We dream and we die alone, it seems…

My stubbornly autonomous imagination has just refused to leave last week’s tired Welsh-music-scene-as-episode-from-Pobol-y-Cwm metaphor well alone.

I can’t help filling in the scenery further. I’ve been imagining other Welsh luminaries living round the corner and former tenants made good moving out to greener pastures but coming back to visit regularly. This is all very well but unavoidably leads to concerns over parking and then questions about whether the parish council can afford to run the library service as well as keeping the Post Office open in the current climate. Honestly, if I still had the kids’ Lego kits and accompanying model figures, well, I’d not be writing this post…

Any-hoo.

The latest artist to “move in” to the community (I had to go back and put those quotes marks in…) is this feller.

H Hawkline

Wrote about H Hawkline last year, although I wasn’t really operating from a position of strength; couldn’t find a lot online about him and had (of course) missed him at Green Man. Recently though, a couple of Hawkline records have appeared on Emusic, both really good but very different to each other.

The first, Cup of Salt, is more the style I wrote about before, delicate but more-ish guitar pieces with few vocals on it. I quite like it but the second record, The Strange Uses of Ox Gall is more my sort of thing. It starts quite slowly with a bit of noodling and gawky playfulness, but there are some much more substantial (and quirky) pieces just around the corner. Goofy, creepy fairground keyboards and homemade samples litter the place, but beneath the garish wrapping are some genuine, rather melancholic pop moments. Particular favourites are Surf Pound, Mind How You Go and Funny Bones (with Cate le Bon on backing vocals – not doing much to dispel the Pobol y Cwm fantasies, there). The single You Say You Love Me is rather sweet as well.

I’ve also had these recordings of H Hawkline at this year’s Green Man, languishing on my hard disk for a couple of months now. I enjoyed the set a lot and thought that having armed myself with the albums I’d be a little more in the know when I went back to listen to the recordings, but actually, turns out that there’s very little from either record there – it’s pretty much all new material (Ox Gall was only a summer release, I think).

But it’s good stuff and quite a useful little counterpoint to the whimsy that dominates the records, sounding rather choppy and garage-y as it does. As I say, a lot of the songs he played were new to me and I’ve had to try and make sensible guesses about titles – if anyone can put me right, I’d appreciate it.

Forget What You’ve Learnt and Live Life like a Child

My Dreams

Don’t See Me Getting Old

Broken Fingers

Kiss Me on My Lips

Hell’s Bells

Full Focus

Leather Belly

(btw, just so as you know that I do put in all due research and effort to these posts, marbling, engraving and lithography are just some of the strange uses of ox gall…)

Lean my head against an angry moon…

OK. This has taken an absolute age to get sorted, but I think it’s worth it…

White Denim @ End of the Road

So, I was too tight to buy a ticket for End of the Road this year, and have spent a good month regretting it now. Terrific line up, loads of bands I wanted to see and loads of friends going without me.

Next best thing, was obviously to persuade one of said friends to take my Zoom recorder along (take a bow, Marcus) and then prevail upon another of said friends to take photos, shoot video and write words (step forward, Liz, the very first guest writer to appear on Partly Porpoise…).

I’m probably not the best person to be writing this. Gig reviews are supposed to be objective, right? Whatever. To say that White Denim were the only reason I bought a ticket for End of the Road this year would be an exaggeration. Who am I kidding! White Denim were the only reason I bought a ticket for End of the Road this year. D is my favourite record of 2011 by some distance. It shows a softer, ‘poppier’ side to the band, the obvious influences somehow melding together into a distinctive, effortless brand of psychedelic-garage-prog-pop with some scraps of trad country and folk thrown in for good measure. Still present are the quirky stop/start, messed-up time signatures, proggy guitars and killer bass riffs which made Workout Holiday such an exciting record, but an equal emphasis now appears to have been placed on melody, and to good effect. Add to that a phenomenal standard of musicianship and you’ve got yourself a thrilling live show.

The last time I saw this band play live, at Kings College in London, in what is basically the student union bar, I came away half deaf and covered in bruises but it was completely exhilarating.
So I was pretty excited to see White Denim at End of the Road. Headlining the Big Top stage (aka the Tent of Dreams) on the Friday evening of the festival was a good thing because I’m not sure I could have maintained a whole weekend at that level of anticipation. Clearly, getting a place at the front was a matter of prime importance. Normally this isn’t a problem: get there early, claim a spot and stick to it. Not so fast. The Fall were playing on the Garden Stage immediately beforehand, requiring a strategic early exit (thanks MES for ambling offstage, right on cue, fifteen minutes early) and a quick sprint to the Big Top to beat the crowds. Front position secured.

From taking to the stage and launching straight into It’s Him, the opening track of D, there was hardly time for audience or band to draw breath.  The powerhouse triumvirate of Burnished, At The Farm and Say What You Want was somewhat like clinging on for dear life in a wind tunnel. I feel weak just thinking about it. The set included hefty chunks of Workout Holiday and Fits – Shake Shake Shake, I Start To Run, Don’t Look That Way At It, All Consolation, Mirrored and Reverse – but was otherwise D in its entirely, with only Keys left out. The recent addition of an extra guitarist appears to have transformed White Denim from a rough and ready garage rock three piece into an intensely powerful psych-prog quartet, delivering an intricately structured wall of sound. It’s difficult to see how things could get any more complex as one song seamlessly segues into the next, all four band members equally contributing their own multi-pronged piece of the sonic jigsaw. New guitarist Austin Jenkins looks like he’s having the time of his life, and who can blame him. Steve Terebecki studies his bass riffs so intently he’s almost like a school kid, biting his tongue while concentrating on getting his spellings right. And Josh Block is such a clever drummer, his syncopated rhythms the bedrock for all this messing about. If one had to level a criticism, it might be that old songs like Shake Shake Shake have lost some of the rough edges which made them so thrilling, but if that is at the expense of having developed into a multi-layered bundle of euphoria, then maybe that’s a worthwhile compromise.

The band’s influences have been often and variously quoted (Zappa, Beefheart, Zeppelin, Cream, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull, King Crimson blah blah blah) but to dwell on any of that is to do them an injustice because what they do, superbly well, is to create something completely unique out of this familiar palate. They exude a genuine muso-geek aura and are clearly disinterested in being ‘fashionable’. Why bother with fashion when you’ve got something far more profound to say? They are, in fact, men of few actual words. At one point singer and virtuoso guitarist James Petralli says they’ve been told to turn the amps down, much to the disapproval of the audience. He politely apologises. That’s about as much conversation as we get.

A quick word after the show ascertains that they will be returning to theUK in March and I’m already counting the days. Utterly thrilling.

Have a watch of Liz’ video of “At the Farm” and “Say What You Want”. It does look great.

Marcus’ recordings have turned out pretty well, too, and it really does sound like a pretty special set…

It’s Him

Burnished

At the Farm / Say What You Want

Street Joy

Anvil Everything

Bess St.

Shake Shake Shake

All Consolation / I Start to Run

Is and Is and Is

Don’t Look That Way At It

Paint Silver Gold

Mirrored and Reverse / Drug

It’s like I was there…

The limbs detached and swam away, it surrounds me, a mystic gravity…

I would never do this, OK (far too trite for a classy blog such as this) but if I were to try to fashion some elaborate conceit about some of the cracking music coming out of Wales these days, I think I’d probably plump for a Pobol Y Cwm sort of terraced street with weird Celtic musicians in each house. Imagine it, Richard James and Cate le Bon as neighbours, Huw M in the house next door, the Y Niwl boys in the noisy student house belting it out at all hours…. You get the idea.

Anyway, I wont do that.

The point to all this is that in my somewhat tired mental image the sleeping arrangements need a bit of a reshuffle, as I’ve this week downloaded from eMusic another couple of … belting… Welsh records that I’m really enjoying.

I’ll talk about H Hawkline another time (particularly as I have a recording to upload still – ah, sorry Arth…) but right now this is my record of the moment…

Jen Jeniro

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a quite a while now, having been tipped of by my mate ArthManual (certainly your go-to place for new Welsh music) last summer and got a couple of Tweets from them on Twitter, but never got round to writing it up.  Then I met singer and JJ founder, Eryl at Green Man this year, promising him profusely to get this post up…

{sigh}

Anyway, turns out the records on eMusic (2008’s Geleniaeth and this summer’s Swimming Limbs EP) are both real fizzers, a combination of warm erratic psychedelia and slightly mournful Celtic tones.

The songs are interspersed with a real mixture of choppy garagey riffs, balmy country meanderings and gung ho experimentation. The singing is mostly in Welsh (I’m feeling increasingly left out these days) but it’s all sufficiently weirdly embellished with plucking and whistling sounds that there’s still loads to listen to, even if you are linguistically challenged. I really like all the sombre pipe sounds and sombre guitars pretending to be pipes, particularly.

Have a listen to Ebeneezer the opening track on Swimming Limbs:

And a watch of this:

Gorgeous stuff, (and not a mention of Gorky’s anywhere…)