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Having earlier enjoyed one of Antonio Gaudi’s many awe-inspiring modernist structures – the dragon-toppedhouse of bones‘ that is Casa Batlló – my final day of Primavera began in another architectural gem: the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Edifici Fòrum concert hall, which serves as the Auditori stage. Its limited capacity had meant hour-long queues on previous days (and would later also stymie access to the Throbbing Gristle and Young Marble Giants performances), but Scout Niblett‘s early start and relative anonymity ensured easy-enough access.


The Auditori stage is imposingly widescreen for the two-piece of Scout and drummer Kristian Goddard, but they proved that they are not daunted by such environs when supporting The Stooges at London’s Royal Festival Hall last year (as part of the Jarvis Cocker-curated Meltdown festival). And as soon as Scout unleashes her expressive voice on the traditional couplets that make up the intro to “Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?”, it becomes apparent that this is a perfect venue for her – the excellent concert-hall acoustics giving wings to her already soaring voice. She never fails to surprise with her choice of covers and follows “Good To Me” (with its bizarre woodstockhenge hair metal intro) by making TLC’s “No Scrubs” her own. Scout is all about the highs and lows of being under love’s spell, and in “Hide And Seek” she references the sweetheart fever that seems to afflict her, going from sparse and melancholic love song to attaining Nirvana.

Scout Niblett, Auditori stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

“Kiss” gets the biggest cheer of the set so far, unsurprising as it’s the closest thing Scout has had to a ‘hit single’ (helped by the appearance of the Bonnie Prince William of Oldham on the recorded version).
The past few times I’ve seen Scout Niblett play I’ve been left unfulfilled when she fails to take a turn behind the drumkit, but tonight she delivers by temporarily ejecting Goddard and enthusiastically beating out “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death”… We’re all gonna die! We don’t know when… We don’t know how…
The rest of the songs are all Niblett highlights – some more favourites from “This Fool Can Die Now” sandwiched between two diamonds from her first album. “Wet Road” yearns with love unfulfilled, while “Miss My Lion” is the perfect closer, Scout stomping and wailing to superbly crunching riffs.

Setlist: Scout Niblett @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?
Good To Me
No Scrubs
Kidnapped By Neptune
Hide And Seek
Hot To Death
Kiss
Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death
Wet Road
Nevada
Let Thine Heart Be Warmed
Miss My Lion


Leaving the Auditori I’m happy to see that the rain that had niggled throughout the day has pissed off (only to return with a vengeance at the very end of the festival). There’s only enough time to catch Devastations end their set with a menacing, noisy “Rosa”, played with that scuzzy louche cool that seems peculiar to Australians-in-Berlin (cf. Nick Cave “The Heroin Years”, Angus Andrew of Liars). Their most recent album “Yes, U” blows hot and cold for me but here I find the swamp monster that lurks within their bombastic baroque-goth.

Devastations, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008


It’s then over to the Estrella Damm stage to see Okkervil River, who’d drawn one of the biggest crowds I’d yet experienced at Primavera. The opening salvo of “The President’s Dead / Black” sets the tone for the upbeat crowd-pleasing show that is to follow. My first hearing of Okkervil River was “Black Sheep Boy“, the melancholy of the Tim Hardin-inspired tracks appealing to me most (and I’m a sucker for the William Schaff artwork too) – so l found last year’s “The Stage Names” initially too ‘big band’ with Sheff’s sometimes tortured words incongruous to the upbeat backing, but here under a grey Barcelona sky those songs proved much more infectious. Halfway through, Sheff introduces “It Ends With A Fall” as a tribute to The Wrens guitarist Charles Bissell (playing his last show with the band) – then jokingly fires him on stage. The rest of the performance rocks energetically, hitting a peak with “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” flowing straight into “For Real”, which really gets the audience jumping. They end with early song “Westfall” sung in Spanish, a fitting finale which the local fans really take to heart.

Okkervil River, Estrella Damm stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Setlist: Okkervil River @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
The President’s Dead
Black
A Hand To Take A Hold Of The Scene
The Latest Toughs
A Girl In Port
It Ends With A Fall
John Allan Smith Sails
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
For Real
Unless It’s Kicks
Westfall (Spanish version)


Dirty Projectors have created a lot of buzz over the past year, Dave Longstreth built up as some sort of weird genius. It’s not for me – maybe it’s too wilfully obscure or just too pop – but they provide some minutes of distraction, if not just for bassist Angel Deradoorian crooning melodies wearing what looked to be denim jogging shorts


Back to the well-visited ATP stage for Kinski, who sometimes come across as Sonic Youth from an alternate dimension – Chris Martin the floppy-haired guitar virtuoso, Lucy Atkinson the hard rockin’ female bassist, guitarist/flautist Matthew Reid-Schwartz in the Lee Ranaldo role, and Barret Wilke providing the Shelley-esque pounding. And sure Kinski are heavily indebted to their East Coast brethren (song titles like “Daydream Intonation” all but give it away), but these Seattle Sub Pop-ers also mix in a healthy dose of psych-kraut-space rock that coalesces into a riff-heavy brew that somehow stands apart from most of the post/psych/kraut/space-rock that abounds in these times.

Kinski, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

Inbetween songs it’s announced that today is bassist Atkinson’s birthday which causes the audience to break into a Spanish-accented “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear… erm.. Kinski!!” The band clearly enjoys themselves, as do we all.


After catching a few songs by saxophone-fronted rock-‘n-sample band Menomena (who appeal on first hearing, despite giving such prominence to that feared symbol of all things j&!z), it’s a quickmarch back down to the ATP stage to secure a prime position for being showered in the minimalist-rock-greatness that is Shellac. I’m glad it’s not too hard to get a good vantage point upfront early on, because I later turn to see the crowd massed into all the available space, tailing up the path back to the main festival site. They come because Shellac is the best godamn live band I & many others here have ever had the pleasure of sharing a room with. Prior to their performance I’d been quite open to the idea that Shellac would not necessarily produce the highlight of my weekend – there’d certainly been other contenders – but who was I kidding? That perfect blend of mass, velocity and time knocks me over every time.
It’s the first time I’ve seen them rock under the stars (a rare opportunity as Shellac generally have a dislike of festivals, except when the fine folk at ATP are involved) and the experience is just as powerful (even if Steve Albini and Bob Weston are without their custom cabinets, making do instead with more prosaic Marshall and Ampeg stacks).

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008

For all their precision, each show is an improvised performance – no setlists, Albini’s vocal adlibbing & caustic wit (in “Prayer To God” he exhorts Baby Jesus to “do your fuckin’ job for once”), taking questions from the crowd (this time unsuccessfully handled by Scout Niblett). And we get to hear a new song, sung by Weston and sounding like classic early ’90s-vintage Shellac (another new song appears in Paris about a week later – could it be we’ll be seeing a new Shellac album before the end of the world?!). It’s an amazing set, surely making new acolytes in the crowd of thousands, and (like all Shellac performances I’ve witnessed) words won’t do it justice…

Shellac, ATP stage, Primavera Sound, 01-Jun-2008


Setlist: Shellac @ Primavera Sound 2008, Barcelona (01 June 2008)
Ghosts
My Black Ass
Copper
Paco
In A Minute
Squirrel Song
(new song with Bob on vocals)
Prayer To God
Killers
Steady As She Goes
Wingwalker
End Of Radio
Watch Song
Spoke


Les Savy Fav are talked up as a crazy live experience (some would go so far as to crown them best live band around – heretics!) and sure enough vocalist Tim Harrington gives the crowd their money’s worth – first appearing disguised as a plant before stripping down to a multicoloured leotard and jumping into the audience, running up and down the concrete steps to the right of the ATP stage. The rest of the band rock efficiently behind Harrington’s antics, but it seems to me that Les Savy Fav’s appeal must be more in their moon-howlin’ mad frontman than in their tunes – and in contrast to the masterclass of masa, velocidad & tiempo that went before this only entertains superficially. So it is halfway through their set that I decide to call time on Primavera Sound 2008, heading into the balmy Barcelona night, off to dream my sweet Albini dreams…



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Utrecht, one of Holland’s oldest cities and the spiritual home of Dutch modernist design (the birthplace of Theo van Doesburg, Gerrit Rietveld and Dick Bruna), is also blessed with some great gig venues. The relatively small size of the city (population: 300,000) supports several perfectly-proportioned spaces (capacity: a couple of hundred at most) ideal for those ‘intimate’ shows I’d take over a stadium gig every time. So as a taster for the upcoming Primavera festival of delights in Barcelona (where both bands will play), in early May I twice made the 30 minute train journey to Utrecht to see Six Organs of Admittance (@ Poppodium EKKO) and Scout Niblett (@ Tivoli De Helling) do their thing.

The Six Organs Of Admittance show is the first proper of their European tour (following a special warm-up date in Latvia of all places) and unfortunately it shows. Drummer Alex Neilsen is rightly regarded as one of the best around but this night he lays it on too strong, filling in spaces that were best filled only with Ben Chasny & Elisa Ambrogio’s wailing twelve strings.

Listening to Chasny’s playing on record it is clear that he plays at a pace all of his own, not always beholden to what would be considered conventional timing or rhythm, and although Neilson is of course well-versed in improvisational drumming, too often they fail to quite mesh. But this is not to suggest that there are not moments of classic Six Organs transcendentalism: Ambrogio and Chasny transform “Hum A Silent Prayer” (on record, virtually acapella) into a droning noisechant and there are moments of blissed out freerock in “Black Needle Rhymes” when the three bandmembers connect. The “Shelter From The Ash” songs – like the title track, “Coming To Get You” and “Strangled Road” – are all tight , Neilson forced to be more economical by those songs’ relatively concise & conventional structures.

Six Organs Of Admittance - live at Poppodium EKKO, Utrecht, 12-May-2008

Unfortunately the performance is cut short due to the enforcement of a strict (public holiday) Monday night curfew (why don’t promoters/venues get the support acts on earlier if there is a danger that the headliner will have to play a constricted set?!). As I headed into the still-faintly-lit Dutch night I hoped that by the time they hit Barcelona the band will have better mindmelded, Neilsen taking a more subtle approach to fleshing out the twin-guitar cacophony of Chasny & Ambrogio, and I looked forward to the next Six Organs experience being all the more powerful for it.

 

Scout Niblett plays on the packed bill of Distorted Channel‘s 5th birthday celebration (headlined by Health) so it’s another performance that ends too soon. But we get “Wolfie” after Scout asks the audience what we want to hear next, the reflective “Wet Road”, a TLC cover (“No Scrubs”), and she and drummer Kristian Goddard take us through “This Fool Can Die Now”‘s best songs, closing with the monolithic desert rock of “Nevada”. Scout has also started a Shellac-style mid-set Q&A session, although the question quality was low, only eliciting the information that Scout likes dogs and isn’t particularly bothered when it comes to cats…

Scout Niblett, live at Tivoli De Helling, Utrecht, 17-May-2008

It is another intense & exposed performance from Scout (I’m sure she can’t do it any other way), heart on sleeve and amp turned up to the max. So with appetite suitably whet, bring on Barcelona!

Having once been a relatively enthusiastic proponent of the end-of-year ‘best of’ list, a few years ago I stopped putting these together in favour of just creating an aural review of releases I particularly liked in the form of a CD compilation. I suppose I rejected the idea of trying to rank the year’s releases, to come up with the ‘best album’ of that particular year, as this was forcing me to evaluate the music on a critical/intellectual level that doesn’t work for me – for me music is about feeling; from wanting to bang my head or creep myself out, from getting goosebumps of euphoria to twinges of melancholy… But I suppose it is sacrilege for a music-related blog to come to the end of a year and not attempt some sort of round-up, so rather than create a ranked list justified by socio-political contexts or clever meta-musical references, these are the records (in no particular order) and live performances that have rocked / droned / folked up / brokebeat / hiphopped my world in 2007, that have made me feel



Top 25 Albums of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 25 Albums of 2007

from top, l-r:

Magnolia Electric Co : “Sojourner” boxset (Secretly Canadian)

PJ Harvey : “White Chalk” (Island)

Angels Of Light : “We Are Him” (Young God)

Low : “Drums And Guns” (Sub Pop)

Liars : “Liars” (Mute)

Mammal : “Lonesome Drifter” (Animal Disguise)

Grinderman : “Grinderman” (Mute)

Boris with Michio Kurihara : “Rainbow” (Pedal/Drag City)

El-P : “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” (Definitive Jux)

Vic Chesnutt : “North Star Deserter” (Constellation)

Nina Nastasia & Jim White : “You Follow Me” (Fat Cat)

Om : “Pilgrimage” (Southern Lord)

Scout Niblett : “This Fool Can Die Now” (Too Pure)

Shellac : “Excellent Italian Greyhound” (Touch & Go)

Epic45 : “May Your Heart Be The Map” (Make Mine Music)

Magik Markers : “Boss” (Ecstatic Peace!)

MIA : “Kala” (XL)

Sigur Rós : “Hvarf-Heim” (EMI)

Stars Of The Lid : “And The Refinement Of Their Decline” (Kranky)

Jesu : “Conqueror” (HydraHead/Daymare)

Alela Diane : “The Pirate’s Gospel” (Holocene/Names/Fargo)

Six Organs Of Admittance : “Shelter From The Ash” (Drag City)

Bracken : “We Know About The Need” (Anticon)

Future Of The Left : “Curses” (Too Pure)

Earth : “Hibernaculum” (Southern Lord)




Top 5 EPs/Singles of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 5 EPs of 2007

l-r:

Efterklang : “Under Giant Trees” (Leaf)

Zonderhoof : “Zonderhoof” EP (Sound Devastation)

Joanna Newsom : “Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band” EP (Drag City)

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy : “Ask Forgiveness” EP (Drag City/Domino)

Jesu : “Sundown / Sunrise” EP (Aurora Borealis/Daymare)

 



Top 10 Gigs of 2007


NarcoAgent Top 10 Gigs of 2007

Future Of The Left + Infants @ The Luminaire, London (10 March 2007)

Josh T Pearson @ ATP festival, Minehead (27 April 2007)

Nick Cave / Grinderman @ ATP festival, Minehead (28 April 2007)

Dirty Three @ ATP festival, Minehead (29 April 2007)

Scout Niblett @ Bush Hall, London (21 May 2007)

Isis + Boris @ Koko, London (02 July 2007)

Liars @ Madame Jo Jo’s, London (03 July 2007)

Six Organs Of Admittance @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (12 August 2007)

Sonic Youth do “Daydream Nation” @ The Roundhouse, London (30 August 2007)

Jesu @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (05 December 2007)


Correctly guess which picture was taken at which gig and I will send you a copy of my “Best of 2007” 2CD compilation (once I’ve pulled my finger out of my ass and actually made the thing). Use the contact form on the Disclaimer page to submit your ‘entry’.



Compared to the relatively barren (for me) musical months of August and September, October was the veritable muthalode: releases by Om (Floyd-esque pursuit of the transcendental Ur-drone), PJ Harvey (bleak piano-led English Gothic), Qui (the Return of Yow!), and Wooden Shjips (retrotastic distorto-organ-rock) all caught the ear, but it was the newest recordings of two favourite performers that got locked in some winner-takes-all deathmatch before I realised “hey, we’re all winners” and wimped out on the decision by making them both ‘albumi of the month’.


Future of The Left : “Curses” (Too Pure)

It has been exciting following this band from their first London show in September 2006 (this being the first official Future Of The Left show – the previous few were ‘secretly’ performed under aliases: Mooks of Passim, Guerilla Press, Dead Redneck…) through to catching them in 3 different Dutch cities in the past three months as they embarked on the first Future Of The Left tour of Europe. Back in late 2006 they arrived pretty much fully-formed, having obviously spent a lot of time nurturing & perfecting their songs before unleashing them on the public – most of the songs on “Curses” were part of the live set pretty much from the beginning, with only the keyboard stompers first appearing in March. So these songs are like old friends, and far from tiring of their company now that I can spin them whenever I want I am like the proverbial cat (Colin? Chicken?) that got the cream.

Future Of The Left - Curses

Opening with the storming “The Lord Hates A Coward”, the album starts in turbo-charged high gear and only lets the foot off the pedal for the closing Noel Coward-esque “The Contrarian”. This out-of-character last song aside, the album pummels the listener with sledgehammer bass, piston-pounding drums and guitar that could cut through steel. Like Shellac (the band they’re most often compared to), Future Of The Left have a wonderful ability to create dynamic tension in their songs through the removal and re-addition of one of the three instruments, Kelson Mathias’s phat bass and Jack Egglestone’s precision beats often providing the granite foundation to the song before Andy Falkous comes in to spew molten guitar or keyboard riffs and his (mostly uninterpretable) lyrical bile over the proceedings. And despite the words being seemingly mostly meaningless they are strung together in such a literary way that makes ’em unforgetable: you have tall tales of a Devil Thumb, Jack’s pretty pussy, Atlantis rendered badly in oil paints, tiny exo-skeletons and uninteresting ostriches, and get to ponder whether it’s better to be bovine than equine (which I first heard as “better porkfat than eggwhite” and which still made some kinda sense), hedgehog than porcupine, half-cut than borderline…

“Fuck The Countryside Alliance” owes the most to Shellac with its undulating bassline and spare beat, and is also Falco’s most easily decipherable lyric – an anti-Conservative diatribe, a call to arms against the wealthy country gentry, the screams of “take a man to his nightmares in a Landrover” eerily chilling (but funny too: like Killdozer or Shellac, and of course mclusky, FotL’s black sense of humour successfully shines through the music, without ever being a joke that one could tire of).
“Suddenly It’s A Folk Song” will soon be appearing on a double A-side release of punky new wave gloriousness with “Manchasm”, both songs deserving of tearing up the ‘independent’ airwaves (if such a thing still exists) – “Folk Song” in particular is a perfect pop song in the sense that Pixies and Nirvana wrote pop songs, music that can have populous appeal without comprimising the song’s (or the band’s) integrity.
adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood” is one of my favourite songs of the year, moving with a minimalist punkfunk strut that Gang of Four would be proud of and mixing a mammoth riff & Rawhide with arguably the first ever usage of the word “paradiddle” in a song lyric.

I couldn’t help myself wondering though how great these songs would sound recorded over at Electrical Audio, but Falco gave me a fairly compelling reason as to why that is likely to remain a ‘what if?’. And I rudely suggested that the gaps between songs could’ve been a bit longer (so as to allow the listener a momentary breather & to reflect on the gem that had just passed) only to learn that the gaps are the result of hours of intense intra-band debate. I should learn not to question the Mighty Falcotron. Grow into your body happily!!!


Hear live versions of the album’s first three songs at the bottom of this post.



Scout Niblett : “This Fool Can Die Now” (Too Pure

Scout Niblett rocks so damn hard, but can rock so sweetly soft too. It is this wide dynamic – the highs & lows of someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve – helped by the sparseness of the instrumentation (usually just electric guitar, sometimes accompanied by drums), that makes Scout‘s live performances so affecting. New songs like “Nevada”, “Let Thine Heart Be Warmed”, “Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?” and “Kiss” have really captured my imagination over the past twelve months or so, and so (like with Future Of The Left) I couldn’t wait to have the recorded versions in my sweaty stumps, to pore & paw over to my heart’s desire. With Steve Albini charged with capturing it all on tape, and the Bonnie ‘Prince’ hillBilly-ing on four of the songs, it was going to be brilliant.

Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now

So it is disappointing that “This Fool Can Die Now” isn’t quite as huge as I’d hoped it would be. The drums don’t punch hard enough, the guitar doesn’t sear like I know it can, and on some songs Scout’s vocals sound a bit off – like both she and Albini were having a bad day at the office. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this album it just doesn’t knock me over like she does live. Scout is able to hold halls of people transfixed with just her elemental guitar and her soaring voice, but here the added instrumental flourishes (strings, fer chrissakes) and insufficent dynamic range between what should be rapturous volume and ghostly quiet, detract from that raw sound that can suck people right in. Note this as a first: I’ve badmouthed a Steve Albini piece of work! But Scout’s distinctive songs (and the person they spring from) are intact, and Oldham’s presence is a welcome one, still making this one of my favourite albums of the year.

The two opening duets with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy work well, Oldham comfortably inhabiting the male lover-persona, and “Let Thine Heart Be Warmed” is one of Scout’s standout songs (although here given a strange, incongruous industrial edge as the sound of scraped pipes swings unnecessarily throughout).
The headbanging roadtrip of “Nevada” is my favourite track, like a lovers’ “Fear & Loathing…” and probably the song on this album that comes closest to doing justice to the Scout Niblett live experience.
On “Dinosaur Egg” Scout adds some new verses to the already classic David Shrigley lyrics, personalizing the song further: “Solitude, sweet solitude / When will you disappear? / ‘Cause you’re an acceptable guest sometimes / But you’ll not be a long-term friend of mine“, and the perfectly Scout-ian: “My solar body, oh my solar body / When will I join you out of this flesh? / ‘Cause I am sick & tired of being sick & tired / And I’d much rather be a golden ball of light… but still have sex…

Despite my aforementioned disappointment with “This Fool Can Die Now” I have it on regular rotation in NarcoAgent Towers and am unshakeable in my faith in Scout Niblett as one of modern music’s treasures. This album and 2005’s “Kidnapped By Neptune” both come close to being truly great, but fall short of capturing the awesome Scout-in-the-flesh experience – see her live if she comes to a town near you.  


Here is the opening track of the album: “Do You Want To Be Buried With My People?“, recorded live-in-the-studio in November for The Guardian‘s Music Weekly podcast.


Scout Niblett – Do You Want To Be Buried With My People? (live in session)



Scout Niblett and Future of The Left releases can be obtained directly from Too Pure (http://toopure.bigcartel.com/). Too Pure have also recently launched a Singles Club (http://www.toopure.com/singlesclub/) which should hopefully feature a 7″ of unreleased songs from both Scout and FotL.



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