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Volcanoes and Musical Saws

by Chad Liam Polley / Images by Jacqui Van Staden / 12.10.2011

There are only three guitarists that you need to give a crap about in the whole of South Africa. I’m going to be idiotically patriotic and say that I’m glad they come from my place, the country of Johannesburg – a sombre, ugly, mottled and purple-bruised country filled with splinter factions too far removed from one another to be bothered with arguing, fighting or fucking one another’s pretty messes. The vacuum between these spaces can be filled with shite – but sometimes it’s good shite. And, thankfully, tonight, it’s an inspired sparkling gold turd for dinner. Yes, tonight I am seeing at least two of the three, of that Holy Trinity.

Unfortunately, the Vampire Cohen, more fragrantly known as Ampersand, is not performing his particular brand of swarthy, violent and vitriol laced loser lo-fi brand of ugliness, no doubt borne from a century worth of furtive lurking. He must be around 136 years old, give or take. I guess the 90s latched onto him, giving him the awkward look of a failed heroin addict – but, no doubt, he will turn up to saunter, furtively, around the darkened edges of Kitchener’s with a cigarette dangling from his fangs in a rigour mortis teeth clench; about as full-toothed as this digression.

Luckily, tonight we will be graced with the frightfully small Julian Redpath and the delicately minimalistic fullness that is Givan Lotz. Givan, apparently, is forsaking his terrifying semi-hollow body kitaar tonight for a nylon-string wooden thing (in an effort to be stripped down, one assumes). The first time I saw Givan, he had just made the purchase of this above-mentioned Epiphone Dot and was playing at The Bioscope in front of a screen of flakes of snow and desolation – mirroring the storminess of his minimalistic Liz Harris-inspired slow picking and tonal strums that hang, lonely, for just long enough for your breath to catch. The fullness of it all is provided by a fuck load of reverb and a fuck load of delay – allowing these notes and chords and strums and knells to collide with one another conversationally, breathing with each other, speaking, coalescing and reproducing. The first time I watched Givan, I cried. My friend Michael Cera, he couldn’t breath. This is all quite literal. I have not been moved by a musician as much as I have by this man. But, then again, there is Julian Redpath.

As I have previously said Julian is very small. His smallness is striking, obvious. It correlates, though, with his small voice, his tiny voice that comes clambering out of the speakers at you with tiny little knives. Julian has a penchant for vast knowledge of that particular brand of blues, the one from Mississipi (which is the Indian word for asshole, apparently). The Delta blues. This seemingly has no bearing on him as a musician and, if it does, you shouldn’t care anyway (influences are so passé).

The somnolent, sleepy, soft pain of his quietude is striking, fearful and naive and plaintive in the most horrid kind of way – his gentleness, his fragility, will, like broken glass, shard its way into your heart, wriggling, painfully, but with joy. He reminds me at once of Kings of Convenience, Suburban Kids, a touch of Billy Callahan but less manly, much less. Then add a dash of Nick Drake and you’re partly there. Julian, when asked, mentions Nick himself – the British king of loners and pain and sadness (fuck Morrisey’s self-conscious posing). Drake; a man who attaches himself to a bevy of sensitive-hearted, nail-biting teenagers of the coat-wearing ilk every new varsity year. Julian also mentions, vaguely, Zimmy – that’s Robert Zimmerman to you, or Bobby Dylan to most. I, personally, don’t get this connection. But, then again, I’ve never got Bobby. In fact I haven’t wanted to try. But that’s a story for another day. He casually mentions someone named Faye, some Reagan or other (who, upon researching, turned out to be a pornographic actress which, gauging from Julian’s mousey sensibilities is probably not what he had in mind). There is also mention of another Nick. Not sure who this time. I think it’s Cave.

Julian is great. Like, really great. Like, completely fantastic. You must watch him. It is imperative. He begins with “Mr Turner”. A song resplendent with tickly picking changes, bouncing thoughts around, spitefully – remembrances sparking sadness, a grand melancholia sparking between the lyrics and the staid quickened-pacing of Julian’s fingers. Julian steps onto “Green Grass” which, notably, like its predecessor (or whichever word fits better) mentions seasonal changes, pastoral flickering mentions linked to relationships and their lack of ling’rance. He seems to want to hold onto something, hard – wanting things to freeze up, to not change. Hope seems to crack with a grand lyric and the shining darklight comes seeping through: “You’re strong and you’re smart / and you’re / kind of funny… I hope against hope / that you / would staaaaay”.

One can only hope for new songs of pain. But then I remember a quote and sadness hits, hard, empathically:

“People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands – literally thousands – of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most. And I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”

That’s Rob Gordon, the quintessential rock snob, from Nick Hornby’s, the one man all Music Nazis have a complete love-hate relationship, resplendent novel High Fidelity.

One – yes, me – begins to wonder how many sad songs Julian has listened to and one begs him not to stop.

The long and short of Julian is that I just want to hug him all the time. One listen to his song “Shipwrecks” will cut you, hard. Almost as hard as Elliot Smith’s title song off Roman Candle might – but without the deeply entrenched anger, seething. Julian’s anger is softer and more ghostly – like a musical saw. One truly believes he can reach the experimental heights of Chad Vangaalen if given the right linkages and room to maneuver.

Givan, when he steps up to the plate, has big boots to fill. It seems daunting to me to have to listen to him – the darkness, like a cloak begins to take hold, take coverage. I’m holding my breath between each silence, going blue in the face – fuck you, Givan – I’m suffocating under repetition and lingerances.

Givan’s darkness is almost grunge-y in nature. Less British than Julian’s anger, more pointy and spikey and thinly-veiled. I am swamped under a tidal wave of suffocation – the strums, soft, chugging, are like a train to dark-town. One wants more Grouper-ish BPMs, one wants Givan’s self-confessed and open love of Liz Harris, Portland’s queen of drugged up reverb-swamped dream-pop, haze-wavvey and incredibly somnolent. It seems the lack of reverb and delay has left gaps and chinks in Givan’s usual armour, there are gorges, spaces where there shouldn’t be, it’s not full like it should be, it’s…

I’m bored without the reverb filling in the chasms with litter, helping the silences to link to one another, to speak to one another. Givan lost me by, well, not losing me in his swirly reminiscence and shattered volcanic dialogue between shoegaze and drone.

Kidu and the Danger are up next. I have less words to speak about this band. I feel as if they aren’t there together or, if they are, it’s not working as well as it should. Or maybe I’m just a fucking Nazi. I guess I am. It’s all a bit too poppy, too easy on my hardened, scaly old ears. It all begins to sound samey – upstrummey chords bouncing around next to obvious vocals and even more obvious drums. It all seems slightly too pedestrian. But, then again, if you are following what you just followed, I end up asking myself questions I shouldn’t be asking and, feeling a bit mean, I depart early.

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