Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Keeping out of Arm's Way

I completely forgot to mention how AMAZING Islands were when they played in London a month ago. They were AMAZING. Do you remember Islands? Islands are made up of ex-Unicorns, who were the first of the eccentric genius Montreal-based bands to get some attention about three years ago. The Unicorns combusted while touring their debut album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?. Islands rose like a phoenix from the Unicorns' ashes, with their album Return to the Sea. It was a more coherent album, with heartbreaking stringed moments, quirky lyrics, banjos and epic masterpieces. After getting a great studio tan in 2007, Islands emerged earlier this year to do a short, low-key UK tour to roadtest their new material.

Even without much press, their show at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen sold out quickly and a decidedly 'I read Pitchfork' crowd were out en masse to witness this most glorious of returns. Solemly dressed entirely in black as they took to the board, it was quite clear that the band meant business. They played almost entirely new songs, and the crowd were attentive and, for the most part, pleasently surprised. Their new material is darker and harsher than their debut, with sneering alt-country influences. Some of the songs had an air of Murderballands-era Nick Cave with their brooding, almost cinematic sound. The black outfits and singer Nick T's white painted face completed the package; Islands now conjure up thoughts of some dark, perverse circus.

Their new album, Arm's Way, is due out in May and will probably leave some fans who were fond of Return to the Sea's quirkier, dreamier aspects a little bit disappointed. That is, until they learn to love the new direction. To be fair, there dark undertones in the debut so nobody should be too surprised. Nevertheless, it was old favourites like Swans (Life After Death, which had the crowd swaying and cheering most vocally. Once the world has heard the album, all will be clear. There will be no denying Islands this year - just you wait...

p.s. I'm an idiot and seem to have deleted my pictures before saving them to my laptop - they were really good, too!

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/25/2008 08:43:00 pm 0 comments

Friday, March 21, 2008

Johnny Flynn, no Jing Jang Jong

You might have noticed that things have got a bit folked up over at abstractboy HQ. The possibility has always been there.. the junior Moldy Peaches obsession, all that fawning over Patrick Wolf, Bright Eyes, to the Nico, Vashti Bunyan and Emiliana Torrini records in my collection.

Right now Britain is positively haemorrhaging with folky talent. I loathe to use the word 'scene', but there is one, in that most of the emerging acts and artists are friends, taking each other on tour, stepping in when band members are sick, releasing split 7"S, etc. The chap who I'm writing about today, Johnny Flynn, actually set up an anti-folk night in London

Bands I'm going to be going to see (and reporting back here, obvz) are Noah and the Whale, Mumford and Sons, Slow Club, Jay Jay Pistolet and I'm sure there'll be many more to come. And of course, Laura Marling is the figurehead.

Supporting Laura at her Union Chapel gig was Johnny Flynn and his band, The Sussex Wit. When Johnny and the band stepped on stage I was struck by his undeniable handsomeness; foppish blonde hair, rosy cheeks, sharp features and a good ol' checked shirt. However, the good looks were no distraction from his real asset: unassuming, folky, romantic songs with crafty, witty, poetically heartstopping lyrics that seemed to just slip off his tongue. Their composition was absolutely perfect with banjos, violins, guitars, slide guitars all tinkling away to create a sound that is full, warm and complementary. His sister, Lily, proudly plays keyboard and provides the essential female backing vocals.

As one of the youngest ever Royal Shakespeare Company actors, one might have expected a bit more chatter between songs; instead he fumbled around and muttered awkwardly. Clicheed, but probably true, Johnny Flynn and his band are all about the music. Switcing instruments frequently and playing with calm gusto, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit are a great band to watch and to listen to. Their single, Leftovers is out now and there's an album coming out in May. I, for one, am very excited.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/21/2008 01:48:00 pm 0 comments

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Here Comes The Serious Bit

On Monday night The Dead Eyed Bitches played their fourth, and last ever, show. Sporting a picture of that magical night when Britney, Paris and Li-Lo were all drink-driving around LA in the same car, their MySpace announced they'd be splitting up and having 'very successful solo careers'. It was 1am before they took to the stage at Durrr, their unnamed singer was wearing a blonde wig and blew kisses out to the crowd. The backing band looked distantly familiar, but I couldn't quite place them. They played some excellent songs - they opened with one called Century and it was tremendous, sharp, deathly disco. Their other songs were very good, too. There was one about Erin O'Connor, one called Not Clever By Half, then another funky number - Guilt. Unfortunately the sound wasn't very good, so the singer's vocals weren't as clear as they should have been. Mixing vodka and beer meant I was pretty dead-eyed afterwards and rather worse for wear at work the next day!

Alas, I still made it down to New Cross to see The Long Blondes do their comeback show to launch their new album, "Couples". I was there early and sat on the stage, when the LBs' neither long nor blonde singer came up and sat next to me. 'Hi' she said, mentioning that she'd seen me dancing away last night (was she at The Dead Eyed Bitches fourth and last ever gig too?!?!!) and wanted to introduce herself! Very sweet. We chatted for five minutes, mostly about New York, I couldnt think of much else to say!

They were great though, so tight. They opened with their new single, Century; a slab of tremendous, sharp, deathly disco. The band were on fire, with KJ gyrating, pouting, waving, shaking her hips. They were very glad to have come back. They raced through the setlist, hardly gasping for breath. Two weeks of solid interviews had them craving to play live again and it was full throttle. I'd just about forgotten how much I like them as a live band - Dorian, Emma, Kate, Screech and Reenie are all fascinating to watch, each interpreting performing their music in the same way. Their new songs are incredible though. One of my favourites is I Liked The Boys, which is an unpolished, minor-driven, fast paced belter, with moments of wistful urgency that sound like PJ Harvey. Here Comes The Serious Bit was also strong, sounding like early Blondie and Elastica.

They snuck in only two old songs: Lust in the Movies, with it's incredibly filthy, fast-paced bass and scream-along name-droppin' chorus, finishing with Giddy Stratospheres, which is just as earth-shatteringly good as it was the first time I heard it. Their eyes really lit up playing the old songs, like landing back on home turf. Even before they'd released their album, the Long Blondes had at least five songs that would tear up any dancefloor. Based on the gig, the prospects are good for "Couples" to change the world, etc. You've been warned.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/12/2008 02:22:00 pm 0 comments

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Straight into my arms...

It's amazing how easy it is to slip into obsession. Since Laura Marling's beautiful songbox arrived at my door (and then another one for my flatmate), my flat has been filled with the dangerously dark and sweet sounds of Laura's voice. Luckily the other two flatmates like it, otherwise there'd be some serious issues. The whole thing is beautifully crafted; the album itself flows so perfectly, the order is just right; the songbox is a colourful, quality, oversize trinket of treasures, but this gig was something else.

Union Chapel is the ideal location to see someone with a sound as delicate as Laura Marling's. It is perfectly preserved, classic and not too ornate, grand but not overstated. the acoustics were sublime and the sound guys had it just right. Laura played the album, almost in order and skipping two tracks. With the album so perfectly strucutred, the setlist took the audience on a similarly perfect journey. Laura was noticably more confident than at previous gigs, but still shyed away from eye contact, focusing intently on delivering her songs. After saying that she and her band would incorporate their encore into their set, the crowd gave such a long applause that she came back out to do an impromptu cover of Kimya Dawson's Five Years, which was most excellent.

The songbox idea worked well in practice; only those who bought the song box got to go to a gig. Therefore everyone at the gigs knew and engaged with the album, appreciated the momentos and were respectfully quiet while she was playing. Of course, curious people wanting to check her out would miss the boat - you'd have to make that £20 committment from the outset, but it was well worth it in the end.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/09/2008 12:28:00 pm 1 comments

Friday, March 07, 2008


The Dead Eyed Bitches are playing Durrr on Monday. They Dead Eyed Bitches might just be a secret name for a very good band, who have been busy recording their AMAZING second album, which is so amazing that I worry society just isn't ready for it yet. I don't want to spell it out (maybe I just have?), but you wouldn't want to miss out on this one.

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/07/2008 02:41:00 pm 1 comments

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend played an utterly astounding show at ULU a couple of weeks ago. The Brooklyn boys brought their fresh and funky blend of Afro-beat-meets-new-wave-hipster-meets-Ivy-league-preppy insanely danceable top rate pop music to London and London loved it. Propesctive listeners might have been put off by the amount of hype they've received recently, appearing on almost every Top 10 for 2008 list, or the fact that their name makes you think they're going they dress as the Horrors at the weekend. You'd be wrong. These guys are definitely not some here today, gone tomorrow chancers. They even played a NEW song, which is quite daring if you consider they only released their debut album two weeks beforehand.

You'll have to listen to their music to get any proper understanding of how good it is. Words just can't do it justice. So I will describe other things. They came across as refreshingly intelligent, friendly, unpretentious chaps with lots to say. All too often (British)indie bands are too arrogant to give some good banter; they are too busy being serious or looking unwashed. Maybe New York (and Columbia University) produces much more cosmopolitan, confident (but unassuming) people than London (etc), I don't know. But it was nice to hear/see nice music by nice people. I especially liked the singer Ezra Koenig's brown leather deck shoes. Lots of folk in Billyburg were wearing them last summer and I really want a pair, but that's another story.

There was a fire alarm two thirds of the way into their set, just as things were building up to a roaring climax. The band very diligently left the stage and the crowd filtered out through ULU's fire escapes and we all had to wait in the cold for half an hour. Champions that they are, Vampire Weekend had the audience lapping them up within minutes of getting back on stage, regaining their momentum quickly and playing all their best songs. Not even a fire alarm could thwart this most triumphant of gigs. Superb!

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/06/2008 02:07:00 pm 1 comments

Monday, March 03, 2008

Only real injustice can get me seething. It's fair to say that I'm not quite seething about this, but this definitely deserves a rant.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by the Evening Standard letters editor, Josh Neicho, to write a piece on Amy Winehouse's Grammy win. It wasn't the first time I was asked to write for the letters page; in February 2006 I got a phonecall from the same guy asking me to write about the rise of the Arctic Monkeys and the internet. I duly responded and had an article published the next day - quite a thrill. He'd written other times, asked me to give my response and did not write back or publish my articles. I didn't hear back from him this time and he didn't publish my letter.

This re-affirmed my attitude towards doing this kind of thing. As a blogger I blog as and when I please. As an amatuer photographer, I take pictures at the gigs I want to go to, when I want to go to them and can upload my pictures when I choose. It stops being a hobby when people give you deadlines, false expectations and want you to do the work of a freelance journalist. So, no more wasting my time writing for bad, mainstream, profiteering newspapers.

This is what I wrote anyway:

It is a real shame that Natalie Cole, after all her experience of the music industry, does not understand the concept of music awards ceremonies. That is, to recognise the musical achievements of artists, not the private conduct of celebrities. It is almost as absurd as it is to assess A-levels on students’ behaviour, or to only award Olympic medals to heterosexual athletes.

Considering Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black is riding high in the charts all over the world 16 months after its release, that it received international critical acclaim and people of all ages are enthusing about Amy’s incredible abilities, it is not at all surprising that she swept the board at the Grammys!

Young women in the limelight, like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, are judged on everything they do in their lives; we nod disapprovingly when they smoke (eugh!), when they have a night out (tsk tsk) and even when they have difficulty parking their car (sigh).

Even if you think music awards are only a chance for the music industry to pat each other on the back, you’d be mad to deny the artists who enrich our lives the right to be recognised for their art, not their private life, for just a few days a year.

Robbie de Santos, abstractboy.blogspot.com

posted by Robbie de Santos at 3/03/2008 11:42:00 pm 0 comments

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