Another Lossy Compressed gig (this time at Stereo) from a few weeks back. Thanks to Ciara Maguire for the pic.
LOVE YOUR HOMEWORK!
Another Lossy Compressed gig (this time at Stereo) from a few weeks back. Thanks to Ciara Maguire for the pic.
LOVE YOUR HOMEWORK!
On 27th August 2022, Kirsty Dunlop and I performed our glitch singularity, fuelled by Doritos, tiredness and cheap lager, to manifest arpeggios of shimmer poem. “My favourite powerpoint in the world”, someone in the audience said. “The band” is called Lossy Compressed and this is an extract from our first performance. In this extract of the set, I’m reading from my book String Feeling and Kirsty is improvising on the harp, it gets slow and fast. Thank you to Craig and Ruthie from the brilliant King Wine for inviting us. Video footage is by Shehzar Doja.
Accompanying the performance was a one-off pamphlet (edition of 20), SLEEP FOREVER IN FLARFLAND LIL BABY DOLPHINA, published by Mermaid Motel. pdf version may drop on the internet sometime soon.
If April is the sweetest or cruelest, May has become the strangest month. Not ever but ever at present. It is summer’s gatekeeper, but also something other. Nurse of darkness and grief, rushing in bright lines and new delusions. Keeper of shadows flickering among green. In previous years, the season when confusion blooms. A dull need that quickens with the light through dawn to dusk, that honeys the flesh and the flesh’s sense of itself as pearlescent. Coming to endings. I brush my hair smooth copper in a mirror and notice green rings beneath my eyes. My eyes turn green from the copper, the sun. Moss agates held to the light. My irises look less like little sad pools of ocean; more forest now, with secret capillaries. With vague fantasy, I keep planning day trips I don’t then take. The sense of this name or that, a train stop, a heady clifftop walk, is sometimes enough.
Alcohol does me favours, then doesn’t. That absolute sinking sensation of four in the morning, the day already blooming before you a pale lilac silver that streaks the sky and exacts a sort of spermicide resistance to the nourishment of sleep’s regeneration. So you are still electric, pacing at six, drenched in the ersatz light of the screen. White upon white. Straining fingers. I leave early one day to buy crystals, snapping photographs afterwards of bluebells in public gardens. The bluebells hide miniature universes. Still entranced by the fairies; the barmaid knows because she offers me absinthe, green bottle labelled with a delicate eye. The beer garden teeming; cradling sticky glassware back to the bar. Couples come out in the sun, as if so many never existed before it got light and warm. I’m very small, like a vulnerable child, but then swollen and huge altogether. I can’t help the Alice comparison: that sudden shrinkage or growth, beyond the normal bounds of the human. I lust for the fall—that’s all I want now. Air rushing quick around my skull, a delicious plunge. Shake out plumage, feel ridiculous. Everything limps.
It all started with a simple accident: flipping my bike off the road, the front wheels spun thrice, a smashed head smashed knee smashed hand and leg. Smashed brakes. The most extravagant black-purple bruise spread down my shins, clustering like a brand new galaxy around the bloody wounds of my knee. To bleed with gleaming garnet blood. Shocking the folk outside bars with my bleeding. To feel fresh and young at the sight of your insides red against the old old blue of flesh. This youth, this youth. I pedal forever to exact the same feeling, the rush of getting back on again, unlocking the city. I seem to be terribly in love with falling. The streets feel dizzy, the shapes and forms of things are not what they are. I sense they have changed without telling me. The world knows a secret I don’t.
Illness, as it hits. The invisible sickness. I become an overflowing jar of water when I drink, the brimming emotions about to spill—things I usually hide and quench and disguise. Need to piss in awkward situations. Things you can roll out with a bike ride, a cluster of lung sucks and cheek flush adrenaline. But when they get to the surface, they poison the air around you. I spend longer hours in bed in the morning, night shifts and gigs leaving me delirious. To unroll from the covers is an art hardly mastered. I spend hours drifting back into sleep’s coma: a settled levitation of uncertain images, which I try to translate upon waking. A friend and I keep a dream journal. I notice she is always noting faces in crowds: skins, layers, mirrors; juices and rinds and types of paring. My dreams grow more detailed over time, a side effect of writing them down, giving them the agency of language. They dance with image, they have additional emotional import.
I walk across the city, because sometimes that seems the only safe thing to do. The colours in the park just shy of midnight. Pastels brushed and blurred by a child’s ham-fist. Chalked sentences around Woodlands. Pick up your dog shit. My nails grow long and strong and I do not clip them. I want them to seem like a pianist’s, as if at any moment they might pluck out a symphony.
Something of grief scored into my bones. We lost someone we loved, after days of looking and sharing and fighting. My timelines overflow with collective sorrow and personal pain. I spend hours scrolling through tiny stories, slices of joy and memory’s catharsis. We have all been hurt in some way; there is a tear. What rushes in and scolds the fresh wound. It is the one grey drizzly day I remember of this May, utterly fitting. I walk along the Kelvin, listening to The Midnight Organ Fight over and over, hymn to my youth and so many others. The drone fills my blood; I do nothing to stop the rain dampening my hair, filling my shoes, dripping down my neck. Shake out my stolen Monet waterlily umbrella. Remember the bleak streets of Ayr, adolescence an age of cool slain time. Kicking litter, drinking. Rain. Falling into sick sick love then forgetting. The rain rain rain, the rain falling into the sea. It is a membrane I crave, the pale wet indifference to shroud my pain. Sand on skin. What glisters at the edge then beckons. I did not know it was possible to hurt so much for someone you barely knew. It hurt more, in a way, than forms of loss by blood. Family funerals. Toasts. Drunk, I walk back along bridges and try not to cry at the moon, the black black water. Something astride us, everlong waxing and waning. Photographs of plastic, closeup and swallowed in song.
I tore an elegy out of my hours in bed and maybe one day I’ll share it. Something in the darkness, heard.
By some miracle, I regain my night off to go see Phoebe Bridgers play Saint Luke’s. It is a warm night and I walk all the way from west to east; the football’s been on so the drunks stumble out of pubs in their green. She purrs something from the stage, like “So I heard y’all had a sports ball game on today”. We smile at the understatement, there’s a mesmerising space. I stand and my body is so weak my knees hurt and thighs burn and it takes every nerve in me to keep standing, to negate the presence of those around me. Her silvery voice slices through all that, makes perfect rivulets in my soul. When I think too much about it I can’t breathe. There’s a trembling of recognition, little swells of emotion that prick the whites of my eyes. What you thought you were over comes crashing again and over, over. The world whirrs and hurts. It’s barely enough to keep clinging. Walking home, seeing old friends, I felt exhausted: every pore stung but I was also exhilarated. Climbing the concrete city. That feeling of release. The sweet way her vowels lit up the Mark Kozalek cover, the encore. I imagine bright candles snuffed out one by one, the great murder and the guilt of afterwards. Cold and red. The soft caress of the senses, a temporary catlike imaginary. Darkness comes over, consumes the white space you left for happiness. You can’t have it without dreams; you can’t have dreams without darkness. I am dependent on this sorrow. Watching the Ohio river flow at night. These landscapes I know mostly through song, these burning reeds and the gilt-edged clouds over desert metropolis, lost coyotes.
I start writing a novella, set between Britain, Berlin and some mysterious American prairie. Think cheddar-red sunsets, unrequited desire, distance. The indigo swimming pool, covered in leaves.
Distracting myself from everyday idleness, I go to see vast quantities of decent indie, mostly at The Hug and Pint or Glad Café. I take a break from an all-dayer to sit atop a hill in Queen’s Park, south side, watching the sky grow peachy. Chew fruit bars. Drink gin to feel better, in soft medicinal quantities. Do not write as I wish I could. Leave gaps. The pages don’t fill as I’d like. Walk back alone.
I think I am okay but then I walk over water and think of the cold decision. My mouth sours as though filled with the juice of an apple and any word I might have dissolves in the acid, prior to speech.
Remember as kids we’d build dams in rivers? Inefficient structures of misshaped rocks. The cool cola feel of water, smooth through our fingers.
In some hot bright room of the CCA, practicing Oulipo techniques with Lynn Crawford and Josh Thorpe. I write a handful of sestinas, a process that feels akin to weaving. I am paring threads. In times of crisis, I used to sit and make friendship bracelets, focusing on the unconscious flicker and flow of my fingers. The particular colours woven thrice. Pick six words and make do with their pattern, the possible.
Iced Americano from Caffé Nero. Jolt of the nerves. Heat haze over Greenock.
A delay in the body akin to the moon. Waxing slow motion; glitch and lag; the sense of being dulled; the sense of being injured, cramped and twisted. Walk around, see friends, drink bright and early. Waves of hot agony. Go to poetry readings. The sparkle and trance of listening. Speaking. Record poems that settle a corridor of airwaves, signals, emoji. However the connection works.
Get haircut. Scalp massage. Brighter orange bleeds to gold. Sodium. Get on a train.
Loch Lomond never looked so good in green and gold and blue as it did that May of 2016. I lay in the bluebells taking pictures, feeling so restful, red-headed. Fire against green. Now I arrive and make it my imperative just to walk. Early evening of a Sunday and I want to walk my way out of a sorrow, past gaggles of boozy youths; the fresh wound of loss still there and irritating, itching and burning. It is hard to have ordinary conversations, so I take myself off. Everything is so green and the green is so necessary. My body is heat and then freezing. Later, he holds his cold fingers to my neck and we trade levels of shiver. Purple nails and tales of bad circulation. I trip up on my past and can’t help it, looking for the clavicle. The endless craving of a former body…
I parse more and more my botanical ignorance.
Missing the last train home from Edinburgh, after a poet’s birthday party. Doors slammed shut in our face from the carriage. We missed the margaritas, and then the disco. Drank beer in the Meadows, contemplated snow. Menthol vape smoke and cluttered streets, strangers playing tennis all through the dusk. Lovely people. Record collection, good books for miles, pizza. Conversations sweet & real & funny.
The maidenhair fern grows healthy again. I have had her for two years and she’s seen frazzled stages. Clipped back, green again. Does that boy drive? She asked, in the car to the garden centre. I miss the winding corridors of plants, the paint samples, colour cards, smell of wet pine and murmuring water features. May goes on, regardless.
A series of goodbyes. One friend moves back to Greece, the other to the Highlands. Life goes porous with the temporary emptiness that nonetheless lingers without supplement. Miss our wee chats at all ours, in stairwells or pink-tinted texts. Cascading games of our rucksacks swung. I listen to Josh telling Canadian ghost stories in the restaurant: tales of a bride burned alive by tea lights catching her luminous dress, doomed to forever haunt some hotel in the vast, faraway mountains. The geography remains vague in my mind. The customers come and go or don’t at all. I polish cutlery to a deathly sheen.
Festival atmosphere of everywhere in sun. A sunny day in Glasgow, then another one. Minor riots in the park. How are we so blessed, it’s amazing. Botanical taste at the back of my mouth forever. Bewitched house plants, buttered bread rolls, cold tea, slabs of Aviemore carrot cake, tarot readings in Thai restaurants. I wish I could be more glistening. The air in the park at night smells musky and sweet, weed smells and seeds and greening. Saying goodbye without babbling. I noticed the blue, two iris skies at the station.
The last card pulled a cosmic future.
Run across roads to see old friends, nearly get knocked over. Every day I regret not waking earlier. Not going to bed, the struggle to sleep and reset again. Scared of the endless bleed of days.
Feeling kinda weirdly low. I think he’s one of the biggest inspirations in my life right now. Can someone inspire you, I mean in the way they deal with feelings? I value an honesty I can’t offer myself. Not yet.
Rereading old Wordsworth and falling asleep while writing and leaving black dots of ink that seep through my diary. Opening scene of a whirlpool. Talk about Stonehenge with a singer from Portland I love very much. Something about the lapse of water, like every trickle another neglect. People walk round and round in circles, scrolling the whites of their phones as if in sync with the rolling traffic. In my childhood bedroom, I kept a framed photograph of the stones at sunset. I felt calm and serene and apart from myself, apart from time, when I looked at the stones.
I worked a 9-5 the day they found the body, his body. I was serving people with a smile I didn’t recognise and trembled all over and the sense of witnessing this alter-reality or shock, the opening of feelings I thought I’d forgotten. What went on inside the shell, a quivering. Hid behind crates of dirty glasses, in curtains. Tried not to cry on my lunch break, watching solo acoustic version of ‘Poke’ on my phone. Hugging everyone. Earnest conversations. Work is a family. Hot strong coffee takes the edge off. Sometimes no need to talk. The lyrics come again and they burn harder this time. I need to catch my breath. Regain metabolism.
Beautiful messages out of the blue.
Emotional hangover. Best cure, I dig among the piles of clothes in my room and pull out a hardback book: Sylvia Plath’s journals, Christmas gift from my mother in 2012. The book feels heavy and secure on my lap, like a complicated baby. Read her through sleep, while dinner is cooking. Steam, garlic scent, onions, steam. Her voice makes sluices through the fug of everything, so I can feel clear and real again. She mentions ‘the adrenaline of failure’, the up-and-down wavelengths of acceptance and rejection. A poet’s lot. Lust. Apple-bitten first encounters. Fears & jealousies, petty grievances. Genuine pain. Periods of drifting depression, absence of thought. Blood. Self-laceration. Womanhood. Fizzy inspiration, sociability. New challenges in life are a test of endurance. ‘Interesting’, she notes, as to whether she would ‘pass, keep myself intact’. How often are we aware of our everyday proximity to breakdown?
Saturday October 10th, 1959.
‘Feel oddly barren. My sickness is when words draw in their horns and the physical world refuses to be ordered, recreated, arranged and selected. I am a victim of it then, not a master’.
7.30pm Wednesday, October 17, 1959.
‘I don’t know why I should be so hideously gloomy, but I have that miserable “nobody-loves-me” feeling’.
Journal Fagment 31st December 1955 – 1st January 1956.
‘Sun well up, losing red and paling into blinding gold, air fresh and cold, essence of snow melting in sun, checking baggage and wandering toward the sea in a strange city’.
I will be flying to Munich in less than a week. The first time travelling alone without family. Somebody gift me with orientation. As though without sleep, the comedown slides across a map, egg yolk cool upon blue and green. My eyes won’t focus.
Leaving the flat after 4pm each day, I am a stranger in a world I recognise dearly then don’t. I am best in the early hours or late at night. Catching spiders on sidewalks. Everything between that is strange oscillation, is tuning in and out of social existence. What about when the words don’t come. So many trite feelings. A terrible love. The shapes of things. I’m walking with. All of Glasgow a building site, dust of destruction and foundations laid. Piles of concrete slab, churning tar; industrial scents lace the too-warm air.
Where once I would say, hey I’m addicted to chocolate. Honestly, 200g+ a day! Now, it’s a serotonin craving. Simple as. Deficient.
Playlists make better sense of these feelings. Thin black lace, an open window. Warmth.
Easier not to just clack and bite.
Go to prom re-enactment. Balloons and alcopops, rhinestones; blue velour and slacker rock. Fall asleep, nearly, on the night bus, passing airport and eerie business estates. The pool and the plastic palms. Walk home, low battery, ruinous sadness. Insomniac documentaries about Karen Carpenter. Milk cookie eyes and innocent villanelles. Her voice a creamy river, glossy brunette, hometown glory.
We enter Gemini season. The energy shifts. Borderlines and places I can’t cross in my dreams, lost people glinting in distance. Blue folds of tumblr embrace me again. Streams of midnight images, pastel landscapes and metallic objects melted to abstraction. Things split and twin and I miss all my soulmates, past and present. Editing, editing. I miss when the truth felt less of a shimmer. Sleep it off, sleep it off.
The loud loud noise of all these feeds.
Out in the hot dusty yard of SWG3, disco ball scintillating in the sun, I see LCD Soundsystem with my friends around me. For once, that’s totally enough. Stand between two brothers. Smile all through set. There is a sort of ultimate feeling. I can change I can change I can change. Synths blister through me. Drums. Feel drunk when I’m not. Feel heady. The old chandeliereal, teenage way. Sun glitters. Swap limbs. Burst memories are easy.
Wander home through herbaceous border. Covet her 3am poems, blog posts. We stay up all night discussing complex crushes, then I’m sad because endings are happening all around me. Withdrawals. Wilted tulips. Little flurries of unexpected messages, best sensation. Campari with soda or cherry brandy, amaretto on ice and sharing a seat, clinking glasses and feeling breezy. Sitting in dark galleries on hay bales, waiting. Clutching cigarettes I won’t smoke but stole anyway. Talk of literary idols, musicians and artists. Writing things down with conviction, like: I love the new Stephen Malkmus album, so much! Sparkle Hard! The dreamy subsistence of the suburbs at dusk. Those shoes are shinier than my future. I hope he’s okay. Plagiarise conversations. You could boil it all down to a haiku, May a tiny, significant bulb of gorse:
Twice for sale, gold and then green
Forget to mention.
Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
Sharon Van Etten – The End of the World (Carpenters cover)
Cat Power – Metal Heart
The Twilight Sad – I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face (Arthur Russell cover)
Manchester Orchestra – Architect (feat. Scott Hutchison)
Harrison Whitford – Poltergeist Love
Pavement – Type Slowly
LUMP – Curse of the Contemporary
Bright Eyes – Coyote Song
Common Holly – If After All
Sufjan Stevens – Romulus
Milk Carton Kids – Wish You Were Here
Mark Kozalek – Good Nostalgia
Fossil Collective – Disarm
Nap Eyes – Every Time The Feeling
Arctic Monkeys – Star Treatment
Iceage – Beyondless
Parquet Courts – Violence
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Animal Wisdom
Kendl Winter – Shades of Green
Big Star – Thirteen
Hatchie – Sleep
James Blake – Don’t Miss It
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Bike Lane
Sufjan Stevens – Make Out In My Car (Moses Sumney cover)
The Innocence Mission – Look out from Your Window
Frightened Rabbit – Head Rolls Off
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
My first encounter with The Staves was in the most mundane of places: a lift. It was a couple of years ago and they were playing downstairs in the venue where I work, and I remember being pretty gutted that I was working that Saturday night and couldn’t go and see them. Anyway, I’d mostly forgotten that they were playing by the time I was actually on shift. I got in the lift with my stack of glass trays and as the lift stopped at the next floor, three young women stepped in. I recall being in awe of their beautiful hair, dresses and denim and I knew instantly that they must be The Staves – they seemed even cooler in real life. I had a burning urge to blurt out I love your music but instead I stared down at my crates of dirty glasses, listening to them chat casually about where they were going to go for dinner that night. Rock and roll, huh?
Well last night I got to see them live (properly). When they played a couple of years ago, I got to nip downstairs for a quick look once service had quietened down. Instantly I was hooked by their soaring harmonies, and it was pretty rubbish having to drag myself back upstairs to work. With a full set, the spell never breaks. A venue like The Old Fruitmarket seems perfect for them, with just the right amount of nostalgic quaintness mixed in with a kind of gritty city cool: colourful fairy lights but also decent spirits behind the bar, a balcony which you can watch the stage from. They had support from Gabriel Rios who played this sort of expressive, beat-heavy folk music. Each song seemed to tell a story, and Rios himself was very comfortable chatting away between sets about Scotland’s breathtaking scenery and the even more breathtaking brownie he had sampled nearby before the show. I should add that the beats were made on a gorgeous big double bass; you know, the kind of fist-tapping thwack that echoes beautifully, syncopating with sweet strings to have you hooked. Anyway, it was a really interesting dynamic, with neat guitar playing and the strings and the rocky/hiphoppy/folky vocals. Yeah, something like that.
The Staves themselves arrived onstage not long after. Up amongst the blue plumes of smoke, they seem so ethereal, their voices suddenly soaring through the silent air, shimmering drum rolls and percussion accompanying but only after a while, like a rain shower after the first burst of sunlight. You can’t help but think of all sorts of mythical sisters: those of the tv show Charmed, for one. Especially when they do that thing where they gather round the mic and sing all these amazing, breathtaking harmonies which even the adoring crowd refuses to interrupt (till all the whooping cheers afterwards). They played lots of familiar songs, with key tracks from the new album, If I Was, like ‘Black and White’ and ‘Blood I Bled’ mixed in with shorter songs, samples of harmonies and snatches of tracks the audience hasn’t heard before. In-between songs, they lit up the stage with bits of sibling banter, telling us about how as kids they bonded together as a “triad/tripod/tricycle” and shut out their parents by developing a dialect borrowed from The Simpsons, Clueless and various other random films and tv shows. While one of them wistfully dedicates the next song to their parents, “wherever you may be”, another retorts “I’m pretty sure they’ll be in Watford right now” – cue giggles and mock gazing out over the ocean of dry iced audience. There are a lot of giggles and chat and you can tell they’ve really grown relaxed with their stage presence, and it really draws the audience in too. Just the right balance between ethereal and down-to-earth politeness, with that very English way of complimenting everything – the crowd, venue, support act – whenever they can: “This venue is fucking amazing”.
It all flows together perfectly, and the enchanting quality of their music comes through most, perhaps, on the handful of sweeter, more pared-down tracks they played from their debut album, Dead & Born & Grown. You get that sense of their pure, raw talent on more stripped-back tracks like ‘Eagle Song’, which has haunting sort of folky lyrics and there’s a sense of nostalgia to it: Oh, to be lost, / Oh, to be wasting my time. There’s also a feeling of deep history and time – Of old battles lost, battles won – and then the hopeful kick: Call me in the morning I’ll be alright. It’s a comforting song; one of my favourites. The new tracks have a bolder edge, but they have kept earlier material fresh with a more upbeat version of the lovely ‘Mexico’ from Dead & Born & Grown. It all just sounds amazing: clear, vivid, strong and tight. You can tell they are really great musicians, experimenting with loops and percussion and again firing out those haunting harmonies. They even threw in a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘Feel’, which was really cool and successfully reworked the poppy Bollywood mashup feel of the original using their signature strings, sparkling guitar and those crystal clear, melodic voices.
There’s something I recall Conor Oberst saying about First Aid Kit in an interview/some video online, commenting on how they have this mystical sisterly quality about them that carries through in their voices. You really feel that too with The Staves. They have this lovely innocence in their earlier songs, which have a deep folkiness, a softer kind of choral vibe (a bit like Fleet Foxes) which is steeped in landscape (‘Winter Trees’ will forever remind me of one of my first winters at university, wandering around Kelvingrove in the crunching snow). Their cover of ‘Silver Dagger’ (unfortunately it wasn’t played last night) is just as lovely as Fleet Foxes’ and perhaps a fitting tribute to older folk legends: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, for one example. The new album is certainly edgier and perhaps more fun (rock’n’roll?), but also has its dark, lonesome moments (fittingly, it was produced by Bon Iver), approaching more bitter subjects like relationships (Suffer me as I suffer you, ‘Blood I Bled’) and heartache (‘Don’t You Call Me Anymore’, which incidentally, they made a good joke saying that it was a song about cold callers). They play with silence and soft, lush melodies which build through rising harmonies, and not only is this a dream to listen to on CD (taking you back to the sleepy world of a Bon Iver album) but also a real kick live. All in all, The Staves at the Old Fruitmarket Glasgow was a gorgeous gig, the with an encore where they played new track (with lots of good hearty mmmmming) ‘Tired as Fuck’ and then a grittier version of ‘Teeth White’, where already you can feel their growing sense of rock’n’roll excess…And I wanna know / When I can start taking it slow / Cause I’ve had enough. Keep it coming!
I first saw them at Wickerman Festival, god knows how many years ago now, and we went to see them on recommendation of my brother. It was probably raining a bit but maybe there was sunshine coming out there from behind us as we stood at the stage. I think they were on before or after Fenech Soler, who you should check out if you like electropop, Friendly Fires, White Lies and all things with synths. Anyway, the band in question who we were watching are called Little Comets, and they play what can only really be described with any accuracy as ‘kitchen sink indie’. I’ve seen them so many times since – basically any time they come to Scotland, which is usually twice a year.
A cold windy Glasgow Monday and I’m sitting in Slouch on Bath Street, watching the snow fall down behind a window of fairylights. We’re discussing what songs they might play. We’re reminiscing about old festivals and terrible and great music from the past. The walk to King Tuts is short from here.
I’ve been to King Tuts many a time before. Embarrassing to admit though it is, the first gig I saw there was You Me At Six. There’s an energy to the place that seems to billow about like the dust off the walls. It’s a wonderfully tiny basement venue with clean toilets and a decent bar and lots of posters from bands that have played there before. There’s Belle & Sebastian and The White Stripes and Pulp on the wall. We go down the stairs and the air is close and thick and hot. We watch two support acts, one of which was the Dundee band Model Aeroplanes, who have a nice amount of energy and lots of lovely, floppy, sweaty hair and bouncy guitar riffs. Oh, and we sussed that the bassist looks kind of like Adam Driver from Girls.
Reasons why I love Little Comets:
Well last night they opened with a track off their new album, ‘The Gift of Sound’, which in a corny kind of way was appropriate because that’s what musicians do, give us the gift of sound. They moved through a few new songs off of Hope is Just a State of Mind and also I was pleased to hear them play ‘Isles’ off the first album because it’s been a while since I’ve heard it. The gig was over-14s and standing there behind rows of fourteen-year-old girls and far-too-tall fourteen-year-old guys, listening to those opening lines ‘Economic downturn you can get a job | Apologetic parents you can get a job’ and I’m thinking god I’m so old that when the economic downturn was happening back in 2008 I was about fourteen and probably discovering Little Comets for the first time.
The last couple of Scotland gigs have been in Edinburgh and you could definitely tell that this was a Glasgow crowd. There were a bunch of lads around us who were giving it the ‘oggy-oggy’ football-match style chanting in imitation of the songs which was actually quite sweet (and funny and annoying) and the band looked sort of bemused and taken-aback; Rob at one point finished the song (can’t remember exactly but I think it was ‘Little Italy’) then said in wonder, “nobody’s ever done that before”. I spent half the gig sort of laughing at the absurdity and magic of it all, that strange reaction people have. I mean, it’s amazing to listen to ‘burly’ (haha) young (and middle-aged) guys with tribal tattoos shout out lyrics like: ‘And like for every victim | It seems the pain will not subtract or even calm | All this protracted by a state | In which the poor conviction rate for rape | Can often leave a woman feeling | More at blame than able’. And even if it’s just words being thrown out, at least they’re being thrown out into a room full of likeminded people who believe in the words that the band are singing; even if just for the melodies being woven, even if just because it plants that tiny seed of thought in their heads. It feels empowering, somehow.
Well they fired into well-loved tracks like Joanna and Dancing Song which got everyone jumping about like crazy. One of my favourite things about Little Comets gigs is that you get gorgeous ballads and also songs you can jump about and dance to. I saved my Converses from being pulled off, survived a mosh pit and did my fair share of hair swooshing. It wasn’t all that pleasant being flung against guys who stank of sweat and cheap aftershave and hair that reeked of Chilli Heatwave Doritos, but that’s just a gig curse and the music makes it worth all the stitches.
A highlight was everyone singing along to ‘Coalition of One’, which is probably my favourite track off their last couple of EPs. It’s a song that opens with the lines: ‘food banks spring open | like jaws dropping in time | the weight of man is measured | by the depths of a carrier bag’. It’s simple and powerful and it hits you and makes you think how wrong everything is in the world right now; specifically in Britain. In comparison to the heartbreak-heavy lyrics of other ‘indie’ bands, Little Comets are genius. In fact, you get the sense that people can’t believe they’re singing along to it. It’s almost like a surrealist image, dragging up some common found object and assigning a kind of tragic beauty to it, and then getting such a mix of people to sing it back to you, to throw it out into the air like a lost plastic bag drifting in the wind. There’s a frailty to many of Little Comets’ images: you only have to look at songs like ‘Waiting in the Shadows in the Dead of Night’ (It’s like barbed wire, this crucial touch | That holds me here, expects so much) and ‘Early Retirement’ (‘the promises you sew are | shallow footsteps in the snow | that you cover up’) to feel their concern with the beautiful ephemerality of experience, the soft alliteration that slips between their words. Watching Rob, lead singer and guitarist, standing over his keyboard, drenched in stage smoke and blue light, singing ‘The Blur, the Line, and the Thickest of Onions’, is enchanting and inspiring. I don’t mind throwing those cosy words around because these guys deserve it, they’re so dedicated and passionate. What other band has the guts to take on Robin Thicke-style sexism in the industry with lyrics like this:
But this filth stands on a quicker sand
Next to cold hard fear and the deeds of man
The abuse of body image as a form of control
And the typical portrayal of the feminine role
I have never been more appalled.
Pick me up with rhythms and waveform
That can symbolise a culture lost
Sing about the future like you mean to
I’m never going to count costs
Question the agenda of an industry
That only can objectify
You write about a non-existent blurred line
But not about abortion rights.
OK, so this might not be Mary Wollstonecraft or Virginia Woolf, but for an all-male band to write these lyrics and perform them gig after gig with heartfelt expression is a victory for any kind of feminism in the modern age. It’s questioning an industry from within and writing about issues that are hugely important to women and men – abortion, media objectification and so on – without framing them in a kind of gratuitous ‘pity’ narrative or ignoring them altogether. Music can be political without a band having to tie politics to their t-shirts, and Little Comets demonstrate this perfectly.
Indeed, the feminist content of their lyrics is also evident in ‘Violent Out Tonight’, which I would argue is a masterpiece of a song. With elegant, soaring harmonies (performed so well onstage too), a thumping, emphatic heartbeat of a drum rhythm, and haunting sliding guitar, it conjures a dark story that follows a brutal encounter between a man and a woman on a lonely street. It’s filled with poetry that shifts between the subtle and stark and by the end we too are left bruised and battered by the sad narrative it tells:
As they step into the dark
Only moonlight hides his treason
And the shadows skip like sharks
Through the gasps of air between them
She says: ‘Becalm your hands boy I thought
restraint was now your sentiment of choice?’
But as his fingers strike her blouse
All the words that he espoused
Lie deftly scattered on the ground amidst
the buttons he’s torn open
When sung aloud, the rhyming works here in a really interesting, disturbing and dissonant way. It’s a song that can silence a rowdy crowd into awed absorption. You let the sounds slide through you and you listen, as Rob’s voice ranges from painful constraint to effortless flowing notes. There is a tension and a release. You feel this release with more uplifting songs like the opening track from Hope is Just a State of Mind, ‘My Boy William’, which Rob describes on the Little Comets blog as ‘really the most emotionally honest song that I’ve ever written, and also one of the simplest – it is just a message to my little boy William: my hopes for him’. You could tell the crowd loved every minute of the gig from all the clapping and shouting and singing along and jumping (might I remind you how rare it is to see people actually dancing at all at an ‘indie’ gig), but especially with these numbers you could tell how much everyone really respected these songs for what they were and the sort of joyful simplicity of innocence they evoke. It’s all fuzzy and you get that great feeling when you’re in a crowd and lots of other people are experiencing similar things to you and even though you might not be a father or mother yourself, you still feel that raw sort of love shine through, in a way that feels uniquely authentic rather than cheesy or sentimental. As the hard-looking bald guy with the tattoos chanted at the end of ‘My Boy William’: ‘he’s going to be a superstar when he grows up, just like you Rob!’. And well, if that’s not cute I don’t know what is.
One of my favourite parts of the night was when they were chatting between songs and Rob said that Matt (the bassist) had just noticed some wires on a bar above the stage which were still there from years ago when they last played. The band used to bring an assortment of pots and pans with them which they hung above the stage and used with their percussion, which I suppose justified the ‘kitchen sink indie’ label in addition to the soap-like drama and domesticity of songs like ‘Adultery’ and ‘One Night in October’ (I’m never going to get over the lines: ‘So I sit her down | And say this must stop | ’Cause all we do | Is argue and shop | She goes to Boots | I go to Argos | Complete with deceit | We stalk each aisle’). Well I thought it was very sweet that this little mark of days gone past was still there, even though King Tuts (mostly the bar) has undergone some renovation since. I remember that gig very vividly; I was in second year at uni and had just finished my horrible essay on The Tempest and Heart of Darkness and I was drinking Jack Daniels alone in my room and doing cartwheels I was so excited. My favourite album so far is the second one, Life is Elsewhere. I think it works best as an album (I need to give the new one some more listening to judge though) and the lyrics are sweetly dark and just the right level of mournful, joyful and sentimental. And I like the line: ‘I’d rather starve than become a member of your old boys’ club’ in a dig at Oxbridge culture which permeates the top levels of governance in Britain. All these songs have a double layered nostalgic quality for me now, reminding me of feeling a bit more lost and hopeful and innocent as I stumbled through my first years at uni. Now I’m coming to the end it feels right that there should be more songs to form associations with. It’s actually pretty weird because they tend to release a new EP with every semester, so it’s almost like a kind of diary where I remember things through Little Comets releases. Oh well, if you’re going to support your memory with techne then maybe it’s better that it’s music from one of your favourite bands rather than just shallow social media statuses…oh well, just my two cents to future generations… (and I should stop trying to understand Heidegger).
It’s also fitting that before their last song (well, I think it was their last song unless there was an encore – which they usually resist doing due to the arrogance and cheesiness of encores – we had to leave early so the troops could get the last train home), Rob was telling the audience that he likes this song because it reminds him of their early days of playing. ‘In Blue Music We Trust’ is one of my favourites off Life is Elsewhere: again it has that haunting, nostalgic quality that builds and swells as the song progresses and proves the perfect ending to an awesome gig. How magical too that it was so cold and crisp outside, and that I walked home through Finnieston in a snow storm with all those swirling flakes glowing orange under the lamplight, and feeling so calm and serene and dreamy because it’s rare that things in life can make you so happy, but I guess good music can, and feeling fresh and freezing after a steaming hot gig.
‘I suppose the thing I am proud of with our music is the fact that we’ve always followed our hearts and stayed true – we do what we love, and we work very hard but we’ve never compromised ourselves for it. If I could pass one message onto my little boy, other than how much we love him, is just to be true to himself and keep an open mind – there’s always more to learn…’ (Little Comets blog).