I've learnt more from toilet walls
Than I've learnt from these words of yours

Los Campesinos

Monday, 28 February 2011

Ben Marwood Interview (for BlagSound.com)

It’s fair to say, Ben Marwood has been around for quite a while – seven years, to be precise. In 2008, he released his debut EP ‘This Is Not What I Had Planned’, catching the eye of critics all over the place, from Radio 1 to The Times – and at last, his debut proper ‘Outside There’s A Curse’ has surfaced, released through Xtra Mile. And trust me, it’s a worthy listen. I caught up with the angsty folk singer himself to talk about the album’s long journey from bedroom floor to record shelf (sometimes, a cliché just fits), as well as talking festivals, songwriting and South Park.

So Ben, you released your debut album ‘Outside There’s A Curse’ at the end of January – been a long time coming, hasn’t it?

Absolutely – Far too long. Most of the time was lost in the recording of it, which was done gradually over about fourteen months. I recorded most of it on my old portable 8-track studio on my bedroom floor, which is something I much prefer over just going to a studio. So I spent fourteen months tweaking it, a few days mixing it, had it mastered by the end of May 2010 and it finally saw the light of day this January.

‘Raw’ is a word that’s cropped up a lot in describing your lyrics. How do you go about the songwriting process?

I’d love for the answer this question to be scientific or complicated, but essentially they just fall out of my head. I’ll just start off with a chord pattern or progression of notes and then go from there. The music normally comes first, and then the lyrics normally just work themselves out in my head. Consequently nothing is ever written down, so if I forget how to play a song it’s a pain in the bum trying to work it out again. I really wish the answer to this question was more interesting. Have you ever seen that episode of South Park where they work out the scenes from Family Guy are written by some manatees in a tank choosing balls with words on at random? Maybe I should pretend that’s how I write songs; it sounds like a good method. Actually come to think of it, some of my songs were written lyrics-first, namely ‘Singalong’ and ‘Oh My Days’.

Banquet Records is my own local record shop – got a lot of love for the place. Did the boys treat you well for your album release show?

Yes. Completely. The Banquet show was superb and the staff were great at advising the best way to approach it, which was handy given that it was the end of the tour and my voice was shot. I’d not been to Banquet before but I’d heard a lot about it, and it was even better than I was expecting. I think the reason they do so well there is in offering a service far beyond your normal record shop, in that they’ll do these instores, and when you order from their site they’ll freely recommend other acts – and they have a thriving club night. They should act as a benchmark for all independent stores. Maybe then at least they’ll be some left.

If there’s one person in particular that’s had an influence on the album, who would it be?

That’s such a tough question. Just one person? I’m not sure if I could manage that. So many people had an influence over this album in one way or another, from the people who offered up opinions on the demos I sent them, through to Matt Bew (my engineer) and Frank Turner who I supported whenever possible during the recording process. I guess the people with the most influence over the album are the six people who play on it who aren’t me – the guys who gave up their time to play all the stuff I can’t play, from drums to pedal steel to banjo, they gave the record an extra depth.

You’ve supported loads of great acts recently. Who’s been your favourite?

It’s got to be Frank, really. He’s thrown me so many shows over the past few years, and even though we’ve still yet to go out on tour properly, it can’t be too far away now. The reason I choose FT as favourite is because it’s a whole experience: the man himself is a diamond, plus his crew and band are both a great bunch and a well-oiled machine, and the Turner crowds are always, always receptive and welcome (and in a good mood), so really it’s a whole experience. Other acts I’ve supported that are more than worthy of mention are my good friend Oxygen Thief who is like one-man acoustic metal (which works, though you think it shouldn’t), plus Chris T-T who is one of the best songwriters to ever exist, and Cheltenham’s Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun are always impressive.

You played 2000Trees in 2010. Reckon you’ll be back on the festival circuit this year? Anywhere you’re really keen to play?

One day, I’d really love to play Reading. I’ve lived in Reading for more than ten years, and I grew up not too far away. That I haven’t successfully made it onto the bill after all these years still breaks my heart a little bit, but it’s made up for by playing festivals like 2000Trees. I really hope I’ll be back at Trees this year, plus some others if I can manage it.

Finally, any tips for new artists we should watch out for in 2011?

No. None. All music is bad except for mine. Ahah. There’s a band in Reading called Quiet Quiet Band who are ace, really rousing, quite macabre folk music, so I’d say watch out for them. Also everyone should watch out for Hold Your Horse Is who I believe are these days signed to the Big Scary Monsters label and like to rock, or for the quieter side of things, a band called Dry The River are finally going to break through this year after many years hard work. It’s quite gentle indie-folk stuff, if there’s room for another one of those in the charts. Oh, and you should definitely all buy the Oxygen Thief album when it comes out.

So there you go. Big thanks to Ben for giving us a moment spare in what has no doubt been a busy few weeks for him. If you fancy more, you can check out our review of ‘Outside There’s A Curse’ here, and if you check out Ben’s official website, he’s a got a bunch of FREE DOWNLOADS on offer.


Ben Marwood - Outside There's A Curse (for BlagSound.com)

Ben Marwood
Outside There’s A Curse
Xtra Mile

“Its shit and you know it. But it’s life, so what can you do”

If there’s one thing to love about the anti-folk scene, it’s the way it deals with the cynicism, the banal, and all the pointless drivel life throws at you – by holding two fingers up to it, and writing a song about it. But of course, it’s never this easy. Half the time yes, the affect is universal, triumphant in its timidity and uplifting its resilience. The rest of the time, it just seems a bit, well, pretentious. There’s only so much you can sing about the tough times you’ve had, before it gets bored and we leave to talk to someone a bit more cheery.

What Ben Marwood has found, is that space in between. That rare liminality, the place most artists seem to forget about when they’re trying to find emotion in a song. A place where you can be happy, and angry, and lonely, and a bit pissed off – all at the same time. After all, there’s no such thing as mutually exclusive emotion, is there?

This whole simul-sensitivity fits perfectly with the blunt yet subtle nature of Marwood’s acoustic. Opener ‘I Will Breathe You In’ sums this up quite brilliantly – a tale of self-realisation, rising not in anger or passion, but in almost bewildered confession, stumbling through a Jack Peñate-esque vocal. Other highlights include it’s ironically titled follower ‘Singalong’, a much lighter hearted affair, full of amusing jibes and witty observations, and a perfect introduction to the full backing band. Also up there is ‘They Will Float You Out To Sea’, the first real outing of anger in the album, showing clear allusions to Frank Turner’s ‘Substitute’, and the brilliantly titled ‘Tell Avril Lavigne I Never Wanted To Be Your Stupid Boyfriend Anyway’, stripping back to guitar and vocals alone – Ben’s gruff, semi-spoken ramblings laying the ground perfectly for the closing number.

There are no falsities about this album. It was recorded on a bedroom floor, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. These are those first promises of the day at dawn, and those last, self loathsome thoughts before sleep. When with friends, these are witty remarks on culture, and when alone, these are retrospects on times less lonely. ‘Outside Is A Curse’ is a lyrical and personal testament – here be a protest singer, protesting against nothing that need concern anyone but himself. But we’ll listen anyway, and by all means, we’ll probably join in.


Jeff The Brotherhood - Heavy Days (for BlagSound.com)

Jeff The Brotherhood Heavy Days
Infinite Cat Records

Heavy Days is a rough ride, to say the least. Brainchild of the brothers Orrall from Nashville, Jake and Jamin, Jeff The Brotherhood cross the bumpy road between dense, buzzing garage rock and fizzy, psychedelic noise punk – sort of exactly what you’d expect from a band that’s toured with Jay Reatard and Sonic Youth respectively. Sadly though, quite often it seems, their directions are a bit off.

It’s not as simple as a trip and stumble though, rather a sort of colossal, lumbering mass of a record. The first four tracks are full on, chest-heavy numbers (‘Heavy Days’ and ‘U Got The Look’ in particular); Pavement meeting Bad Religion perhaps, blanketing a frothing core. Still though, this all feels relatively safe.

Thankfully, tension eases, and the boys wind through several experimental numbers, toying with life’s ups and downs and, thankfully, showing a bit of diversity. ‘Tropics’ softens the tone – the catchy, reverb-fuelled mumblings of an aching soul, in the same vein as Glasvegas – whilst instrumental ‘Heavy Krishna’ builds again like a Battles number, moulding simple solos into a high-stacked flurry of excitement. And then, quite unexpectedly, we’re plunged into the bubbly surf-rock riffs of the appallingly named ‘Bone Jam’. You really don’t know where to put yourself.

The heavy vibe lifts up by the closing numbers, but sadly, with much weaker impact. ‘I Don’t Need Yr Tast-ti’ is one such stumble, starting with a generic metal riff, and then plodding into calypso-indie territory, in such a way that you just want to smack your head against a wall. Closer ‘Seasonal Jam’ is the same sadly – not that it’s an awful tune, just that it bears no similarity whatsoever with the rest of the record, with its repetitive synth crescendo holding, literally, no substance whatsoever.

Imagine Jeff The Brotherhood as the sort of band your older, teenage brother would form. As hard as they may try, and as good as they may think they are, you just can’t help but think – they’re a bit shit. Glimmers of potential are rushed over, smudged by the need to make everything sound bigger, leaving a lasting image of naivety more than anything else. Heavy Days is indeed consistent and strong at places, yet on a whole, it’s incoherent and downright irritating by its end. Sorry boys, this just won’t wash.


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Native Speaker - Braids

Native Speaker
Flemish Eye / Kanine Records
Usually, when you describe an album as ‘unsafe’, it’s with some sort of ‘it’s so-good-it’ll-make-your-face-melt’ cliché. With Native Speaker, it’s because I find myself inclined to balance my laptop precariously over the edge of my bathtub, while I sink slowly underneath, and mellow for as long as I can hold my breath. Braids – this Albertan, chill-core four-piece – might well be the death of me. But what a way to go, ‘ey.
Braids sound like the farm-grown younger sisters of Animal Collective, who’ve ditched the electronic edge for a much more pastoral feel – opener ‘Lemonade’ follows the same pile-then-peel layering as most of Merriweather Post Pavilion, each new pitch and instrumental layer rising from previous like bubbles boiling through water, though Raphaelle Standell-Preston vocals are notably less static and reverb fuelled than Noah Lennox’s (aka AC’s Panda Bear). The song washes well, and leaves us less sceptical of follower ‘Plath Hearth’, which is laid out more like ‘Disney musical number’ than art rock, but it’s pleasant nonetheless – the swiping violins and vocal intonations at its close giving clear allusions to Arcade Fire and Régine Chassagne (particularly earlier recordings), their hometown of Montreal perhaps having an effect as the album’s recording location.
Undeniably, it is Raphaelle’s vocals that centralise the lasting image of Native Speaker, effortlessly bounding it seems between the fragility and naivety of a lost child (how on earth she managed this with the lyrics ‘I’m fucked up, fucked up, fucked up’ in ‘Glass Deers’, I don’t know), to the unhinged sound of a mid-20s meltdown (‘Lammicken’). At times, her vocals are so deeply accented and empowering that the effect is almost ethnic; the sound of the savannah, of open space and wide, bellowing fields of music (if we’re keeping to the Disney vibe, think ‘Circle of Life’).
I don’t know, perhaps I’m revelling in this album a tad too much. I was in an utterly foul mood when I came to listen to it, but somehow Braids have managed to wash away that whole frame of mind. Ebbing, coursing, yet serene – like a poolside half-echo, their sound is profoundly comforting, and makes for a very easy listen. 
To call this mood music really doesn’t do it any justice at all, but needless to say, it’s cheered me up.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Hearts on Hold - Tu Fawning

Hearts on Hold
Tu Fawning

A dusk-lit waltz through the forests of the Pacific Northwest, as imagined by Tim Burton. Tu Fawning’s debut Hearts On Hold answers a question I’ve been pining over for some time: What would happen if the pseudo-ethnic forest dweller vibe of Florence and The Machine was given to someone that wouldn’t shit all over it, then shove it down my throat every waking hour of the day? (...Just me?)

Here, the Portland quartet – brainchild of vocalist Corrina Repp and guitarist Joe Haege (of the erratic 31Knots) – give us their own take on the nymph-noir, to far better results; a land where Portishead meets Sleigh Bells, and a lumbering drumbeat leads the way. In their own words, a sound as if ‘a giant is walking through a valley’, ‘a piano is stabbed in a 1920s basement’, ‘drums are beaten on a mountaintop’ or ‘that you’re singing in a cave’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

The death knell opening notes of ‘Multiply A House’ is a perfect ease in; an unsettling marching number, coupled with the chanting of what seems a particularly unsettling clan of possessed women. Alongside the rolling tribal drums of ‘Felt Sense’, with its ethereal Zola Jesus-esque vocals and percussive backing, there is definitely some sort of homely, campfire feel here – even if it’s a bit glum and overcast.

Luckily, this doesn’t last – though the pessimism is pretty unrelenting. ‘Apples and Oranges’, is the albums strongest lyrical outing, dabbling with the deeply cynical, the glass half empty, a tale needing to be told – and it is Joe and Corrina who deserve to be telling it, vocals shared over gentle piano and shrieks of shrink-wrapped violins. (‘Apples and Oranges, what’s the difference, they’re both just going to rot...’). Sadly, the ethereality really starts to bore, becoming painfully overbearing – almost a waste of such striking lyrics.

Following the thankful return of pace and drumbeats in ‘Just Too Much’, we’re quickly swept into Portishead territory, with ‘Diamonds in the Forest’ and lead single ‘I Know You Know’. Eerie soundscapes with off-set rhythm, detached vocal delivery with a demonic edge – it’s all here. The uneasiness is rarely tiring, rather endearing and theatrical, with a touch a 1920’s noir mixed in.

On whole, a strong debut effort – patchy, but lying low and open among foothills of grandeur. Mountains will rise, and Tu Fawning will hopefully rise to brighter and more pronounced heights.

And I bloody hope so, because I’m all out of dark words to describe them.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Zeroes QC - Suuns

Zeroes QC

Fall EP Zeroes left Suuns floating in a half-lit, minimal and genre-less cavity – perhaps only faintly touched by the likes of Battles, Television or Clinic beforehand. With debut proper Zeroes QC, we are dragged far deeper, following the Montreal four-piece into an uncharted abyss, where darkness swathes and edges blur – where Suuns lead with laser-guided precision into a sinking state of mesmeric foreboding, a sprawl of synthesised doom; the Suunshine state of mind (I’m sorry but a pun was inevitable, even if the name is pronounced ‘Soons’).

Basically, lots of big and meaningless words go some way to explain this album. But pretence aside, it’s quite simply, bloody good. Suuns have the curious ability to teeter on a different cliff edge at every moment, such as during opener ‘Armed for Peace’ – a number practically gagging to throw itself off and into the oncoming flood promised by swirling synth-driven waves and splintering Nick Zinner-esque guitar riffs. Centrepiece ‘Sweet Nothing’ is the same; tantalisingly building through its minimalist underground disco beat into a sudden a rare rush of scratching melody, quite suddenly colliding with a wall of nothingness at its close.

Suuns sense of pacing is impeccable; never do they allow their instruments to clash, nor are they untidy with their sound effects – and the preference of an extended instrumental over solos adds further to the solidarity of the record. Though this may have its downsides (‘Marauder’ is so short and generic that it simply comes across as lazy, and ‘Up Past The Nursery’s clinical minimalism appears stagnant when following ‘Sweet Nothing’), the album never drags, aided largely by the internal contrast of the songs. ‘Gaze’ is highlighted by its splattered saxophone finale, ‘Arena’ by its arcade-walking intro and ‘Organ Blues’ by its deep and resounding organ bass line.

In essence, this near perfect balance Suuns maintain between several cliff edges leaves only one thing certain. Zeroes QC has put Suuns at the edge of their gangplank, and it is this next step into the unknown that’ll show what these guys are truly made of. I look forward to what comes next.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


Detachment has lifted this palling veil
And as dust settles, and conversation withers,
Confusion consumes me.

Did it matter?
This... behaviour, befitting unfamiliarity;
Grating as it was,
And tearing, as it did,
At the skin of my fingertips?

Yes, I thought...
No, they said.
Ignorance, they said, is bliss.

Yet I’m unfazed.
Perhaps, relieved;
I will move on, I say

Comfort comes, whether detached or displaced
Even if that comfort be
From scratching at the skin of my fingertips.