Monday, December 18, 2006
"We've paid to see you, not the other way round!", came the cries from the back. Apparently many of the near-capacity crowd at the Warwick Arts Centre auditorium weren't getting much of a view of The Be Good Tanyas due to the subdued lighting they favoured, the repostes responding to a characteristically guileless explanation by Trish Klein that if they brought the lights up they wouldn't be able to see us. And it wasn't just the lighting on their November UK tour which sparked what can only be called a heated debate in the normally serene environs of the Tanyas' website guestbook.
posted by SMc at 5:52 PM
Now elevated to playing rather grand venues over here and increasingly attracting a mainstream audience paying handsomely for a night out, the BGTs are running up against the expectations of those attracted by the genre but not necessarily attuned to the Tanyas' no flash, no 'show' style. This blog first saw them in the back of pub in Birmingham about five years ago and in essence their performance was much the same as they're now having to project in places like the Royal Albert Hall. The inter-song pottering about and still evident self-consciousness strikes some as, at best, slightly shambolic, at worst, self-indulgent.
Their obliviousness to trends, to popular expectation and the whole business of entertainment is at once their greatest weakness and greatest strength. They follow their instincts, playing what feels right in ways that feel right ... a very female take on country/blues/folk devoid of posturing and instrumental grandstanding, majoring on subtlety, mood, 'feel'. Not that this blog goes all the way with them - their tendency towards gloom, particularly in their choice of covers (latest release Hello Love would've shaped better without Out of the wilderness, for instance) could be tempered by a sympathetic producer presence - M. Ward's your man, girls - who might also encourage them to draw more on their own evident songwriting strengths. But, hey, maybe they'll be remembered for their other talents...
"I want my grandchildren to be like, 'Grandma was a singing nun on a soft-porn lesbian show when she was young.' I hope they'll think I'm cool." Tanyas' Frazey on her extramural activities...
Records-wise, an end-of-year Top Ten list will probably be ground out here soon(ish) but actually no other acts songs have stuck in this blog's head quite like the best of those by a band with as yet no releases whatsoever. To the Windmill Christmas bash in Brixton last night for a final '06 outing for this blog's Band of the Year, My Sad Captains. Frankly, they've sounded better and the newer stuff like - I'm guessing here - Good to go(?) and the mellow Here & elsewhere don't (yet) hang together quite as well as aces like Change of scenery, Ghost song, All hat.., etc. But heck, already they're in a position to leave out crackers like Building blocks, Never miss a trick and Hide and seek. It's said they've copped that whole US indiepop archetype a bit too religiously; actually, if they were American everything would likely be down much neater, the fills more fluid, the BVs sweeter. (And, of course, for an event like yesterday's they'd have pulled out some crowd-pleasing old-school cover, Ooh La La or something.) But better? Not necessarily. In their slight wonkiness lies much of their charm, on top of leader Ed's Everygeek stylings and damned nifty way with a tune, of course...
...a quality which he and the Captains will surely recognize in a song like The new rise of labor [go], a terrific mandolin-tambos-and-fuzzed-out-guitar shimmy on the new album from Portland's Norfolk & Western. Drummer Rachel Blumberg jumped ship from The (methinks rather over-rated) Decemberists to make a go of partner Adam Selzer's project and with The unsung colony you're getting to see why.
The first five out of the gate here really nail something. The longest stare's stately, ornate progress is roughed up a bit with effects-drenched electric guitar, an edge that also filters into the The shortest stare's percussive swish. Normal (or more familiar) N&W service would seem to be resumed with the deadbeat drums which usher in Barrels on fire but its bouyed by chimes and a stirring string refrain. It's instrumental swell comes on like a less ambitious Sufjan Stevens number but definitely has a power of its own, gradually commanding your full attention if not active participation.
Susie left home/at the age of fifteen
With money saved/from raking leaves
...is definitely an opening line to reel this listener in, especially when its set to plangently pretty banjo, bells and fiddle. Apt then that the song should be called How to reel in, the arc of one woman's odyssey captured modestly, marvellously. And then boffo!, the aforementioned New rise of labor. By this point you're beginning to think 'Album of the year' contender. But, maybe inevitably, the inspired streak doesn't reach all the way to the tape. Arrangements made seems positioned as the epic centrepiece and it is good but its occasional trumpet reveilles can't disguise its debt to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Thereafter, only the charming mitteleuropa-style instrumental waltz really galvanizes and interestingly its a Blumberg composition amidst three Selzer songs where his undernourished vocal melodies don't really receive enough support. All of the The unsung colony's high points are co-compositions in one combination or another and there's no detraction from Selzer in recognizing that Norfolk & Western is finding its fullest expression with a little help from his friends. Recommended...
[n&w][on mySpace][buy the unsung colony]
Year-end lists, we love 'em:
:: Swedish indie site Its a Trap!
:: London music blog The Daily Growl
:: US indie zine Mundane Sounds
...and get 'em while you can, lots of free downloads and year-end reflections from lots of great little labels in the seasonal giveaway that is NewEarsDay...
Ah yes, the cool couple on the bus. You've seen them, I've seen them...and extrapolated idly in that moment about the casually perfect life they will go on to lead, compared to yours. Then they get off and you eventually realise: 'Who wants to be a fucking architect anyway'. Ha ha ha...and a merry Christmas to you, Salty Pirates...
[salty pirates][the couple on the bus mp3]