was presented and it might feel like this new release, ‘Salutations’ undermines that somewhat, in fact some critics have apparently argued as much. Notwithstanding we find it interesting to hear the songs done in a different way and if that’s what he wants to do well it’s jolly well up to him isn’t it? Alright? Great. Glad you agree.

There’s something very British about British Sea Power and it’s not just the name. Perhaps it’s because they give off an air of a particular type of eccentricity? Maybe it’s the fact geographically they started in Kendal, Cumbria but ended up in Brighton, Sussex? Whatever it is, they’ve a new album out called ‘Let the Dancers Inherit the Party’ and we’ve not had the chance to really give it a good going over yet BUT what we’ve heard so far sounds ruddy marvelous so looking forward to more.

I hope you’ve found this useful. We’re not seeking to give you in depth descriptions at this juncture. Just to give you a heads up on some of the great stuff we’ve stumbled across that you might wish to fall into as well. In addition we have covered the likes of Ty Segall, Vagabon, Alasdair Roberts, Kelly Dance, Menace Beach, Tongue (舌头乐队), Real Estate and The Shins in recent weeks/months so if you want something with more detail PLEASE do check these fantabulous artists out. Cheers. Bye.

 

Gig Review ::: 舌头乐队 (Tongue) at Mao Livehouse, Hangzhou 17.03.2017

Xinjiang rock group 舌头乐队 (she tou yue dui) aka ‘Tongue’ erupted on Hangzhou‘s recently opened Mao Livehouse this March, with a live show well deserving of the audience in attendance. With a musical background stemming from their roots in the Muslim Uighur capital of Urumqi (in west China – a predominantly Islamic culture), they have become one of China’s most prominent rock acts in recent years to sign with Beijing label Modern Sky.

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At a packed Mao Livehouse, ‘Tongue’ supply formidable, metal-riffing hard rock crossed with Islamic sounds from the bands roots in Urumqi; and come as a welcome remedy from the unblemished pop mannequins you’ll find plastered on practically every bus stop nationwide. These guys are an independently functioning rock band with exceptional technical wizardry that fuses elements of traditional rock lineage with experimental/abstract sounds both in texture and as an homage to their Western Chinese origins.

Singer Wu Tun is a big presence on stage and his often hunched form delivers a menacing growl at peak moments in the set; while during instrumentals he disappears from view altogether for up to fifteen of the full eighty minute set. He nevertheless comes across as a much liked and respected figure even as he stops the band, brings up the house lights, and then proceeds to spend a good five minutes explaining to the audience about the dangers of not stage-diving correctly; to which the audience revels in his humourous anecdotes and concern for their safety, along with a young local boy (7) whose dream comes true when his Dad helps him on stage to briefly sing with Wu Tun and then join in the stage-diving antics.

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Drummer Li Dan grasps our attention as he pummels intensely over the kit with masterful technique and an impressive ability to change the frequency of the toms mid song. During instrumentals he has centre spotlight and is no less of a showman that Wu Tun in connecting with the audience; where at times the music seemingly becomes overly abstract for a few fellow gig-goers, but they have a change of heart and opt to stay as sirens and wailing textures pulsate with the visual backdrop mid-set. Wu JunDe brings a gorgeous sounding bass that anchors the rhythm sections and adds melody and volume to the synth/keys section provided by Guo DaGang; which for my taste were probably the weaker moments in the set but certainly made up for it during the Pink Floyd-esque instrumentals with drummer Li Dan.

Head-banging lead guitarist, Li Hongjun is a powerhouse of metal riffs, with mind-blowing accuracy and attention to detail. With elements of 80/90’s Chinese leather wielding hair metal bands like ‘TangDynasty (唐朝乐队)‘ and ‘Yaksa (夜叉乐队)‘, he looks like something from the cover of Nirvana’s debut album, ‘Bleach’ for most of the performance. The animated visual backgrounds invoke images of protruding knives; moody and brooding with red hues streaked with Wu Tun‘s lyrics. At one point in the set however, the intense reds expose a strangely out of context hippie looking fractal rainbow as the band transforms momentarily into a parody of itself. The audience goes wild.

If you can get out to see these guys, then do! You’ll be blown away by what’s actually going on in China’s musical subculture, with something undeniably special a-brewing.

http://www.shuhtou.com/

https://site.douban.com/tongue/

Album Review ::: Kelly Dance – ‘Wild Grass’

From the outset, Hong Kong-based Australian artist Kelly Dance’s 2017 release ‘Wild Grass’ is a gorgeously crafted set of cohesive songs all unified by the strength of layered instrumentation and breathy vocals; both at times meandering on dreamy paths that add to the introspective and contemplative tones of the album. Interwoven stories of her Asian travels, exploration and demystification are among themes explored lyrically, while carefully constructed arrangements sublimely emphasise the emotional highs and lows. From the guitar-oriented spine of the songs, the intermittent swells of brass and string sections, illusive tubular bells, decorative flutes, and pounding drums all add to the vibrancy of colour across the soundscape of ‘Wild Grass’.

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The optimistically titled, ‘Infinite Possibilities’ kicks things off with twanging guitars and shuffling drums that effortlessly lay the tarmac for KD’s lines, ‘What’s real in my head are the visions that shape my reality’; immediately setting this album aside as introspective, demure and highly self-aware. High-pitched synth arrangements flow smoothly, then dip and ascend to reveal lyrics that are surreal, and dreamy while there is a harmony to the lethargic vocal style, equally smooth and stylistic in delivery.

‘All That Seems’, is chilling as it opens with a minimal lonely guitar (sounding alot like a traditional Chinese guzheng) and breathy vocal like a polished poltergeist wailing in the distance. One-minute in, the full band kick in to reveal a joyous gospel tune whose chorus is layered with backing vocals that swell and continually builds til the organ and distorted guitars growl to a fade.

The 2016 Ep title track ‘All That’s Gained’ is nothing short of ingenious with the gorgeously mystifying tubular bells. They continue deep into the song as vocals as well as other instruments build and entwine around the pivot point. Lyrical surrealism continues in the lines, ‘This shiny city is built from dirt/ Money courses through her veins/ She’s got a tiger’s head with a snake’s tail/ She’s all or nothing either way.’ The song apexes with juxtaposing false-starting guitar stabs with a sublime brass arrangement. Sitting next to the experimental but furiously catchy tune ‘Socotra’, Dance delivers a song so mercilessly cool that you can’t help bopping your head, while simultaneously listening out for all the intricate details in the composition – check out those background bass vocal hums! Brilliant stuff!

Socotra Reprise is an intimate piano lead song, decorated with washes of distorted cymbals, percussion and an assortment of abstract sounds that tremor and agitate. Airstrike is laced with nightmarish imagery of a military airstrike with lovely use of lyrical metaphor, placed alongside the chirpy and playful calls of the flute and brass sections, with touches of piano highlights. Definitely among the best moments of the album with hints of Bonnie Prince Billy, and Bill Callahan.

With a lovely studio sound,‘Birdman’ is distinct as an acoustic ballad. Broken Stone label mate Aidan Roberts (Maple Trail), gives the song an additional element of flavour with his baritone vocals succinct and methodical in his choice of refrain, ‘ Don’t leave me high’. Yes, very cool! While drums shuffle underneath, brass intensifies the mood and lovely piano flourishes convey a sombre meaning to the song. Plucking acoustic guitars on ‘Lost Good Hell’ call and reply on each other while sounding much like an Irish harp. The chorus is a swell of orchestral strings and timpani as Dance sings sweetly, ‘You’re too nostalgic for our lost good hell’.

‘Dangerous Visions’, which also appeared on 2016’s ‘All That’s Gained’ EP is equally one of the highs on ‘Wild Grass’. It is a melody-fueled mirror up to a humanity that currently seems to be on a one way road to self-destruction. Check the lyrics, ‘The Gun club meet to talk this thing called peace/ Our artillery is destined for obscurity/Our chance is now to liberate the people’ With a beautifully delivered oxymoron, there is an undertone of political and personal uncertainty throughout the song, not least inspired by the artist’s current environment. Century Sleep is another fine example of Dance and Robert’s collaboration, with a highly infectious chorus and melody throughout as they interchange the lead vocal line without once disturbing the weighty emotional inflections of this song.

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‘Remember Me’ takes a step back in terms of arrangement, and comes as a melodious and dulcet change of pace from the rest of the album; yet no less gorgeous than it’s musical siblings. ‘The Track’ is a heavenly piece of storytelling about a jockey who has fallen from her horse and is down on the track, but the artist choice of words and unwavering optimism plays out so well as the punter in this story looks on. The lyrical counterpoint shifts and he says,’Baby/ it makes me feel so alive/ And it’s a perfect day/ Because the favourite is giving way’.

The title track ‘Wild Grass’ brings closure to the the album, surmising sounds and textures along with Dance’s commanding and distinctive breathy lament. One last musical crescendo swells with drums and crashing cymbals, brass, guitars and reverberating vocal effects all at once over, ending a highly impressive album of unlikely inspiration in Chinese Science-Fiction stories; written as a tribute to living, loving and coming of age in Modern China.

We at ‘The Sound Of Fighting Dogs’ have purchased this record, and suggest you do too.

https://kellydance.bandcamp.com/album/wild-grass

https://www.facebook.com/kellydancemusic

http://brokenstonerecords.com/

 

 

 

Ty Segall ::: Ty Segall Album Review

The second self-titled release by prolific songwriting powerhouse Ty Segall released in January, is a riff raucous, solo induced, monumentous display of old school garage rock. With sounds akin to sixties and seventies rock bands The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls with pinches of contemporary rock like Queens Of The Stone Age, and White Stripes. For many, old school rock has become painfully mathematical, prescribed and formulaic as the three-chord trick, and a half-witted stereotype of a diseased cousin that once kicked mainstream music in the balls.Ty Segall on the other hand, resuscitates garage rock with a playful strut likely to whet the palette with noise and experimentation a-plenty for old school listeners and millennials too.

Ty Segall’s lo-fi garage rock is a fresh and neoteric brute that is as furious and sweetly neanderthal as its ancestors, brimming with ultra-modern experimentation, quirkiness and personality that never strays from his love of the genre however much he decides to experiment with any given record he releases. Following up from 2016’s epic ‘Emotional Mugger‘, Ty Segall’s 2017 self title is a lot more traditionally structured than it’s forebear. ‘Emotional Mugger’ being a lot more experimental with weirdly compelling vocal melodies, synthy and layered with screeching feedback and layers of distorted guitar.

However, “Self-Title 2” never lets up for one second, and continues to offer fans walls of sheer noise built and blanketed all over each other with bits sticking out everywhere. With samples of smashing crockery with a hammer (I close my eyes and imagine… yes, I have a lot of anger issues, but I’m okay with it!) as well as the seemingly random pounding of piano keys, all adding to the visceral energy of the record. The drums are like rifles in an abattoir; consistent like a focused assassin. The bass is melodic, but at times nothing beats the joy of listening to the thick and filthy gravel of it dragging through the broken floorboards, murky like an open-mouthed deep-throat regurgitation. At the same time, he’s never shy about delivering a quieter moment with some beautifully melodic acoustic songs and piano flourishes, as well as an organ instrumental that sounds a lot like something by The Doors climaxing before the ever-nearing nexus that explodes, takes a breather and then dives back into the riff like an enraged teenage acne tremor, and just keeps coming back.

This record is everything you will love about rock music. It ticks every box. So, you know what to do next… Buy It! Play It! Tell your friends!

 

 

Best Albums 2016 ::: ‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore

Yes we realize this is long overdue but frankly you’re lucky to be reading it in March. All these things we mean to get done. Life’s just too busy. With the Chinese New Year period having now drawn to a close though, actually, it’s as good a time as any to look back and think about the amazing music the admittedly troubled year of 2016 fired our way. We decided to pick one album for each month.

January: David Bowie in true David Bowie type fashion gave us Blackstar at the beginning of the year, blew our minds, then shocked us with his sudden departure. What a hard act to follow and we’re not convinced anyone equaled this album, let alone bettered it. What made Bowie’s passing all the more difficult to cope with was how this record initially alluded to a really fascinating musical future. A future Bowie himself was apparently intent on pursuing before he finally succumbed to his illness. Blackstar is somehow distinctly Bowie yet utterly different. Yes you can hear familiar strands such as the use of saxophone and the flirtations with multiple genres, but the overall listening experience is positively otherworldly. How appropriate.

February: A toss-up between DIIV, Field Music, and Animal Collective for us. I’m going to go for DIIV just for the way the opening track ‘Out of Mind’ kicks off their, arguably slightly bloated album, ‘Is the Is Are‘. Dreamy, hypnotic, jangly, bouncy loveliness. Of course one good track does not an album make (take note Kanye) and other standout moments include ‘Bent (Roi’s Song)‘, which conjures up Sonic Youth, immediately followed by the catchy ‘Dopamine‘. At the start of the morning this album can, perhaps, start to drag a little bit, but late in the evening to close out the day with your intoxicant of choice, it’s a winner for all us losers.

March: We’re going to stay loyal to Hangzhou’s own music scene here and go for William Gray’s ‘Flounce’.  Local bias? Definitely maybe. But we weren’t the only ones to like this album you see. No. In fact, Gray made his way onto a national playlist courtesy of Tom Robinson on BBC Radio 6. Not bad going for someone marooned all the way out here in the Middle Kingdom. Opening track ‘Child’s Play‘ is delightfully experimental but still retains the essence of a classic pop song, whilst title track ‘Flounce‘ sees the album really blasting off into some faraway reverb-laden, synth-heavy galaxy. Or something. Just give it a go.

April: We might be the only people on the planet not to really like ‘Lemonade’ by Beyonce all that much but it just didn’t do it for us. So we’re going for Yeasayer’s ‘Amen & Goodbye’. ‘Silly Me’ following ‘I am Chemistry’ gives the listener as catchy a couple of tunes as they could want and, generally speaking, the craft and production on show during this record is stupendously gratifying. The catchiness takes on new heights with the intro and repeated hook of ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’. There’s just an awful lot going on during this record. It’s wonderfully playful and it’s catchy. Did we mention it’s catchy?

May: If there’s another record which was released in 2016 to carry the same artistic weight as ‘Blackstar’ then for us it’s Anohni’s ‘Hopelessness’. Benefiting from the co-production of Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, Anohni is granted the minimalist and stark presentation such weighty topics songs such as ‘Drone Bomb Me’, ‘4 Degrees’, ‘Watch Me’, and ‘Obama’ encompass. If you ever hear anyone say gone are the artists who tackle the big issues of the day then shove this album in their ears. The song ‘Crisis’ is still as moving as the first time I heard it. Apologies to Car Seat Head Rest, if you’d released your album in June it would be in the next paragraph.       

 

June:  Can’t say we remember being that bowled over by much this month so the return of DJ Shadow is the obvious choice with ‘The Mountain Will Fall’. Perhaps not the best record to be released by DJ Shadow but you can’t argue with the Run the Jewels and Nils Frahm collaborations.

July: A simple way to decide which your favorite albums are over a set period of time is obviously to consider which ones you keep coming back to. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you just get the urge to listen to a record.  Well ‘Freetown Sound’ by Blood Orange is one such record. A beautiful patchwork of recorded audio nestled betwixt cracking songwriting makes for one of those stream of consciousness type of LP experiences. A joy to partake in, and a defining record of its time released by a man seemingly enjoying something of a creative peak. And does anyone think ‘But You’ sounds just a tiny bit like Michael Jackson returning from beyond the grave – or is it just me?

August: This time we’re going to give in to the hype. In addition to Beyonce, Frank Ocean is the other artist critics were positively salivating over during 2016. Well we can just about see what the fuss is about with his record ‘Blonde’. For anyone unfamiliar with Ocean that is into more traditional types of genres this may prove a longwinded and difficult listen. But for me it’s one of those albums that, even if it leaves you a bit cold the first time you hear it, you want to come back for more and then you’re hooked. It’s appealing the way in which Ocean defies expectations by omitting beats from large portions of the record, and there’s a druggy kind of feel to proceedings which makes it a good headphone album for the escapists among us. And for those wanting big pop moments look no further than ‘Nights’ with its irresistible chopped up beats and spliced guitar sounds.

September: A difficult month to decide on this one, a cracking new Nick Cave album for one thing, not to mention Bon Iver. Well after repeated listens I just couldn’t get on with the Bon Iver one so that’s pushed to one side. Nick Cave has a rich back catalogue to draw from and I didn’t like this latest one quite as much as the one that preceded it. So, as flawed a decision-making process as this undoubtedly is, I’m going for the Solange Knowles‘ album. Let’s agree that 2016 is the year of the trailblazing R&B artist. And I never thought I’d find myself writing that due to the fact the only type of R&B I used to go for was the type made by Ray Charles and ripped off by The Rolling Stones. But that’s the thing about good music – it defies preconceptions. It doesn’t matter what genre it is if it connects. And ‘A Seat at the Table’ certainly does just that. Give it a spin. Once the lush opener ‘Rise’ has given way to the enticing groove of ‘Weary’ I challenge you not to be addicted.

October: October saw the return of the group American Football. Was it the worth the wait? We thought so. If you like your guitar music to be challenging rather than dirgey sometimes then this could be the record for you. Expertly knitted together with overarching melancholic refrains drifting in and out of focus, the sound of this group is all-enveloping. There’s a cleanness and crispness to the production which is really appealing on the headphones. Beautiful.

November: Another welcome return came in the form of A Tribe Called Quest. And if there was ever a time we needed this group then it’s now. The deft sampling. The grooves. The lyrical content. The whole package. Q-Tip‘s production is unassailable and this is one we’ll go back to again and again. And whilst the record will undoubtedly give Tribe fanatics what they want from a Tribe record, it doesn’t rest on its laurels. There’s a restlessness to the flow, that determination still there to create something genuinely forward-thinking and relevant to the now. Better each time you listen to it.

December: December? Fuck December. See you next time.  

 

 

Interviewed ::: Deric Dickens ‘Jazz From New York to Hangzhou’

With Jazz season in full swing in Hangzhou post-G20, it’s a delight to experience such a tangible change in the city’s musical scene over such a short time. New independent venues like Loopy, and the nationwide institution of Mao Livehouse are busy bringing new sounds to Hangzhou. While over at no.266 Nanshan Road, Huanglou Jueshi Club (JZ Club) you’ll find a scene that is as traditionally Hangzhounese as the West Lake itself. The JZ Club has been working hard to bring some of the most talented musicians from all over the world to Hangzhou since as far back as we know. It just so happens that one such musician happened to knock on our door. During the summer, we were contacted by New York Jazz drummer Deric Dickens who’s in town until new year 2017, and we couldn’t pass up an invitation to hear his story and how a New York City Jazzer found his way to Hangzhou, China.

Hi, I’m Deric Dickens from New York City via South Georgia by way of Tennessee and I’m a musician/composer/graphic artist/booker/everything as far as indie music goes these days.

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How old were you when you decided you wanted to make music more than a hobby?

Probably around middle-school and high-school when I started gigging and making a little money I realised, Oh I can do this!? My Dad was working at a welding company with my uncle at the time, and there were alot of tough guys with Harley’s out front. I got my first job cleaning the bathrooms there every day, and it was horrible… so my Dad said to me, ‘Unless you wanna do this for the rest of your life you should firstly, go to college and secondly, find something that you really love doing’ … so I did!

My goal was to go back to my hometown and be a high-school band director, but everytime I would leave the playing aspect of music I was continually pulled back in some way. Eventually I left because of some issues I had with the education system – It became more about winning (competitions) than teaching.

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What brings you to Hangzhou, China?

It was last year sometime. I just came off another tour and I was back in New York during the slow season, when I got a call about doing a residency at the JZ Club in Hangzhou. We’ve been playing Jazz festivals all over China since then (October is Jazz festival season in Hangzhou) as well as teaching improvisation … I’d heard we would be here for the G20 to play for all these international dignitaries, but the government shut down the city so it was really up in the air for a while. In the end it was just us five New Yorkers with a Beijing singer, so it was really exciting to have the chance to do something that not alot of people get to do.

Does your band have much freedom with performance material?

Yea, we got alot of freedom to work and grow as a band. I mean there are some things we have to do and support the singer, but also have the freedom to improvise and try some new and weirder stuff too.

Will you continue working together after the China experience?

Oh Yea! We’re doing an album! It’s already happening, we’ve already talked about it!! Marius Duboule the guitar player is killing. Vocalist Annie Chen is great and does alot of research to bring something special to each show. We have Saxophonist Bryan Qu from Canada, he’s also a New York schooled musician. Many of my albums don’t have bass players on them but Mat Muntz is gonna be working in alot of my bands now – he’s a great player!

Do you plan on making Hangzhou a regular destination?

Absolutely, I think this place is amazing! I love being here. Zhang Zheng (boss/promoter at JZ, Hangzhou) is trying to get involved in more Jazz and music educational programmes, as well as gig and festival slots that are happening especially in the improvised Jazz creativity realm.So yea, I’d love to come back and play again, get involved and be apart of it, or even bring one of my bands back to an indie Jazz festival next year.

What are your first impressions of Hangzhou, firstly as a musician, secondly as a tourist?

I’m really impressed with the club (JZ Club), it sounds great. Actually the sad thing is that I’ve been so busy with the festivals and being in Beijing, that it’s been hard to find time to experience some other stuff in Hangzhou yet like Loopy, and Mao Livehouse, and some of the smaller indie clubs too. Hopefully my time will free up a bit and I’ll check them out soon.

As a tourist, Hangzhou is beautiful and so much nicer than Beijing. The first day I arrived up there it was so smoggy and difficult to see anything.

Any stand out things you didn’t previously know about China?

I did alot of research and I read alot so there wasn’t anything too surprising, but learning some words (in Mandarin) is difficult because pronunciation is everything. Actually, I was surprised in one way because it seems much more liberal than the United States in some ways. I love the overpasses to get over roads because in New York it takes twenty minutes just to turn left with so many pedestrians on the streets.

What other cities have you toured in China? Have there been any standout shows/venues so far?

Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou. I haven’t been anywhere more westerly yet, but hopefully next time around!

Are there any Chinese bands/musicians you have performed with or would like to meet?

Last week I played with this really great pop Saxophonist called Wilson Chen. He works with every Chinese pop artist. His drummer didn’t make the train for the headlining show on Saturday, so I got tapped on the shoulder twenty minutes before and got to play with him instead. The bass player in Wilson’s band was great too cos he guided me through the charts and we had a great show.

I would love to meet with Yao Da Jun from the China Academy of Art who is great with sound art, installations and also setting up shows with Wang Changchun.

I would love to hang out or play with Li Jian Hong (Hangzhou noise artist) but he seems to be on holidays at the moment.

Any stand out shows or festivals so far?

The Nine Gates Jazz festival in Beijing was really rockin, but because I’ve been playing almost every night, we haven’t had the chance to see much yet.

 

How would you describe your recent album with Jarrett Gilgore and ‘Words Are Not Enough’, ‘Streams’?

It was an homage album to the great Saxophonist Jimmy Lyons who died way too young. He was probably as good, if not better than Charlie Parker. He got away from Be-bop, and really started playing some very Avante/Noise music, with interesting instrumentation like the bassoon on some of his stuff. He wrote these really great pieces that were very composed with open spots for free improvisation.

That album did really well. Jarrett’s been a great friend and I’d love to bring him here too. It got recorded really quickly. We’ve both been on other tours since then so we haven’t done much together since.

Do you think China has influenced you musically in any way?

Yes, well things happen very quickly here. I think many Chinese musicians would say they’re not great improvisers, but just by watching the way things get dealt with, they actually seem like great improvisers and work quickly. I love the traditional Chinese music that I’ve heard around the park, and especially love the sound of the micro-tonal stringed instruments. I’ve seen some really interesting traditional musicians playing bluegrass and it’s great to see artists swapping and mixing instruments and being influenced by other styles. Besides that, it’s great to see people using the parks, and just turning up to join in, which wouldn’t be as easy in New York.

What does the Friedrich Hölderlin term ‘Pallaksch! ‘(also one of your song titles) mean to you and how is it represented in terms of your music? … (The poet Paul Celan wrote a poem about Hölderlin, called “Tübingen, January”. It ends with the word Pallaksch — according to C. T. Schwab, Hölderlin’s favourite neologism “which sometimes meant Yes, sometimes No”)

We liked the idea of life and everything being a ‘yes and no’ thing. Holderlin was going crazy so he invented this word that sometimes meant Yes, and sometimes No … I think we kinda live in that world now where there are fewer and fewer fine lines between anything. We just liked this idea of everything and nothing all at once, so we tried to represent that musically.

Do you think less choice helps an artist to focus on whatever they want to achieve?

Yea I think so. I don’t use a tonne of drums. To me, melody is much more important than chops especially in my playing, but as soon as those restrictions take hold of you, the other side takes over and you want it all!

On your record ‘Oh Lovely Appearance’ I noticed the traditional Irish song – ‘As I Went Out For A Ramble’ … Do you think you might be inspired to follow this up with an album of traditional Chinese music?

The funny thing with that album, is that it was all based on Alan Lomax’ recordings. Alot of those recordings came from Georgia and Tennessee. I wrote alot of tunes on that album with my bandmates, and I think the Dickens Campaign is getting ready to record another album like it with an avante vocalist. Yea, I’ve been recording alot of Chinese melodies with my phone recently of these people who sing in the park. That combined with the birds singing, you get some really interesting and complex melodies, so I’ve been writing some of those melodies down.

Favourite Chinese artist?

Probably Wilson Chen who I was so happy to play with. The main difficulty though was when I was researching coming to China finding information on the internet was really hard, maybe because of the language barrier.

How do you think that relationship or access to Chinese music by outsiders could be improved?

Well I guess for me, just by being here is a start, and having a chance to meet these people. Also, my rehearsal space ‘IBeam’ in Brooklyn is a performance place by night. My idea is that Chinese musicians that I’ve met have an open invitation to stay on my couch in New York , plus they’ve got a place to book a show. But it can be hard for people who want to find more information when they don’t have the means to travel here. In America we have Facebook, so I suppose Wechat in China is amazing and kinda does the same thing to help with connecting people.

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You mentioned working with some artists on Colombia records before. What can you tell us about that experience?

The girl’s name is Robinella. She was a mix between Jazz and an Americana country artist. I mean, I love her voice. She got a really great deal with Colombia. She was doing really well but went far enough down the hole to realise that’s actually not what she wanted to do. They wanted her next album to be just like the last one and she was smart enough to say ‘No, I’m done!’ I think it’s probably easier for artists now to put out records and gig and do things on their own terms, cos those big corporations just want a hand in everything from ticket sales to merchandise. They had a contract, and after they finished the recording, all the money they had put into it had to be paid back before they got anything else…  I mean that’s why these record companies are dying. To be honest… die! I’ve got a knife at my house, I’ll help!

What’s the reality of being an independent artist who relies solely on his income from music?

So yea first it is way better to be independent than to be with a company. Do as much as you can by yourself and with your friends. Honestly, It’s easier to win the lottery than try to be the biggest superstar in the world. It’s better to just go to sleep and be happy with what you do and keep working at it; I mean, I’ll still be paying off my dumb student loans til I’m 78. I’ve also made some really great connections over the years with some instrument companies who I’ve helped with products so I don’t have to buy sticks, and drum heads anymore. I try to keep bills low, but again you have to be happy with your work… and the minute you start thinking, ‘Oh if I do this they’ll like it more, and I’ll get more airplay or whatever … you can’t…it just doesn’t work that way for art and music.’

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Favourite Chinese food ?

Muslim beef noodles and broth. I have noodles almost every day. The soup dumplings are great, and I kinda like stomach. Yea I like organs!

Any advice you would offer to artists/musicians/songwriters in Hangzhou/China?

However much research you think you can do on the internet, it won’t be enough… learn Chinese, go to gigs. Get your ass out of your house! … The internet can be very helpful,and it’s very easy to meet people now without ever actually meeting face to face. Just make the time, say yes and go out!

What are your musical aspirations for the coming months?

We’ve a bunch of albums coming out. I’ll be touring with the great Jazz Saxophonist Daniel Carter (Sun Ra, Thurston Moore, Cecil Taylor, Dissipated Face) who actually played with a bunch of punk bands in New York in the 70’s and 80’s like at CBGB’s he was a standard, and also doing a tour with Michael Bates who’s a great bass player. We’ll be in Europe (particularly France, Germany, Belgium) with this group, probably do a Dickens Campaign, and getting more great connections in China. I’m also doing some home-recording at the moment and have a bunch of album ideas lined up with some traditional musicians, and some noise musicians, i wanna try it all!

Thanks very much for your time, Deric.

Sure, no problem. Thanks.

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http://www.dericdickens.com

http://www.dericdickens.com/the-dickens-campaign-epk/

https://www.facebook.com/pallakschduo

http://ibeambrooklyn.com

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JZ Club Hangzhou

Address: 6 Liuying Rd, WuShan ShangQuan, Shangcheng Qu, Hangzhou Shi, Zhejiang Sheng, China, 310000 … Phone: +86 571 8702 8298

Chinese name: 黄楼爵士音乐俱乐部. Address: 柳营路6号(靠南山路)

More info: Ten Golden Years