Monthly Archives: December 2008

Buen Chico – Our Love’s Enormous Album Review

Buen Chico
Our Love’s Enormous (Faith & Hope)

Remember ‘New Yorkshire’? No? Good, neither do I. But apparently, that’s what taxonomy enthusiasts the NME christened the revival of the region’s indie rock fortunes way back in ‘05. Since then, the fortunes of those involved have varied. A few (see The Pigeon Detectives, Reverend and the Makers) have gone onto enjoy commercial success, at the expense of critical acclaim. Others have attracted near unanimous critical extolment; critics have been known to wet their pants on the very mention of ¡Forward, Russia! or The Sunshine Underground. Hell, the Arctic Monkeys, and until very recently The Long Blondes, even managed to combine the two.

Leeds three-piece Buen Chico, however, managed to avoid the glare. Creeping out from’t Dales just as the microscope went out of focus, they quietly released their debut album Right to Re-Arrange a little over a year ago. Praise, whilst certainly forthcoming, was comparably conservative. Media frenzy never materialized. Subsequently, they arrive at the fag end of 2008 with a new album in tow and as a relatively unknown quantity.

Probably more often than we’d like to admit though, clichés do ring true; with ‘New Yorkshire’ people really couldn’t see the wood for the trees. As is often the case with the overlooked, Buen Chico shit all over many of their more illustrious neighbours, and with their sophomore effort they’re doing it from an even greater height than before.

Our Love’s Enormous is a collection of twelve sumptuously constructed indie-pop nuggets. There is nothing massively ground-breaking here, but Buen Chico do what they do with style, panache and an infectious energy that makes Our Love’s Enormous a hugely enjoyable listen. The opening track, This Party, sets the tone: tuneful, compact and full of vigour.

Lead singer Morgan Tatchell-Evanshas a knack for shoehorning reams of lyrics into the song without sounding overly verbose, a pitfall not unknown to Los Campesinos! Indeed with Buen Chico’s penchant for a verse or two of spoken word (again, ‘This Party’), their subject matter of love, loss (‘Just As Long As There’s A Spark’) and, eh, dancing (‘Baptized’), the hyperactive Welsh indie upstarts crop up as a point of reference throughout.

But what really sets the record apart, is its multiplicity. Lyrical highlight ‘Rag and Bone Man’ (“does it make you feel powerful to know he’ll buy many of your things / That he can make a viable business from what he finds in our bins”) and Fix Stuff are a pair of shouty, anthemic post punk stompers more akin to Idlewild circa ten years ago than, say, the Arctic Monkeys. Acapella interlude ‘There’s No Machine’ showcases perfect three part harmonies, which return intermittently throughout the album. The final track, ‘Just As Long As There’s A Spark’, is a marvelously morose mini rock opera that recalls Dexy’s Midnight Runners at their best, whilst the album’s standout song, ‘It Wasn’t About That’, (check the change of pace halfway through) could have been lifted from Syracuse outfit Ra Ra Riot’s excellent recent debut, The Rhumb Line.

Without fail, if you peel back all of these layers you’ll find an irresistible melody. Buen Chico may have flown under the radar thus far, but if they keep churning out albums as good as this, it can only be a matter of time before they’re thrust into the public consciousness. New New Yorkshire? Let’s not go there…


Originally published here:

A Rock ‘n’ Roll Cookbook

Along with a couple of colleagues, I collected some cooking tips and recipes from a few of the willing musicians interviewed for The Skinny. It appeared in the magazine in more condensed format, but here is an extended Rock n Roll Cookbook! Thanks to Darren Carle and Dave Kerr

Elvis regally living out his last minutes on the toilet, cheeseburger in hand. Mama Cass’ final dreams of California rudely disrupted by a ham sandwich lodged in her gullet. Ozzy Osbourne… well, y’know, the whole bat thing.

Over the years the consumption habits of the stars have played a consequential – if unsavoury – role in rock history. But today’s muso is a more domesticated beast, more likely to be cooking up a storm than cooking up… well. Anyway, we spoke to a handful of our favourite artists and asked them to share some culinary tips. The response ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.


I really love cooking. My favourite things to make are roasts like lamb, chicken or beef. But I’ll give you a vegetarian recipe I often do. I’m not to sure about the measurements and timing since I mostly go instinct but

-First I pre-heat the oven to 405 F.

-I peel and cut young carrots into long slivers and lay them in a roasting pan.

-Next I drizzle olive oil over the carrots and sprinkle them with chopped Thyme.

-Half and then quarter potatoes—I often use red or black one’s but it can be done with whatever looks good at the market.

-I lay out the potatoes beside the carrots and drizzle them with a little oil.

-sprinkle the potatoes with chopped rosemary and salt and add a few teaspoons of butter in among them for flavour and texture.

-Place the roasting pan into the heated oven and cook for approx 45 mins turning the potatoes and carrots periodically to avoid burning.

-clean the mushroom and coat the cap with a mix of

*cayenne pepper

*dried oregano, thyme and sage.

*black pepper.

-in a pan, caramelize some sliced onion rings and crushed garlic with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

-add the caps to the pan face down and scoop the onion and garlic mix into the cap.

-You want the mushroom to become almost crispy on the outside so allow it cook to the edge of burning and then add small amounts of vegetable broth to the pan to both reconstitute the contents of the pan and so as to allow the mushroom to absorb the liquid. This should be done until the mushroom is almost completely cooked through.

-To finish it off, place the mushroom into the same pan as the carrots and potatoes scooping a pat of butter with an herb mix onto the onion garlic mix.

-Place the pan back into the oven and allow the butter to dissolve all the way through the mushroom.

-You can reconstitute the pan residue with more broth and flour to make a type of gravy.

-Boil the kale for two minutes and then toss in a pan with lemon, butter and red pepper for another minute or so.

-plate the kale and place the carrots and potatoes around the edge.

-center the mushroom cap on the plate

-add some goat cheese to the inside of the cap and lightly cover the cap and potatoes with the gravy sauce.

-Done and done.

Video: The Boggs – Remember The Orphans


“Tracks to listen to while cooking? The Buzzcocks – I Don’t Mind; or Hüsker Dü – Makes No Sense At All.”

Boil 1lb of spaghetti in a pot. Whilst boiling, cut a block of extra firm tofu into rectangles, fry this in a separate pan with a little oil until lightly browned on both sides. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add two cups of plain soy milk, ¾ cup of margarine (non hydrogenated), two cups of nutritional yeast and the tofu. Cook over a light flame for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. Add spike seasoning to taste.

Video: No Age – Eraser


“I’m not the greatest in the kitchen, but I can make something up for you if you like?”

Mix ¼lb beef and lamb together into a ball. Flatten with rolling pin. Add mozzarella, horseradish, cayenne pepper and ginger and cook in preheated oven until well done. Chop a fresh apple in half. Spread peanut butter on one half and honey on the other. Place the meat pancake between the apple ‘buns’ and trim any excess meat from the sides. Make four shish kebabs using sweet gherkin slices. Garnish with two sprigs of sage and dip in HP Sauce mixed with Rice Krispies.

Video: Adam Green – Dance With Me


“My oldest boy, he likes his tomato sauce with pasta, so sometimes I have make it really quickly; but I don’t like using jars of sauces.”

“I’ll tell you how to make a really good, quick tomato sauce. Obviously to make a proper tomato sauce you need to put some time into it, you need to cook it for a long time. My oldest boy he likes his tomato sauce with pasta so sometimes I’ve got to make it really quickly but I don’t like using jars of sauces. So the first thing you need is an iron skillet. The next thing you need is a lot of olive oil. You put a lot of olive oil in the skillet and of course you put in about three cloves of garlic and maybe half an onion or a whole shallot. Then what I’d do is I would take some double concentrated tomato paste – this is the kind of tomato paste that you buy in a tube. OK, I squirt that into the skillet, I don’t add a can of tomatoes or anything like that, it’s just with tomato paste. Then to give it that dark note, of having been cooked a long time, I will add some balsamic syrup. It’s kinda like balsamic vinegar but it’s more sugary and it’s thick like syrup, y’know. I’ll add maybe a teaspoon of that – you don’t need a lot. The sugar of course balances out the acid nicely and the darkness of the balsamic gives it this kind of…it kinda coats the onions. And if I have some decent wine in the house, I’ll add like a half a cup of red wine and I just put that baby on high to cook off the alcohol quickly. Then finally salt and pepper and then fresh or dry herbs. Even though it’s not a spaghetti kind of herb, I frequently keep herb Provence around for salads. Put a pinch of that in there. That’s a good way to make a very thick, dark, heavy, rich tomato sauce that seems like it’s been cooking a long time but it hasn’t. And then I take the pasta of course and I add the pasta directly into the pan. You take it out of the water – try not to drain it, try to scoop it out with something so that you get a bit of that pasta water in with the sauce. You don’t drain the pasta and then dump the sauce on top of it. You take the pasta directly out of the pot and put it in there and it’s OK if a little of the water gets in there, that’s OK. Anyway, that’s my recipe.”

Video: Frank Black – Headache


“Being from the South we eat a lot of barbecued food, and of course the main ingredient is meat, but you can’t forget about the trimmings. I’m a pretty good cook so here’s what you need to serve on the side to have the perfect barbecue…”

Gorgonzola cheese and lots of it. Good quality bacon. It’s all about the combos. Bacon and gorgonzola cheese, delicious. Sweetcorn bisque, mashed potato. A barbecue isn’t a barbecue without mashed potato. You need some onions and salad too. Maybe some potato salad to go with your steak. And to wash it down you should have some ice cold beer!

The Notwist: Do The Evolution

The Notwist

Today, The Notwist are brothers Markus (vocals / guitar) and Micha Acher (bass), Martin Gretschmann aka Console (programming) and drummer Andi Haberl. They emerged from Weilheim, just outside Munich as a heavy metal act almost 20 years ago, touring with the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Bad Religion. Two decades of constant evolution, collaboration and innovation later, the band are a different animal in all but personnel. They have long since embraced the virtues of technology.

The addition of Console to their line-up in 1997 marked a further shift towards a fabricated foundation, whilst never betraying the sound, tuneful and melodic songwriting that is still the cornerstone of their work today. Their back catalogue bulges now with albums recorded under the aliases of 13 & God (with anticon. alum Themselves) amongst others.

This week, they return under the Notwist persona for their first album since 2002’s lauded Neon Golden with The Devil, You + Me. Finbarr Bermingham caught up with founder member and lead singer Markus Acher on the eve of the release of what is sure to become one of the albums of 2008 to find out what has driven The Notwist towards a legacy of two decades in music.

The band’s first release was the eponymous album from 1990, a year after The Notwist formed. It will be 20 years next year – if you don’t mind me reminding you of the fact – since you first got together. Are you planning anything to mark the anniversary, and what is the secret to the band’s longevity? Do you still get on as well as ever?

Markus Acher: No, we don’t really have any plans to mark the anniversary. We haven’t thought about it, actually. But yes, all in all, we get along very well, except for our drummer who left the band before this record (Martin Messerschmid). But the other three members: Martin (Gretschmann), Micha (Acher) and me, we never fight.

Since that formation, your music has moved ‘genres’ from heavy metal to incorporate the elements of indie rock and electronica we hear today – do you attribute your success and the longevity of the band to embracing new types of music? And moving with the times?

MA: We are fans of all kinds of music, that’s why we changed our music a bit from the beginnings to now. In the beginning Hardcore and Post punk was the music that brought us to form a band. Later on, we discovered so much other music, that also had a certain energy, we could relate to, and we listened to it so intensely, that it found it’s way into our music. And yes, I think, if we would have continued to make the same music over and over again, we wouldn’t exist anymore as a band… Notwist is always song-oriented, so there’s always something, that holds everything together, and that gives us the opportunity to experiment with arrangements and sounds a lot.

What are the main musical influences on The Notwist and how have they changed over the years?

MA: Oh, there are so many…. but there are some that always stay: Sonic Youth, the late Talk Talk, Autechre , Stereolab, Krautrock (mainly Can and Neu), Dub reggae, Gil Evans, and old Gospel music. So that’s also the elements that are always parts of our music so far.

Music aside, what inspires the songs you write? Are you influenced by politics or literature?

MA: There were a lot of things happening in our lives over the last years. Lots of positive things, but also a few sad things that all went into the lyrics. Then what happened around us, politics, the internet, the media. And a lot of books too. For this record I was very much interested in the writings and the art of so-called outsider-artists, especially the great artists from the Austrian “Haus der Künstler” in Gugging. Like Ernst Herberg, who wrote beautiful poems and the artist August Walla. They succeeded to translate their feelings and lives into a unique language, that’s totally their own, but understandable and touching for everybody – like all art should. And making lyrics for the Notwist is a lot about translation in the end, translating ideas into another language, based on English, but different …

Your last album, Neon Golden, was released in 2002 and was a massive critical success. What have you been doing in the interim and was it tough to follow up an album that was so acclaimed?

MA: We recorded albums with our other bands Tied + Tickled Trio, Lali Puna, Console, and MS John Soda, made some soundtracks with the Notwist. We also have been touring with every band.

Regarding Neon Golden, while recording the new record, we didn’t think about that too much, actually. When the record was finished, we discovered that Neon Golden had become that very important record for many journalists. But we think Neon Golden was one side of what is the Notwist. I don’t think that we already found the definite form. I think we never will… However, we didn’t want to make something totally different, but we also didn’t want to make the same again.

You’ve also collaborated with various members of anticon (in 13 and God) in recent times. Do you come fresh from your extra-curricular endeavours with suggestions for Notwist, or do you try to draw a distinct line?

MA: Both. We take ideas, instruments, and sounds from one band to another, and every new record influences the next one. But we always try to make every band unique. They all have a special idea or concept that no other band has.

As a German band, was it difficult for you to get your music heard in the UK, and indeed in western territories initially?

MA: Yes, in the beginning it was very difficult. Nobody wanted to hear an indie-rock band from Bavaria/Germany. We could support American bands, though . But with electronic music, the interest in music from Germany grew again. We are always happy for every show we can play outside of Germany.

How do you think live shows differ from the UK to Germany? Do you find the audiences different?

MA: No, not too much, actually. There’s nothing significant that’s different. Both countries are strong beer-drinking countries, that maybe makes them quite similar. But usually, in the UK, there’s much better DJs or music before and after the show. In Germany it’s mostly really bad techno.

Great, we hope we can see you in Scotland sometime soon!

I really hope so. But I don’t know, so far.

Written for The Skinny

Lambchop – OH (Ohio) Album Review

Kurt Wagner and his ever-changing Nashville outfit continue to impress

Ohio: not the most inspiring of US states. This is a perfect breeding ground for Lambchop’s peculiarity-driven song writing; always seeking wonder in the mundane. In this case Ohio could be anything, anywhere. From the merits of a favourite pencil (A Hold Of You) to Sharing A Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr – a sublime hybrid of ideas, fusing an obscure dream with feelings of disillusionment – Wagner’s idiosyncratic household voyeurism rarely fails to charm. Having faced and dealt with personal tragedy, OH marks a step away from 2006’s esoteric Damaged. Kurt Wagner’s back “smoking on the patio” and has resumed centre stage. Whereas Damaged was crafted around the piano of Tony Crow, OH was written to be performed solo and reflectively, and the compositions sound stronger for it. The lilting arpeggio of Slipped, Dissolved And Loosed is the highlight of an outstanding record which preserves Lambchop’s lackadaisical blueprint, whilst sounding decidedly reinvigorated.


Video: A Hold Of You

Mercury Rev’s Theory Of Evolution

Mercury Rev

I caught up with Jeff Mercel, percussionist, keyboardist and general man-about-band, to find out that Mercury Rev, unlike many of their fans, are not a band transfixed with the past and that their future is there to be embraced.

It sometimes seems like an age ago, yet conversely, it now seems like only a couple of months have past since a friend gave me a copy of Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev, such is the timeless quality of their magnum opus. Unbeknownst to myself, and probably thousands of other starry-eyed adolescents that used the album as a gateway to an insatiable music habit, was the heartache that went into the album. Prior to it’s release, the album was seen as their swansong.

Lead singer Jonathan Donahue, who had replaced David Baker a few years earlier, was on the verge of breakdown, having grown disillusioned with the music world. Their previous album See You On The Other Side, he had considered to be their best and the poor critical and commercial reaction the album garnered spurred him into a downward spiral of self-destruction – leaving the band on the point of meltdown. Looking back now, the album is laced with lament and despair, albeit dressed up in unforgettable melodies and climactic instrumentation. It’s actually been ten years this September and since then, the band have regrouped and gone from strength to strength mentally and in confidence – although whether they will ever top Deserter’s Songs is questionable. It’s a question broached with Jeff Marcel in this interview.

The Skinny: Hi Jeff, how are you?

Jeff: Good thanks, you?

Not bad, I hear you’re up to your eyes in press work today

Yeah we’ve been doing it all week, making our way through Europe, we’ve just been to Brussels. It’s pretty relentless! You know, we got it down to a science by now!

The new material is imminent: scheduled for September release (a double release of Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor). How does it compare to your previous work?

It’s slightly more electronic. We approached the record a bit differently in that the processes were markedly changed from those of the previous records. No-one really sat there by candlelight trying to write the perfect song, coming in saying “here are the words, here are the chords – let’s go!” Its much more of a spontaneous affair. You’d walk into the studio and really not know what you were gonna work on that day. We’d walk into the studio and just start playing and see where it would take us. It was much more collaborative in terms of song creation. It leads to a more open, free sound, which you can hear in the record itself.

The song titles (October Sunshine, Runaway Raindrop, Butterfly’s Wings, Snowflake In A Hot World) seem to suggest a lot of the themes of nature that have been so constant in your work are returning…

Certainly, taken literally there’s a lot of reference to nature. But I think underneath that there’s probably a more prevalent theme of transformation and state change. You know, Snowflake In a Hot World: the idea itself is something of a paradox. A snowflake which is crystal and formed but inherently its water at the same time, it just needs an outside force to change it back to water and again to vapour and back up to the clouds. So there’s this idea of change and the natural process that can apply to something as literal as a snowflake or something as ambiguous or strange as a human being.

Your work and songwriting seems to be quite personal. There seems to be nothing overtly reflecting the moods of the ‘outside world’. Are there external influences too?

Well we’re certainly of and in this world, just like everyone else. The influences of course are present. They don’t always manifest themselves overtly or clearly. The political climate in the USA may not directly find its way into the lyrical content of the song but the way our life is day to day certainly finds its way in. But it’s never as overt as that. The songs don’t tend to be topically about a particular event or person – hopefully a little more universal.

This year is the tenth anniversary of Deserter’s Songs. Are the band planning to mark it in any way?

We’re marking it with a new record. Two new records, actually. We have another record coming out in September as an accompaniment. It’s called Strange Attractors and it’ll be available from our website. It’s not like you have to purchase Snowflake Midnight. For those who are familiar with the band, I guess it’s a little thank you. For people who have heard of us but maybe not heard the music, it’s more of a gateway. We’re hoping people will think: “Hey, I’ve got nothing to lose, why don’t I check out this record?” In the same way that we felt we had nothing to lose when we made the record. You mentioned Deserter’s Songs briefly, and some people think it must be a stone around our necks. People get that impression of it as the record that first broke the band in a big way and therefore it’s a burden. But we’ve never really seen it like that. For us, it opened so many doors. It allowed us to play in places and countries we’d never dreamed of. But at the same time we’re conscious of not getting caught in the past and not reminiscing or being nostalgic about it. We want to move forward, we want to keep making new records and that’s where we’re at.

You’re playing Hydro Connect Festival this August, are you appearing at many festivals this summer?

Just a few around Europe really; maybe four or five smaller, more under the radar and eclectic festivals that will allow us to get up and moving and playing our new songs but also branching out to places and festivals we’ve never played before. We could’ve played the ‘stand by’, regular festivals, which we probably will do next Summer. So we’ve got some festival dates and a proper tour booked in November. I think we’ll be back in the new year too – and many times after that, I’d imagine.

Two of the real highlights of the festival line-up are yourselves and Grinderman. Nick Cave seems to be one of these artists that gets better with age – everything he does is further improvement. Do you see Mercury Rev as a band growing old gracefully? Do you feel compelled to move with the times?

I don’t know if I feel compelled to move with the times, per say, but I do feel compelled to keep pushing; to keep learning. You talk about Nick Cave and I think he’s perhaps at his most prolific point in his career to date. He’s putting out his best work in years and that’s encouraging. Over the course of touring last Summer we were in Spain and we were in the hometown of Salvador Dali. We visited the museum that celebrated his work and his life, and just looking at the scope of his work was so amazing and so inspiring. It almost appeared as if it was fifteen different artists, such was the variety. Even into his later life, he never stopped and taking inspiration from someone like that is every bit as valid as taking inspiration or cues from a great musician whose been around for a length of time. We’re pushing ourselves to work in that sort of way.

Are the band still getting on as well as ever, it’s been a long time?

Yeah, it has. But over that time, you get to know one another better and maybe with some things you didn’t understand in your earlier years, you learn to maybe stop pushing the buttons that you know will get somebody riled up. You learn to take a step back when there’s disagreement over something. You know, of course we don’t agree about everything everyday, that is definitely not how it is. We have our disagreements. We’ve learned that we will fall out, that’s inevitable. But when we deal with the music, then that’s not personal. It’s not an attack on someone’s person. And that takes sensitivity on both sides. It takes you being careful about the things you say and how you say them. It takes a conscious effort to leave your ego at the door when you walk into the studio because at the end of the day we’re working on something that’s bigger than any one of us. You have to see the larger picture and when we do that, I think that’s when we work best together. But after all this time, we’re still learning. It’s not something we’ve perfected.

You must have been on the road together countless times over the years. How have your extra curricular activities changed? Are you, or were you ever, a hedonistic bunch whilst on tour?

We appreciate the chance to see the places we go to as much as possible. We’re not the kind of people to seek out the nearest MacDonald’s wherever we go. We’re more inclined to try and learn a little bit about the people and find out what’s good, local and try to experience some of the culture. That for me is the most exciting part of being on tour. It’s much different than travelling on vacation; you meet people in a different way when touring with a rock band. In terms of partying? Well, none of us are altar boys but we’re also not animals either.

When did you last play Scotland?

God, maybe three years ago, I think at Barrowlands.

How have you found all of your previous experiences up here?

I really love it. My family on my father’s side came from the north of England and Scotland. So there are some loose ties there. It’s pretty hard to trace it all back, but it’s something. It’s funny, because my great grandfather was a fly fisherman and I found this old little leather bound book of his that had flies tied in it from the 1870s. Basically, it was a record of his fishing experiences in Scotland. But, I love Glasgow and Edinburgh. We’ve been to Aberdeen too. The first time I ever went to Edinburgh I seen that massive hill, or mountain, or whatever you want to call it (F: Arthur’s Seat) and I thought “that’s where I’m going today.” I ended up spending the whole day walking around it on my own. I love the Necropolis in Glasgow too. It’s incredible.

You’ve been about for almost twenty years. Does Mercury Rev have an expiry date, or do you think you can go on and on making records until you drop?

Well it’s hard to know. But I would say as long as we’re open to keep working in new and different ways, it helps prevent us getting bored. I think that’s what happens when bands fall apart. I think that’s the first seed: it is boredom, and that leads to other things. As long as we keep challenging ourselves with the music, then I don’t see any time frame. We may do things differently in the future, of course. In ten years we may decide we don’t want to play any tour dates and that we want to release two records every year. Or we might decide that for the next two years we’re only going to write film scores, or nothing at all. Maybe we’ll do collaborations with theatre or dance. I think those are the most likely steps for us to take: to change the way you think about what Mercury Rev actually is.

We touched on the fact that it’s been a full decade since Deserter’s Songs. Those were trying times for the band and I guess the stuff of rock n roll legend: “Band members on the verge of breakdown. Band itself close to meltdown. Band produces classic album.” How do you look back at it now, knowing what you all went through?

In time, those sorts of wounds begin to heal. We do see the others from time to time. We see Jimy Chambers (former percussionist) a couple of times a year and every time we’re travelling through Chicago we see David Baker (former lead singer). We saw Suzanne (Thorpe – former flautist) about a year ago. She’s living out on the West Coast. Everybody’s vibrant and doing things and some of their lives have changed. Jimy’s got a child with another on the way, so now we can look back and say, “Hey that was in the past.” A lot of the time, when things go wrong in a band it’s due to pressure and it’s not being prepared for what’s coming at you. There is no way to prepare for the kind of scrutiny, the criticism or the praise that’s coming at you when you make a record, because as soon as you put it out there, it’s going to illicit a reaction. And sometimes, it’s very intense. People tend to deal in extremes, so it’s either the best record they’ve ever heard or it’s a piece of crap. It’s hard to deal with that extreme, whether it’s good or bad. When you multiply that by thousands of people, it can tear at you. You have to try to stay grounded and tell yourself that you’re never as good or as bad as people say you are. You’re normally somewhere in the middle.

And do you think you’ve prepared yourself for the reaction to your new records?

I think so. Yeah, we’re excited for people to hear both records. I know that sometimes pride can go a little too far, but we’re really proud of these records. We think it embodies a change in spirit, I think it shows growth on our part, and we’re excited for people hear it. We understand now that you can’t please everyone. One person’s criticism of a song doesn’t make anything other than what it already is and you just have to remind yourself of that. The music will find its audience. People will gravitate towards it naturally: that’s the way the music was made. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t contrived and it was very free flowing and I think it will attract listeners of a like mind.

An Interview With Lambchop

Image by Tom Sheehan


Lambchop have been attributed the tag of “the most consistently brilliant and unique American group to emerge during the 1990s”. Kurt Wagner still can’t believe people turn up to his gigs. Finbarr Bermingham had a word with the head honcho and found out that he really is “just a dude”

A conversation with Kurt Wagner is a lot like listening to him sing. His voice wavers between a deep throaty growl and a gentle higher pitched whisper, depending on how interested he is in the question. From time to time he’ll get excited, but since undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth from his throat a few years back, it’s doubtful he’ll ever be able to replicate the joyous falsetto that graced Nixon and Is A Woman. Instead he just laughs straight from the gut. Wagner in 2008 seems a happier man than back in ’06, for plainly obvious reasons. I refer him to the closing track from Lambchop’s last album Damaged, The Decline Of Country & Western Civilisation, in which he seemed to have a pop at some of his more illustrious peers.

“Certainly I threw a few punches out in that direction, but I think it was more about how frustrated I was then. You know, here’s a guy who’s just got diagnosed with all these problems and one of the things that happens is that you just lash out. It’s one of the stages you go through. One of them is anger, one of them is denial, then self-pity. I was so young and I was having to deal with this shit that I didn’t think I’d have to worry about for a long time.”

Lambchop have been making music for 20 years. What started out as a hobby amongst drinking buddies in Wagner’s Nashville basement gradually gathered momentum, with the band enjoying popularity in Europe and the UK long before they’d established themselves in the States. When asked why they don’t seem to attract the same veneration at home, he is nonplussed. “I’ve yet to figure out a fucking answer!” he laughs, “Maybe then we could change things a little bit!”

Throughout the first decade of Lambchop, Wagner balanced his musical pastime with a job laying wooden floors, taking time off to play European shows on his own. It’s this background that has instilled a certain work ethic and modesty in the songwriter. “I can’t afford myself the luxury of thinking I’m worth more than I actually am. Everyday I’ve gotta look in the mirror and I’m like, ‘Come on guys!’ If I did, then I wouldn’t be me.” All the while Wagner’s words are embellished with long wheezy bursts of laughter. “I’m still amazed that people show up at all. Man, I’m just a dude doing my thing!”When it comes to his music, however, there’s a firm self-assuredness lurking beneath the modest exterior. Lambchop’s new album OH (Ohio) is one Wagner is particularly pleased with. “I don’t wanna blow my own trumpet, but it’s a good record. I’m really happy with it,” is his succinct recommendation. The title of the album stems from the air of uncertainty in the USA around the time of recording.

“Ohio is a swing state, [but] I’m not trying to be overtly political or anything, that’s just what was happening.” Wagner’s concern regards the recent surge in support for Republican nominee, John McCain. “I haven’t been there since this big shift happened. I’m walking around here wondering what the hell’s going on, I guess like you. I don’t know what I’m going back to.” He rounds the sentence off, as ever, with a trademark laugh – only this one is a little bit more nervous than the others.

Death Cab Have The Facts, And They’re Voting Change

The USA is in its biggest economic crisis in years. Hurricanes are literally tearing the country’s infrastructure apart. The upcoming election is the most pivotal in years. Oh, and there’s a war going on? Finbarr Bermingham finds Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla with a head full of steam

“I’m sitting in my truck in the car park of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.” Symbols of Americanism don’t normally manifest themselves as boldly as that. “It’s pretty intense,” admits Chris Walla, lead guitarist and producer for Washington state indie-pop stalwarts Death Cab For Cutie. But partisan symbolism isn’t something he’s too comfortable with right now. “It’s a troubling and complicating time to be a progressive American,” he sighs, his resigned tone speaking volumes.

Over a lifespan of seven albums, Death Cab For Cutie have carved themselves an educated and attractive niche; one filled with irresistible melodies and impressively literate song writing. Transatlanticism, Plans and most recent offering Narrow Stairs are a catalogue of safe but sound twee-tinged tunefulness, but not some of the hardest hitting records put to press. Yet despite being affable and polite throughout, Walla’s conversation is at odds with the niceties of his band. To go with his ear for a sugar-coated melody comes a keen eye for politics, bulging at the socket and baying for reform.

“A John McCain presidency runs the risk of being potentially worse than the last couple of years of Bush’s reign have been,” he states matter-of-factly. “He is so angry and so committed to the destruction of Iran. In the same way that George W really had it out for Iraq in 2003, I think McCain has got it out for Iran and I don’t think there is any way around this.”

Having appeared on the Vote For Change Tour in 2004 in support of John Kerry alongside more illustrious politico-musicians Springsteen and Stipe, Walla’s fear of another Republican tenure in the West Wing is hardly surprising. But his viewpoint is certainly not blinkered. Speaking to The Skinny around the time of the Democratic Primaries in June of this year, his frustration with former prospective candidate Hillary Clinton is almost as impassioned as his fiery mistrust of McCain.

“It’s mathematically impossible for Clinton to win the nomination for the Democratic Primary in any conventional sense and yet she is continuing to run. She’s started to run her campaign the way Bush has run his whole presidency; by ignoring the facts; by operating as though everything’s great and by hammering away on her opponent relentlessly. It’s so hideous and tiring. There was so much excitement at the beginning of this primary season. Everybody was energised in a way that I haven’t known in my lifetime and that excitement is quickly waning.”

With retrospect we can now see that Mrs Clinton has fallen into the party line, tail between her legs. The energy Walla had feared was lost has been recaptured in the form of Barack Obama’s trailblazing campaign of glitz and glamour as he prepares to lead the Democrats into what promises to be a pivotal, if bitter and tense final stretch. With both sides picking at the issues of credit crunch, Bin Laden and global warming like vultures, trying desperately to endear themselves to the electorate, it’s easy to forget, Walla says, that thousands of miles away there’s a real war going on, one not based wholly on rhetoric.

“We’ve got 130,000 troops overseas and the war doesn’t make headlines in the States. You can go 3 or 4 days and lift any newspaper anywhere in the country and not see a front page story about Iraq or Afghanistan. The reason? Well in marketing terms, it doesn’t react well with the public at large. Nobody is really that interested. People are running the news industry as though it were the entertainment industry. It’s so sad because so many kids are overseas fighting for something, but it’s so unclear as to what they’re fighting for. Clearly they’re incredibly brave patriotic kids. But what the hell are we doing?”

Walla seems unafraid of putting anyone’s nose out of joint, politically at least. And whilst it may be fashionable for musicians to take a pop at Congressmen, it should be noted that since they first came to prominence around the turn of the century, Death Cab have always been fiercely independent. Signing to Atlantic Records in 2004 was viewed as a move that could have alienated fans who’d been with the band since the outset. So much so, in fact, that it prompted front man Ben Gibbard to issue a statement to reassure them. “The only thing that will change,” he promised, “is that next to the picture of Barsuk (the band’s longtime home before the move) holding a “7”, there will be the letter “A” on both the spine and back of our upcoming albums.” According to Walla, though, the transition was not as painless as they might have expected.

“I think the biggest pressure came with Plans. That record felt like making a record for a major label. It felt big. It felt important. It felt like something critical was about to happen and there was really this sense of anticipation and anxiety about it and I think we played that down at the time. We didn’t really recognise what it was and what it felt like.”

Despite Plans being released to critical acclaim, Walla thinks it is the sound of Death Cab trying too hard to be Death Cab. The “coming to terms with it,” as he puts it, took place after the record. After a three year hiatus, in which both he and Gibbard took their solo material on the road, the band reconvened, more settled and comfortable with their status as a major label act. From Walla’s perspective, the results (this year’s Narrow Stairs) are a better representation of what the band are all about.

“Making this record felt so much more like making a Death Cab record. We did it in places that are familiar to us. It was just so much more comfortable than the last record. I feel like we have a confidence about us now that I don’t know that we’ve ever had before. I don’t think its cockiness and I don’t think it’s particularly brash. I just think it’s… well, I think that for the first time, we completely know what we’re doing.”

Tenebrous Liar – Tenebrous Liar’s Last Stand Album Review

Tenebrous Liar’s second album combines the lo-fi indie of Slint with the post punk misery of Joy Division to great effect

Alongside Everett True, Tenebrous Liar’s lead singer Steve Gullick is widely acknowledged for his role in bringing underground American music to UK audiences in the early 1990s. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that his musical ventures are clandestine, grave and melancholic affairs. With his vocals deep in the mix of dystopian guitar hooks and solemn drumbeats, it’s at times difficult to decipher what Gullick’s singing about. But it’s safe to say it’s pretty, well, tenebrous. The band’s second album, Last Stand, at times recalls the miserable post-punk of Joy Division and occasionally the lo-fi indie of Slint’s brilliant Spiderland. Alongside the excellent instrumental jam Sour, Alight stands out as the album’s highlight; the fuzzy undercurrent of a rising guitar eventually cedes to a coherent riff – one of the few moments of clarity on an album that seems to revel in confused and formless depression. One of the darkest albums of the year.


Greg Weeks – The Hive Album Review

Espers frontman flirts with prog rock and freak folk on impressive solo album

Through his work with Philadelphia’s Espers and various solo collaborations, Greg Weeks is often conveniently lumped in with Devendra Banhart and his raggle-taggle bunch of freak folk nomads. His third solo album, The Hive, certainly won’t estrange him from that movement; however, Weeks’ sauntering blend of baroque-tinged prog rock and cosmic folk suggests he draws just as heavily from the courts of King Crimson as he does from more conventional folksy types Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Weeks’ songwriting spans the centuries: the hats of court minstrel and new-age hippy fit equally comfortably, united by a dominant array of keyed instruments and splashes of whistles and flutes. But it’s his attempt at contemporariness that is the album’s weakest point – a nauseating, slowed down take on Madonna’s Borderline. Whilst not as captivating as his work with Espers, The Hive is an enjoyable album that shows the New Weird America front still has plenty to offer.


Brightback Morning Light – Motion To Rejoin Album Review

Desert dwelling hippies return for another album of perfectly pedestrian goodness

Occasionally, records come along that reflect perfectly the place from which they emerged. Adynamic duo Brightblack Morning Light are based in the New Mexican desert and appropriately, their music is mono-paced, self contained and unashamedly lethargic. It’s as if they refuse to step up a gear for fear of burnout. Much like their eponymous debut album, though, Motion To Rejoin’s apathy to upping the tempo is what makes it so ultimately enjoyable; to get worked up about it would be missing the point. Instead, sit back, relax and let yourself become intoxicated by the languid blues, the bursts of gospel (Another Reclamation) and the warm, asphyxiating psychedelia (Hologram Buffalo) that converge on this utopian delta of Southern American sounds. None of these genres, though, emerge victorious from Motion To Rejoin: none can escape the hoover-like haze that consumes each one, fashioning a record of coagulated, comforting sonic valium.