Having established himself on the UK hip hop scene with Kids In Tracksuits, Nottingham musician Matt Cutler is now branching out on his own, with a fresh, intriguing new take on chilled out electronica. Named after the mythical lost island of Lemuria, and sporting titles such as Atoll Mirrored, Lens Flare Lagoon and Buried Coral Banks, the album successfully evokes images of sun-drenched seascapes, shimmering reefs, and the woozy heat hazes of high summer.
The seventeen short tracks resemble a series of sketches, taking a few simple ideas and developing them without excessive elaboration. Crunchy beats add grit to the sweetness, as does Cutler’s fondness for introducing dissonant effects that sound like samples from heat-warped vinyl or dashboard-baked cassette tape. Although initially disconcerting, there’s something compelling and beautiful about this kind of sonic experimentation. Immediate comparisons with Boards of Canada spring to mind, but Cutler’s added wows and flutters take his music to a whole new place.
A potential landmark release for Nottingham’s Dealmaker label, Lemurian is a bold yet understated treat.
There’s something not quite of this time or place about Congregation. While guitarist Benjamin picked out ethereal, Gothic twists on traditional blues figures – occasionally activating a kick drum via a foot pedal for added emphasis – vocalist Victoria maintained a mournful, otherworldly presence, as if beamed straight from a dusty 1920s photo album. The indistinctness of Victoria’s strange, slurred diction – like a Bessie Smith recording that had melted in the August heat – merely added to the mystery.
Victoria and Benjamin declared themselves thrilled to be supporting the Agnostics, and with good reason. Both acts take the blues as their broad base, shaping it into intriguing new forms. In the case of the headliners, a quartet from Calgary that have transplanted so-called “mountain music” from the Appalachians to the Rockies, their music has been informed by Beefheart’s scratchy roughness, the bruised romanticism of Tom Waits, and the energy of good old-fashioned garage rock.
Although frustratingly subdued to start with, the set gradually gained momentum, carrying the increasingly enthusiastic crowd with it. The playing was delightfully loose and instinctive, taking the sparseness of banjo, acoustic guitar and stand-up bass and building something remarkably rich and full upon it.
A dead ringer for Fidel Castro in his prime, bearded, behatted, bespectacled vocalist Judd Palmer saved his coup de grace for the climax, ecstatically riffing on his mouth organ at dizzying speed, as drummer Peter Balkwill pulled out all the stops. It was a suitably thrilling end to a fine display of ensemble playing, from a thoroughly likeable bunch of guys.
If last night’s show was any fair measure, then the audience for Drive-By Truckers – a six-piece alternative country-rock band from Athens, Georgia – divides neatly into two.
For some, the quasi-literary narrative style of the lyrics was the main attraction. Most Truckers songs, whether composed by the shaggy, imposing Patterson Hood, his leaner co-vocalist Mike Cooley, smiling bassist Shonna Tucker or former member Jason Isbell, take the form of carefully crafted mini-dramas, which demand close attention.
Meanwhile, a smaller but more vocal faction was happy to respond on a gut level to the band’s sturdy Southern boogie, and to the exultant drive of their so-called “three axe attack”.
For the first half hour or so, neither tribe were best served by the slightly samey mid-paced chug on offer. Muffled by the mix, the vocals remained impenetrable to all but the most word perfect of diehards – and despite the brilliance of their execution, there was something interchangeable about all those guitar jams.
Just as apathy threatened to set in, the Truckers shifted gear. The harrowing You And Your Crystal Meth dipped the mood to powerful effect, while the suppressed fury of The Righteous Path evoked Neil Young at his most blistering.
The absolute highlight was saved for the encore. Taken from 2001’s much loved breakthrough album Southern Rock Opera (essentially an extended homage to Lynyrd Skynyrd), the compelling Let There Be Rock was played from the heart, both the band and the crowd finally shedding their last vestiges of studious detachment.
Listening to this rootsy, rambunctious take on pre-WWII Mississippi Delta blues and Appalachian “mountain music”, you’d never guess that its practitioners hailed from a different set of mountains, several thousand miles northwards. As it turns out, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir have transplanted the music of the Deep South up to their native Calgary in Canada, where they have developed their own twists on tradition.
Recorded mostly live, and overdubbed with bursts of slide guitar and dilapidated junk shop trombone, the mostly self-penned songs tend towards the fast and furious, adding an almost punk-rock energy while paying clear nods to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. It comes as no surprise that Seasick Steve has already voiced his approval.
This album’s appeal lies less with song craft and emotional range – the mood being uniformly joyous throughout – and more with the sheer pleasure to be had from the band’s playing. On the strength of this hugely enjoyable set, next Wednesday’s show at the Bodega should be well worth catching.