WHALE WATCHING TOUR. Concert Hall, Reading. 25.04.10

This is special. Seriously special. Not like a great night out or brilliant gig kind of special, more than that, not bigger maybe, but better, definitely better. And that’s thanks to the members of the Bedroom Community, an international but decidedly down-to-earth recording collective that have somehow found their way to Reading, and the mystical magical sounds they’ve brought with them. Stressing the plurals is important too as the music really does belong to everyone tonight. From distant, chilling introduction to almost orchestral finish there are no distinct sets, no solid breaks between acts, just one rolling, weaving, stirring showcase of quality.

So Valgeir Sigurðsson’s desperately delicate combination of frozen-over
electronics and early-sun acoustics meets Sam Amidon’s cracked and ragged but perfectly fitting voice, Amidon’s weary words and banjo blur into Ben Frost’s almost-alien art-noise and somehow that sits perfectly next to Nico Mulhy’s contemporary classical compositions. But really everybody works on everything all the time. And a supporting cast armed with trombone, violins, violas, double bass, handclaps, and crinkled plastic aren’t crowded out either, instead adding all-at-once intriguing, interesting, exciting, and vital varied elements to the mix.

Together they run threads through ambient atmospheres, animal sounds, searing strings, booming bass that you feel in the depth of your chest and the juice of your eyes, acoustic folk songs, murder ballads, and soundtracks to movies that haven’t been made yet, and indeed already have, and two hours after the collective first stirred to life (although it feels like just 15 minutes have passed) they finish up a show set to stay with everyone in attendance for quite some time. See, seriously special.


THE BLED- Heat Fetish

There is an x-factor y'know. And it's not the hellish circus sideshow that is Simon Cowell's creation but a genuine unknown, immeasurable thing that can't be bought or sold but just is, or in the case of Tucson terrors The Bled and their fourth full-length, isn't there. Now it’s not that the band are no good- frontman James Muñoz still roars like a demon and the mostly new line-up behind him acquit themselves well- or that this a bad record- taken alone tunes like rabid opener ‘Devolver’, or the wall-of-sound wail of ‘Smoke Breaks’ work in all the right ways- but something is missing. Instead of highlight after highlight ‘Heat Fetish’ becomes a blind-rage mush, songs blending together instead of standing apart or adding up to more than the sum of their parts, and just four or five tracks in it sadly becomes a real chore to continue. Sure, single-song snapshots of ‘Heat Fetish’, taken from anywhere along the 40-minute journey, encourage all sorts of heady comparisons to Hopesfall, Every Time I Die, even Deftones, but where those bands have an innate ability to stick their songs to the inside of your brain, The Bled have no such glue, no x-factor, nothing. A shame.


RUSSIAN CIRCLES. Underworld, London. 13.04.10

Things like this don’t go unnoticed. Thing like Richter-bothering earthquakes, black as death thunderstorms, and the voice of god- things that shake the planet- things like Russian Circles. And sure enough the Underworld is rammed tonight, and not just with beardy weirdy dudes but proper actual people and everything. And of course it is- over the past few years this Chicago trio have turned from post-rock also-rans into genre-busting behemoths with a mammoth live show to match. From slow-burning, sinister start to colossal finish they carve out gigantic, titanic riffs, hypnotising rhythms, and songs that sound like could run on and on and on, so blessed are they with a life of their own. But alongside these rolling apocalypse jams there are moments of magical tender beauty too. Almost ambient interludes arrive like whispers or swell and segue into the next track, never taking away from the flow and energy of the show but building on it, adding vital space and giving just enough breathing room for people to take in how amazing the last song was and prepare for the next one. And the next one is always something- a quiet/loud dark/light slow-motion rollercoaster, a galloping headbanger, or the greatest instrumental that Metallica never wrote- all propelled forward by gritty bass tones, guitar loops and roars, and Dave Turncrantz’s particularly precise and bloody brilliant drumming. Raw but never ragged, not revolutionary but quite capable of causing fear, awe, or religious fervour, and honestly, absolutely, genuinely awesome- seriously, you can quickly run out of words trying to describe how big and brilliant a sound these three small men can make...

MARCH OF THE RAPTORS- March of the Raptors

Put together by members of *Shels, Fireapple Red and Devil Sold His Soul alongside alumni from across the British alternative music scene, March of the Raptors are about as close to a super group as the UK underground has ever got. And their self-titled debut, a dangerously fast and furious firecracker of a record, is pretty darn super too.

If you know what just one of the above bands sounds like then you may know what to expect here, and if you know what they all sound like then you’re pretty ready for it too. And if that’s confusing- considering the breadth of styles that could cover- then you’re actually on the right track. Sharp, scowling, schizophrenic, and sampling something from pretty much every alternative genre, this thing has got issues. Opener ‘Perish In Flames’ barrels along on punk percussion, quick riffs, and a mangle of roared verses and clean choruses, managing to be corrosive and catchy at the exact same time, ‘Grace Of God’ adds an air of doom and sludge to the mix despite continuing at breakneck speed, and final track ‘Unto Themselves’ is a proper epic that could be both Rise Against returning to their hardcore roots and some post-rock behemoths deciding to concentrate on the rock for once.

Despite the variety and skill on show though, it’s all over in the blink of an eye and while it might bite hard on first listen this is a record unlikely to go further than soundtracking a few ferocious parties and finishing mid-table on some end-of-year lists. But it is passionate and honest and heartfelt and, it is worth remembering, just the first snarls from an outfit that feel like they’ve plenty of room to expand and improve and eras left to run.