Saturday, August 20, 2005
'Hullo clouds, hullo sky... '
posted by SMc at 11:49 PM
Just up the hill there's a chi-chi little shop selling things like hand-knitted egg cosies and other basic everyday essentials. Talking about her stores' ethos in the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine owner Cath Kidston says, 'I'm sure a therapist would tell you how I'm finding, trying to find, what I had as a child and re-creating that sense of security.' I don't know if they play music in-store but, alongside the obvious stuff like The teddy bears' picnic, an empathetic mixtape might also include The best party ever by The Boy Least Likely To.
It's a record shot through with comforting, evocative imagery and wide-eyed wonder, underscored by a brooding fear of succumbing to the beartraps and engulfing dismalness of growing up. There's Tupperware and pick n mix, pebbles and pencil sharpenings, bubbles and warm Panda Cola. There's soft fruit-a-go-go: peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries, grapes. 'What about milk & honey?', you cry. Er, track 8, opening line. The album artwork features lots of doodly widdle kweetures, some playing instruments from the school cupboard - glockenspiels, recorders, cheap drums - which loom large on The best party ever. Stop, stop! This is all going to be so totally, impossibly essence de twee, surely? Well yes but, more importantly, NO!
It takes a bit more than precious cuteness to produce the roistering atmosphere like that at the Water Rats - a sold-out, packed to gills Water Rats - last Wednesday night. And that bit more, to get technical for a moment, is 'welly'. Oomph. Ye stomping of ye feet and pumping of ye fists, oh yes. The duo bedroom project of the record is now a seven-headed hydra - four of which are often all singing at once, ace! - and the most personable and well-brought-up hydra you're ever likely to meet, at that. Last seen at The Windmill a few months back, reallyrather would guess there's been a bit of serious rehearsing going on; the good-natured looseness is still there but so is a palpably growing confidence and sense of purpose.
The record might be filed somewhere between The Magic Numbers and Aberfeldy. As good a guide as any to what their best moments sound like (particularly live) might be that Faces' song Ooh la la. Freewheeling, amiable folky pop with added Dexyness. It's a great bag of lollies: I see spiders when I close my eyes, Hugging my grudge and Be gentle with me brook no argument - you will enjoy yourself - while Fur soft as fur, Paper cuts and Apple wagon are the lightweight but heavyweight reinforcements. Wednesday night felt like catching a band at the moment it all seems to fall into place. They don't play many shows and co-founder Jof Owen is on record as not being that bothered about the whole gigging thing but nights like this will surely turn The Boy's head...
The Boy Least Likely To / buy (no really, do)
And, probably much to their own amazement/bemusement, Clor seem to have turned a few girlies heads if the front-stage throng at The Windmill last night is any guide. Just occasionally this blog leaves a show feeling slightly guilty about having paid so little (ie 4 quid) for the pleasure. Quite simply, Clor were monstrous, throwing down their distinctively compelling, heavy-duty electo-dance-rock like a contract depended on it. Garden of love, Outlines and b-side Tough Love particularly hit home but they have no bad songs. The month-old debut album currently has a criminal Amazon sales ranking of 310 - that can't be your fault, surely?
Abandon hope, etc: Pedro the Lion play the Underworld in Camden on Sept 18 and Nick Talbot aka Gravenhurst opens for John Parish in a one-off at The Spitz Sept 23...
Somewhat dismally, Sufjan Stevens has been booked into the not-very-promising-at-all surroundings of the Shepherds Bush Empire, Oct 17. The only other time this blog has seen him was a couple of years back [see rr 13/7/03]at the 12 Bar when there were about a dozen of us in the room. Will this one necessarily be better? The jury's still scratching it's head...
Writing about the commercial rise of sensitive singer-songwriter types recently in the Daily Mail (part of the job, honest), Adrian so-called Thrills cites as exemplars in his opening paragraph James Blunt, Stephen Fretwell and.. Sufjan Stevens(!). Further evidence of how the role of national newspaper rock critic can dull the senses. This blog is aware of many a musically-inquisitive mind that still has trouble 'getting' Sufjan let alone the supermarket checkout brigade. No, Stevens' music is presently far too interesting for the mainstream. However, is there a chance he could maybe get in through the back door?
Stevens makes several contributions (albeit terribly, terribly subtle ones) to Are you a dreamer?, the new record by his friend - and long-term blog hero - Dension Witmer. In particular, he plays organ on a song called California brown and blue, a (relatively generic) heart-on-sleeve strummer which positively shouts 'breakout potential'. Well maybe 'shouts' isn't the word since it's hard to imagine Denison ever raising his voice, being the epitome of the meek, humble, relentlessly sincere troubador; a James Taylor for the slacker generation.
But whatever it's fate Witmer and his Christian-folk-poppin' cohorts have combined to produce just about his most roundly satisfying collection to date. Calling in Don Peris to helm production (as he did on Witmer's marvellous debut, Safe away) , soothing calmness abounds. Crucially, the music stops short of excessive sentimentality and stifling cosiness by dint of Witmer's innate reticence, mournful-sounding delivery and neatly pointed guitar style.
The thumbprints of Karen and Don Peris are all over Are you a dreamer? - Innocence Mission fans meet your new best friend. A song like Ringing of the bell tower could glide effortlessly onto any IM album; Karen's widescreen, white cotton harmonies and Don's distinctively spare points of light from his electric guitar serve Witmer extremely well. Everything but sleep ripples like ribbons in a breeze while the title track manages the trick of being simultaneously wistful and earthed. And a rare switch to nylon strings is far from the only thing which distinguishes Castle and cathedral, another (yet another) cert for the 'Best of' compilation somewhere down the track.
It's easy to see how someone as determinedly earnest and heartfelt as Denison can attract naysayers and with a sleevenote credit like 'Additional knitting by Denison Witmer' he obligingly chops another log for their bonfire. Well, some might think the boy needs a slap but reallyrather, though occasionally tested, remains squarely in his corner. Like his not dissimilar (if more upbeat, less ruminative) British counterpart James William Hindle [Town feeling, see rr June 9 '05], there's surely a valid place for gentle, mellow, mellifluous reflection on the the small-scale confusions and delights of the everyday. Are you a dreamer? Even if you're not you'd be a hard soul not to succumb to an album that's, well, really rather sublime...
Denison / label / buy
And, if you haven't already, meet Denison's brother...