July 19, 2012

Review: Optimus Alive, Lisbon. 13th-15th July.

Posted in Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 1:21 pm by essentiallyeclectic

As one of the first dominoes to teeter in the Eurozone debt crisis, Portugal has more of a need to blow off steam than most right now. Optimus Alive — a festival now in its fifth year and with a consistently high-calibre line up despite its relative infancy — provides the country with a great opportunity to do just that, with crowds flocking from all over Europe to join them in the stunning, historic city of Lisbon.

The 2012 edition has a distinctly British feel to it. Partly, that’s due to the proliferation of UK acts on the bill, and partly it’s down to the wealth of commercial activity (Optimus itself is a major player in the Portuguese mobile phone industry). This isn’t a festival for stumbling across those undiscovered acts in small stages on the outer reaches of the site: its MO is low-cost, brand-heavy and line up-focused: far more Reading & Leeds than Glastonbury.

Friday night goes for the jugular, hedging its bets with a range of crowd-pullers. Snow Patrol’s trudging stadium-indie is offset rather bizarrely by an amped up LMFAO; their over-hyped dance pop —an enjoyable blend of semi-ironic school disco and Wombles-like novelty — filling the tent at the second stage and spilling out over the thousands unable to get inside.

The Stone Roses, off home soil and away from the excitable hype of the recent Heaton Park shows, give a decent enough account of their travelling nostalgia show to a mixed crowd of slightly perplexed Europeans and raucous travelling Brits, Brown’s characteristically off-key vocal performance not proving too much of an issue through sing along-friendly hits like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Made Of Stone’. Customary closer ‘I Am The Resurrection’ and a decent workout of ‘Fools Gold’ are highlights, and the swaggering frontman even slips a verse of the Eric B & Rakim classic ‘Paid In Full’ into the instrumental break of ‘Love Spreads’.

Headline slot over, the festival reverts to night mode with local kuduro dance music collective Buraka Som Sistema bringing their brand of stimulated West African-infused techno to the second stage, while Justice lighten the mood further still, rolling out their French house classics like the bastard child of Daft Punk that they are.

Saturday eases itself in with some early-evening fare from The Antlers. The Brooklyn quartet’s coming-of-age has culminated in upcoming EP ‘Undersea’: four tracks of melodic and unhurried dream pop, all of which get an airing here alongside cuts from last year’s impressive Burst Apart.

There are more tedious things happening elsewhere however, as the National Trust-sponsored folk whinge of Mumford & Sons — and Noah And The Whale’s saccharine indie-pop — precede an awkwardly out-of-place appearance from Morcheeba; the ’90s trip-poppers arriving at the last minute to replace Florence & The Machine who pulled out due to vocal cord trouble.

Tricky is on fine form, whether brooding his way through ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ and ‘Murder Weapon’ or inciting a stage invasion for a thunderous ‘Ace Of Spades’ cover, before The Cure fill their headline slot with another of their familiar three-hour sets of rigidly tight hits as a cool Portuguese breeze blows in from the Atlantic, taking the edge off the daytime heat.

The festival’s token club tent rarely inspires aside from a fun turn from James Murphy and LCD bandmate Pat Mahoney on Saturday night, while away from the stages there is very little happening at all by way of entertainment, and the temptation to nip off and explore Lisbon’s beautiful old quarter grows during the more uninspiring musical moments.

This doesn’t matter so much on Sunday, whose stellar line up keeps the mind and feet from wandering too far from the action. Warpaint are always a treat, their psychedelic post-rock given a clinically funky edge by Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa’s thrilling rhythm section. A lengthy version of ‘Elephants’, complete with soaring vamp out, is a particular highlight, and closes a well-received set.

Many of the sold out 55,000 crowd on Sunday are fresh with day tickets in hand in amongst those nearing the end of the three day slog in the heat — the attendance so high due to a Radiohead headline slot in one of the Oxford band’s first shows following the tragic events in Toronto that resulted in the death of drum tech Scott Johnson.

They are an eternally massive draw, and prove why over the course of a couple of hours with a set that dips into a highly esoteric back catalogue and pulls out perfectly executed versions of recent tracks such as ‘15 Steps’ and ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’, mixing them with a few old favourites like ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ and a particularly haunting ‘Lucky’. An admirable, if slightly off-putting Portuguese tendency to clap along to almost everything comes to a disorientating head during ‘Pyramid Song’’s jaunty time signatures, but there’s a palpable awestruck feel to the thousands gawping at Yorke et al. It’s a completely different proposition to the nostalgic warmth of The Stone Roses and The Cure’s respective performances, one that even the most hard-hearted Radiohead resistors must surely doff their cap to.

Encores of ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (complete with a few bars of R.E.M’s ‘The One I Love’ as an intro) precede an electrifying ‘Idioteque’ and surprise closer ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, the band showing as much reverence to their formative past as their imperious present.

Positioning Radiohead as final-day headliners is a shrewd move, in keeping with the general air of slickness to the whole of Optimus Alive. Sometimes this translates as sterility, sometimes as an impressive feat of festival management. Yet if there is not much that appeals on the 2013 line up, it would be best to stay away.

Read this review in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON




October 12, 2011

EE Mixup: Autumn Comin’ On…

Posted in Eclectic Mixup tagged , , , , , , at 12:46 pm by essentiallyeclectic

It’s been a while since the last EE Mixup (in fact, it was a Sunday way back in May), but with the browning of the leaves and the greying of the skies the time has come for the annual Autumn collection…

Warpaint – Billie Holiday (Steve Mackey Radio Edit)

It’s no secret that Warpaint are a favourite at Essentially Eclectic, so any excuse to play the California quartet is fine with us. This ‘My Guy’-referencing version of ‘Billie Holiday’ is comes from the recent deluxe edition release of last year’s debut album The Fool, and features some deft reworking from Pulp’s Steve Mackey.

Evenings – Genève

This floating slice of piano-tickling ambience from Virginia native Nathan Broaddus, working under the name Evenings, comes from the producer’s second stunning collection entitled Lately. I urge you to get hold of the whole thing at the Evenings bandcamp HERE.

DRC Music – Hallo (feat. Tout Puissant Mukalom & Nelly Liyemge)

Damon Albarn’s latest project saw the Gorillaz man and a few cronies (beatsmiths Actress and Dan the Automator among them) head to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the intention of collaborating with local producers and making an album in 7 days. The resulting release, Kinshasa One Two, is an intriguing chapter in the seemingly never-ending story of Western exposure to “world” music (eurgh), as the collaborations are largely electronic in nature. Although only reflecting a miniscule corner of Central African musical styles, it’s nonetheless an interesting collection, and this infectious opener sees Albarn himself trading verses with Tout Puissant Mukalom & Nelly Liyemge.

Balam Acab – Apart

A strong, strong contender for the EE ‘album of the year’, Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder is an astounding 8 tracks of yearning, sighing, slow-paced electronic ear candy that should  mandatorily be in every collection come the winter, where its crackling beats and ghost-in-the-night vocal samples will be yet more haunting then they are now.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Arriving late at the St. Vincent party, it was initially hard to get my bearings. But slowly I began to warm to Annie Clark’s idiosyncratic form of melodrama, helped largely by the fantastic production work on recent album Strange Mercy. Here’s the soothing title track.

The War on Drugs – Brothers

It’s no surprise that another EE favourite, Kurt Vile, was once a member of The War on Drugs. Vile’s languid style was obviously forged in the band’s fire, alongside frontman Adam Granduciel. ‘Brothers’ is from the Future Weather EP, a fitting precursor to this year’s fantastic Slave Ambient album.

Note: On first impressions, the new Bjork album, Biophilia, would have a couple of strong contenders for this list. Having only had it for a couple of days however, it seems inevitable that those couple of tracks will be changing daily for the next couple of weeks. Watch this space for an update…

February 11, 2011

The First Noise You Hear Will Be…

Posted in Features tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:36 pm by essentiallyeclectic

What does the future hold for the endangered ‘opening track’…?

Back when Starburst were still Opal Fruits, and Prince was yet to become The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince (and then Prince again), LP track listing mattered, and no more so than the selection of track one. Where once even LPs that didn’t fall into the category of (shudder) ‘concept albums’ were a carefully thought-out sequence of songs, they now exist as a collection of tunes geared towards mp3 player shuffle functions. Does this mean the impact of the opening track is of more importance than ever?


Whether as a statement of musical intent, or a gradual pacesetter for the album to come, track one has an important job. Some jump straight in, outlaying the theme and direction of the album; some are snippets of loosely relevant sound or dialogue (usually entitled ‘Intro’ or similar).

It could be hypothesised that the dawn of the iPod generation has seen a shift towards ‘immediate impact’ track listings: every song must be strong enough to stand up on its own, outside the context of its album, or it will be skipped. The ability to purchase individual tracks, even if they have not been released in single format, has seen a decline in album releases that contain what previously might have been termed “album tracks”: songs that may have not been hits but filled in gaps in the overall narrative. Maybe this is further testament to the futuristic attributes of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’: the album had seven of its nine tracks released as singles (all charting in the US top ten) long before iTunes began weeding out the padding with single song downloads.


In most cases, the opening track has been granted no immunity from the draconian laws of modern day album production. Take ‘Boyfriend’, the opener to Best Coast’s debut Crazy for you, for example. An indie blog favourite from last year, the track fully implements the Best Coast ethos within the first five seconds: sun-bleached guitars and catchy surf pop songs all coated in Bethany Cosentino’s reveries for her man, her weed, and her cat. Everything you need to know about the album can be found within that first track: an audible blueprint. This technique is common among contemporary bands: push across a concise manifesto before the listener’s finger can reach the skip button.

Following this template, six string-toting Aussies Tame Impala began their 2010 debut release with ‘It Is Not Meant To Be’, possibly the most psychedelic rocker in an album full of psychedelic-rockers, while Gold Panda’s first forays into the world of the long player, ‘You’ from the much lauded Lucky Shiner, is the audio equivalent of a business card for Londoner’s forward-thinking production style.


However, some bands remain stubborn and decide to take a different route. LA Indie sensations ‘Warpaint’, the darlings of the music press last year and this, decided to kick off their introductory set The Fool with the five minutes-plus stoner grind of ‘Set Your Arms Down’, a noticeably contrasting track to the preview single ‘Undertow’ that had wowed the critics so. Speaking to Interview Magazine shortly after the album’s release, bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg explained the simple reasoning behind the decision: “It’s stoner order. We made this album to listen to stoned.” With this knowledge, the positioning of ‘Set Your Arms Down’ makes perfect sense.


But there was a time when bands or artists weren’t overly concerned with the importance of track one’s impact; when a clear line existed between the 12” LP and the short, three minute blast of the 7” single. Singles were there for the radio-friendly fix of chart busting pop, while albums were to be mulled over and carefully considered (plus skipping the track on vinyl could be a right hassle). With this in mind, bands were free to use their openers as tasters for the tracks that followed, or to ease the listener in gently; the musical equivalent of entering a hot bath. Dark Side of the Moon’sSpeak To Me’, with its heartbeat, demented laughter and slow build into ‘Breathe‘ (with a gap so non-existent it caused havoc when producing a CD version of the album) is a perfect sampler for Pink Floyd’s eerie classic, while Led Zeppelin’s elongated ‘Song Remains the Same’ from 1973’s Houses of the Holy has a full 1”33 of explosive, overblown instrumental before Robert Plant shuffles up to the microphone. Mac Rebbenack introduced his voodoo medicine man alter-ego Dr John to the world with the brilliant ‘Gris Gris Gumbo Yaya’, yet the track is so soporifically relaxed it’s often in danger of drifting off to sleep and rolling back into the same New Orleans swamp from which it emerged.

Whether it was folk-rock opuses in three parts (CSNY’s ‘Carry On’), slow-grinding funk workouts (Funkadelic’s ‘Mommy, What’s a Funkadelic?’), or just a honey-toned Frenchman murmuring over a menacingly sexy groove while a Gauloises hangs listlessly from the side of his mouth (Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Melody’), the musicians of yesteryear paid no heed to worries concerning the length, impact or characterisation of their opening tracks.


However, with retrospect, some have perhaps been slightly misplaced in their positioning. ‘Gimme Shelter’, the blockbuster opener to The Rolling Stones’ 1969 album Let it Bleed, is so intensely mind-blowing in its delivery (who could forget the crack of Merry Clayton’s voice as she shrieks the word “murder” over the song’s vamp out?) that the listener is left musically spent by the end and has to go and have a lie down during ‘Love in Vain’. A similar fate befalls the listener of James Brown and The JBs’ Doing it to Death, the opening title track of which is a pounding 10 minute celebration of everything right with music set to a 12/8 groove so funky it hurts – a tough track to follow.

Neil Young began his solo career away from Buffalo Springfield with the folly of ‘The Emperor of Wyoming’, a jaunty country instrumental that had many reaching to grab the needle from record long before its sublime follow up, ‘The Loner’. (Young did rectify this mistake on second album Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, introducing the world to his ability to rock with the best of ‘em on the stomping opening gambit of ‘Cinnamon Girl’).

Neil Young

Yet sometimes an opening track comes along that so clearly defines not only the sound of a particular artist, but also that of a whole subgenre. Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 classic Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) fully implements the group’s grimy, kung-fu-sampling gutter rap from the first bars of ‘Bring da Ruckus’, a song so fantastically abrasive that hip-hop was never quite the same after it dropped. The album also resisted a fashion developing in hip-hop (and across other forms of electronic-based music) at the time for assembling some relevant snippets of dialogue or music into a track entitled ‘Intro’ or similar. Countless examples exist from between the early ‘90s and the present day – some of the era’s classic albums among them. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing opens with a scratched up fragment of dialogue thanking “Bob Wood/national program director of the Chum group” for his contribution to some unknown project – one entirely unconnected with the album to follow – but the track and its enigmatic vocalist became synonymous with the birth of a whole new generation of beat-makers and producers. Perhaps the introduction of the CD allowed artists space to establish their particular feelings regarding the album at hand through the intro track, where once it may have taken up valuable vinyl space? Either way, it’s a method widely practiced throughout all contemporary genres. Last year’s Mercury Music Prize winners, The XX, opened their self-titled debut with a track bearing the ‘Intro’ moniker, although here the cut is one of the album’s highlights.


So the opening track appears to be heading towards redundancy from its job as an album’s entrance point, its role of gently guiding the listener in or blowing their proverbial socks off with a heavy impact introduction to a band’s sound greatly reduced by the move towards albums-as-collections-of-individual-tracks mode of record releases today. Perhaps the future lies in the model Beck introduced on release of his Guero album from 2005: an album that exists in several different forms – remix versions, extended deluxe editions, fan reworkings – and has no fixed track order. As the man himself put it in an interview in Wired back in 2009: “Artists can and should approach making an album as an opportunity to do a series of releases – one that’s visual, one that has alternate versions, and one that’s something the listener can participate in or arrange and change. It’s time for the album to embrace the technology.” Lovers of the opening track beware; Beck is suggesting you may be that most dreaded of creatures – the musical dinosaur…

December 20, 2010

Essentially Eclectic Top 40 of 2010

Posted in Songs of 2010 tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:11 pm by essentiallyeclectic

It’s list o’clock across Blogland at the moment. So, getting into the compiling spirit, here are the Essentially Eclectic top 40 tracks of 2010 (in alphabetical, rather than preferential, order…)

  1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round and Round (from Before Today)
  2. Babe, Terror – Summertime Our League (Four Tet Rework) (from Summertime Our League EP)
  3. Beach House – 10 Mile Stereo (from Teen Dream)
  4. Best Coast – Boyfriend (from Crazy For You)
  5. James Blake – Klavierwerke (from Klavierwerke EP)
  6. Bonobo – We Could Forever (from Black Sands)
  7. Botany – Waterparker (from Feeling Today EP)
  8. Broken Bells – The High Road (from Broken Bells)
  9. Caribou – Sun (from Swim)
  10. The Concretes – Good Evening (from WYWH)
  11. Cults – Go Outside (from Cults 7″)
  12. Matthew Dear – Honey (from Black City)
  13. El Guincho – Bombay (from Pop Negro)
  14. Floating Action – Could You Save Me (from Floating Action)
  15. Flying Lotus – Mmmhmm (feat. Thundercat) (from Cosmogramma)
  16. Fool’s Gold – Nadine (Memory Tapes Remix) (Unreleased)
  17. Four Tet – Circling (from There Is Love In You)
  18. Gold Panda – Same Dream China (from Lucky Shiner)
  19. Ice Cream Shout – Tattooed Tears (from True Love Waste)
  20. Junip – Rope & Summit (from Fields)
  21. The Long Lost – Woebegone (Flying Lotus’ Luckiest Charm) (from Woebegone Flying Lotus Remix EP)
  22. Massive Attack – Saturday Come Slow (from Heligoland)
  23. Mount Kimbie – Adriatic (from Crooks and Lovers)
  24. Pantha Du Prince – The Splendour (from Black Noise)
  25. Phaeleh – Afterglow (ft. Soundmouse) (from Fallen Light)
  26. Benoit Pioulard – Shouting Distance (from Lasted)
  27. The Roots – Right On (Feat. Joanna Newsom & S.T.S) (from How I Got Over)
  28. George Stanford – Meet Me In LA (from Roll Away EP)
  29. Still Corners – Don’t Fall In Love (from Don’t Fall In Love/Wish 7″)
  30. Tame Impala – Alter Ego (from Innerspeaker)
  31. J. Tillman – Diamondback (from Singing Ax)
  32. Toro Y Moi – Blessa (from Causers of This)
  33. Twin Shadow – Savannah Howl (Hard Mix Remix) (Unreleased)
  34. Twin Sister – The Other Side of Your Face (from Color of Your Life EP)
  35. Warpaint – Undertow (from The Fool)
  36. Washed Out – You and I (feat. Caroline Polachek) (from Adult Swim Singles Project)
  37. Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles – Back in the Game (from Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers)
  38. Neil Young – Rumblin’ (from Le Noise)
  39. Young Galaxy – Peripheral Visionaries (from Shapeshifting)
  40. Young Magic – You With Air (from You With Air/Sparkly 7″)

Essentially Eclectic best albums 2010 coming soon………

November 2, 2010

Review: Warpaint – The Fool

Posted in Reviews tagged , at 6:29 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Warpaint – The Fool.

Pre-release hype can be a terrible burden on a debut album, its weight all too often enough to cripple its promising creators. Those that can successfully ride the accolade wave should be revered, celebrated, and then allowed to produce the telling follow-up out of the glaring headlights of the music press. Hopefully this will be the fate of LA’s Warpaint, who, two years after the release of the Exquisite Corpse EP, finally delivered their debut long player this October amid a frenzy of blog praise and broadsheet admiration.

Opener Set Your Arms Down is a slow burner; hypnotic bass chords and stop/start drums punctuate Emily Kokal’s swaying vocal, a hint of mid-‘90s desert rock, atmospheric and ominous. The stoner grooves continue into the album’s title track, before the heavily previewed Undertow announces the girls’ position as masters of languid dream-pop, a beautiful melody tied to carefully interposed guitar chords, with an exhausted sigh of “why you wanna blame me for your troubles?” Ever on the lookout for interesting ways of supplementing the band’s ethereal harmonies and the melodic guitar work of its twin six-stringers Kokal and Theresa Wayman, contrasting sections and ever-changing arrangements are combined with subtle effects, such as the modulated, wobbling acoustic in Shadows. A subtle reference to Talking Heads’ Warning Sign can be found in the drummed intro to Bees, while the slow-paced opening section of standout track Composure sees delayed chords underpin a shouted-from-a-distance refrain from the whole band.

The band’s talent lies in their ability to conjure a unique ambience from seemingly simple building blocks. Kokal successfully manages to turn quite an asinine lyric in to a touching, weary plea in Baby, while even the all-conquering Undertow could easily fall flat in the wrong hands. Warpaint deliver on the growing reputation that precedes them. Definitely believe the hype; just don’t be blinded by it.

October 17, 2010

Autumnal Mixup

Posted in Eclectic Mixup tagged , , , , , , , at 6:32 pm by essentiallyeclectic

Autumn’s coming/here/never left, and in celebration/comiseration/indifference of that fact, here’s some tunes for your ears while you kick leaves about and go and sniff wood fires and start getting obsessed with cooking stews.


Ice Cream Shout – Tattooed Tears

Autumn is a very affecting season on music tastes, with certain tracks and sounds finding their zenith as the temperatures drop. Tattooed Tears from Japan’s Ice Cream Shout was a grower on me, finally becoming a one of my tunes of the year as the first leaves began to fall…


Tame Impala – Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind

Following on from a track of the year contender, here’s a cut from an album of the year, Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker. Finding themselves both in contrast to and aided by the dream-pop/chillwave sound of current American indie, Australia’s Tame Impala carve ’60s psychedelic productions in to an album that is as original as it is an homage to it’s predecessors.


Sukpatch – Hey Jolie

I came across this track on a compilation celebrating five years of London independant label Moshi Moshi Records (entitled We Got Monkeys: Five Years of Moshi Moshi Records), released back in 2003. Everything about this song is Autumn, from the string samples to the vocal melodies. I’m yet to decide whether there are certain harmonic progressions or other musicological factors in determining a track’s ‘season’, outside of the obvious ‘summer tunes’ steeped in BBQ smoke and heat haze, or their winter equivalents (see Bjork’s Vespertine album for the definitive article here), I guess it’s subjective.

Yo La Tengo – Autumn Sweater

Quite simply the best song ever written with Autumn in the title.


O.C, Chubb Rock, Jeru The Damaja, Masta Ace, DJ PremierReturn of The Crooklyn Dodgers

A slice of the real hip-hop from this mid-’90s collaboration, with the feel of Brooklyn in the Autumn time etched deep in to the piano riffs and vinyl-crackle of one of the genre’s finest beat constructers.


Warpaint – Undertow

A track that’s been doing the blog rounds recently in anticipation of the LA-based Warpaint’s full length debut The Fool, out towards the end of this month. The smooth-edged opening chords and chorus melody slot perfectly in to the theme of this mixup.


Röyksopp – Sparks

Making music that sounds good in the colder months must come naturally to those living in the chillier corners of the planet. Norway’s Röyksopp will be no strangers to many of you, especially with the success of Melody A.M, the album from which this track is taken, a work filled with shivering electro anthems.


Junip – In Every Direction

And finally another cut from Junip’s Fields album, perhaps the most autumnal track of a hugely autumnal album. See below for a review of Junip’s recent gig at XOYO in London