Judging by their album cover, to initially feel curiosity about this album, Curiosity being the name of the album, is understandable as you’re presented with what appears to be some weird sci-fi glam beach-resort owners from an old, never-aired episode of Doctor Who. “What sonic curiosities will they serve up?” you wonder. Well, that their music somehow matches the description just made of their album cover is both surprisingly delightful and it makes for what can at best be described as a fun experience well suited to the now blossoming summer.
Benin, sitting aside the home of Afrobeat and Afro Funk in Nigeria, has had always had a thriving music culture. As open as any country in the continent to receiving the influence of overseas music from America and Europe while fusing it with the poly-rhythmic funk and joie de vivre that belies much of the music in the region, it is no surprise to discover that the third volume of recordings collected of the Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou’s 1970s output is as vibrant as any album you will buy from that horribly generic shop section of music ‘World Music’.
The Barbican is coated in a summery green glow as cardboard tree cut-outs are warmly lit behind the unassuming threesome that make up Yo La Tengo, Georgia Hubley gently caressing the drums, James McNew standing with bass and guitar guarding the scene and Ira Kaplan sitting gently, guitar lusciously strummed. They play a light set containing songs mostly from their sweet new album Fade; the whole feel is quiet and delicate, with the mostly late and annoyingly whispering audience ruining what was an unerringly pretty hour of diligent music. Beginning with Ohm through the beautiful The Point of It All and Cornelius and Jane before ending on older songs Tom Courtenay and Big Day Coming, but for the occasional distractions of the unruly Barbican crowd (at the Barbican!) it was very difficult not to get swept away by the pleasantness of Yo La Tengo. It was all just so pretty.
Loveless was always going to be pretty difficult to follow up such was its perfect dreamy and ambient beauty but MBV are no ordinary band, as their eventually released m b v suggests. Recreating the ineffable wonder of Loveless before steering into the heavier jungle and drum & bass infused almost grungy rock that Shields always hinted towards in the period following Loveless, m b v is as good an album as any you’ll hear this decade. Whereas Loveless entices blissful delirium, m b v wakes you from the dreamy haze and propels you into an intense dementia.
The Southbank is heaving in anticipation. Jonny and Colin Greenwood from Radiohead have been spotted scurrying to their seats. Every single age group is represented with school trips, students, adults and pensioners all buzzing with excitement. And then, on he comes, in a black shirt and a baseball cap, onto the stage in the least theatrical of manners. The first piece this maestro performs is no symphony or rock anthem, but instead he merely claps, along with his co-performer, and he claps for around five minutes. This is no prank and nor is it a dreadful case of self-congratulation. Steve Reich doesn’t deal with surreality and deals less with self-adulation. The renowned New York composer, who is so often incorrectly described as one of the ‘minimalists’, is exhibiting his greatest compositional trait - his intense sense of rhythm.
There’s something very endearing about how Kieran Hebden entered Heaven last Thursday evening. Wearing your normal zipped hoodie with a plain t-shirt and a rucksack containing all of his kit for the tonight’s show atop his back (both straps on) he looks as though he could have come from some university seminar or class. And yet, there he is, mingling happily with the support act, the psychedelically percussive Fiium Shaarrk – whose music was perhaps a bit too experimental for the heavily expectant crowd – before setting up his long desk of computers, synths and soundboards that are to be lit solely, for much of the show, by a desk lamp reminiscent of Pixar.
So many legends look a bit cringe these days. Think McCartney at the Olympics, Brian May’s weird wizard look, The Who not dead before they got old, Ringo Star in general and even Thom Yorke as a relative youngster (and one of my own favourite artists) has a silly ponytail. But when David Bowie came back earlier this year with the unannounced but wonderful melancholic track Where Are We Now? he did so with such an awareness and effortlessness that was quite striking. There were no attempts to stretch his voice as he was once able to do, but an ageing man being just that, aging, coming to terms with his past life and accustomed to his years.