Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rage, rage against the dying of the light


Question: if no one is here to hear Chad Valley aka the electronic side project of Jonquil's Hugo Manuel, does it still sound like a budget Animal Collective? Answer: a resounding yes. A psychedelic maelstrom of electronics topped with heavily treated vocals - the comparisons are inescapable. Like Panda Bear and company, he could do with doing more in terms of a stage presence, but when you're trying to spin an array of musical plates at once and ensure none of them crash to the floor, his preoccupation is understandable.

And now for one of the 100% Cast-Iron Rules Of Live Performances: if a band take to the stage with a cocksure swagger and a sample of some bloke chuntering on about the music on the radio all being shit, then you can guarantee that they'll turn out to be the embodiment of EXACTLY what they purport to stand against. A spectacular lack of self-consciousness is just one of the reasons Morning Parade irritate the fuck out of me - others include the Kelly Jones vocals, the superfluous keyboards bussed in from another planet to add "depth", and the airbrushed, vacuous and soul-sappingly boring songs. "You're becoming someone else", the last song declares - if only they were.

But thankfully salvation is at hand - in the unlikely form of a band performing songs from a concept album about terminal illness.

2009's Hospice, the third full-length release from The Antlers, drew a rapturous reception from the critics but somehow passed me by until earlier this year. That title says a lot - not Hospital, which might suggest a place of frenzied activity in pursuit of recovery and cure, but Hospice, a peaceful place where death is awaited helplessly.

Arcade Fire's Funeral and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago have inevitably been singled out as reference points, but to me it feels closer kin to Eels' Electro Shock Blues - claustrophobically sombre and personal at times but shot through with passages of pure catharsis, like the shimmering washes at the beginning of 'Thirteen'. Sober and serious? Not the sort of thing we've come to expect to hail from New York.

But how well such a record - haunting, harrowing and almost unbearably intense in a one-on-one situation - would translate to the live environment was anyone's guess. The answer is, emphatically, with great success.

The crowd's silence is right and proper, respectful in particular of the fragility and nakedness of Pete Silberman's falsetto - but the fact is that, augmented by all manner of pedals, electronics and effects, the songs puff themselves up to epic proportions. I'm not ashamed to say that Silberman's most memorable lyrics - "You're screaming, and cursing, and angry, and hurting me" ('Epilogue'), "Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve them" ('Wake') - take on an added urgency and passion that come close to reducing your humble correspondent to tears.

Silberman now finds himself in the unenviable position of having to follow Hospice up - but, for now, he can rest assured that he and his band are busy ekeing the very best out of what is an astonishing album (and, with hindsight, a heinous omission from last year's SWSL Top 10).

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