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Deer Shed Festival 2015 Review (Part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 28th July 2015 at 2:00 pm
 

Like the cohorts of children that carouse within its boundaries, Deer Shed Festival grows up perceptibly every year. This time the powers that be had the astute notion to shift the whole affair a week later in the calendar to encompass the school holidays, thus making it much easier for parents with school-age kids to arrive early in the day. A happy by-product was that the festival sold out for the first time. Result!

So by Friday lunchtime, the site was mostly full: an impressive achievement considering the stresses involved in corralling over-excited children. Having said all that, over a Deer Shed weekend one inevitably misses several sets of essential music due to the inconvenient timing of a child needing a toilet stop, meal break, or perhaps having fallen in the lake.

First on the list of oh-no-is-that-the-time-I’m-going-to-miss-them-now sets was Diagrams, who played at the deeply unsociable hour of half past 5 in the afternoon. Luckily, however, our group had decided to camp next to the eponymous Shed itself, which location, apart from having grass rendered pungently musky by the recently vacated permanent residents, had a direct line-of-hearing from the main stage. So I can confidently say that Diagrams’ set was a triumph, Sam Genders’ tales of adulthood working just as well as festival pieces they do being mused over headphones. The songs were a bit beefier played by a live band, which did them no harm at all, and their breezily jaunty rhythms were a perfect way to kick the weekend off.

Black Rivers, a band for one obvious reason particularly close to TGTF’s heart, were up next, and thankfully experienced in person. They really are very much like Doves, except the bass player is now right-handed. So you know what to expect – a touch of bagginess, tinges of electronica, lots of lovely melodies, and they played one or two Doves tunes. You know the one… oh, the name escapes me now…

Parents hoping for their kids to have an undisturbed night’s sleep would have done well to avoid Du Blonde’s ferocious set: all red lipstick, skin-tight leggings and diva attitude, it’s enough to give even big kids some weird, if not unpleasant, dreams. To be fair, in addition to the noisy stuff, Beth Jean Houghton‘s ballads are arguably even stronger pieces of music, so she’s got the bases covered. As reinventions go, this one has been particularly successful. For any fan of the assertive young lady musician – and even though it’s a cliché I have to make a comparison to PJ Harvey – Ms Blonde is officially the Real Deal.

And so we turn leftwards to Billy Bragg. Granted, some people like him, in the same way as some people like cold showers or running marathons. Worthy causes, but are they truly enjoyable leisure activities? Or is the best part about it the smug sense of satisfaction afterwards, personified by being able to wear the t-shirt for the next 5 years? Personally, I can’t stand the chap, what with his clangy Telecaster and unreconstructed Red Wedge politics. And while Bragg is a fair booking at a bigger event, where those of us who gladly left politics lectures behind in our teens can wander off in search of more welcoming, funky fare, to plonk him at the very head of the bill, with nothing else available on any of the other three stages for the best part of two hours, is bad planning at best, and deliberately divisive at worst. None of our group, including one or two whose politics may coincide with that which Bragg espouses, were remotely bothered about his music. Just as we’d been released from the shackles of childcare, there was nothing to party to. Bummer. So a long wait by the bar until…

…the true headliners of the night appeared. Holy Moly & The Crackers are a band whom it’s impossible to dislike, and easy to love. Lead singer and violinist Ruth has beauty in her soul and her voice, the music is a clever combination of traditional English folk and off-beat Baltic rhythms, and it worked perfectly in a packed Obelisk tent, the crowd united by a love of inclusive music and the basic instinct to have a boogie. After an hour of breathtaking hoe-downs, everyone seemed in agreement – that’s how you do a headliner.

Tomorrow at Deer Shed 2015: it’s the turn of the kids!

 

Album Review: Diagrams – Chromatics

 
By on Tuesday, 20th January 2015 at 1:00 pm
 

It gets personal on ‘Chromatics’, Sam Genders’ second collection of poppy psych-folk. Genders’ back-story merits a quick recap: as a founder member of seminal folktronica act Tunng, Genders helped define the sound of a genre in the mid-to-late Noughties. After parting ways with Tunng and dabbling with teaching, Genders released 2012’s ‘Black Light’ under the Diagrams alias. Where that album discussed life from a distant, abstracted viewpoint (cf. the refrain of ‘Tall Buildings’: “hexagon, pentagon, triangle, square”), ‘Chromatics’ is a far more personal body of work, no doubt influenced by Genders’ recent move from London to the relatively more intimate setting of Sheffield.

The scene of intellectual pop is set by opener ‘Phantom Power’, an upbeat first-person confessional with a hooky topline and abstract lyrical musings such as “I’m just a primate”. ‘Gentle Morning Sun’ is that rare thing: a pop song written by and for thirtysomethings, documenting the tenuous acceptance of growing older, becoming a responsible adult and what it means for one’s relationships with others. And perhaps one’s sanity itself. “The world isn’t waiting for us anymore / not like when we were young” speaks of the emptiness of unfulfilled dreams, despite the presence of a loving wife and kids; the narrator’s troubled half-waking state comes to a cacophonous climax of church organ, digital synth noise and squalling guitar feedback. A brilliant treatment of a subject close to millions of people’s hearts, yet rarely dealt with in pop music.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba7BXgQnJQ0[/youtube]

The title track concludes the first movement with a delicate down-tempo combination of acoustic guitar arpeggios and synth bass reminiscent of Genders’ previous band. Because the song itself is so gentle, the cleverness of the production is more apparent. Every song is enhanced by subtle electronic motifs: squelchy square-wave synths, sampled found noises, moulded by oscillators and filters. Producer Leo Abrahams has a long and distinguished list of collaborators behind him (Wild Beasts, Jon Hopkins, Brett Anderson), and this is another classy piece of production.

‘You Can Talk to Me’ is as personal as songwriting gets. Its premise is simple – the musical equivalent of an arm around the shoulders – but the way Genders has with a simple, almost childlike, vocal delivery, gives it almost unlimited restorative power. For anyone adrift on a sea of melancholy, put this on. It’ll help. If you’re already feeling ok, you might even be moved to tears by this unparalleled display of the best of human nature. The world needs some of that right now.

And then, buried in the album at track seven, comes the record’s pièce de resistance. Combining the jumpy electro beats and strummed acoustic guitar of The Flaming Lips’ ‘Yoshimi’ (the crowd shouts of “Let’s go!” sound rather familiar too) with Pet Shop Boys’ towering synths, ‘Dirty Broken Bliss’ is a potentially chart-bothering electro-pop paean with an enormous chorus. Genders, however, can’t resist a touch of surreality in the lyrics – “suck my skull”, indeed.

‘Chromatics’ is a triumph. It showcases one man’s personal songwriting vision, exploring topics of love and pain through a prism of an abstracted folk sensibility. Abrahams’ producing is both groundbreaking and respectful of the material, moulding and filling out the bare pieces into mature arrangements. There are no gimmicks here, just thoughtful music for adults. A great release to kick off 2015.

8.5/10

Diagrams‘ new album ‘Chromatics’ is out this week on Full Time Hobby. Genders plays live tomorrow night at the Lexington in north London.

 

Video of the Moment #1690: Diagrams

 
By on Thursday, 27th November 2014 at 6:00 pm
 

Diagrams, the solo project of former Tunng member Sam Genders, has just published a video for a new track called ‘Phantom Power’. Taken from the upcoming Diagrams album ‘Chromatics’, due for release on the 19th of January 2015 on Full Time Hobby, the song’s ever-so-slightly off-kilter lyrics are tempered by an irresistably catchy whistled melody. Its pensive yet upbeat vibe is captured in the whimisical quirkiness of the video, which was directed by Brighton based animation studio Persistent Peril.

If you find that you just can’t wait until January to have ‘Phantom Power’ on repeat, you can get an immediate download by pre-ordering ‘Chromatics’ here. Diagrams will play the Lexington in north London on the 21st of January 2015.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/Ba7BXgQnJQ0[/youtube]

 

Album Review: Diagrams – Black Light

 
By on Thursday, 12th January 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

Sam Genders first came to prominence as one of the founding members of Tunng, the glitch-folk act that caught the mid-noughties zeitgeist of combining traditional English folk songwriting with electronic instrumentation and sampling. But after three albums, and citing personal reasons, Genders left the band he formed, for a career in… teaching.

“It sounds like a self-help cliché,” Genders comments, “but getting the hang of the job after finding it really tough at first was a really uplifting experience and had a knock-on effect on other areas of my life. It ended up being one of the best, most rewarding, and most poorly-paid jobs of my life!” Something which he admits has fed through to his new act, Diagrams. “There’s a more upbeat, glass-half-full edge to what I’m doing now. Some of the Tunng lyrics were pretty dark.”

2011 saw the release of a five-track eponymous debut, from which a couple of tracks have been carried over into the band’s forthcoming debut long-player, ‘Black Light’. Genders’ backup teaching career has influenced the music more than he admits. He doesn’t let on which subject he teaches, but the album sounds just like the sort of thing an unusually soulful physics teacher would put together late into the night, vainly trying to disguise his bleary, late-night eyes from the first morning class. Physics is essentially the practical application of mathematics, where numbers manifest themselves in a tangible, quantifiable way. And in its mathematical patterns and inviolable rules, music is essentially physics with added soul: a definition which fits Diagrams perfectly.

As if to reinforce the academia thesis, lead-off single ‘Tall Buildings’ (whilst sounding for all the world like a proper crossover-capable hit single; previous Video of the Moment here) has a precise, bass-led groove and a proto-rap that climaxes with the refrain “Hexagon, pentagon, triangle, square…” A left-brain hymn to the architecture of emotion. ‘Ghost Lit’ is a heavily atmospheric, reverb-y ballad, featuring a feather-light vocal refrain from Genders. “A broken whisky bottle is all you’ve got to show for losing your control” indicates that the lyrical themes haven’t emerged entirely from the dark corner of the room.

The overall tone of the piece is dominated by the character of Genders himself: it’s his project, with contributions from the 8-piece band that has agglomerated to play the songs live. As such, the dominant sound is that of space-age effects from garden shed-age technology, in parts the soundtrack to Open University broadcasts on a Saturday morning; in others, the echoes of songs past bring gentle acoustic picking, underlaid with ticking drum machines and xylophones. ‘Mills’ goes all proggy in the end, complete with vintage synth solo, ‘Antelope’ flits between 7/8 and 6/8 time with abandon, embellished by a small, cheeky string section, and closing track ‘Peninsula’ is chamber pop of the highest quality, but it cannot resist building the simplest of rigidly-sequenced, square-wave riffs into the climax of the whole record.

At once familiar yet distant, delicate yet weighty, space-age yet steeped in the history of this island’s music, ‘Black Light’ reinforces and expands Genders’ reputation as a songwriter and performer of genuine depth and conviction. His journey since leaving Tunng has evidently been an eventful one, but it has delivered up a superb piece of contemporary music. Education’s loss is music’s gain.

8/10

‘Black Light’, the new album from Diagrams, is out on the 16th of January on Full Time Hobby. An album release party will be taking place on the 18th of January at London Lexington and a short UK tour follows in March; all the details of the live dates are here. Suggested listening companions are as follows (accompanied by Spotify links):

Tunng
‘This Is Tunng… Live From The BBC’
Brian Protheroe‘Pinball’ (first track only; the otherworldliness of Genders’ delivery hints he may have studied this 1974 surrealist-pop masterpiece)
Talking Heads‘Speaking in Tongues’ (Cerebral funk, jagged rhythms and freely-changing time signature from David Byrne’s world music-inspired troupe)

 

Diagrams / January and March 2012 UK Tour

 
By on Tuesday, 10th January 2012 at 3:00 pm
 

Diagrams (known to his mum as Sam Genders) will be releasing his new album ‘Black Light’ next Monday (16 January) and he’s announced an album launch party for next Wednesday (18 January) at London Lexington, followed by a short tour of the UK in February.

Tickets are on sale now. Pre-order ‘Black Light’ here from Full Time Hobby.

Wednesday 18th January 20212 – London Lexington (album launch party)
Wednesday 14th March 2012 – Bristol Cooler
Thursday 15th March 2012 – Manchester Ruby Lounge
Friday 16th March 2012 – Liverpool Static Gallery
Saturday 17th March 2012 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Sunday 18th March 2012 – Glasgow King Tuts

 

Video of the Moment #656: Diagrams

 
By on Wednesday, 14th December 2011 at 6:00 pm
 

The debut album from Diagrams (Streatham Hill-based maverick Sam Genders) will be out on the 16th of January on Full Time Hobby. Here’s the promo vid for ‘Tall Buildings’, the first single from the album ‘Black Light’.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG-k6IMVx7o[/youtube]

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF was edited by Mary Chang, based in Washington, DC.

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