Hello friends, welcome to The Listening Booth where I dive into what I’ve been putting in my ears over the last week. This time around, we have a potential modern classic followed up by something completely different, but still a lot of fun. I’m then going to finish up by having another blab about a festival I went to, so look forward to that.
Have you ever looked at something and found yourself baffling at the idea that someone sat down and created it? Whether it’s a painting, a book or a piece of music, your brain can’t quite comprehend the path that was taken to bring it into the world. How could they conceive something so big, intricate and complex? That’s a feeling I had to get used to while listening to Her Name Is Calla.
Animal Choir has more ideas in its opening song than many bands have in a career. ‘The Swan’ starts in a swirl of music, the frantic drums initially sounding like they are bringing something to a close rather than kicking things off. Then, out of that chaos emerges a marching riff which strides off into the distance, leading this song forward and taking you with it. It builds and builds until it all comes crashing down, and then seconds later, it builds again. It’s a masterclass in dynamics, a song that is so simple on the surface and yet hides beneath it a million subtleties which unveil themselves with every listen. And fuck. That’s only the opener.
And it’s not an opener that sets you up for the ride to come either. There is no template for Animal Choir. Her Name Is Calla never sit still long enough for that to be the case. Only a couple of tracks later, ‘Kaleidoscoping’ comes drifting in, sweet and melancholic. It’s soft and fragile, a heartwrenching and otherworldly piece of music that brings with it a sense of wonder. Then, out of that, we get ‘Bleach’ a song on which you can hear the twang of guitar strings as it drags you back to reality. It might not be an album that follows a formula, but it flows, that masterful control of the dynamics that I mentioned before making sure that while it takes you on a journey, it’s never a random one. They’re merely following a path that you can’t see.
It’s a path that takes in electronic beats, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and so much more. At its heart, though, it’s an album that rewards you for listening to it. Animal Choir twists and turns, drawing you in and inviting you to go back to it again and again, searching out those moments then you missed before. It’s over an hour long, and it feels like half that time. It’s a cliche to talk about getting lost in a band’s music, but it has rarely been truer than with Animal Choir. You want to get lost in the minds of Her Name Is Calla and discover the next piece of genius that they have cooked up.
So, of course, the fuckers have split up. Animal Choir will be their last album and what a way to go out. It would be easy to mourn that situation, but as someone who only discovered them last week (quick shout out, once again, to Riot Act for facilitating said discovery), I haven’t earned that right. What I can do is be thankful that they’ve released an album that I will still be discovering new things in for the next ten years. Then, if I ever ring it dry, I can go back and see what else they’ve created. Even if Animal Choir was their entire legacy, though, it would be an incredible one to leave. This one is something special.
I am not, it must be said, a person who tends to agree with the phrase ‘you can’t fight the disco’. For many, many years, I have indeed fought the disco, and while I can’t say I’ve won that battle, I’ve managed to keep it at arm’s length. The two of us have reached a healthy compromise where we have nothing to do with each other. So, it must be asked what the fuck am I doing listening to Royal Republic?
Club Majesty is like being smashed in the face repeatedly with a mace crafted from glitter. It is big, camp and so over the top that it’s gone over, crashed back down, travelled through the core of the Earth and smashed out the other end to go over the top of whatever is down there. It’s ridiculous, and songs like ‘Boomerang’ have been designed to wriggle their way into your head and get you dancing. I should despise it. Yet here I am, bopping away.
Because it works, it works because it knows that it is as daft as a crazed puppy in the midst of making a new friend. You can’t write lines like ‘I wanna love you like no other, so let’s get under cover’ if you don’t embrace your ridiculousness. You also probably can’t write as many insanely catchy songs as they do if you aren’t willing to get out on the dance floor. It’s an album made for parties and summer days and for being far too drunk but not giving a flying fuck. It’s glorious.
And, sure, it’s not perfect. If I had my way, I’d cut a good ten minutes off it (starting with the atrocious ‘Bulldog) getting it down to a lean, mean joyous twenty-five. However, I’m also a right grump, so who the fuck cares what I think? If you’re looking for a rock and roll album to blast you into the summer, then Royal Republic are everything you need and more. Embrace what they are, and you’ll have all the fun.
Is it obvious that we are into festival season? For the second week in a row, I am finishing up not by talking about an album, but about a music festival as I made my way to Camden Rocks last Saturday. Truthfully, it’s not an event that massively leapt off the page to me (Wheatus? The Pigeon Detectives? Who knew they were still a thing?), but there was a shitload of bands on and I had some lovely friends going, so why not?
The task of kicking off my day was gifted to Alive With Eyes who had a healthy crowd for 12.30. Truthfully, it might have been too healthy. London was fucking boiling and only a few minutes into the set I was more sweat than man. Throw in being unable to see the stage, and my critical mind might have switched off a bit, but they improved as they went on and the last few songs hinted that there is something to this lot.
After grabbing a pint in the sun, we handed into Brewdog’s basement for Non-Canon which was a lot of fun. It’s a real shame that this was an indoor festival because his melancholic acoustic sing-alongs would have been nice to watch in the sun, but the basement setting didn’t do them any harm. Talking of sing-alongs, up next was Ginger Wildheart who armed with an acoustic guitar and backed-up by two singers, decided to play the entirety of the new Wildhearts album. On the surface, that is an insane idea, but fucking hell, it worked. Ginger’s songwriting stands out whatever he is doing, but with just him and a guitar, it truly shines, and this was the set of the day. He even got headliner Frank Turner out to sing on ‘Let It Go’ and a lovely time was had by all.
That was followed by Sean McGowan, who is someone that everyone I was with loves and to whom I find myself a bit indifferent. Despite that, I know for a fact that he’s a genuinely delightful chap and he always delivers live. I’ve seen him so many times that I’ve learnt all the words, and I was able to get caught up in the moment and leave my issues at the door for an enjoyable set.
By this time, I had drunk a couple of beers. And some Jack Daniels. And then a couple more beers. Look, you get the point, my critical faculties were perhaps not at their best, and it was very sunny. It’s really tough, guys. Anyway, I found myself at Coast to Coast who I think were quite good. From what I remember they started a bit slow with the singer seeming to have some issues, but by the halfway point they’d found their flow and seemed determined to go all out to give a rocking performance. They get a thumbs up but don’t ask me to tell you what they sound like.
After that, I had a vegan burger. It was amazing. I think. It was food, and it was at that time of day where all the food tastes terrific. We then caught a few songs from The Blinders who sounded a bit like Kasabian, so I blow a big wet raspberry in their direction (not literally, that would be rude). While I’m sure it’s for someone, that someone is not me.
The final act of the day was Frank Turner, a man who pisses off many (The Armed have been having some fun, haven’t they?), but whom I happen to love. He was playing solo and put on a good show, delivering the hits without too many surprises in-between. There was a rendition of ‘Back In The Day’ which was appreciated, and a new song which gave me faith that the next album will be an upgrade from the turgid slop that is Be More Kind, but on the whole, he was what you’d suspect. Truthfully, that didn’t thrill me because I’ve seen him well over twenty times and have become over versed in what you’d expect, but if you were a new fan, I can’t imagine you’d complain.
There was one slight surprise as the encore consisted not of Frank songs, but The Virginmarys and some others joining him on stage to belt through a few punk covers. While the choices weren’t particularly inspired (‘Pretty Vacant’, ‘Teenage Kicks’, ‘London Calling’ and ‘If The Kids Are United’), it was good fun and did provide that something different I was requesting.
So yea, there is my rather ramshackle report from Camden Rocks. I came out thinking that I was more impressed with the people than the festival, but looking back, that’s awfully harsh. Any day with a bit of Ginger Wildheart and some good people is alright.
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