Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Phantom Band play Dolan's Warehouse on Thursday

SOME bands are reclusive by their very nature, shunning the spotlight in favour of allowing their creative output to speak for itself. The appropriately named The Phantom Band are such a band, a Scottish six-piece who have made avoiding the limelight into something approaching an art form.
The band’s propensity for recording densely layered and exciting, on-the-edge music has, however, seen them gain plaudits and critical acclaim for their 2009 debut Checkmate Savage and last year’s superb follow-up, The Wants, thereby ironically exposing the band to the outside world via the applause they have received.
You get the feeling that this exposure might not sit well with the Glasgow-based band that, when they were starting out initially, performed and released music under alternating identities, from Robert Redford to Robert Louis Stevenson.

“We didn’t do anything by design - we didn’t set out to get that acclaim, that is maybe something that has come (as a result),” says Andy Wake, the band’s keyboardist.
“You can hear bands that are formed in order to get a record deal and get popular, you can hear it in the music and you can hear that in bands that definitely do not do that. The fact is that we were never big ‘showmen’. The whole thing about the name changes wasn’t to be cool or enigmatic, it was the opposite, we were trying to erase our history a bit, because we weren’t sure what we were doing, we were just messing around, we never formed a band with any aspirations, we were more of a collective than a band, it wasn’t settled, more just something do on a Friday night, have a couple of beers and make music and have fun.”
When they eventually settled on their present moniker, it reflected their desire to remain “under the radar”.

“When people were offering us gigs, we were never doing them to try and build up popularity, we were doing them for the experience of doing them,” says Andy.
“We didn’t want people to be able to follow us from one gig to the next, because we wanted to be able to start from scratch every time. We only stuck with the name once we were happier with what we were doing live and we were starting to form a collection of pieces of music that we would play, and the whole thing about the name emerged because people referred to us as the ‘phantom’ band, in reference to the fact that we were changing the name and staying under the radar, and it is still something that we do from time to time.”

Indeed, after the success of the first album, the band went back to this tactic when sketching out pieces for the follow-up. The Wants is a weird, claustrophobic album that channels influences as broad as Animal Collective, Berlin-era Bowie, Brian Eno, The Walkmen and The National, and is an elusive, mercurial offering that is as enigmatic as the band themselves. Unlike their first record, the songs for which were built up over a period of playing time them live, The Phantom Band literally locked themselves away for six months in a remote studio to record the follow-up, with only a broad canvas on which to paint, allowing the process to dictate the output.

“We were locked in and weren’t let out until we recorded an album,” laughs Andy. “The first time we went into the studio with some things already finalised as tracks because we had been playing them live for a couple of years, but this time we went in with pretty much nothing and were holed up for quite a while and writing it as we went along,” he explains.
“To be honest, it was pretty stressful, there was a lot of arguing, because nobody had a clear idea of what direction each track had. You end up fighting over it and trying to pull it in different directions, so you can probably hear it in the music that it does that, but it was quite interesting for us, the idea that on a different day, the whole album could have gone in a different direction altogether.”

The band employed a succession of strange and colourful instruments during this time in the studio to help with the creative process. The instruments, both home made and hard-bought, ranged from bits of furniture to a toy drum machine and FX pedals to the studio fire extinguisher.

“It is something we have always done. We don’t use these instruments to be wacky or to try and be original, we just use them because we find the sound of them interesting,” explains Andy with a laugh.
“You might say they (the albums) are quite layered and we use the studio a lot when we record, we almost use it as an instrument and really exploit it.”

Asked about playing live, which the band will do this week in Dolan’s Warehouse, the Scot is as definitive as he can be on the band’s live direction, which he says he can’t wait to bring to Limerick.
“We have always had the mindset that the live sound and the recorded sound are never going to be the same, so we don’t fight against that, we use it as something to make the live shows as interesting as we can and not replicate the album exactly,” he says.
“Obviously you can only do that to a certain degree, because people want to hear music that they know, if they have the album, but really we are conscious of making it a different experience. I have heard good things about Dolan’s, hopefully it goes well,” he adds.

The Phantom Band play Dolan’s Warehouse this Thursday.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bottom Dog bring New York production of Romeo and Juliet to The Loft

LOCAL theatre company Bottom Dog have teamed up with the New York based Forestburgh Theatre Arts Centre to present a co-production of Romeo and Juliet in the Loft venue this week.
The innovative local theatre company have joined forces with the New York based company to present an exciting version of the classic play, which Liam O’Brien of Bottom Dog describes as “fast, furious and edgy”.
“It is going to be a very slick, very fast production, just six actors but they are going to be doubling up all of the roles and there is a modern, contemporary rock score,” explained the well-known local actor. “It is just 80 minutes, so it is very much for those afraid of Shakespeare and three hour productions and features a punky, American cast in modern clothing, flying through the stuff, using music to make it very accessible.”
It was Liam’s own trip to the prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre in California last summer that spawned the idea for a co-production, with one his fellow actors involved with the Forestburgh group, who are based in the Catskills of New York.
“We wanted to do something between the companies and either do something over there or them come over here,” explains Liam of this first international collaboration between the groups. “The first step is them bringing this production of Romeo and Juliet over here, and one of the actors is a tutor that taught us so there is a real Steppenwolf flavour to it.”
“It is a cracking story, but doesn’t get bogged down in the minutiae and the heavy detail - it has been condensed into a very accessible play and it will be exciting to see how Americans do Shakespeare as well. They have a great love for it, but they will approach it in a very different way to its normal production,” he adds.
The group are also set to tour around Ireland while they are here, and will be performing Romeo and Juliet in Friars Gate Theatre in Kilmallock during their Limerick run, and interest is high in the collaboration.
Romeo and Juliet runs in the Loft on Wednesday, January 19 and Friday and Saturday, January 21-22 at 7.30pm. For bookings call 085-2085737.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Album review - Iron and Wine 'Kiss Each Other Clean'

Iron and Wine
'Kiss Each Other Clean'

SAM Beam, better known under his performing moniker Iron and Wine, has completed something of a quiet, understated journey with this, his fourth studio album, shedding the earlier, admittedly simplistic perception of him as something of a whiskered and bearded singer-songwriter, whispering into his microphone, his folk-songs subtle and understated, and similarily lacking in ambition.
A mere glimpse at the retro, psychedilic-drenched album cover suggests from the off that Beam is going to advance the journey began on his previous record, the excellent The Shepherd’s Dog, which made many Best Of lists on its release in 2007.
He likened that album to an attempt to replicate something in the vein of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, moving from the acoustic-driven whisper of The Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days to a fuller, more complete sound, and has proclaimed this
album to be “more of a focused pop record”, his first since he signed to Warners/4AD,
leaving the Sub Pop label, home of Fleet Foxes and Postal Service and more.
It is the many layers and quirky rhythms on this album that surprise the most, notably the waves of sound on superb opener Walking Far From Home, the African influenced Monkeys
Uptown - which references the throbbing electric guitar sounds prevalent on a Tinariwen record - the steady, brooding closer Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me, and the more subtle, minimalist and off-centre groove of Rabbit Will Run.
The eye-opening jazz-prog-beat of Big Burned Hand is the biggest departure for Beam, who has effortlessly turned his hand at producing a much richer sound here.
The do-wap oohs and aahs of Half Moon are more of a throwback to his earlier output, as is the
softer, Bon Iver-esque Godless Brother In Love.
However, it is the fizzing melodies of Glad Man Singing that catch the ear repeatedly, the piano driven track bustling with electro-flourishes and reminiscent of AstralWeeks. Superb.
If this is the second twist on Beam’s musical journey, we can’t wait to see where the road goes next.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Choice Music Prize shortlist for Irish Album of 2010 announced

The shortlist for the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of 2010 has just been announced, and here it is:

Adebesi Shank - This is the Second Album of a band called Adebisi Shank (Richter Collective)
The Cast of Cheers - Chariot
Cathy Davey - The Nameless (Hammer Toe Records)
Fight Like Apes - The Body of Christ & The Legs of Tina Turner (Model Citizen)
Halves - It Goes, It Goes (Forever & Ever) (Hate is The Enemy)
Imelda May – Mayhem (Universal)
James Vincent McMorrow – Early in The Morning (Universal)
O Emperor - Hither Thither (Universal)
Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (Kitsune)
Villagers - Becoming a Jackal (Domino)

No major shocks outside of the Cast of Cheers, whose album were are unfamiliar with, a situation we will be shortly rectifying. Hard to look beyond the Villagers album as a winner, but there are certainly some very deserving names on the list, including two of our favourite albums last year, O Emperor's Hither Thither and Halves' It Goes, It Goes (Forver and Ever). That said, all of the names on the list are deserving, but no shout for Limerick bands Windings and Brad Pitt Light Orchestra is a bit disappointing..

The event itself takes place in Vicar Street on Thursday, March 3 and the winning act will receive 10,000, a prize fund provided by IMRO and IRMA. We will be there as usual to cast out eye over the acts and await the winner with interest. Tickets are now available from Ticketmaster and more information is available here.