The Jericho Tavern
3rd September 2021
After the exciting promise of their 2019 EP Shut Out the Sun, Low Island finally released their debut album, If You Could Have It All Again, in April. It was very much a DIY endeavour, as the band had no management, no label and no outside producer, recording it in a makeshift studio in France. This Jericho gig is their first headline show in two years, and a true homecoming, as a lot of the album was written down the road.
They’ve obviously spent a while perfecting their performance of songs they’ve never played live before, as their show is as curated as the album. They start with its opener, the slow-building tribute to hope “Hey Man”, end with the last track (“What The Hell (Are You Gonna Do Now?)”, a sombre chronicle of hindsight and regret) and only briefly visit their other, earlier material. However deliberate this is, it gives a picture of the band as an artist in the fullest sense of the word “art”: it’s apparent that Low Island are very good at creating and crafting moods.
Tonight’s repertoire quite effectively captures, for lack of a more appropriate cliché, the zeitgeist. Every song evokes a feeling, be it by way of the relentless drudgery of repetitive synth toplines and basslines, or fin-de-decade ennui of lyrics – coming to terms with the end of the 2010s, accepting the milestones that are inevitable with the onslaught of ageing, and even the relentless uncertainly we’ve all been through with Covid. The album is somewhat of a concept album – the narrator is a loose character looking back at the last decade – and through the sometimes rambling and disorientating layering of synths and guitars, each song is a chapter, and each chapter comes to a crescendo of nostalgia, confusion and – overall – ultimately redemption.
The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
13th February 2013
Kodaline were on the BBC Sound of 2013 longlist, but they’re not new; as 21 Demands, they came second in the Irish TV talent show You’re A Star in 2007, their single topping the Irish charts. They’ve progressed from jangly busker fare to – well, not something entirely original.
Tonight they launch with Lose Your Mind, with some quite pleasant Simon and Garfunkelish harmonies and a 70s psychedelic vibe, then Pray, which has an odour of wispy goth balladry in its reverb. From One Day I get the full force of Snow Patrol and rock week on The X Factor, and Counting Crows and Travis from Perfect World. By Love Like This, with its banjo, harmonica and touch of the Mumfords, I think I’ve got the measure of them.
Recycling for a new era: it’s nothing new, and it works. Shakin’ Stevens built a career on it. But the more it happens and the older I get, the more cynical I am about it – despite the good intentions of the musicians involved. Not that this lets Kodaline off the hook. They have swirls, builds, falsettos, anthemic aspirations, everything. But everyone places the fine line between beauty and dreary MOR rubbish in a different place, and that’s not just because of marketing.
It’s odd that we’ve already got to the point at which bands sound so heavily influenced by Coldplay; as generational shifts go, I can see where the dads who complained about Ocean Colour Scene in my youth were coming from.
The Matt Cardle-esque All I Want sums it all up: catchy but boring, epic but drab, influenced yet uninfluential.
If there were ever a young band created in a lab for the sole purpose of appearing on Later… with Jools Holland, or even just for those redemptive montages at the end of Holby City, it’s Kodaline: peddlers of the finest melancholic mediocrity.
The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
27th October 2012
Every so often a musical act comes along with all the right characteristics for it to become your new favourite but fails in some way, be it execution, tone or sheer lack of tunes. For me, Bright Light Bright Light is not one of those musical acts. In fact, he – singer/drummer/sample triggerer Rod Thomas – takes those characteristics and conjures them into something glorious.
A love of both the sweeping synths and soundscapes of the Pet Shop Boys and 90s piano house is evident; in places, I even get a whiff of Sybil (of Stock/Waterman fame). Moves veers into the dreamy territory of the wonderful Swedish synthpop duo The Sound of Arrows, and latest single Feel It even has an amazing Carol Kenyon/Loleatta Holloway bit.
New song In Your Care is probably most representative of the songwriting craft on display; atmospheric but with a pounding bass, it sounds like a dance remix of a much more delicate and mellow song. The drops and peaks are carefully paced, enveloping and carrying you on the song’s journey.
Rod sings (beautifully) like he’s saying what he wants to say the way he wants to say it, not worrying about cynicism or conforming to any sort of expectation of what people want to hear. And it’s heartfelt and poignant. Disco Moment brilliantly captures a moment it’s hard to describe and one you might not even admit acknowledging to yourself; Cry at Films laments the difference between the perfection of celluloid relationships and reality; and the anthemic refrain of Love Part II – “I’m in love again” – seems simultaneously euphoric and vulnerable.
Sometimes all the analysis you can muster can’t describe the emotion something in provokes in you. “I’m in love again”: quite. Bright Light Bright Light is utter pop magnificence and the world needs to know.
The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
8th May 2012
Watching Glasgow trio Errors touring their third album, Have Some Faith in Magic, is like being treated to an electro-rock baroque concert. Simon Ward and Steev Livingstone’s Foals-like guitar riffs repeat over and under bubbling electronica and soaring synth lines somewhat contrapuntally, with James Hamilton’s varying, syncopated drumming underpinning everything. Steev does provide some vocals, but they’re soft, chillwavey and effectively, as with Cocteau Twins, another instrument.
Tonight makes me wonder how much instrumental bands think they need to work on making their music engaging without lyrics; trance and so on have no problem, but words and guitars often seem mutually requisite. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article explaining why Adele’s behemoth Someone Like You provokes such an emotional reaction, psychologists at the University of British Columbia have found that chill-provoking passages have at least four features: beginning softly then becoming loud; the introduction of a new “voice” (either a new instrument or harmony); an expansion of the frequencies played; and unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.
The effect of these things in Adele’s song is of course intensified by the lyrics, but the beauty of Errors’ music is such that all of these melodic manipulators are abundant, relentless and seemingly effortless. Apparently our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert when music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern. With Errors, this is usually more subtle than sudden; every phrase of “the chords and notes and that”, as Steev puts it, is different: riffs build up and drop out, counter-riffs weave in, pick up chords, drop chords…
Despite the tracks’ differences, they are all characterised by being simultaneously conventional and unexpected, memorable but free from traditional verse-chorus restrictions. So lyrics really aren’t needed; tracks such as the stand-out A Rumour in Africa are far too busy – and fun – for that.
The Jericho Tavern
24th February 2011
Sparkadia have played to thousands of people back home in Australia, so tonight’s sparse audience must be a bit of a shock. Luckily, they (well, he – the bequiffed Alex Burnett – and his touring band) fill the room anyway with their lush, epic guitar/synth pop. Talking Like I’m Falling Down Stairs is a Bowie-esque joy; Mary a beautifully heartfelt crescendo, China filled with great 80s power chords, and the cover of Kelis’s Acapella a stadium romp. The whole thing is a cinematic melodyfest, and I’ve totally fallen in love with it.
The crowd is still small for A.Human, but it doesn’t seem like much would stop A.Human having fun. There’s space to mingle, which brings the engaging sequin-jacketed singer, Dave Human, to the dancefloor for the whole gig. So now everyone in the room is dancing – on Dave’s orders – to the shaggy disco pop of songs like the insanely catchy Take Me Home.
La Shark, however, are extraordinary – mostly due to the presence of flamboyant and uninhibited singer Samuel Geronimo Deschamps. There are headstands, manic dancing and gradual disrobing – he gets down to his underpants by the third song. Then backflips, breakdancing and writhing around on the floor. And at one point, Dave Human is challenged to and loses a dance-off with a member of the audience. This would all just be silly were the music not so quirky – a sort of cosmic avant-garde funk pop, veering towards Muse-like levels of orchestration and pomp in Hotel Chevalier and 60s jangles in Modern Man, but never seemingly taking itself too seriously amongst the slap bass and dischords. The highlight is the angular, paranoia-laden I Know What You Did Last Summer, a double A-side with A.Human’s Take Me Home.
I haven’t had this much fun at a gig in ages. Brilliant.
From Nightshift, April 2011
The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
4th March 2009
Rosalita are an interesting proposition. Visually, there’s something of a shambolic swagger about them – and I’m not really sure about singer Kris’s white woollen overcoat, hat, grey jumper and the mockney voice he sings/talks/yelps in – but the music is far more tight. It has a punchy, melodic 80s bass-led and synth-augmented vibe, and there’s quite a bit of ska in there somewhere among the hooks.
Manga Girl is a nice slice of pop-punk punchiness – something The Faint might do if they lightened up a bit. What Would Your Mother Say (a cautionary tale of a youngster going off the rails) is also quite sparky and catchy, and Art Attack is – joyously – about Neil Buchanan’s Art Attack (“Not as good as Hart Beat… TV ain’t what it used to be”).
All more fun, I’m afraid, than Off the Radar.
On paper, they’ll probably sound great. But therein lies the problem – they come over as far less the sum of their parts. It’s a shame, because they’ve been together for ages and have obviously finely crafted their style and songwriting, but their particular blend of jangly rock n’ roll blues indie pub rock doesn’t work for me. The guitar parts are too frenetic and just meander around without really nailing anything, and the rest doesn’t get anywhere either.
There’s nothing really wrong with songs like Cut to the Chaser and The Man from Del Monte – they’re just not very memorable. On the plus side, the harmonies between guitarist Daz and bassist Tim sound rather charming.
The whole experience reminded me of watching a TV programme because it sounded great in the Radio Times, but then realising when it’s finished that you were quite happy to sit through it but weren’t engaged at all and can’t remember anything that happened. Like the second series of Heroes, really.
From Nightshift, April 2009
The Jericho Tavern, Oxford
29th August 2002
From the moment the trio walk on stage, bedecked in white coats complete with red LEDs down the arms, you know this is not just another local indie band gig. Trademark are self-styled “oddball labcoat pop”, unashamedly dated yet with an original and personal sound; while Stuart Meads and Paul Soulsby tap away at their impressive array of synthesizers, singer Oli Horton emotes his way through a set of mini-sagas, some from their new album, Fear: Disconnection.
During the set a video was shown, charting Trademark’s history – including footage of this year’s Truck Festival appearance -and including visuals from gigs earlier in their career. Their new album is their fourth, and their songwriting maturity is palpable: Sawtooth Lust recalls early Human League circa Reproduction, but incorporating the advances in technology of the intervening 25 years. Sine Love is an earnest ballad, highlighting Oli’s sincere and angst-laiden vocal style, and the brilliant Focus a perfect synthpop song, with heavy distortion and a Gary Numan-esque guitar vibe.
New song Breakdown is a proggy three-section epic (the first two sections of which are performed completely live) with a hauntingly dark melody, suggesting twin passions of Depeche Mode (especially Black Celebration) and Yes, but also recalling Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy towards the end. Trademark seem to have married emotion and electronica to perfection, reminiscent of Soft Cell but with a fuller, more saturated sound.
Bizarrely, Paul gives a lecture in the middle of the set; this one was about about sawtooth, triangle and square waves, harmonics and “saturating the oscillator”. A previous lecture was about the evils of presets, and it is obvious that Trademark painstakingly craft all their sounds themselves; indeed, the whole set was was a lesson on how to create and construct beauty from the barest elements of sound.