Today’s post was meant to be a celebration but I fear it’s going to be a bit of an obituary. I wrote a lot of the Advent Calendar blog posts before November was even up but held off writing about Shrag because I had a ticket for the Riots Not Diets Christmas Party at the West Hill Centre that they were headlining on the 8th of December. I heard a rumour before hand which was confirmed by the band at the gig – it was probably their last time they would play Brighton.
What a bombshell – I had no idea it was coming. This year’s album Canines had been lauded across the music press as their finest yet, and gave us three fine singles – Tendons in the Night (which was a split single with touring partners Tunabunny), album lead track Show Us Your Canines in the Night and and the glam stomper Devastating Bones. While the singles were Shrag’s most muscular yet the rest of the album showed a band who’d finally found a maturity in their sound. The New Order-esque breakdown in the middle of On The Spires of Old Cathedrals gave us the shivers every time we heard it and album closer Jane With Dumbbells was majestic.
Things felt a bit different at the last gig. Helen finally looked a bit older and less like a child, and there was something a bit less indie about Steph. Maybe I was just projecting, knowing that in a few weeks time (there’s one last gig in their Diary, at Fortuna Pop’s Winter Sprinter in London) they won’t be part of Shrag any more. Maybe the band know that they haven’t got anything to prove any more. Maybe they were just drunk. Who knows.
What I do know is that in these quarters Shrag will be sadly missed. They’ve put out some fantastic records over the past few years and played some great gigs. They leave us with one final single put out as part of the Where Its At Is Where You Are singles club. Unseasonal Thoughts melds spiky guitars with 80s synths, and might just be the best thing they’ve ever done. At least they’re going out on a high.
We first started pulling together our end of year list back in October. By that point in the year, you’ve got a pretty idea about who you feel deserves an extra mention. Our first draft didn’t mention Martin Rossiter though – We’d spotted him playing bass innocuously in Call Me Jolene, and heard some positive second hand reports about his performance at The Wedding Present’s At The Edge Of The Sea all dayer back in August, but we didn’t think that was quite enough for him to make our list. But then a couple of weeks ago, we got hold of his first album in over a decade, and we knew that our list needed changing straight away. The Defenestration of St Martin is tender, emotional and personal. It’s cruel yet majestic, cold yet beautiful.
There’s something about Fear of Men that makes them feel like stars-in-waiting. There’s their releases, all great songs, which they’ve made sure have all been issued on 7″ or cassette so that they’re all physical artefacts, but given online exclusive streaming on Pitchfork before anyone else. There’s the decision not to play too often in Brighton so that when they do it feels more special. Then there’s the support slot with Best Coast, giving them an audience not just across the UK, but Europe too. Watch this space, because next year we predict big things for Fear of Men.
Back in May, Thomas White played a low key set for the Great Escape Festival at a venue called Shipwrights Yard, a hidden courtyard off Middle Street overlooked by Lout and Republic of Music’s offices. One of his backing vocalists for this gig was a certain Mr Adam Kidd, who had recently formed a band which had still yet to have recorded any music, or settled on a final line up. Fast forward seven months, and the tables have been turned, with Thomas White giving Adam’s band Fragile Creatures a leg up by playing a support slot.
Thomas White has spent his last gig of the year playing a fresh set of songs. He’s spent much of the past twelve months playing shows drawn from this year’s album Yalla, but now he’s looking forward. Armed with nothing but his guitar and his voice, White played a short set of covers, taking in a rare Beach Boys track and a stripped down version of Wonderful World, and rounded things off with the Twelve Days of Christmas and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.
Fragile Creatures didn’t play any Christmas Songs, but they did alter the titles of their tracks to give them a festive edge. Over the course of 2012 Adam Kidd has been honing his accomplished guitar pop, and last night showed a fine performance of some very polished songs. It was Adam’s backing vocals with Thomas White that first caught our attention and it was the harmonies that really shone last night and made their songs – none too shabby in the first place – really stand out. I look forward to hearing more of what Fragile Creatures have got to offer in 2013.
We’re huge fans of Us Baby Bear Bones here at Brighton Music Blog because they’re everything we think a band ought to be. In short, they’re the antithesis of four young men in check shirts and skinny jeans playing guitars. It’s like nobody told UBBB that most bands have a different member taking on drums, vocals, guitars and so on – musical duties are passed around the band without care for convention. But if it sounds like Us Baby Bear Bones are difficult or inaccessible, think again because all of these ingredients come together to make lush, bold pop tunes. If only they’d get around to releasing their debut single, originally promised for July last year! My sources tell me that it may be arriving in February, so watch this space.
The first time we saw Owen Thomas, at the Green Door Store supporting Laetitia Sadier, it was so loud we couldn’t stay in the room. Thankfully we persevered (and bought some ear plugs), because Speak Galactic are one of the most exciting bands in Brighton. Watching them live, ideas come faster than the audience can process them – there’s a guitar there, but it’s not making guitar noises because it’s wired through a box of home made electronics which makes the most amazing sounds. There’s frenetic vocals and drums too making for an incredibly visceral performance. Cupboard Music put out the album Severed – slightly slower paced than the live performances with woozy unsettling electronica and big crunching beats building their widescreen vision. The record finished off with the spectacular Solar Sail – a glorious seventeen minute long post-ambient epic. Amazing.
Christmas is almost upon us. You might have picked up the fact by the fact that we’re midway through our Advent Calendar. Or maybe it’s the relentless commercial onslaught in the shops and the ad breaks that may have alerted you to it.
Anyway, Mr B has noticed too, and has prepared a song for our listening pleasure. Oh, Santa is guaranteed to raise a smile and has been released just in time to coincide with the festive season: