Shadowplay 2: Music Review 2013

2013-04-06 21.19.51 (2)

Gig of the year (of the century so far):

Swans; Bristol Academy

Albums of the Year:

1. Savages: Silence Yourself

2. XX: Coexist

3. Deap Vally: Sistronix

Michael Eavis is one of those inspiring fellows who just get on and do while others sit and prattle. He made our deanery synod in February a genuinely inspiring event, even though there were a number of folk there who couldn’t understand why a chap in his 70s would be interested in all this noisy popular music. He was thrilled that the Stones were just about to confirm their headlining slot and confessed that it was the rock music that attracted him most at his festival. I was agog at getting the chance to have a little chatette with him about Joe Strummer.

As ever the BBC coverage of Glastonbury was excellent. With the exception of the Stones gig, when it seemed as if the TV rights were only for the second half of the performance. It was a closing half that seemed jaded, tired, rambling and second-rate and perhaps didn’t give an adequate snapshot of the whole night.

Post- Glastonbury I spent a fair proportion of holiday time watching all the sets on the BBC website. There was plenty to enjoy, lots to experiment with and at least two bands which made a strong impression and whose performance led to me buying the album.

The first was the XX. I’d ignored them first time round because of the hype. I had heard Jamie X’s reworking of Gil Scott Heron’s wonderful I’m New Here and had been underwhelmed. But the live gig was eclectic and gentle and intense and far more feminine than I had been expecting. So I bought Coexist and was hooked. It has a languor that is dripping with delicate intimations of loss and sensual gleaming. There is a steeliness to its rhythms that is quite mesmerising.

There is feminine and there is feisty. Deap Vally were great fun at Glastonbury. Sistronix has a dramatic, bouffant decadence to it that is funny and fractious and fired-up. Two girls with guitars, it has much in common with an all-female White Stripes but with a younger, less bound to the history of rock, feel to it. Songs like ‘Walk of Shame’, ‘Creeplife’ and ‘Bad for my Body’ storm across the stage with a swagger and a waggle and a totally in control stiletto stamp.

Savages set at Glastonbury was sharp and brutal. I’d already picked up their debut album Silence Yourself and was totally won over by their intelligent punk sound – a British twist on Sonic Youth and Sleater Kinney with the youthful energy of true punk and the dynamism to push beyond any formula. The spiky essence of Siouxsie Sioux circa 1979 claws just beneath the skin. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A wonderful album – my pick of the year.

Bubbling under were MIA’s latest Matangi which recovered some of the ingenuity and intelligence and mind-twisting of Arular and Anna Calvi’s One Breath which felt more accomplished, less blatantly noisy and more mainstream than her fiery first album.

Two 2012 albums which only reached me a year late were Smoke Fairies Blood Speaks’– more gently rocky than the dark folk of ‘Through Low Light and Trees’ and Swans We Rose From Your Bed With The Sun In Our Head a two disc set that mixed live performance with old material and new tracks from the studio album The Seer, released at the same time. The Seer is a masterpiece, We Rose… more like an exercise in development, but it is mature Swans with Gira’s experienced eye looking back over past creations and also gives a taste of the live experience of the band.

Because it was Swans live that was my gig of the year. I’ve blogged extensively about their May gig in Bristol, and PiL at the same venue later on. Both gigs were gripping and transformative. Both Gira and Lydon are cut from the same non-conformist cloth and are of similar ages. Lydon has the gold dust of celebrity fogging his past, but he is still and acerbic and challenging performer who does his best to deliver an entertaining but uncompromising set. Having The Selecter as his support act was masterful. The energy, the rhythms, the black history and the sense of the outcasts making their own destiny which The Selecter’s jumping, jiving music offered was carried over into Public Image’s fury at the injustice of society. There was wit in both bands, particularly in Lydon’s performance.

Public Image were loud. But Swans nearly blew the building away. Theirs is the music of ancient, elemental rites. They snap and re-connect synapses in ways which are both disturbingly new and a distillation of the primordial. The Seer, live, was liturgical and livid, a wash of music that was drowning and cleansing, dredging the deepest darkness to raise and polish and release the tiniest slivers of light. So beautiful, so painful and so totally draining that it felt like a rite of passage, a spotlight on all that is broken in this world and a re-birth of purity, passion and possibility.


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