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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

The Long Blondes

The Forum, 21st April 2008

Written by Richard Pearmain

A friend of mine recently asked me, stomach story “What is it with Swedish bands and ‘heartbeat’? Both Annie and Robyn have tracks called ‘Heartbeat’, stuff while The Knife wanted to be different and called a track ‘Heartbeats’.” Now, obviously the track I’m about to review is not called ‘Heartbeat’ or even ‘Heartbeats’, but the fact that my British friend could not only name three contemporary Swedish groups but also three of their songs without feeling as if he was exposing a guilty pleasure indicates how much our opinion Swedish music has changed (Ace of Base, anyone?).

Little Dragon
are more Dance-orientated and a good deal less retro than the ‘Heartbeat-ers’, but still know how to craft a Pop song you can be proud to love. ‘Test’ opens with a clanging not dissimilar to the 1950s musique concrete of Stockhausen, as if to remind the listener of electronica’s avant-garde origins, before immediately introducing today’s most irreverent application of such Classical techniques: the 4/4 Dance beat. Punctuated by the most minimal Ska-styled guitar/keyboard I’ve ever encountered (is that just one note?), driven by a Dub-bassline that becomes beautifully indistiguishable from the kick drum and featuring a Jazz interlude, like all great Pop songs ‘Test’ shamelessly steals from the best.

However, the undeniable highlight of the track is singer Yukimi. Recalling Matthew Herbert’s work with Dani Siciliano, her multitracked laidback delivery effortlessly transports the listener to the centre of a dancefloor at an indeterminate post-midnight hour. Soulful without forced vocal gymnastics and Bluesy without being cliched, much like the music itself, her voice is able to take in all that 20th century music had to offer and exhale something cohesive, contemporary and copious.

A chic dancefloor-filler.

Winding my way from the general hubbub of Old Street on a chilly Tuesday, approved sanctuary was sought in the welcoming environs of the Macbeth, this which was playing host to an album launch by Lynch Rider Lulu, store coupled with a launch for the band’s label, Alien Frequency Productions. I’d seen a bewitching set by Lynch Rider Lulu at the Vibe Bar some weeks ago, so my expectations were high, and I knew I wasn’t to be disappointed.

In front of an appreciative and attentive audience, the evening opened with a solo set of Americana-tinged acoustica from Sam Semple. Hexicon offered a mix of jaunty lo-fi pop and mellow alt-country, backed variously with wistful harmonies, a French horn and a wobbly Farfisa which was reminiscent of Stereolab’s fluffier moments.

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The night, though, belonged to Lynch Rider Lulu, showcasing their debut album, Who’s Gonna Live There Now? The intimate setting of the Macbeth, with its’ suitably ambient decor, provided an ideal environment for their distinct sound. A bassless three-piece led by the deceptively delicate voice of Lucy Underhill, they blend brooding lo-fi twin guitars, melodies that can explode when you least expect them to and lyrics that swoop from the achingly tender (It’s You) to the macabre (Lady Betty, recounting the tale of a notorious 18th century hangwoman). The line-up was augmented for a couple of numbers by a guest bassist, but just as a trio they produced a remarkable, atmospheric set. Believe me, they’re well worth checking out.

Thanks to the Victoria Line (or lack thereof), more about I was running late for my inaugural Guided Missile night at the Buffalo Bar, more about at the very upper end of Upper Street. The main attraction for me tonight was the Outside Royalty, who I’d seen a number of times over the last year or so, but I’d also heard good things about Official Secrets Act, who were headlining.

I’d missed the opening act but, after squeezing up to the bijou bar, settled down with the help of a bottle or few of the Czech Republic’s finest to enjoy the rest of the night. Almost immediately, the stage was taken (in more than one sense) by the rather improbably named Ape Drape Escape. Hailing from Sheffield, they were a heady blend of glam and electro punk, and like many of their predecessors from the Steel City, from the Human League to Pulp to Arctic Monkeys, they drew from the same wellspring of wit and attitude (and in Phil Oakey’s case, hair styling tips and eyeliner). Their frontman, Martin Clark, when not engaging in witty banter, was busy thrashing about the stage and often disappearing into a sometimes bewildered audience (once on all fours!), like some weird hybrid of Iggy Pop, Ian Curtis, Jarvis Cocker and, er, Peter Kay.

The Outside Royalty’s star is very much in the ascendency. Having taken part in the Road To V competition and toured with Young Knives during the last year, whilst garnering lots of favourable reviews along the way, this Pittsburgh-born but London-based band have an imminent single release on Bloody Awful Poetry Records and were tonight having a video filmed for said single, Falling. As it was, we ended up with Falling being performed twice, for the benefit of the cameramen (not that we were complaining). The Outside Royalty have been compared to Arcade Fire, but in a positive sense, due to their driving acoustic guitar mixed with cello, violin and synth accompaniment, and they never fail to be uplifting, especially with a rousing and unexpectedly energetic cover of, of all things, Eleanor Rigby.

Similarly, headliners Official Secrets Act appear to have a bright future in store, with words of encouragement of from the likes of Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley behind them. They played a fast and furious set of angular guitars, lyrical waxing, pulsing synths (with what looked suspiciously like a harmonium thrown into the mix) to get the crowd going. They even snuck in a cover of The Ronettes’ Be My Baby which, in the immortal words of the Fast Show, was nice. A good line-up overall from this well-established club night.

Reviews for the Sheffield band’s second long player, drug “Couples”, ampoule have been decidedly mixed, to say the least, but The Long Blondes faithful were out in force at the Forum tonight. Flanked by a phalanx of female mannequins (a post-modern twist on Kraftwerk, perhaps? Maybe not). Kate Jackson and co took to the stage and opened the set with probably the most off-kilter of the new tracks, Round The Hairpin. To me it sounded better than on record (as did most of the “Couples” tracks aired tonight), though the audience largely seemed a little unsure with the new material, only really springing to life with the more familiar territory of 2006′s debut, Someone To Drive You Home.

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Whilst lyrically the Long Blondes cover pretty much the same ground as before (though the “Couples” in the title refers ironically to the Abba-esque situation of the two inter-band relationships coming to an end), musically they have opted-for a smoother, more disco-punk sound reminiscent of Parallel Lines/Eat To The Beat era Blondie. Certainly, Kate Jackson’s vocals on the new songs have a distinct hint of Debbie Harry about them, especially on Century. The band’s detractors have often focussed on her often one dimensionally bombastic delivery in the past, though she is much more nuanced and controlled on the new songs.

A quick encore of Lust In The Movies sent the audience home happy into the Kentish Town night, and though “Couples” may not be a great album, it certainly shows a rare willingness for a (reasonably) new band to change direction stylistically so quickly.

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