On a grey, damp miserable evening in October the vintage décor of patterned wallpaper, lampshades and silver mirrors at Brighton’s The Hanbury Ballroom hosts not one, but two acts, that have each released superlatively unusual and inventive albums this year. If nothing else there’s value for money to be had at only eight pounds fifty a ticket.
Our musical love affair with Blue Roses goes back to 2007 when Laura Groves released her debut single I Am Leaving under her own name. At the time we listed Laura as 'One To Watch' in our annual list on the predecessor to Breaking More Waves. Forward on two years and her self titled debut has found a very special place in our hearts, high in our list of favourites.
Barefooted and in a flowing purple dress Laura and her accompanying violinist take to the stage amongst the usual chattering of an audience waiting for the main band. But as soon as she opens her mouth, the audience is silenced; utterly and completely. We can roll out those clichés – haunting, ethereal, beautiful, mesmerising, and angelic – the music of Blue Roses is all of these things without ever being a cliché itself. From the ghostly footsteps of the thumb piano on Doubtful Comforts to the dull thud of drums and minimalist guitars on Rebecca, every song Blue Roses perform is exquisite. Laura’s voice is the sound of crystal, heavenly high and powerful, the music experimental, emotive and adventurous. We cannot help but put Blue Roses on the same kind of pedestal as Joanna Newsom and Kate Bush with who she shares a certain sonic similarity to. Groves plays piano with an impressive mix of subtle passion, tenderness and classicism on songs such as Greatest Thoughts and I Wish I, whilst on I Am Leaving she conjures nimble wistfulness from her acoustic guitar. Previously we have seen Blue Roses play in record stores and cafes, but with a bigger, potent sound system Laura Groves stacks emotional resonance sky high. Afterwards we hear the woman standing behind us gasp “Wow, absolutely incredible.” We couldn’t have summed it up better ourselves. Can the best gig we have seen this year come from a support act? We think so.
We first saw Wild Beasts a year or two back and found them frustrating. Full of experimental and unstructured camp arch seriousness they were too difficult to love. However the bands so called difficult second album has proved a more engaging affair, without ever being easy. Much of this lack of easiness is because of the vocal histrionics of lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe. The male falsetto has always been one to divide and sometimes conquer. Recently there has been the annoying (Mika), the earnest (Thom Yorke), the childlike (Michael Angelakos) and the haunting (Justin Vernon) to name a few emotions. Thorpe manages to invoke practically all of these moods and more, particularly in the live arena. Luckily however these operatic Sparks like vocal acrobatics are tempered with a deeper more masculine sound, with co vocalist Tom Fleming adding a wider dynamic to the mix with his tenor.
Whilst Thorpe’s Antony and the Johnsons sucking in helium pomp may set the band apart, tonight it is songs such as Two Dancers (i) that pay real results; without any high pitched bluster. Starting as a dramatically mellow funeral tune that grows with elegiac percussion into a heavy lonely groove, it’s the bastard child of a flagellating threesome between The XX. White Lies and U2, but we doubt if any of those bands would include a lyric such as “His hairy hands, his flailing fists, his dancing cock by his knees.” Elsewhere Hooting & Howling is catchy and hooky enough to almost appeal to the mainstream, but for the most part Wild Beasts are still very much a leftfield band, although one gradually moving to the middle. Their set is clever, challenging and deliberately different; the band even apologise at one point for acting like rock stars. It is pleasing to know that after the synth kids have stoned landfill indie to death, guitar bands can still produce something with imagination that holds artistic merit. Wild Beasts produce such music with their mix of non-conformist indie rock courting music hall and groove. It may as yet not be fully captivating live, being occasionally too irregular, inaccessible and clever for its own good, but the band are certainly on their way. Critics seem to love them, and with a little more refining and development, album number three and the accompanying live shows should be corkers.