Monthly Archives: February 2012

Rich Robinson, Islington Academy, 16th February 2012

I come to this concert with few expectations beyond a good night out because of the two, infamously combustible, Robinson brothers Rich has always seemed the more reticent, undemonstrative of the two – the least likely to tell you what was on his mind, the least likely to share any emotions. So given the recent events that have befallen him and the imminent cathartic sounding solo record “Through a Crooked Sun” this gig had the potential to fill in a few gaps, maybe even change my perception of the man.

When Robinson takes to the small stage, bearded and doe eyed, at the Islington Academy around 9 o’clock the organ swells and he teases out mid-seventies Clapton guitar lines with the minimum of pomp and ceremony. The ensuing set is one where it would be more appropriate to be stood on a sawdust covered floor in a one horse town. He sings the tale of a sad man who doesn’t know how he became old and throws in the odd crowd pleasing cover song beginning with the Fleetwood Mac number Station Man, taking in Pink Floyd’s Fearless and encoring with Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl. In between, the gig is one of country-rock and guitar heavy muso instrumentation.

Rich’s performance is predictably low-key; his body barely moving as he switches between his multitude of guitars and his band are flawlessly professional. The atmosphere is good, one of brotherly love and undemanding good times -it’s not often that I spot two bald men cavorting together in such a tender way. Bless ‘em. Robinson and his band serve up blues, boogie and rock n’ roll and over time he opens up: taking to the mic between songs thanking the crowd for their support and having some banter with the well-oiled throng and his band. It’s all so easy going that it feels like I’ve stumbled into a local pub where the regulars have organised a night of music from their youth and everyone’s singing along.

The gig finishes after the electric run through Cinnamon Girl and an odd, out of the blue prog-tastic electronic wig out. A quick and unreliable survey of fellow punters (hello Lisa!) suggests it was a good gig. Tonight, all (well some) critical thought was easily shoved aside and my brain eased into a state of pure bonhomie. For a man seemingly with the weight of the world on his shoulders Rich Robinson made light work of this show losing himself in the comfortable embrace of rock history and demonstrating his viability as a solo artist away from the circus that surrounds the Black Crowes. Tonight has been a thoroughly enjoyable if not necessarily revelatory concert.

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Favourite Stuff From 2011

Best albums

Altar of Plagues “Mammal”

Black metal continues to morph and grow beyond the strictures imposed by the old guard back in Norway. Ireland’s Altar of Plagues released an album teeming with atmospherics, new accents on established sounds and stuff you’ve never heard on a regular black metal record. The record needs to be heard in its entirety but ‘When the Sun Drowns in the Ocean’ is in particular, stunning.

Mastodon “The Hunter”

Atlanta’s favourite heavy rockers released their fifth studio record two years after the lengthy, prog infused cosmic rumination on life and death that was “Crack the Skye”. This time they trimmed some of the fat (songs running to three minutes in length instead of fifteen) and reminded us of their lighter side on cuts like ‘Stargasm’ and ‘Creature Lives’; kept the heavy shit coming and weren’t afraid to show deeply felt emotions on ‘The Hunter’ and ‘The Sparrow’. It is fair to say that anything they turn their hand to is worth hearing.

Insomnium “One For Sorrow”

Melodic death metal, melodeath or whatever this is being called – it won’t be everyone’s particular cup of tea but Insomnium’s latest is worth overcoming any misgivings you may have. Referencing the rhyme associated with magpies in this country and then coating the record sleeve in crows may seem incongruous but the music itself is at turns dramatic and low-key; melancholic and blisteringly heavy. Highly recommended.

 

Best of the Rest

Opeth “Heritage”

Whereupon, Akerfelt ditched the death metal vocals and added some more flutes. Still ace.

Kurt Vile “Smoke Ring For My Halo”

Acoustic slacker character puts together ten great detailed songs with creaking smoky production.

Wooden Shjips “West”

“West” is the best fuzz-rock this side of a Nuggets compilation. Motorik rhythms and backwards guitars make for their finest record after countless amazing live shows. ‘Home’ is the standout.

Earth “Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I”

Dylan Carson continues to mould the re-invigorated Earth moving from the realms of doom laden metal to ominous folk-drone.

PJ Harvey “Let England Shake”

A lot has been written and said about this record and this is by no means the last list it will end up in but PJ Harvey deserves every single accolade for a truly ambitious and quietly important album.

In Solitude “The World, The Flesh; The Devil”

If vintage is the laa dee dah term for second hand clothes then In Solitude should be the by-word for traditional heavy fucking metal. Certainly no mere NWOBHM clones these boys are seriously ambitious.

Machine Head “Unto The Locust”

The most successful resurrection of a damaged name since Joe Perry and Steven Tyler kicked the junk and took Aerosmith supernova in the eighties and they’ve made it look easy. I just hope that doesn’t mean that Robb Flynn will be an American Idol judge in 2030.

Naisian “Mammalian”

Heavy British psychedelic sludge with a penchant for apt song-titles.

 

Reissues

Sunn O))) “Double-O Void”

Re-release of doom-drone titans second record and a mighty racket it is too.

Various “Swamp Delta Rock: Sounds from the South Volume 1”

Soul, jazz, blues, rock, black, white. This compilation has it all in its surprisingly succinct double LP format. From the hairy chopped rock of Skynyrd and the Allmans, to sweet Bobbie Gentry and the soaring Boz Scaggs this is a compilation for any music fan.

The Who “Quadrophenia”

Pete Townshend’s last hurrah with the ‘orrible Who as it was all downhill from here. Sure they filled stadiums and earned the dough they were denied in the sixties but this is the apex of the Who as a going artistic concern. “Quadrophenia” has complex characters, social commentary, thrilling music and not a deaf, dumb and blind kid in sight.

 

Live Shows

Barn Owl, Lagan Legacy Barge, Belfast, 29th April

Avant-garde guitar mangling at massively reduced volume due to the venue restrictions. Strange but brilliant place and BYOB!

My Morning Jacket, Somerset House, London 18th July.

My first MMJ gig since they toured “Z” nearly five years ago and they took on the bigger stage with customary goofy aplomb courtesy of Jim James’ capering and amazing songs.

Black Breath, Borderline, London, 14th July.

Blackened hardcore from the States in a sweatbox venue and an uncompromising lesson in blitzkrieg rock and roll.

Roger Waters, The Wall, O2, London, 17th May.

The polar opposite to Black Breath: grandiose, even a bit silly but nevertheless the way rock shows in arenas should be.

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Wino and Conny Ochs “Heavy Kingdom” Exile on Mainstream Records

Wino, the man of a thousand projects and of a fabled and grizzly psychedelic past, has taken to pared down acoustic music after years of duelling distorted guitars, drug illusions and conspiracy theories and it has done him no harm. After a while any artist begins to repeat themselves (to some fans apparent delight) whereas others shift into other, more unexpected forms. Wino, who has reinvigorated St. Vitus and teamed up with fellow childhood guitar magus Jim Karow in the psych-doom band Premonition 13 in recent years, released his first solo disc “Adrift”  in 2010: a reflective, acoustic based collection of songs that pointed the way to this collaboration with Conny Ochs who supported his tour of said solo record. The two hit it off and this collaboration is the fruits of their friendship.

Like filmmakers who turn to handheld cameras or black and white visuals this album represents a return to basics – to display simple, unadorned emotional directness and simplistic purity: a different presentation of the same essential elements. On “Heavy Kingdom” the usual thick, smoke clad riffs, meandering solos and fantastical lyrics are replaced by themes of scarred longing, desperation and hard lives. The cover of ‘Highway Kind’ by Townes Van Zandt unsurprisingly feels right at home amongst the sepia toned country and folk flecked originals that reference outlaws, dark ravines and dusty highways: “I know we can’t do it any other way but we’re gonna die with the vultures by the vines”.

The two men’s voices work well together or rather alongside one another as there’s little sharing of duties but when they do harmonise like on the title track’s chorus it sounds like they’ve been doing this for years. Given the limited palette employed here it’s appropriate that song lengths are short putting just the right load on the song-writing. ‘Dust’ has some echoey electric geetarr augmentation but it’s subtle and kept in the background as on the chilling ‘Here Comes the Siren’ while ‘Vultures by the Vines’ is given some menace with some rumbling chords and a slashing solo. Elsewhere, Ochs takes lead vocals accompanied only by acoustic picking on the broken hearted ‘Traces of Blood’ sounding like a man beyond his years. All the cliches are here, outlaws scorned; outsiders with broken hearts let down by society but it works especially when you know Wino has lived just such a life.

Whilst not spectacular or overly demonstrative there is something endearing about this uncomplicated record with all its well worn traditions. ‘Heavy Kingdom’ is unlikely to win over fans who are dedicated solely to the heavy stuff but for everyone else there are songs of real honesty with evidence of a clear kinship between Ochs and Wino throughout.

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