Category Archives: 2014

La Roux

O2 Academy, Oxford
15th November 2014

Around the time the seminal 2009 BBC documentary Synth Britannia was first shown, OMD’s Andy McCluskey memorably spat, “People ask why I don’t like La Roux and I say it just sounds like a woman warbling, badly, over an old Depeche Mode record.” And lo, in the early 80s synth revival in the late 2000s, as someone who profoundly reveres Depeche Mode, I was predisposed to think La Roux was a bit, well, naff. Chiptune might be more widespread now thanks to the popularity of videogame soundtracks and retrogaming, but to me then, La Roux’s first, eponymous, album was derivative, too trebley, too plinky – and Elly Jackson’s falsetto was just gimmicky.

Five years later, having shed her bandmate Ben Langmaid half way (though he has co written a lot – the best – of the second album, Trouble in Paradise), Elly is in Oxford with a full band. This band give a new depth and emotional dimension to the old stuff – especially in the wonderful harpischordy chord progressions of Tigerlily; I’m Not Your Toy becomes less music-box and more cry-for-help.

The 80s vibe is still evident (Silent Partner would have fitted snugly into the Flashdance soundtrack), and the new stuff is infused (spiritually if not visually) with a more relaxed, Miami Vice-era, seedy – though observant (Sexotheque), not decadent – sensibility. There’s less falsetto; less putting on a persona.

To me it’s clear that Elly’s more content with this Roxy Music-esque fuller sound; it feels like she’s discovered that a SID chip might not be the most satisfactory way to express herself. To borrow and clumsily twist a line from Colourless Colour, 2009 La Roux was like a new build with eighties décor: in vogue but transient. Now she’s more comfortable as a suburban semi with Chic retro influences; less divisive, more content – less distinctive, but ultimately triumphant.

 

From Nightshift, December 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP

November 2014

Electro-rockers Tiger Mendoza have been descending into darker industrial hip hop of late, but their (or rather his, this release’s incarnation effectively being a solo project) new EP Along Dangerous Roads, a collaboration with ex-Eeebleee and Witches chap and latterly solo artist David Griffiths, draws on both parties’ influences of computer game music and soundtracks – with a quite hypnotic result.

Now That Days Are Colder is a synthesis of rhythm and orchestra on a claustrophobic scale, like a mini-Hybrid. This theme continues in the swooping violin-led title track, which is punctuated by frenetic, impatient beats and descends into snipped-up nu-skool breaks like it’s the turn of the millennium again and Adam Freeland will be along any minute to remix the hell out of it.

In Desperate Times is a Bedouin-flavoured heavy soundclash that would serve an espionage thriller well, and Eating Crayons is archetypal first-person shooter video game music: an Orb-like pulsating drone with bleeps that takes you through a dimly-lit shipwrecked spacecraft on an unfamiliar planet, stalking pursuing aliens.

On the one non-instrumental, Literature and Life, David’s hushed and measured vocals are underpinned by a plaintive cello while percussion batters around them. The slow and steady resultant tension is palpable.

Home Is The Sailor is reminiscent of ambient electronica proponent Ulrich Schnauss with its relentless drifting of beats above layers of strings. The beats remain delicate as the strings are joined by grinding guitar in a compelling juxtaposition of the whimsical and the sinister.

While video game and film soundtracks work with the visuals and action to consolidate the experience for the player or viewer, these tracks tell stories themselves; melody and mood combine into something evocative and compelling.

 

From Nightshift, November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP

July 2014

At primary school, one of my classmates won a Christmas card competition. When her artwork was printed, we were horrified to realise they’d “childified” it. As we then discovered, it’s often easier for the young to be accepted if they play up to the older generation’s expectations of them, to the expense of their actual capabilities.

Amy Simpson, a seventeen-year-old A-level student from North Newington, seemingly hasn’t been tempted by this route; being more Radio 2 than 1Xtra, with a folky, delicate and unostentatious voice, she wouldn’t have gone far on The X-Factor anyway. She was discovered during a recording session her parents bought for her fifteenth birthday, and her lushly produced debut EP is entitled Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths, which sets the scene before we hear a note.

So, wistful, flourish-bedecked piano-led stuff it is – and opener Homemade Rocket is, despite the presence of “set sail in a homemade rocket” and other cheesy celestial metaphors, really rather nice. BBC Radio Scotland and Tom Robinson also think so, and ITV would no doubt love it for a drama trailer montage. But it doesn’t scream, “Look at me! I’m seventeen – aren’t I clever!” – which is refreshing.

All I Wanna Do sounds like an Echobelly b-side (praise indeed), and Only You, a country-esque ballad with some great chord progressions, is reminiscent of the Kylie Minogue 1989 album track Heaven and Earth, allowing me to indulge in personal nostalgia for a moment. Glow, a jaunty number, reminds me of the sort of thing we used to enter into Eurovision despite no contemporary chart music sounding like it. And actually, Malta might do well if they entered Everything.

In short, nothing groundbreaking, but lots of pleasantness, especially the rich orchestration. It risks teetering into the abyss of cliché to say so, but Amy is promising and would do well to nurture her talent.

 

From Nightshift, July 2014

Banks

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
28th March 2014

The catalyst for the emotional connection between artist and audience takes many forms. Jillian Banks connects with her music by making her listeners feel unsettled, rendering them uncomfortable, then intrigued – and ultimately hooked.

Tonight she opens with “Before I Ever Met You”, in which her slightly untuned voice drifts over a menacing, Massive Attack-y crunchy trip-hop backing, with cymbals creating dissonance. In “This Is What It Feels Like”, her double-tracked octave vocals take a vacant nasal tone and quiver melismatically over a creaking bass and deep orchestral stabs, which, combined with the back lighting on stage and her aloof demeanour, give an air of spookiness.

She does get more chatty, revealing the dark place and insecurities behind the writing of “Goddess” – a somewhat confrontational plea via the medium of low-rumbling r’n’b for every woman to feel like the goddess they are, she says – and how most of her songs start with just voice and keyboard. A stripped down version of “Warm Water” proves that the darkness is nuanced in her voice, tunes and form as much as in the lyrics and arrangements. In the late-night slinky ballad “Bedroom Wall”, a collaboration with Oxford’s own TEED, delicately emotional and repetitive vocals make desperation and isolation palpable.

The thirteen song set includes two covers. She was so nervous when she played her first festival that she played covers backstage to relax her – and “it felt like butter”, so she replays Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” tonight. Her first time ever touring was in support of The Weeknd, whose sparse and discordant “What You Need” suits and concludes the night’s mood perfectly.

In terms of lugubrious synthy r’n’b, The XX and London Grammar might have got there before and Lorde might have broken through earlier, but Banks is more sinister than all three; if you’ll let her, she’ll get under your skin ­– and stay there.

 

From Nightshift, May 2014

Katy B

O2 Academy, Oxford
27th March 2014

Not much is accidental about Katy B’s success, but everything about her demeanour suggests she still struggles to believe it and has no intention of taking anything for granted. The Brit School and Goldsmiths pop music graduate, whose association with London community radio station Rinse FM and its head – her producer and co-manager Geeneus – will no doubt always place her at the “cooler” end of the pop naffness scale, is quick to mention, with genuine gratitude, that tonight’s venue was the location of her first headline gig. Even a collaboration with Guy Chambers – resulting in the exquisite “5am” (her second song tonight – no faffing around here) and “Crying With No Reason”, her performance of which is nuanced and captivating – has slotted in perfectly next to the Route 94 and M.J. Cole productions on her second album, “Little Red”.

The new album’s lyrical matter is naturally more mature and reflective than that of debut album “On a Mission”, but the earlier party-going stuff (such as “Katy On A Mission” and “Lights On”) is musically as self-assured as the later heartbreak stuff. She should be far bigger than, say, Emeli Sandé by now; “Still” would be a far bigger hit for Emeli had she got her mitts on it first, though credit to Katy for not wearing the public out through Emeli-esque ubiquity.

The beauty of Katy’s music is the way that her seemingly delicate, soulful and r’n’b-flavoured voice floats dynamically and majestically over all sorts of dubstep-, grime- and house-rooted arrangements, moulding an electronic dance sound that feels well-established yet is unique to her. Even when it gets a bit grandiose – as in the Kanye-like “All My Lovin'” – you can forgive her.

Tonight Katy B proves proper pop stars needn’t be distant, mystical creatures; sometimes someone you genuinely suspect you could be friends with makes the most effective music.

 

From Nightshift, May 2014

2014

La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014

Foxes

O2 Academy 2, Oxford
28th February 2014

Foxes has spent quite a while getting to a place that feels as if it doesn’t exactly fit her. This very week “Let Go For Tonight” has given Louisa Rose Allen her first solo top ten single, two years after her first release; she’s spent the intervening time floating around the blogosphere, warbling with – among others – Fall Out Boy and collaborators du jour Disclosure, winning a Best Dance Recording Grammy with Zedd for the soaring “Clarity”, explaining her fashion style on Vevo and presumably being groomed to within an inch of her life by Sony.

Tonight the Southampton chanteuse pirouettes around with neither nerves nor arrogance; the rumbling drums and piano of her two musicians remind me of Bastille, and for all I know they might actually be in Bastille, for all that band’s radio-friendly pleasant-indie-by-numbers sterility.

Her better-known songs are the anthemic exhilaration of “Let Go For Tonight” and the advertiser’s dream, “Youth”, but it’s her less showy ones – the isn’t-the-world-a-difficult-place-to-believe-in-yourself winsome electro-pop of stuff like “Beauty Queen” and “Holding Onto Heaven” – that seem to reveal the truer, more contemplative her. Her forthcoming album’s title track, “Glorious”, is, she explains, about not giving up and believing there’s beauty in the world; it could be banal, but she’s not pretending it’s deeper than it is.

The Swaythling songstress is Cath Kidston to Katy Perry’s Topshop, and her “people” need to be unashamed about it. The marketing image gives her a Charli XCX or Sky Ferreira vibe, but it’s stripped her of Marina-style quirk; even if this is the way she’s naturally musically developing, the whole currently somewhat mismatched package feels commercial for commercial’s sake, a last-ditch attempt to thrust a talent into a bloated market. It’s what it’s taken to get her to a wider audience but also might be what leaves her stranded.

 

From Nightshift, April 2014

Reviews

 

Nathassia – The Bullingdon, Oxford – 14th July 2017

Soulwax – Electric Brixton, London – 8th April 2017

Goldfrapp – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th March 2017

Sal Para – Her single – February 2017

Vienna Ditto – Ticks EP – May 2016

Wild Swim – Untitled EP – January 2016

Esther Joy Lane – Esther Joy Lane – October 2015

Charli XCX – O2 Academy, Oxford – 30th March 2015

Rae Morris – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 8th February 2015

Hozier – O2 Academy, Oxford – 21st January 2015

La Roux – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th November 2014

Tiger Mendoza and David Griffiths – Along Dangerous Roads EP – November 2014

Amy Simpson – Fairy Tales, Stories & Myths EP – July 2014

Banks – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th March 2014

Katy B – O2 Academy, Oxford – 27th March 2014

Foxes – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 28th February 2014

Vienna Ditto – Ugly EP – November 2013

Blue – O2 Academy, Oxford – 25th October 2013

Major Lazer – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd May 2013

Secret Rivals – Just Fall album – May 2013

Jessie Ware – O2 Academy, Oxford – 11th March 2013

Space – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th March 2013

Kodaline – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 13th February 2013

Bright Light Bright Light – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 27th October 2012

Marina and the Diamonds – O2 Academy, Oxford – 15th October 2012

Errors – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 8th May 2012

Lianne La Havas – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 9th March 2012

Rizzle Kicks – O2 Academy, Oxford – 8th March 2012

Babybird – O2 Academy 2, Oxford – 29th January 2012

Professor Green – O2 Academy, Oxford – 1st November 2011

East 17 – O2 Academy, Oxford – 2nd September 2011

N-Dubz – O2 Academy, Oxford – 20th July 2011

Sparkadia, A.Human and La Shark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 24th February 2011

Emiliana Torrini – O2 Academy, Oxford – 9th September 2009

2manydjs – O2 Academy, Oxford – 5th June 2009

Rosalita and Off The Radar – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 4th March 2009

The Subways – Carling Academy, Oxford – 2nd October 2008

Wakestock – Blenheim Palace – 29th June 2008

Alphabeat and Palladium – Carling Academy, Oxford – 28th January 2008

Erasure – New Theatre, Oxford – 3rd September 2007

The Sounds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 24th March 2007

The Noisettes and The Victorian English Gentlemens Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 22nd January 2007

White Rose Movement – The Zodiac, Oxford – 27th November 2006

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2006

Nizlopi – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2006

The Lightning Seeds – The Zodiac, Oxford – 5th June 2006

Kula Shaker – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th May 2006

The Go! Team and Smoosh – Oxford Brookes University – 5th March 2006

Idiot Pilot and The Seal Cub Clubbing Club – The Zodiac, Oxford – 6th February 2006

Eskimo Disco, Trademark and Script – The Exeter Hall, Oxford – 2nd December 2005

Knifehandchop, Nervous Testpilot and The Nailbomb Cults – The Wheatsheaf, Oxford – 13th November 2005

King Biscuit Time – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th September 2005

The Mission – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th September 2005

Josh Rouse – The Zodiac, Oxford – 17th July 2005

Big Speakers, Flooded Hallways and Capsky – The Cellar, Oxford – 3rd June 2005

Melanie C – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd May 2005

I Am Kloot – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th April 2005

Thirteen Senses – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th March 2005

The Others – The Zodiac, Oxford – 25th October 2004

The Ordinary Boys and Dive Dive – The Zodiac – 15th October 2004

Polysics – The Zodiac, Oxford – 16th September 2004

The Last Trailerpark – The September Gurls, The Schla La Las, Goldrush and The Black Madonnas – The Cellar, Oxford – 20th July 2004

The (International) Noise Conspiracy – The Zodiac, Oxford – 8th June 2004

Simple Kid – The Zodiac, Oxford – 18th April 2004

Ulrich Schnauss – The Bullingdon Arms, Oxford – 28th February 2004

Dogs Die In Hot Cars – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th February 2004

Cayto – The Cellar, Oxford – 16th December 2003

The Futureheads – The Zodiac, Oxford – 13th October 2003

Longview – The Zodiac, Oxford – 2nd July 2003

Fiel Garvie, Roquphane and The Epstein-Barr Virus Band – The Cellar, Oxford – 17th June 2003

Panel Of Judges, Byrne, The Broken Family Band, The Maplettes and Spartacus – The Cellar, Oxford – 27th February 2003

Scratch Perverts – Po Na Na, Oxford – 6th February 2003

Zoe Bicat, Spygirl and Joe Hughes – The Cellar, Oxford – 4th November 2002

British Sea Power – The Zodiac, Oxford – 15th October 2002

Trademark – The Jericho Tavern, Oxford – 29th August 2002

Cumulonimbus, Nervous Testpilot and Blunt Instruments – The Cellar, Oxford – 12th August 2002

a-ha – Royal Albert Hall, London – 25th June 2002

Fischerspooner – The Bridge, London – 30th May 2002

Mansun – The Zodiac, Oxford – 19th May 2002

The Soundtrack of our Lives and Sahara Hotnights – The Zodiac, Oxford – 11th May 2002

AM60 – The Cellar, Oxford – 31st January 2002