For a few days now I’ve been hearing a strange muffled noise emitting from the confines of my flat, and last night I was really struggling to sleep because of it. I was too tired and unsettled to seriously investigate, instead deciding to take refuge under my pillow and pretend like it didn’t exist. This morning, my senses far more acute, I established the sound was coming from the ceiling above my bed. I reached up high and banged my fist against the exterior… the noise increasing tenfold… as did the realisation I was now sharing my home with a gang of bees. I could see them hovering around outside my window, and I felt automatically connected to them.
The humble worker bee is Manchester’s most recognisable cultural symbol; you’ll find them here decorating our brickwork, bridges and bins. It’s fair to say the bee represents the industry and collaboration of our creative scene – just as much now as the mills and factories of our past. People here tend not to make a big deal about what they are up to, all the best art is hidden away like beautiful honey… only when the hive is disturbed will all the bee’s emerge. Paul Blake is the kind of person who reflects this modern landscape – an engaging character, you’ll often find him out with his partner Kyoko Swan (Kyogen/PINS) at local shows, supportive, positive and clearly inspired by the artist’s he surrounds himself with.
Pain Threshold, his own musical project, is a highly personal affair; a slow dissection of his mind and mortality. The song-craft and emotive lyricism found in standout track Being and Nothingness are wrapped in experience and understanding… a world weariness that feels almost inescapable. This bold and beautiful approach is reminiscent of the early MONEY recordings, with all the same raw and poetic qualities to his work. It’s time for this bee to make some noise.
For the last few weeks, my life has been lost inside a chaotic mess… clothes, books and pieces of paper strewn across my bedroom floor, a mountain of food wrappers and unwashed plates gathering dust. I’m in self-destruct mode and something needs to change. Writing has always been such a positive outlet for me but lately I’ve been avoiding doing the things I love. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate, my eyes straining into the dim light of my laptop screen… fingers fumbling across the keyboard trying to piece together my thoughts. Even listening to music has felt like a chore.
The band that I so often turn to in times of disrepair is MONEY. Having watched them from the very beginning, I feel a personal connection with their journey, which culminated in the release of debut album ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ (Bella Union) and a momentous performance at M.I.F in 2013. It was a strange experience staring at Jamie Lee’s naked torso as I danced next to Hayley Cropper, a sea of Mancunians singing every word of ‘Letter To Yesterday’ with me.
Lee’s dark poetic lyricism, with it’s moments of intimacy and inner madness were always a focal point in my love for MONEY, but hidden deeper within the musical layers was the tender work of shy guitarist Charlie Cocksedge. Now in the process of revealing solo material that he wrote in between touring, it’s clear from these blossoming compositions that Cocksedge is the sun to Lee’s moon… a creative dynamic that works beautifully in harmony together, but individually is just as captivating.
‘Be‘ is a 10 minute instrumental piece that delivers subtle melodies and the kind of twinkling progressive sound that delicately brings your imagination alive. With influences ranging from Nils Frahm to Jonny Greenwood, Cocksedge’s ambient noise is a slow-burning and expansive world, as emotionally powerful as it is technically brilliant. Music like this will always be there for me when I’m struggling, like tiny fragments of light managing to find a way through the cracks in my head.
There are some artists for whom superlatives simply don’t work. Not that they are undeserving, far from it, but that those kinds of words fail to describe the real essence of their work, immersed as they are in the endless ping-pong tournament of one-upmanship, competitively striving for greater metaphorical heights.
Once every blue moon comes a MONEY, where if you let it, the art will force you to form a relationship with it so personal, that it becomes difficult to extrapolate from your soul. It speaks from within you, you gradually become as much a compulsive semi-conscious transmitter of it’s supposed message as you do a receiver. And so it was with The Shadow Of Heaven, falling to terra firma as it did almost a year ago; part debut album, part emotional interactive installation.
The video for the title track, it’s climatic penultima, extends us another parable upon the impassioned anthology of Jamie Lee and cohorts. It raises head and arms towards the sky, cryptically calling out the questions for which there are perhaps no answers, yet silently and crucially accepting of fate.
It’s fair to say that in the ensuing months since I first introduced Hartheim, the Manchester band have started to generate the kind of buzz needed to seperate themselves from the pack. Debut offering Yellow was certainly an ambitious statement; that dark bellowing vocal still leaves me in a state of rapture after all this time, with it’s climactic ending worthy of a bigger stage.
Having since taken a handful of live shows, each outing seems to further cement them as a band to keep an eye on. Against an immersive visual backdrop, the brutal nature of Hartheim’s set is fully exposed; front-man Mike Emerson’s performance is at times hypnotic, channelling an almost uncomfortable emotion. There’s an element of theatricality and danger to be found here too, and they’ll need to be careful it doesn’t overshadow the music. That being said, this is a band willing to challenge both themselves and the audience.
In Welcome to Hartheim they have created a sound that echoes the work of Esben and the Witch, an unsettling narrative played against brooding guitars, before descending into a cavernous emptiness. When you tear apart the aesthetic exterior, Hartheim are aiming straight for the heart.
If I’m honest, this week has been difficult; Sounds From The Other City was a huge success for all at Tru Luv and it’s been hard trying to refocus. One act that played the festival to great acclaim last year is Liverpool/Manchester based G R E A T W A V E S. Having seemingly been in hibernation these past few months, David Lacy’s dreampop project finally emerged with a beautiful new track in YOU. The production is cleaner this time round, more refined. It feels like the sun rising at the start of a new day, warmth scattered across the sky.
Towards the end of last year, a mysterious new Swedish outfit called YOUTHCULT emerged, releasing a handful of tracks that led to early WU LYF/MONEY comparisons. Artistically they certainly seemed to be nurturing a similar sound/ideology, and with such heart on sleeve influences the trick was always going to be in the execution.
A few months on and with the reveal of Bored, I’m convinced that any initial excitement was worth having. It’s the kind of music that leaves an impression, asking more questions than giving answers… both intimate and majestic at the same time. As each guitar chord chimes, hints of Explosions In The Sky-esque post-rock bloom from within, creating a passionate, expansive piece of work. Bored is a dark vision surrounded in an air of innocence, you’ll want to listen again and again to make sure it doesn’t disappear.
With critical acclaim being heavily lauded on debut album ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’, Charlie Cocksedge certainly had a busy 2013 as part of M O N E Y, whose growing success led to them touring internationally and announcing themselves to a mass audience at the Manchester International Festival (In a truly random moment I found myself dancing next to Hayley Cropper during their performance of Hold Me Forever)
Charlie has also been making music under the name Inkling a project that is slowly and shyly revealing itself. Recent discovery Melopoeia is a delicate piano driven track with an electronic soundscape that feels filmic, and it’s undeniably beautiful. Comparisons could be made to the minimal ambience of Olafur Arnalds, with his emotive compositions built around sparseness.
Blue Bird’s Call are a mysterious new four-piece band from Paris… although a little investigative work has brought up some interesting connections, with a select group of fans already in Manchester. So, I guess it came as no surprise that debut track Vaults takes inspiration from the spiritual pop currently being channelled by MONEY. With outreaching vocals and a looming danger hidden beneath the industrial textures, Vaults really breaks free from itself around the 5 minute 20 second mark, turning into a beautifully head thumping electronica track.
An unexpected and brutally exciting way to introduce yourself.
Look, its very hard these days to create something truly original, and those that do are usually dismissed as oddities who could never translate ideas into mainstream success. Every artist has influences… its just some choose to wear them more brightly than others.
With that in mind Y O U T H C U L T are a Swedish outfit (brought to my attention thanks to CITR) with a sound heavily tied to Manchester’s MONEY and WU LYF – its epic, heavenly stuff with a devastating ambition. And you know what? I can’t do anything but LOVE it.