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Entries for 'Aidan Curran'

05
Joanna Newsom (live in Paris)

Joanna Newsom (live in La Villette, Paris, 31 May 2010)

Review Snapshot: An excellent album takes flight as a sensational live show. With careful arrangements, the indie harpist and her band deliver a dramatic and stirring performance with all the force of a full orchestra.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review: "Kate Bush," says someone behind us, trying to describe tonight's star before she appears on stage. It's an understandable comparison, given that both ladies write idiosyncratic songs which they then sing in an arabesque upper register.

Joanna Newsom live in concert

But it would be more interesting and accurate to compare Joanna Newsom with Owen Pallett, appearing at the same venue the following night as part of an imaginative 'Villette Sonique' series of shows. Ostensibly indie acts, both singers make sweeping, ambitious music beyond categorisation, flavoured by diverse influences like show tunes and American folk - yet their songs retain the joyful simplicity of great pop.

And Newsom, like Pallett, has released a fantastic album in 2010. Given that it's an 18-track, three-disc collection, 'Have One On Me' makes up most of tonight's set. And if you think the record is great, wait 'til you hear these songs live.

With great skill and judgement, Newsom has transformed the album's discreet arrangements into dramatic interventions. Like a mercurial striker who only gets two touches but scores both times, her five-piece backing band can sit out most of a song before contributing a careful yet crucial part. The trombone part of 'Good Intentions Paving Company', the highlight of tonight's show, is transformed into a sensational solo by Andrew Strain.

And drummer Neal Morgan rarely does anything as mundane as keep time or set the beat - but he'll suddenly burst in with a percussion fill that almost crosses from rhythm to melody. In this way, a small band plays with the power and scope of an orchestra. This suits songs like '81' and 'Ribbon Bows', built like symphonies with stirring movements that resolve themselves by returning to an original theme. The sense of drama is overpowering.

Meanwhile, her in the grey gingham dress is in girlish, giggly form. "You guys are a good looking crowd!" she quips. "What are you all doing after the show?" Hopping between harp and piano, Newsom shows dazzling virtuosity on both instruments. And after a recent operation on her vocal cords, Newsom's voice has lost its most divisive squeaks and shrills. 'Peach Plum Pear' (one of the few oldies she plays tonight) sounds softer and more heartfelt.

Tonight's show, filling a two-thousand-seater hall, offers a fascinating glimpse of a singer on the threshold of crossing from small-scale indie heroine to real-deal star. Years from now she'll be a reference point herself as we try to comprehend some other young innovator.

Aidan Curran


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Posted in: Gig Reviews, France
30
Ellie Goulding 'Lights'

A review of the album 'Lights' by Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding 'Lights'

Review Snapshot: Bland production, innocuous songs, unimaginative reheating of last year's mainstream breakthrough album - if this is the Sound of 2010, roll on 2011.

The Cluas Verdict? 3 out of 10

Full Review: Critics Choice at the Brit Awards, BBC's Sound of 2010 winner - Ellie Goulding has a lot to justify with her debut album. What do you do if you're the next big thing? Sound as much as possible like the last big thing, it seems.

From first note to last, 'Lights' is a blatant and relentless pitch at mainstreaming the anthemic electronic-folk-pop of Florence And The Machine. The production is coffee-table electronica from a catalogue - beats scurry brainlessly out of a box like lobotomised lab mice and all instrumentation is as unobstrusive as the sessioners playing it.

The songwriting follows suit, adhering to what we can call the Florence formula. Rumbling, rambling verses burst into loud, affirmative chorus parts that don't have hooks. As befits the album title, nearly every song features images of fire or stars or lightning or shadows - unoriginal shorthand for passion and insight.

Ultimately you feel sorry for Goulding. If the production were less bland and more inventive you feel she might have a hope of imposing some character - her broad west England vowels remind you that this is a real person singing. Second-last song 'I'll Hold My Breath', a slice of mid-'80s chart-pop, is at least stylistically different to the rest of the album.

But this project is sunk by its desperation to appeal inoffensively to Everyfan: even the bling-bling album cover seems pitched at getting some daytime-radio R n' B demographic.

You have absolutely no reason to listen to 'Lights' by Ellie Goulding.

Aidan Curran


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Posted in: Album reviews
30
Channel One 'Sound To Light'

A review of the album 'Sound To Light' by Channel One

Review Snapshot: The intriguing and likeable blend of electronica and shoegazing by this Dublin quartet will attract listeners from all points of the indie compass. It's forceful enough to make a good first impression and subtle enough thereafter to keep you hooked.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
The members of Channel One come from a background of punk and rock bands but together they make a sound that draws on electronica, post-rock and shoegazing. The Dublin-based foursome have already built up a live following and played at SXSW, CMJ and other international festivals. Now, after a couple of singles and EPs since 2005, we have their first album. And it's quite good.

The reference points are easy to identify - My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, Sigur Ros and M83, amongst others. Layers of hazy guitars contrast with clean electronic beats, and any vocals are performed head-down and mumbling like a shy schoolboy asking out a cheerleader. There are plenty of bands trying for this sort of atmospheric wall-of-sound whatever and most of it is downright boring. How is Channel One's effort any better?

Well, let's work our way up from the album's weakest point. That would be 'Okinawa', whose very title gives it away as pseudo-soundtrack blandness riffing on vague existential angst in some Oriental metropolis. It's unoriginal and uninteresting - Air spent most of 'Pocket Symphony' doing this but with added gloop. (We can damn Channel One with faint praise here: 'Sound To Light' is better than the last three Air albums.)

Happily, this one mis-step serves to emphasise the personality and inventiveness that's abundant throughout the rest of the album. '8/13' and 'Not For The Last Time' are closer to conventional songs and should attract anyone approaching this album from the indie-rock side. More abstract tracks than those two feature distinctive instrumental figures and melodic hooks strong enough to draw in the listener - the echoing piano of 'Taiga', the chorus-like synth riff of opener 'Soubresaut' and the discordant blips and crackles of 'Three Stars' all give colour and identity. The complexity and subtle craft of the arrangements mean that repeat listening is rewarded. And the rising intensity of 'Soubresaut' hints at this band's live power.

All in all, 'Sound To Light' is an impressive debut album that will appeal to a wide spectrum of alternative music fans. No need to zap any further than this channel, then.

Aidan Curran


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Posted in: Album reviews
28
The Antlers, Cymbals Eat Guitars (live in Paris)

The Antlers, Cymbals Eat Guitars (live at the Nouveau Casino, Paris)

Review Snapshot: Two loud doses of U.S. alt-rock, which may be surprising for some fans of 'Hospice'. But at high volume and with lots of reverberating bass, The Antlers reveal even more of the emotions that inspired that fabulous album. Cymbals Eat Guitars, at war with your eardrums, are an uncomplicated pleasure.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
Every band on tour will stop in Paris - but alternative rock and pop have a relatively small audience in the French capital. So tonight two great American bands, Cymbals Eat Guitars and The Antlers, are playing on the same bill in a small venue in the hip Oberkampf district at only 15 euro a ticket. And still the place isn't even two-thirds full. (It was a similar story for another cracking double bill, DM Stith and The Acorn, that we reviewed for you back in May.)

Tonight's show is part of the Custom series organised by French culture magazine Les Inrockuptibles, so it's only politic to have a local band kick off proceedings. However, Liquid Architecture are a low-rate plod-rock band trying too hard to be electro-funky like The Gossip. We needn't dwell on them.

Visually, with their check shirts and woollen hats, Cymbals Eat Guitars recall early '90s slacker rock and grunge. Guitar, bass and drums are all wielded as blunt instruments and Joseph D'Agostino seems to finish most songs by shredding his voice.

Fortunately, CEG have melody and personality running through them like veins of colour in a block of marble. D'Agostino, when not tearing his vocal cords into strips of bacon, has a warmth to his voice on the quieter moments of songs like 'And The Hazy Sea'. And on 'Wind Phoenix' bassist Matthew Whipple is almost jaunty. Cymbals Eat Guitars are a likeable bunch of lads who show that indie rock can be charming, thoughtful and tuneful. But they're still bloody loud, which is always great.

Peter Silberman of The Antlers live in concertThe Antlers have a more cerebral appeal - as the house lights dim we hear several impatient 'SHHH!'-ers at work. 'Hospice', one of the year's best albums, carefully conjures up nightmarish visions and spectral sounds. How would Peter Silberman (right) and his band replicate live such mercurial and introspective music?

First impressions are worrying - The Antlers are as loud as Cymbals Eat Guitars. For a band with no bassist, they have an overwhelming level of bass in the sound mix tonight; opener 'Kettering' rumbles like a juggernaut over a bridge and Silberman's voice is almost drowned out.

However, this might be part of the plan. 'Hospice' captures the sickening helplessness and frustration we feel when a loved one is in hospital - and tonight's show is a release of those emotions. That low, rumbling sound swirls across the room like dark stormclouds gathering, while Michael Lerner's frequent and careful use of his splash cymbals gives a nervous fizz to our synapses.

Silberman's voice is too low in the mix for us to make out his words, but his taut vocal melodies are sufficient to tell his story. He never forces or exaggerates the sentiment of his lyrics; his delivery is emotionally honest and recognisably human. The narrator of 'Hospice' is an ordinary person who must endure something traumatic yet banal - we will all face the same situation at some point in our lives. So too, by analogy, the tumultuous music contrasts with the heartfelt vocals: here is the dramatic force of songs like 'Bear', 'Two' and 'Sylvia'. (For this show The Antlers play a short, seven-song set, all from the current album but leaving out the Prologue, Epilogue and 'Shiva'.)

Tonight's live performance of tracks from 'Hospice' complements their recorded versions and brings something new to our appreciation of them. The Antlers have created something of enduring beauty, humanity and artistic value.

Aidan Curran


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Posted in: Gig Reviews, France
29
Discovery 'LP'

A review of the album 'LP' by Discovery

Discovery 'LP'Review Snapshot: Vampire Weekend + Ra Ra Riot = Kanye West. The collaboration between a member of each of those bands comes up with a sort of indie R n'B sound. While the songwriting isn't up to the level of dedicated hitmakers in this genre, there's plenty to like here - including a swingbeat version of young Michael Jackson's 'I Want You Back'.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
Side projects seem to be de rigueur for indie acts these days. So here's Discovery, the nixer of Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend and Wes Miles from Ra Ra Riot. Those two bands would seem to go well together, sharing a love of melodic, thoughtful alt-guitar songs flavoured either with world sounds (VW) or chamber-pop cellos (RRR).

Discovery, though, resemble neither parent group. 'LP' is a record of electro-tinted dancefloor R n'B in the manner of Kanye West or Rihanna or the innumerable two-step and swingbeat US chart hits of the last decade - with the occasional nod towards early Prince. The group's name could also be a reference to Daft Punk and their album 'Discovery'. For this surprising and radical step, we should be grateful - after all, side projects should be spaces for doing something different to the day job.

The beats are jerky and robotic, the singing vocoder-ed and Auto-tuned. And despite the cliched lyrics (plenty of 'oh baby baby' and spotting a girl on the dancefloor and pleading for some of her sweet love) there isn't a sense here of this being some sort of ironic in-joke thought up down the pub. The 'oh baby baby', for instance, comes from 'Can You Discover', a reworking of Ra Ra Riot's 'Can You Tell'.

You can imagine the record company's delight in finding that 'LP' contains a timely Michael Jackson cover - a louche swingbeat version of the Jackson 5's 'I Want You Back'. Despite the slight whiff of gimmickry and novelty, it works well. Also impressive are 'I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend' (with Angel Deradoorian from Dirty Projectors) and the hidden track on our review copy.

Apart from that, though, there really aren't any memorable songs here to match their peers in US dancefloor R n'B, a genre with a remorseless focus on fast-acting chart catchiness. But 'LP' is charming in its way and shows a commendable open-mindedness on the part of its makers, so it's definitely work a listen or two. And if it inspires some fundamentalist indie kids to finally appreciate the sheer pop pleasure of, say, 'Yeah' by Usher, so much the better.

Aidan Curran


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Posted in: Album reviews
17
Grizzly Bear, Telepathe, Bill Callahan (live in St Malo)

Grizzly Bear, Telepathe, Andrew Bird and Bill Callahan(live at la Route du Rock, St Malo, France)

Review Snapshot: Telepathe's cracking NY electro gets lost in a large theatre; all hail Bill Callahan; neither Andrew Bird nor Grizzly Bear have a good game.

The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10

Full Review:
So far we've focused on the main festival venue at the old fort a few miles outside St Malo. But there's also a second site - a hall on the seafront back in town. We decide, then, to start day three of La Route du Rock by checking it out. This isn't just a whim or for the sake of variety; we want to see Telepathe.

For the festival, the Palais du Grand Large has been rather crassly renamed after a well-known mobile phone manufacturer. It's a large, plush, modern theatre that has headphone sockets and volume knobs in the armrests. Telepathe's gear is set up compactly in the middle of the vast stage, like a small car parked on the Wembley pitch. The usher brings everyone to a seat - there'll be no dancing or young people's antics today.

Despite the slightly incongruous venue this New York pair, Busy and Melissa, are just as exciting live as on record. Telepathe exude spiky personality and robotic sang froid at the same time - for instance, they sing in unison rather than harmony and on 'Sinister Militia' Busy drums live in accompaniment to the machine beats. And in contrast to rigid Euro electro, their music has the same eclectic looseness and openness as other North American dance acts like Dan Deacon and Tiga. In a proper music venue with a dancefloor and no seats, Telepathe must be fantastic live.

Now for the classic festival dilemma: if we stay here to see Gang Gang Dance we probably won't make it back out to the old fort in time to see Bill Callahan. Though we've never followed the erstwhile Smog/(Smog) closely, we've been persuaded to see him. Gang Gang Dance get the elbow, then, and we hop on the shuttle to the main stage.

And we did good: Callahan is a revelation to us. Once you get over the usual perception of Callahan as dour and monotonous, you find that his songs are tuneful and poetic and really beautiful. His dark, soft croon is quite melodic, charged with feeling and even sexy on 'Diamond Dancer', which he starts with a bluesy solo and keeps up a slinky Stones riff throughout. His songs aren't necessarily sad but have a bruised romanticism that can't fail to move you: in particular, 'Too Many Birds' and 'Eid Ma Clack Shaw' have a gruff, world-weary tenderness to them.

Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen of Grizzly BearCallahan's band features a violinist and cellist who supply succinct and graceful accompaniment. And the drummer is a funny guy: he keeps the setlist on a piece of paper folded in his shirt pocket and must take it out to check that 'The Wind And The Dove' is next. He calmly gives Callahan the nod; we're good to go. Lengthy retuning between several songs is the only black mark against Callahan today - he wastes at least five minutes in total and has to chop a song off his intended playlist so as to finish on time. This was the saddest thing for us, in fact.

After Callahan, our two other chosen acts seem to pale a little. Andrew Bird, for example, feels whimsical and forced. There's a stuffed toy and kitsch two-horned gramophone on a speaker stack at the back, like some indie equivalent of the old farm contraptions and roadsigns to Dingle that are meant to give character to plastic Irish bars abroad. But this is essential gear: at various points during Bird's set, the two-horned beast spins.

Dressed in denim and sporting stubble, Bird belies the foppishness usually attributed to him. He switches energetically between violin and guitar, sings forcefully and even his whistling seems functional rather than faddish. Unfortunately, he doesn't play 'Plasticities', perhaps his best-known song, but newer songs like 'Fitz And The Dizzy Spells' are still greeted warmly.

However, Bird has little charisma or stage presence. And because of this his songs, with their elaborate melodies and thesaurus-chewing wordplay, feel more like intellectual exercise than heartfelt expression. Tonight his material gives the fleeting pleasure of a witty quip rather than the enduring insight of Callahan's poeticism. (Bird offers a sprightly version of 'Cold Blooded Old Times' tonight.) Andrew Bird is likeable and his songs are entertaining, but live he reveals his limitations.

On to tonight's big name, Grizzly Bear (above right). And we must report that we find them disappointing too - more drizzly than grizzly. This isn't just the Bill Callahan after-effect again - the band don't attempt to replicate the dense, multi-layered swirl of 'Veckatimest' but merely omit the more abstract parts to leave a sparse, disjointed sound that never catches fire. 'Two Weeks', for instance, is tonight carried mainly by Daniel Rossen's electric piano and loses most of the vocal harmonies. Ed Droste's soaring voice is also a notable highlight but for much of the set Grizzly Bear come across as a muso Beach Boys. 'Southern Point', with Rossen's sun-drenched folk-pop guitar picking, is an exception and one of the rare times tonight when this band are engaging or evocative.

It doesn't help the band, of course, that this festival crowd is subdued and slightly underwhelmed, perhaps disappointed that they can't dance to Grizzly Bear. A more attentive audience of dedicated fans would surely help create a better atmosphere. Still, we suspect that their upcoming Dublin show will be stolen by their support act, Saturday's star turn here in St Malo. Those of you who prefer Department Of Eagles may have a point.

Aidan Curran


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16
St Vincent, Papercuts, Camera Obscura (live in St Malo)

St Vincent, Papercuts and Camera Obscura (live at La Route du Rock, St Malo, France)

Review Snapshot: A sensational performance from Annie Clark is the highlight of day two and perhaps eventually the entire festival. Papercuts shore up their alt-folk sound for maximum festival effect, while Camera Obscura are sheer pop fun.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
The second day of La Route du Rock promised more subtle charms than last night's sonic thunderstorm. While headliners My Bloody Valentine eventually left many people cold, today the festival's first real star appeared. More of that later.

First, though, we were impressed by San Franciscan Jason Quever and his band Papercuts. If you like the haziness of their album, 'You Can Have What You Want', you may be surprised to hear them live. On record their songs are alt-folk shuffles but tonight they have a sturdier indie-rock shape to them - the pulsing bass of 'Future Primitive', for instance, is complemented by tight riffing and a chilly synth. But Quever's voice still has a faraway dreaminess that blurs those clear lines. Perhaps they rock up for outdoor festivals and alt-folk down in more intimate venues.

No rocking up for Camera Obscura, as indie-pop as you can get without still being in Belle And Sebastian. We understand that their recent Dublin show was somewhat spoiled by Traceyanne Campbell's touch of 'flu, but tonight everyone seems in full health - their set is so jaunty and tuneful that the otherwise sedate Saint Malo crowd starts bouncing around. (Jason Quever had remarked during Papercuts' set on how quiet the crowd were. For her part, Campbell observes how "non-paralytic" the French crowd are compared to beer-frenzied UK festival-goers.)

The Scots band's live trumpet gives off a summery vibe - and a fizz of excitement passes though the crowd on the organ intro to 'Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken', still their best song and a definite crowd favourite here.

But that fizz is nothing compared to the electrifying effect of St Vincent. Annie Clark's performance is thrilling, the talk of the festival site for the rest of the evening.

St VincentAlone on stage with an electric guitar and a drum machine beside her on a table, Clark (right) stands behind a hanging black cloth that comes up to her knees. This cloth hides what we believe are pedals but may well be something far more complex and sinister - as her shredded guitar chords fade out 'Your Lips Are Red', she ducks down out of view behind the cloth and produces strange noises. You expect an assistant to whip away the cloth and reveal the singer levitating or sawn in two.

Clark is a fantastic guitarist. Drenched in reverb and effects, her sound is nonetheless piercingly direct and her playing is sparse and intense, with each note carefully chosen and clearly heard. Whether claw-picking a mix of bass and high notes, as on 'Marry Me', or tearing out the savage opening riff of 'Your Lips Are Red', Clark adds tension to songs that are already fraught with drama. By stripping her sound down to a tightly-wound electric guitar, she has recast her songs and found new ways to reveal their magic. 'Marrow', on record sounding like a Hollywood musical waking up hungover on Timbaland's couch, is tonight wiry and funky like Talking Heads or early Prince.

And her voice conveys the same directness and intensity - by not showboating or emoting, she adds sincerity and believability to the drama of her songs, as if she were an innocent bystander caught up in extraordinary turmoil. The 'actor' of her new album's title is not Clark herself but her music, which can flit in a second from doe-eyed romantic yearning to frenzied romantic despair, even within one song: 'The Strangers' starts gently but suddenly explodes like a supernova.

'Marry Me', by now an old favourite of St Vincent fans, gets the biggest crowd reaction. With deft timing Clark delivers its killer couplet: "We'll do what Mary and Joseph did / But without the kid".

As it happens, there's a district of Saint Malo called Saint Vincent. Tonight's visiting fans could be forgiven for assuming the place has only just been renamed in honour of Annie Clark. She's that good.

Aidan Curran


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15
My Bloody Valentine, Deerhunter, Tortoise (live in St Malo)

My Bloody Valentine, Deerhunter and Tortoise (live at La Route du Rock, St Malo, France)

Review Snapshot: Three cult acts share an impressive bill on the Breton coast. The excellent Deerhunter continue the fine tradition of VU and Sonic Youth alt-rock. Tortoise get loud and funky but once or twice go over the head of the more party-minded festival-goers. And MBV leave mixed feelings; while impressive in many respects the whole thing feels a little stale and there's so much more to their music than bludgeoning noise.

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review:
The first day of La Route du Rock, and everyone is preoccupied by noise. The nearby village of Chateauneuf-de-Ille-et-Vilaine has been warned about the aural assault they can expect around midnight, and residents there are scowling slightly at any blow-ins collaborating with the forces of sonic blitzkrieg. On the festival site, there's a scramble for earplugs.

And in the media zone all talk is of today being dedicated to 'noisy pop', the name that French rock fans give to the genre of shoegazing. One French journalist has even been gazing at Bradford Cox's shoes and socks, and during the pre-show press conference he criticises the sartorial tastes of Deerhunter's leader. "Only in France", Cox sighs.

Despite their singer suffering from jetlag and lack of sleep, this evening Deerhunter are enthralling. For all the talk of MBV's influence on them, they're closer to good ol' U.S garage rock with a touch of Sonic Youth, though this could be because Cox in shades and pudding-bowl haircut looks like a ganglier Thurston Moore. The Velvet Underground are another obvious reference point - Deerhunter's rhythm section is tight and minimal, sometimes funky but more times steady and driving, especially in 'Nothing Ever Happened' where Cox adorns Josh Fauver's driving bassline with squally, angular riffs.

But like tonight's headliners, Deerhunter's charm is in their subtle sense of melody, especially in tracks from 'Microcastle'. Their upcoming Dublin show on 23 August is the current CLUAS Gig of the Fortnight: you should be there.

On first listen, the cerebral sounds of Tortoise appear to be out of place in this squall-fest. But while those Beach Boys-style xylophone parts sound sedate and tasteful, otherwise Tortoise (post-)rock. And they can be loud and sexy too: those funky basslines and breakbeat drums satisfy those punters who didn't come here to reflect on jazzy progressions. But perhaps the band misjudge the crowd slightly: at one point they expect us to clap along to a fairly complex time signature, 13/12 or something like that. One or two people try it but only last a bar or two. While Tortoise are impressive, by now everyone just seems to be hanging around for the main act.

My dad's louder than your dad: Kevin Shields live onstage with My Bloody ValentineEarplugs in, then, for My Bloody Valentine. Kick-off is delayed by about ten minutes due to sound problems, and when Kevin Shields comes on he first does a quick "one-two" mic check - a rather redundant gesture, seeing as we won't be hearing much of his singing tonight. The problems continue: Shields and Colm Ó Cíosóig seem to screw up the intro to 'When You Sleep' between them and must start again.

Onstage, MBV feel like two different bands stitched together. You have a drummer and bassist who put in enormous virtuosity and energy: Ó Cíosóig grimaces and flails while Debbie Googe stands side on with feet apart and bass on hip. The pair of them are sensational.

Meanwhile, the two up front are anti-rockstars. Shields comes across as a Graham Coxon-esque shy guitar-obsessed teen but Bilinda Butcher is the stereotypical shoegazer, even if she stares straight out over the crowd all night and seems constantly on the verge of tears. Shields exudes an awkward charm but Butcher is a charisma-free black hole. Also, both guitarists seem to work less than their colleagues: the two just jangle chords while the more ambient synths and effects are on playback.

Let's face it: My Bloody Valentine in 2009 are a heritage act. The festival programme features an old photo of them, and fortysomething guys in the crowd try to revisit their youth by moshing as much as their bellies and ailing backs allow. But even they realise that they're trying too hard - many people in the crowd are visibly bored and slightly disillusioned. For one thing, MBV records are fantastic for their subtle melodies and dreamy romanticism, so by reducing everything to brute noise the band are deliberately downgrading what many people love about them. (Of course, having to wear earplugs doesn't help in appreciating the music.) Also, without new material the show feels slightly cynical, especially since many people here tonight have surely already seen the band elsewhere on their reunion tour.

Yes, the 'holocaust' section of 'You Made Me Realise' is impressive but, given all the hype about it, when it finally arrives it feels as perfunctionary as when a one-hit wonder finally plays the one hit. Again, the emphasis on being the loudest feels like a hollow victory when so many of MBV's qualities are being subordinated to the decibel counter. You should see My Bloody Valentine live, but it's best to think of them as a separate entity from My Bloody Valentine on record. A corporate entity, if one were to be cynical.

Aidan Curran


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19
Dan Black 'Un'

A review of the album 'Un' by Dan Black

Dan Black 'Un'Review Snapshot: A clumsy, witless attempt at dancefloor-friendly electro-rock, the solo record by The Servant’s lead singer is quite awful. No amount of effects and beats can disguise its tired rawk-isms and Blunt-esque vocals. Stay well away from it.

The Cluas Verdict? 2 out of 10

Full Review:
You might know Dan Black as the singer with The Servant, who had some minor success with singles like ‘Liquefy’ and ‘Orchestra’. With this solo album, Black is closer to dancefloor electro-rock than the guitar emo-ness of his now-defunct band. Riffs are heavily treated and rhythms scurry frantically out of a box. And the title, ‘Un’, implies that this record is not like his previous work and perhaps (if one counts in French) the first step in a new direction.

In truth, though, the touches of electronica are merely dressing up the same old formulaic rock of The Servant. The writing is your standard verse-chorus-verse structure where Black clearly doesn’t have the melodic touch to craft a killer hook; to move from verse to chorus all he can do is awkwardly and mechanically raise his pitch as if his trousers had suddenly tightened, in an effort at cooking up some kind of emotional intensity.

The lyrics fall into two schools: those where Black can’t think past lame cock-rock clichés of angst-ridden love and soft-focus sex (‘Ecstasy’, where he sings about heartbreak one minute and slipping between soft white sheets the next, is particularly nauseating) and those that are laboured efforts at being poetic. Of the latter, the height/depth is a particularly contrived couplet from ‘Wonder’: “You ran off through the corn/And your Smiths T-shirt got torn”. Corn is right.

Black’s strangled, whining voice hasn’t changed since the last Servant record. In particular, his delivery of the main hook in the chorus of ‘Wonder’ (“Where are you now?”) is a truly horrible listening experience. His singing is the main obstacle to overcome if you are to like this record, so it’s hard to imagine anyone hating The Servant but falling for Black solo.

Quite simply, ‘Un’ by Dan Black is a lazy, unimaginative effort to pass off stale rock as fresh electro. If the title is indeed Black counting in French, let us hope he doesn’t get to ‘Deux’.

Aidan Curran


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19
Alela Diane 'To Be Still'

A review of the album 'To Be Still' by Alela Diane

Alela Diane 'To Be Still'Review Snapshot: The Californian folk singer-songer steps up a gear with a fantastic second album whose careful production and crafted songs are shot through with the haunting ache of her voice and the blissful innocence of her pastoral lyrics. 'To Be Still' has the feel of a classic.

The Cluas Verdict? 9 out of 10

Full Review:
Whatever the title of her new album may have you believe, Alela Diane Menig is not resting on her laurels. ‘To Be Still’, the young folk singer’s gorgeous second record, shows a significant development in production, arrangement and songwriting from the simple charms of her much-lauded debut, ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’.

It’s apt that this album opens with a bass drum kick and a pedal steel lick, thus immediately distinguishing itself from its predecessor. Where Menig’s first record consisted mostly of her voice and acoustic guitar, with basic accompanying harmonies and minimal studio polishing, the follow-up features a full band and serious production work from her father, Tom. Fortunately, the da does a fine job in preserving the twilight, other-worldly feel of the first album – the arrangements are never flashy and the instrumental parts always serve their songs. Special mention should go to the plaintive fiddle-playing, especially on ‘White As Diamonds’ and ‘Take Me Back’.

As the arrangements have been fleshed out, so too have Menig’s songs become more robust and confident. The tracks on ‘The Pirate’s Gospel’ were often delicate like flowers, but those of ‘To Be Still’ are strong as trees and no less beautiful – the professional-sounding production values help, of course, but from even one listen it’s immediately clear that Menig has upped her game. ‘Tatted Lace’, for instance, features a melody more complex and crafted than anything on her previous record but without ever feeling laboured or contrived. Most of the other songs have beguiling verses that draw the listener into satisfying choruses.

The production and arrangements may have evolved, but Menig’s voice is still her ace. That almost ghostly quiver in her high notes is complemented by her earthy lower notes, and she flits effortlessly between both ends of her range. Her swooning vocal style is shown to best effect in the way she sings the first six words of the soaring ‘White As Diamonds’, this record’s stand-out track and perhaps her best song to date.

Like her heritage sounds, Menig’s lyrics conjure up a rural, pastoral America of farm labour and folklore from somewhere between ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’, as if her only exposure to modernity has been gramophones and Model T Fords. Even from titles like ‘Dry Grass And Shadows’, ‘The Alder Trees’ and ‘My Brambles’ it’s apparent that Menig’s vocabulary relies heavily on images of nature. She creates this world flawlessly and wraps you up in it like a gripping period-novel – but after two albums Menig is veering close to self-parody and needs to broaden her horizons a little.

Apart from that minor caveat, ‘To Be Still’ is a resounding success. It’s heartening to hear how Alela Diane’s second album is a clear step forward from her first, all the while preserving her distinctive personality. Even the most cynical non-folkie will surely be swayed by this beautiful record.

Aidan Curran


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