Monthly Archives: October 2009

Friend Rock on Spotify!

Hey pop pickers, for those of you who are hooked up with Spotify (which I assume is a fair few of you), I’ve compiled a quick playlist of stuff I’m listening to at the moment. I wish it could be longer, but quite a lot of the things I like aren’t on there at the moment!

Enjoy anyway. Just hit the button:

Friend Rock on Spotify


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Live: Deaf to Van Gogh’s Ear – All My Heroes Are Weirdos

Deaf to Van Gogh's Ear

Deaf to Van Gogh’s Ear are a percussive experimental post-rock band from Manchester. I’ve been banging on and on about these lot to all and sundry, championing them as the most exciting thing to come out of the Manchester DIY circuit for years. Did anyone listen? Well, maybe one or two but the rest of you should be ashamed. They are unashamedly art-rock, but without the wanky 6th form pretentiousness that often accompanies such a label. They have a sound that combines, at times, complete atonal confusion with the odd beautiful melody that sets them on fire. Crafting noise with drums, 2 guitars, a synth, bass, as well as various bells and whistles with just 4 members is quite an achievement, and they make a noise that really defies their audience size.

Manchester is going through a wonderful shift at the moment. For the past few years, Manchester bands have been been trading on the past, re-living the glory days of Oasis and Madchester (Let’s fookin’ ave it, safe arr’ kid, etc..) but now there is a huge scene about to explode from the underbelly of the city. Bands like Deaf to Van Gogh’s Ear and Beat The Radar are the future of Manchester music. Bringing lo-fi innovation and a complete non-Manchester sound to the city and helping sculpt the next chapter of this fine town’s already bursting musical biography.

Deaf to Van Gogh’s Ear have the potential to be huge. They’re just weird enough to capture the attention of anyone, but not so weird that they alienate people.

Fantastic stuff. The most genuinely exciting band in Manchester at the moment.




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Live: Athlete xFM Live Session – Band on The Wall

Back in 2004, I actually went out and bought Athlete’s first album, Vehicles & Animals. It was pretty decent. Okay, it was a bit MOR, a bit ‘nice’, a bit like stuff we’re used to from the likes of Coldplay and Snow Patrol but all round it wasn’t a bad record. Catchy innocent guitar pop music. Nothing wrong with that. Now, that was 5 years ago and I must confess I’ve not really listened to much they’ve released since. Certainly nothing since Wires. Because of this I was intrigued to see how they had progressed, and what their live setup would be.

Last night’s xFM Live Session show was one of those ‘competition winners’ and invite deals. You know the sort..with branding everywhere and people getting jolly with drinks tokens. The usual procedure, more about sponsorship and PR than actual music. It’s the wrong way round but hey, music needs money and these kind of events are a necessary evil. (Just like Domino need the money from The Arctic Monkeys so they can release great music by the likes of Clearlake and Psapp).

The venue was busy (though not as busy as other shows at the recently re-vamped Band on The Wall) and Athlete came to the stage at around 8.30. They played for roughly an hour, with a set comprising of a nice selection of old and new stuff. They were pretty much as I expected; very polite, friendly, innocent sounding and inoffensive. Their music is good, they can definitely write songs but I just found it very hard to get excited about what they do. Even when the singer brought out a large bass drum and started bashing the hell out of it onstage, I couldn’t help but feel that rather than for any kind of music intention, this was just a gimmick to try and wake up the audience.

Athlete are a group of undoubtedly talented musicians with the ability to write good songs..but they just need a bit of energy to really captivate their audience, or run the risk of turning into the next Coldplay. And one of those is already way, way more than enough.


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The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I came across this little gem while cruising the Stereogum site and can’t believe it totally passed me by. The video is captivating, emotional and perfectly compliments the beautiful folky soundscapes of the song. They remind me a lot of  the marvellous Great Lake Swimmers with this track. Adorable vocals, sweeping melodies and with an almost nursery rhyme-esque innocent quality, The Low Anthem have put me in an instant good mood for the rest of the day. Already carving out quite a following after their appearance at various festivals over the summer, the future looks bright for The Low Anthem.


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Beat The Radar – 18,19,20,21,22

Beat The Radar

Few record labels consistently impress me as much as Manchester’s Akoustik Anarkhy. Latest signings Beat The Radar just keep getting better, and better, and better with each passing day it seems. If you thought first single Telephone Conversation was good (and I really, really did) then you’re in for a real treat with this one. Beat The Radar have produced an absolutely perfect indie pop record. The sort of balls-out anthem that made bands like The Cribs famous. The sort of track that just makes you want to crank up the volume, jump about with your mates and have a beer. The sort of track that has “classic” written all over it. I’ve had this on repeat all evening and I just can’t see myself ever getting bored of it. I really hope it happens for them. The last band on aA that made me scream their name from the rooftops was the outstanding Autokat, that sadly never broke out much beyond the Manchester circuit. I really hope it happens for Beat The Radar, they’ve an album out next month and I’m very, very excited about it.

They’re playing The Deaf Institute on November 13th. Grab your mates, have a beer and go fucking mental.



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The Mandigans – Teenage Nights EP

The Mandigans

When Teenage Nights dropped through my letterbox this morning (okay, email…) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m not too familiar with this band other than having seen the name around quite a bit recently and so tried to listen with as much of an open mind as possible. This is a band wearing their influences very openly on their sleeves. Opening track Open To Perspective sounds like scouse-pop upstarts Alexis Blue, followed by standout track The Girl Next Door, which could easily have been penned by The Kooks. I don’t mean this in a bad way, either. I was quite pleasantly surprised by The Mandigans. They’re young (with an average age of 15), hungry, can pen a decent tune and have the potential to really develop who they want to be. Give The Mandigans a year or so and I’m sure they will have taken their influences and formed something a step further away towards their own vision.

For fans of The Courteeners, The Kooks and The Pigeon Detectives, The Mandigans will prove to be an impressive new name on the indie guitar-pop spectrum. While admittedly its not usually my mind of thing, they are making a decent sound that shows real promise and talent, and I’ll be keeping an ear out for anything they do in the future.


Photo: Karen McBride


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Live: Charlie Baines, Air Cav & Alaska in Winter

First up last night was Charlie Baines. I must admit, I’d never heard of him before and after seeing him soundcheck I really wasn’t sure what to expect. This is one guy with a lot of cables and technology. A laptop, various plugs, keyboards, effects pedals and headphones all helped Charlie Baines produce a large sound, with looped beatboxing, programmed beats and distorted vocals. While not particularly groundbreaking, I did find his set thoroughly enjoyable and he has a powerful voice behind all the technology. Kind of like what you’d expect Rufus Wainwright to sound like if he were Borg. Good stuff..I’ll see him again.

Most of you reading this in Manchester will probably be familiar with Air Cav. Their shoegaze inspired space-stomp anthems have been setting the gig scene in Manchester alight for a couple of years now. Before tonight, it had been a while since I’d last seen them play, and they have come a long way since their first gig at Zumeba (now known as Odder, for the young’uns among you) back in 2005 (or 2004? I forget…). With a few lineup changes and a bit of maturity and experience under their belt, Air Cav are demonstrating what it is to be one of the biggest driving forces in the Manchester indie circuit. Lazy comparisons to The Arcade Fire aside (I really, really didn’t want to mention that as their names comes up in every single review I’ve read), Air Cav really do produce a sound that defies their somewhat modest setup and stage presence. They have songs that really would translate very well indeed to the large stage if and when they get the chance.

And now for the headliner, Alaska in Winter. I was really, really looking forward to this. After listening to his music (a mad collection of beats, loops and acoustic guitars) I was excited to find out how this would be replicated live. The answer was, it wasn’t. Pretty much everything was prerecorded and he just hit play and sang along. Quirky projected videos and a silly hat didn’t make up for this. While the music was pleasant enough, it was not a live performance, it was karaoke. I was not alone in walking out of this mid-set. Very disappointing. What had the potential to be a wonderful live performance resulted in a lazy over-reliance on prerecorded electronica that plagues so many other similar artists and DJs.

Having said that, I do not wish this to be a harsh criticism of his music, which I thoroughly enjoy. It was just the delivery of it that I thought didn’t quite work.


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