Palma Violets @ The Boston Arms

Palma Violets
Palma Violets

This energetic South London four-piece’s reputation saw them on tour supporting Savages, 2012’s most hyped Joy Division impersonators, then get signed to Rough Trade without so much as a demo. Tonight, tickets marked for Steve Lamacq are among a pile of industry passes at the door; the venue is sold out. What have the Palma Violets got to explain the hype?

It’s garage rock – cacophonous drums, insistent bass, reverb-a-plenty and shrieked two-part vocals. Pete Mayhew’s organ offers respite and aspires to a broader sound some would call psychedelic, but too often here it’s lost in the mix. On stage Sam Fryer (vocals/guitar) and snarling, floppy-fringed Chilli Jessen (bass/shouting) bounce off each other, launching a blitz of guitar and strobe through a thick pall of smoke and reverb. It’s gleefully reckless; they don’t hit all the notes, they chuck themselves about. Fayer’s voice resembles Ian McCulloch in tone but without the Bunnyman’s finesse; every song arrives laced with whoops, yelps and screams.

Single ‘Best of Friends‘ has a winning chorus, Will Doyle’s catchy drum clatter of ‘Tom The Drum‘ stop-starts to raucous effect, while ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ could be The Modern Lovers, whose more boisterous organ and bass-driven moments the Palmas sometimes echo.

The gig descends into entertaining chaos: articles of teenage clothing are hurled at the band, a shirtless girl clambers onstage and barely retains her bra, full scale stage incursions ensue, and Jessen indulges in some reverse stage diving by walking into the crowd to be raised aloft and thrown back onstage.

Nothing different then, just a classic recipe executed well with the infectious energy and unshakable faith of the young. These four are living the dream right now. Let them.

In the works: Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr at Abbey Road Studios by Mark Kean
Photo: Johnny Marr by at Abbey Road Studios by Mark Kean

ALBUM TITLE: The Messenger
RELEASE DATE: February 2013
RECORDED: Berlin and Marr’s own studio in Manchester
SONGS INCLUDE: ‘The Right Thing Right’, ‘European Me’, ‘The Messenger’, ‘Upstarts’, ‘Sun And Moon’, ‘New Town Velocity’
FACT: In 1988 The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde told Johnny that if he didn’t sing he was “a chicken” – better late than never, it turns out.

A thirty-year career that began as a teenager with The Smiths has seen Johnny Marr develop as a six-string for hire with – among many others – Talking Heads, Electronic, The The, Oasis, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. But his new album ‘The Messenger’, previewed for Clash at Abbey Road studios, will be the first to bear his name alone.

“I hadn’t really decided on a fixed line-up until near the end. I didn’t want to put it out as if it had a band vibe, because it’s more personal than that. It’s just me really,” says Marr.

His last solo effort in 2003 was ‘Boomslang’, as Johnny Marr And The Healers, which received a mixed response. “I didn’t really know what I was doing then, but I was speaking collectively for the others. On this record I’m speaking entirely for myself. It feels totally different, like the start of a few solo records,” the softly-spoken Mancunian adds.

Mixed by Frank Arkwright, with whom Marr remastered The Smiths discography for re-release last year, the tracks seem steeped in influences from the bands that Marr has worked and written with. ‘European Me’ is threaded with Smiths-esque fingerpicked guitar, the opening chords of the tender ‘New Town Velocity’ recall Electronic’s ‘Get The Message’ (one of Marr’s favourites), while ‘Sun And Moon’ rocks the lo-fi attack and snarl of The Cribs, sounding like a strong single.

johnnymarr-clashmag-full-shrunk

But they’re also very much pieces of Marr, as songwriter and singer. Lyrically the album swings between political and social comment and tales of youth and devotion: “If anything the narrative through the record is about growing up in this country. I think ultimately it’s quite hopeful because I’m that kind of person.”

But while bandmates Zak Starkey and Edgar Summertyme (with a little help from Ms. Hynde) may have managed to strong-arm Marr into taking vocal duties, he’s not going emo: “I’m absolutely not interested in being the frontman in a band that bares my soul or feelings in song. Siouxsie Sioux, or Ray Davies, or Howard Devoto don’t sing from some weird, schlocky, sentimental place. What’s wrong with singing from the brain?”

[Originally published in Clash Magazine issue 81, December 2012.

M83 @ Brixton Academy

Photo credit: Matt Wash

Being in a band requires a little more than just standing around playing your instruments. Beyond talent, skill and enthusiasm it demands a little showmanship.

French electro-shoegazers M83 are aware of this. The show at a packed-out Academy opens with singer-keyboardist Morgan Kibby plucked from the darkness by a spotlight wearing billowing robes, furry claws and the freaky animal/insect mask last seen gracing the cover of the ‘Midnight City’ single. Like a snorkel-nosed Wolverine she then fires green lasers from her claws into the crowd, which – as the rest of the band launch into the deafening drums and bass of appropriately named ‘Intro’ – goes batshit crazy.

Jordan Lawlor, the fresh-faced, mop-haired newcomer who won a YouTube competition to join the band, gets stuck in to overt acts of musical expression by occasionally battering two synth pads opposite Kibby at the front of the stage while kicking his legs back behind him, giving the impression of a man caught on a drum-powered treadmill.

Singer, songwriter and chief creative force Anthony Gonzalez and his brother Yann take things comparatively easy, while above them the Academy’s vast backdrop breaks out into a sea of starlight – as befitting a band named after a distant galaxy.

In fact with lasers and lights and an incredible, leg-shakingly heavy sound – ten rows from the front we can feel the air forced out of the bass bins – it’s an assault on the senses.

Gonzalez’s vision is a wide open interplanetary soundscape of reverb-washed guitar, and rocket-fuelled-beats that build and burst behind competing tides of synthesis. Tracks like the lo-fi fuzz choir of ‘Teen Angst’ or the thrashy shoegaze of ‘The Bright Flash’ come sandwiched between trilling dance-pop anthems like ‘Midnight City’ and ‘Reunion’. And anthemic they are, to the point that it’s hard to tell if you’re familiar with the track or if it’s just that you’ve heard those synth lines for years from the likes of MSTRKRFT or MGMT or even ‘Disintegration’-era Cure.

With all the leaping about, the fancy dress, the flowing locks, and the nine-minute track prog self-belief, M83 could be a 21st century Hawkwind. At their most noodly, they could be an electro-Coldplay. But whacked out at 150dB there’s a five-thousand-strong crowd here that dances along heedless.

It strikes us this is music for teenage-hood, for teenagers love-struck-dumb by first time sensations for which they have no words. Gonzalez’s videos are filled with wonder, escape, visitations from the sky, aliens, magical powers. And oh how glorious it is to feel so special, so unique. But – is it so cynical to say so? – in time the youth, like this music, will age. Now it’s a soundtrack for wide-eyes and trembling lips, emotional stuff at its best. But given time and whiskers, will they with older eyes still look back as fondly on M83’s ultimately formulaic musical charms?

Originally published at Clashmusic.com.