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Mosquito by Little Hands Clapping

LHC comprises Tom Ardill (guitar), Dave Williams (guitar), and David Christie (drums). They’ve been together since 2002 and play largely instrumental music. “Mosquito” is their new single offering.

Mosquito is the drums and then bright fast intricate guitar playing, sounding from time to time like “Apache” before taking off in its own direction. There are no lyrics (though I think there were on earlier versions).

You can find it on the LHC website at http://www.littlehandsclapping.com/
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Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Troxy, London, 13 December 2010

This is an event. Godspeed You! Black Emperor haven’t toured since 2003 and now they are back.
Yes, this is the Canadian postrock band whose music was (“East Hastings”) used in the film ‘28 Days Later’. And the Troxy has a flat floor and anyone not that tall won’t be able to see.
GY!BE are as known for their background film loops as their music and the set - after the intriguingly named Dead Rat Orchestra had been on - began with “Hope Drone”, behind which the word ‘HOPE’ flickers in black on white - ironic, or stating that hope is difficult? And if you can get used to several minutes of droning (unless you are at a Party Conference, you understand) then you have your admission ticket to the not necessarily sunlit uplands that constitutes GY!BE. Later on ‘Sleep’ goes to a background of a wintry Coney Island amusement park. Are we amusing ourselves to death, is that the message? ‘Albanian’ sounds a bit, well, Albanian, which comes as a surprise after the stern drones of Hope. And ‘Storm’ opens as rhythmic-poised and regretful as anything by Philip Glass and becomes a meditative and plangent journey before getting pretty close to rocking out. ‘Moya’ is like something Gustav Holst might have written if he’d been living at this hour - darkly spiritual, a few points of light in the fog. The music isn’t about something, the music is something. These people are political: you may sit in a pub and complain about the Coalition taking your job, but Godspeed! were once arrested as terrorists.
At one point during this gig my friend turned round and said,
“Zombies!”
Arise ye starvelings. Raise yer skinny fists like antennas to heaven.
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Fotonovela / Grindwallow, the Shadow Ballroom, 1 May

Well, you all know the Shadow Ballroom by now I suppose. Under the old Finsbury Docks Town Hall, or what became the town hall when Aldous Kring made his rather bizarre bid for power way back in ‘98. If anyone had noticed he might have been dangerous. The Ballroom itself is a dark space of mushroom towers and things in the dark corners that might be decorative carvings or something much worse. I suspect the kind of fungi that seeps through my bathroom walls makes it big time in a place like this.

The audience generally was mixed - fifteen to fifty, a curious mix of bright colours and brooding black leather and red; quite a few might have been around for the New Musical Express’s C86 cassette tape that launched Twee / Indie on a punk-jaded world. Because Fotonovela are what is sometimes called Twee Pop. You know, singing about nice things - although in its best examples such as Talulah Gosh, you find punk’s DIY aesthetic, and a political and feminist stance against the excessive knowingness of commercial pop music. Fotonovela’s lyricist and vocalist Karen Chung is 27 but looks about twelve wearing a pink and white candy-striped dress and with her hair in bunches and a pair of oversize red-rimmed glasses on. The band look like they stepped straight out of Grantchester Meadows (the place or the song, either will do; three quarters of the band met while undergrads at Cambridge). Bright noodley goodness follows, with Chung’s clear, somehow passionate voice over the guitar of Gavin Styles, bass by Rebecca Sandiland and the capable drumming of Gaynor Smith. “Echoland” is about as echoey as it possible to get, so after that tale of seaside romance, “My Cardigan” returns home to clear its head and does it very nicely. “Licorice Ice Cream” sees Gavin Styles add his vocals to Chung’s in a number from their new third album “Love in the Title”, followed by the title track.
And after a while you begin to see what they’re doing. Fotonovela are defending the right to the little things of life, the ones you cherish.

We know that the Shadow Ballroom’s organiser Alie Farang has a sense of humour. There had to be a reason for the leather jackets and the black T-shirts among the indiepop people. Who could be about to follow Fotonovela but nu-metal outfit Grindwallow? The boys from Basildon have been around since 2002 in one form or another and lead singer Robbie Oxx still sounds like he has a serious throat condition. “That isn’t singing,” a bemused Tony Blackburn said on first hearing the band, “it’s throat-clearing.” After Fotonovela’s clear if echoey pop, Grindwallow is all solid blocks of music that you could shift around with a crane. There are nine in the band, many playing guitar, along with two bassists, drummer Neil ‘Boxer’ Short, and keyboardist Delvon Sprackley (formerly of X15 Down). Guitarists Redd Finger and Jackson Hole, when not simply bringing the noise, use eBows to produce bowed string effects on numbers such as “Article of Faith”, “Distortion” (from 2010’s “Overhide” album), the very short “1:1”, and “1:14” which with “Motherlode” allows the band to slow down (relatively) and dispose of some trippy, weirdness-filled moments. Then it’s back to the full-on assault. It is in fact all good cheerful (and very fast) stuff but my head hurt afterwards, as indeed it should.

I still dreamed of cardigans and slow walks by the river, though.
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David Foster Wallace at the Astoria, 19 May 20--

Now, surely some mistake – didn't Wallace, after writing one of the longest and most reader-involving novels ever (“Infinite Jest”), and a lot of journalism and short stories, a writer renowned for his intelligence and his humour and yet suffering terribly from depression, kill himself a couple of years ago?
Well, yes and yes; but this is David Foster Wallace the band. And what they get up on stage and do is every bit as much intellectually taxing and downright funny as what DFW the writer (who maybe loved prog, I have no idea, despite once describing himself as having 'the musical tastes of a 14-year-old girl') wrote.
And further from bands like Burning Puppy [surely a DFW-the-writer reference too?] and their brand (sorry) of mayhem-inducing post-punk, you couldn't imagine. I can't really see DFW-the-band going on in fishnets (not just the girls either) and screaming at the audience for brief two-minute songs full of feedback (oh, how to do now!) and not-at-all-ironic gobbing especially through their cover of “Verlaine's Phonebook”.
Nah. DFW approach the classical end of Prog, and even if Muse co-opted the symphonic form for 'The Resistance', to say nothing of 'Call Me', Queen, and Gary Glitter they are not alone. DFW mount a string section – cello, double bass, violin – and to this add guitar, electric bass, drums and keyboards.
And with this they embark on one of the wildest soundscapes I have heard in a while. The opening number, “A thousand ways to lose your place” invokes King Crimson in its sudden bursts of virtuoso musicianship but blends this into a drony soundscape that, GY!BE-style, goes off on one for ten or twelve minutes (or did it just seem that way?) of a single chord being played incessantly while we weep downstairs.
My friend and I also nearly wept at the Astoria's lack of cider at the bar. This isn't a good look when you consider the number of goths and goth-a-likes who were turning out to hear DFW's brand of thundering prog. The first number ends after twenty-one minutes and was followed by 'Natalie 0769 889024' which rivals Syd Barrett in the weird vocals stakes – I remember lines about hobbits signing on and taking a trip around the moon by taxi, to say nothing of the repeated cry of 'Ferrets!' from guitar/vocalist Dave 'Sponge' Hill while Jules Eigenauer thunders at the bass guitar and Eithne Moore does great things with the violin. Quite how you get from there to the long and repetitive 'Oh Yeah Motherf***er' whose lyrics consist of basically that line plus shouted slogans, I am not so sure. Pounding on the guitars though, that is beyond doubt. Backing tapes of a Black Power rally are matched by the film shown on the backdrop which at one point inexplicably becomes 'Bambi versus Godzilla'.
Then 'Ligularia' begins with a minute or so of sampled footsteps in the snow, a child singing (something I have long hated in radio plays where it was a cliché years ago) and then a heavily-orchestrated piece whose melody is repeated in a growling guitar-and-bass session (which really did put me in mind of Muse). I am a sucker for prog metal-like bass lines and this was nice.
So yes, RIP DFW the writer, but DFW the band, yes, it goes on and on.
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The Alpha Rats
at the Motley Hall, Finsbury Docks

“How can it be,” Patti Vatana sings, “when light never enters?” And with that uncharacteristic slowie from the new album Darker than you think we know we’re back in the presence of the Alpha Rats. Their first album since 2001’s Rats Live on no Evil Star and they’re launching it with a series of gigs including this one in the rather damp and fungoid Motley Hall. Good of them to drop in. Mind you at the Motley Hall - which is what they’re now calling the old boathouse opposite the Weeping Angel pub, where the smart young launch boats for river parties on warm afternoons - dropping in could be for real if you weren’t careful.
Patti is as spiky blonde as ever and dressed in black and white, and is up front with her signature purple Washburn bass; the rest of the band is all in black.
The Rats sit in that peculiar juncture of postpunk and indie. Started in the Annus Britpopus of 1996 when the then 23-year-old Patti abandoned her birth surname (which was Smith - she changed it to be less like her hero’s) and left her earlier back-of-a-pub band, Killing Doves, taking the drummer, Ted “The Apostle” Green with her. He seems to be called the Apostle because he plays the spoons as well.
Somehow a lot of the Rats’ numbers sound like Indie Pop had been given a shot of musical jizz without changing the sentiment - “That ain’t girly (it’s giving a shit)” for a very good example. You can imagine Belle and Sebastian warbling this low-key call to social commitment but probably without Green smacking shite out of the drums or the characteristic growling guitars of Lilian Gash (Lilian Baker-Nasri) and “second vocal unit” Micky Dolescum (Michael J. Farge). The keyboard sounds are by Oliver Wenzel, formerly of Berlin’s avant-camp duo Mein Kleine Raumschiff.
The new material is tight - “Don’t Promise Me” achieves the velocity and volume of a torch song but it’s really about sex being reliable when romance isn’t.. “Slack Day in the Old Town” sees Farge kick out some tricky guitar licks and Wenzel raise some alarming sirens and the day’s slackness become sinister.
But for the fans, the watershed “Rats Live on no Evil Star” album provides the highlights of the night. “Magus” has been given a freshness upgrade and is now truly creepy with its descent from Mediterranean bonhomie into troubled lyricless yelping. “A Line of Light” may have hippie-shit lyrics but probably launched a thousand bedroom bassists. And for someone who says she never does cover versions - “Songs are personal. I can’t stand where the writer of that song stood” - her tribute to the ‘other’ Patti, “Because the Night” is as expected as it is emotional. Tremendous and emotional stuff.
As was it all. It’s very good to have them back.

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