Welcome to Day Three of Wales Arts Review’s Green Man Live. Our team will be bringing you the latest from one of the UK’s most beloved independent festivals, set deep in the rolling hills of southern Powys. Over the next three days we will be reviewing, interviewing, and writing up any other little bits of interest to do with the festival right from the heart of the action. So check out our daily Live Pages, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates, and find out all about the music, the films, theatre, art, and everything else that goes on at this marvellous event, including the new National Theatre Wales show Green Man // Red Woman, NoFit State Circus, Neutral Milk Hotel, First Aid Kit, Caribou, The Waterboys and much much more. Follow Gary Raymond, John Lavin, Amelia Fae and Michou Burckett St. Laurent for the words, and Dean Lewis for the artwork.
Continuing on our quest to show a glimpse of what Green Man has offer – here are more photographs chronicling the landscape and the festival itself.
One lazy Sunday afternoon, two musical acts: Amelia Fae contrasts two very differing approaches to the craft of song-writing.
The Sunday afternoon lull was made all the more enjoyable by the intermittent bursts of sunshine: the field outside the Far Out Tent becoming littered with lazy bodies, people relaxing, people recovering, and people readying themselves for the last day of Green Man 2014.
Cornwall’s Hockeysmith, two sisters who apparently started recording all of their music in a caravan, looked small on the stage, but gave a decent performance in front of a curious audience (a typical Sunday afternoon festival audience) the type of crowd that gathers as part of their wanderings around the site. Hockeysmith looked the greenest act I’ve seen at Green Man this weekend and their material, apart from the closer ‘But Blood’, the song in which Hockeysmith show their potential, sounds exactly like two girls recording in a caravan. Lyrically it was all a bit ‘teenage diary’, and musically, although delivered with enthusiasm, it was a bit messy, not quite tight enough. There is every possibility that ‘But Blood’ will be a good-enough song to introduce them to a producer who can make their talents fit their sound, but at the moment they sound too green.
A different creature prospect on the Mountain Stage, Australian indie band Boy & Bear played to a sea of reclining punters in unbroken sunshine, and provided a near perfect soundtrack to a lazy Sunday afternoon.
They delivered a warm and energetic set, and the crowd received them with equal energy and warmth. Dave Hosking has shown he is a talented songwriter with a comfortable stage presence and a mature vocal style. ‘Lordy May’ is an exceptional song and performed live was even more emotive as it rang around the Welsh countryside.
Boy & Bear’s sound may not be what you’d usually associate with Australian rock, they have a real sensitivity, reminiscent of bands like Cherry Ghost, although they do retain an edge of outback blues. But they were the perfect mix of pop and rock for the festival crowd.
As our intrepid Wales Arts Review team prepare for a another packed evening of bands and bonhomie, Francesca Kay reflects on her ‘Last Day’:
Air freshens, colder,
Breeze whispers through the valley,
Nearly time to go
Here are some more photographs of the ever impressive Green Man site.
John Lavin remembers a glorious Saturday night.
Coming on stage at 8pm, just as the light was beginning to ebb, Sharon Van Etten delivered a set that was a winning mixture of raw intensity and sophisticated songwriting. Pieces like the fabulous ‘Serpents’ sound like they are continually unspooling, with Van Etten’s cracked, almost mantric vocals (which at times recall Rufus Wainwright), acting like a lighthouse beam, guiding the troubled souls that populate her songs back to a place of greater safety.
Panda Bear, on the Far Out Stage, meanwhile was simply extraordinary. If his third solo album, Tomboy, was relatively disappointing by his own high standards, then it seems certain that his highly anticipated fourth will have more of the impact of his seminal sophomore effort, Person Pitch. Perhaps owing to the fact that his fingerprints were all over Animal Collective’s Merriweather, Tomboy felt a bit like the work of a writer who had run out of songs. His contribution to AC’s Centipede Hz always felt minimal, however, and last night found Noah Lennox at the very top of his game. Returning his full focus to his solo material, he layered his trademark drugged-Beach-Boys vocals over an ever more varied musical back drop, which even included a beautific, harp-led, ballad.
Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev came on stage swigging from a bottle of red wine and generally looking like the most bohemian man Green Man has ever seen (some feat). Not having seen the Rev in some years I had forgotten Donahue’s strange early-noughties decision to suddenly take the Mercury in his band’s name at face value. Indeed, initially his performance veered, maybe somewhat overmuch, on the bombastic side, as he conducted his band’s breathtaking sound with long outstretched, preening arms. But as the performance drew on, and ratcheted up to ever new levels of depth and complexity, Donahue’s almost shamanic intensity began to seem not only wholly appropriate but also integral to what constituted a perfect rendering of Deserter’s Songs.
They finished with a Sparklehorse cover in homage to Mark Linkous and then a dramatic, tearstained version of ‘The Dark is Rising’. The night drew to a close with the lines, ‘I always dreamed I’d love you/ I never dreamed I’d lose you/ In my dreams I’m always strong’, three lines that essentially sum up Mercury Rev’s artistic vision as a whole, because this is a band (and this was a performance) all about the power of creativity and the power of dreams.
After their much lauded debut, Scandi country outfit, First Aid Kit, set to get the foot tapping on the Mountain Stage this evening, and Amelia Fae thinks they will be right at home in the Brecon Beacons…
Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Sodenberg back in 2008 released a video of themselves performing a cover off Fleet Foxes’ ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ onto their YouTube channel, quickly becoming an online sensation. The Scandinavians’ Grand Old Opry country sound gained attention, which paved the way for their 2012 hit release ‘EmmyLou’ – voted one of the ten best singles of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. The Lion’s Roar established First Aid Kit’s sound sonically and lyrically, and their major-label debut Stay Gold feels like a continuation of that.
Stay Gold rides in over the hill with a canter that will remind many of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, with a plucky Western feel and catchy melody. First Aid Kit’s Swedish brand of Americana is very accessible, the pretty, cavernous harmonies are driven by an all-embracing orchestration with lyrics that subvert the coated, laid back sound.
The emotions that precipitate these ten tracks are troubled and ambiguous, while the music stands firm and tenacious in its trad. country style. The undercurrent is angsty and melancholic with the string arrangements moving them into slightly new territory. However this third album treads much the same path as the last, failing to deliver something that really stands out.
There’s a recurring theme of travel and dislocation and this again will feel familiar to anyone who enjoyed The Lions Roar, with the same, emotional, ethereal wandering. (I have a feeling the Sodenberg sisters will like Green Man seeing as they seem to have a strong penchant for running through mist-filled wood; as displayed in pretty much every video to accompany their debut album).
The duo’s talent lies in their ability to harmonise, weaving their voices into an intricate earthiness. Stay Gold may not be a progression but it feels like a deepening; you can feel roots going down and an edifice being built. Their lilting crystal clear sound blends joy and heartbreak easily, which is consistently lovely; even if the results are less than ground-breaking.
Green Man//Red Woman: We’ve seen Aubern around the site a lot – we think she might be CIA.
Before it became apparent that Alev Lenz was not actually appearing at Green Man this year, Gary Raymond wrote this quick appreciation of her music, and pressured the editors to post it up here anyway…
One advantage of serious-minded, focussed festivals like Green Man is that they attract extremely interesting acts from all around, not just the usual rumble of identikit bands prodded forward in their skinny jeans by record companies and advertising companies who have recently taken eight seconds of their three year-old single to flog the latest cider. And so I am really looking forward to discovering something new. I want to fall in love. I want to be made to feel intellectually uncomfortable, blind-sided, and I want to return home on Monday with a list of records to go out and buy.
I want to see if Germany’s Alev Lenz is as interested in carnival-magic as her two extant albums suggest, particularly the debut, Storytelling Piano Playing Fraulein from 2009. Alev is a mercurial talent, one who has touches of anglicised pop-influence, but more interestingly is heading there from the deconstructionist platform of the ’70s krautrock scene, a scene that sought to create melody and harmonies from specifically non-rhythm ‘n’ blues foundations. Lenz has a beautiful gentle presence on her records, and they clip along with industrious percussion, before falling away beneath your feet. The western musical landscape, broadly always adept at repeating itself, would be a far more interesting place with her a permanent fixture.
John Lavin looks forward to Bill Callahan’s unique, underground rock sound on the Mountain Stage tonight.
Ever since Bill Callahan dropped the Smog moniker, he has been making, if not radically different music, then certainly a deeply radicalised version of the music that he used to make. Like a poet who grows in confidence as he develops his craft, Callahan has pared back both his lyrics and his song structures to great effect; ultimately making some of the most important music of the last ten years.
His now ended relationship (both musical and personal) with Green Man staple, Joanna Newsom, clearly influenced this change of direction, as his records have become both more bucolic (evidently Newsom-esque) and more stripped back (perhaps a reaction to Newsom’s, occasionally misjudged, tendency towards prog-like over indulgence). Either way, on Hemingway-esque narrative songs like the magnificent ‘Drover’ (sample lyric: ‘there’s something about this wild, wild country/ that breaks a strong, strong mind’) and ‘Eid Mac Shaw’, with its half remembered dream language acting as a chorus, there can be little doubt that the always interesting Callahan has now become something altogether more significant.
Certainly if you’re at Green Man tonight, it would be a grave mistake to miss this most inspirational of artists.
Michou Burckett St. Laurent looks back at a Saturday night that encompassed Mercury Rev, Panda Bear, gin and one-man-karaoke.
Saturday night at Green Man was exactly what a festival experience should be – a new discovery, a sing-a-long and a spontaneous party. This came in the form of Panda Bear, Mercury Rev and the Gin Tent.
My partner is a huge fan of Panda Bear and I went along predominantly in the spirit of festival comradery but to my surprise it was a revelation. Instead of his customarily relentless underwater wall of sound, the set was peppered with a diverse range of musical styles, all of which were song based. It was an amalgamation of the best of his solo work and the best of Animal Collective, whilst simultaneously being entirely new. Gracing the same stage as Caribou had the night before, Panda Bear may have drawn a smaller crowd but he showed how it is possible to meld conceptual art with contemporary dance music in a much more dynamic and original way.
Then it was off to the Mountain Stage for the long anticipated return of Mercury Rev playing the entirety of their album Deserter’s Songs. Not only did they do the songs more than justice but again and again they were explosively elevated to something mesmerising. The more popular tracks such as ‘Goddess on a Highway’ were overshadowed, on the night, by the arguably overlooked album tracks – ‘Funny Bird’ being a personal highpoint. Jonathan Donahue was a be-sparkled wizard of the night conducting the band with whirling arms and shamanic gestures.
With the post-Rev blues we headed to the Wales Arts Review headquarters (the gin tent) for some post-gig analysis. Just as we settled in with a gin and elderflower cocktail, the unnoticed one-man-karaoke (ostensibly a man sat in a box on wheels who sings songs on request) struck up a soft pop version of Babyshambles’ Killamangiro. This was followed by all manner of great songs including a raucous, all tent sing-a-long to ‘So Long, Marianne’. Just as it looked like things were sobering up (the human karaoke needed a break) a six piece folk band swung into action. They began with some old English songs before moving on to Nelly’s ‘Hot in Herre’ – which was no less pervy when sung by men in neckerchiefs. The security guard had by then arrived to turf us Haymakers (a different gin-based cocktail) out for the night, but under duress agreed to a final song. The band finished off with an epic mash-up which included the inspired choice of ‘Step On’ by The Happy Mondays. The tent half-crazed on gin and good vibes dispersed into the night. A beautiful end to an evening of competing highs.
Tonight sees the fabulously lo-fi Stanley Brinks bring his downbeat genius to the Walled Garden and John Lavin is anticipating a gig that could throw up any number of delights…
Stanley Brinks has made so many records since he left Herman Dune that it is quite difficult to keep track. From his acoustic-based records with the Kaniks to his calypso-infused solo material, the impression lingers that from an artistic point of view he misses his brother and songwriting foil, David. David brought the sweetness and whimsy to Herman Dune while Brinks (or Andre Herman Dune, as he was then known), brought the bittersweet poetry. Like Lennon and McCartney or perhaps more pertinently, Pete and Carl, both have tended to seem a little one dimensional on their own, whether it be David’s brand of stadium rock meets Jonathan Richmond or Brinks’ low key, lo-fi bedsit poetry.
However, this year’s record with long time Herman Dune touring partners/ fans The Wave Pictures has changed all that. The standalone single, ‘Orange Juice’, is as catchy a record as Brinks has made in any of his incarnations. As catchy even as what is probably the Dune’s best known song, ‘Not on Top’, a song that contains the immortal line ‘Well it’s ten years from teenage… and that’s a freaking lot’. The album Gin, meanwhile, is focused (of course, in an unkempt kind of way), poetic and often jaunty in a manner that is more commonly associated with David Herman Dune. The collaboration with The Wave Pictures is clearly a perfect fit as, while they have always been an extremely likeable band that are excellent live, they have always lacked the presence and poetry of someone like Brinks. Brinks for his part, has this in spades. I alluded to Doherty earlier and the comparison is not just a lazy one. With a penchant for bedsit gigs, lo-fi recordings, erudite lyrics (clearly I’m referring to the Doherty of 2002-04 here) and possibly, (it was at any rate alluded to at the demise of the original Herman Dune) dark drugs. Brinks is, however, a far more interesting character. That he continues to be is possibly owing to the fact that Herman Dune never gained the acclaim and fan base that they might have done had the NME not have been quite so obsessed with Pete, Carl, Julian Casablancas et al in the early 2000s.
There are moments on Gin where the potential in Brink’s always-evident-talent really blossoms. While the songs remain highly idiosyncratic, they sound structured and crafted more than ever before. Brinks has always seemed to me to be at the very least a potentially extremely important artist in the making who no one ever really pays all that much attention to. As he memorably sings on ‘Orange Juice’, (in a kind of anti-intellectual take on Morrissey’s lyrics to ‘Panic’), ‘the radio sucks balls, the radio sucks balls, I can’t relate to any of the music that they’re playing’. Given that Radio One now even deem Le Roux too old an artist to play on the airwaves, that might not change anytime soon; but really, who cares? ‘Orange Juice’ is free to listen to on several websites so why not go and listen to it now? In fact why not just watch the video for it here:
Our hard-working and diligent contributors have taken a few pictures of the Green Man site to convey a sense of the special atmosphere that is associated with the festival.
Francesca Kay captures the magical mystery of trees in her new Haiku: ‘Climbing’:
Soft skin and rough bark,
Oak trees standing patiently
Accepting hands, feet
Green Man//Red Woman: These women are champions of a great cause – and they managed to shut Llinos up for five minutes. Awesome.
Gary Ramond explores the informal and complex world of the cinema at festivals, and finds it uncomfortable and revelatory in equal measures.
Watching films at a music festival is a different experience to watching them in your local multiplex. I’m not sure if this point needs to be made, but there you have it. And I say multiplex because, unlike some, I don’t see much of a difference between the multiplex experience and the indie arthouse experience. And by that, I mean, I intensely dislike people who make a single flit of noise regardless of whether we’re watching Bergman at Chapter Arts Centre or Clash of the Titans at Cineworld. Rustling a pack of crystallised stem ginger and taking a phone call is one and the same to me when I’m trying to watch a film. Which is why the Cinedrome is such a refreshing, unstressing experience for po-faced crusty old cinema-goers like me. Here people come and go, chat (within reason), call out to the screen, sleep, snore, eat, wind babies. This is the kind of William Castle experience I have always been sorry to have been born too late for (although this kind of cinema is making a come back at the edges). There are no seats, just the floor, and everybody spreads around in varying degrees of discomfort depending on whether you have circulation problems or not. But still, for all of this laid-back, open idea of film-watching, there are periods of intense silence and joint concentration. A perfect example of this was the wonderful screening of Lon Chaney’s 1925 The Phantom of the Opera, with live score by avant garde band Minima (who have made something of a name for themselves in recent years in this rarefied and, I’d assume, extremely complex field – playing along live to a film projection). Their score is simply magnificent, pairing a traditional gothic, silent-era sensibility, with little blasts here and there of organ riffs familiar to any fans of Chaney films, to a more modern, experimental, krautrock-esque series of movements. The score entirely enhances the film – which is a classic, a true masterpiece of pure cinema – and, at some points, even makes it more relevant. The iconic scene where Chaney’s phantom is unmasked is truly terrifying, made all the more so for Minima’s acidic tumult. A truly memorable cinema event, and if and when Minima tour this, go see it. Cancel everything else.
Less intense, but no less an experience, was the screening of The Beast late last night. An exceptionally graphic sexual horror that had people leaving the tent at the moment when, forgive me, the camera actually focussed on the ‘the beast’ of the title (a kind of angry forever-groping bear-dog) ejaculating all over the place. Those who stayed offered up a chorus of disbelieving, muffled laughter. Similar responses came when protagonist Lucy very slowly – and sensually – made a rose, complete with thorns, disappear. I will leave you to guess how she did this. Shock was the overwhelming atmosphere from a crowd who were expecting something (and I include myself in this) little more bawdy than pornographic. But the film is a fascinating example of European ‘erotic horror’ of the seventies, and I have nothing but admiration for a festival that wants to put this kind of stuff on. The film is dated in style, if extremely portentous in content.
Beforehand I was interested to see the type of person who would go to see a film like this at 1am on a Saturday night at a music festival. Now I know: the curious.
It’s been a big year for Gruff Rhys, and he’ll be appearing at the Talking Shop this evening. Here’s him talking to our very own Sarah King in an exclusive Wales Arts Review interview a few months ago…
And here’s John Lavin review of Gruff’s American Interior, his new album/film/book project…
Green Man//Red Woman: Belle guards the gate – we’d trust her to guard just about anything. A formidable ‘power woman’.
Wales Arts Review’s Liam Nolan pays tribute to a fascinating new documentary about music and brotherhood, Mistaken for Strangers, showing today in the Cinedrome…
Tom Berninger is a frustrated film maker. He makes low budget horror films that few people ever get to see from a bedroom in his parents’ house. Meanwhile, his older brother Matt is a successful and respected cult figure on the US indie music scene. With his band, The National, he performs to sell-out crowds and counts household names from music and film as fans. When Matt invites Tom to work on their 2012 European tour, Tom brings his video camera and Mistaken for Strangers is the resulting film. I cannot recommend it enough.
This is no regular music documentary. It does depict life on the road for The National and it does successfully capture the passion and intensity of their live performances that Matt’s effortless baritone delivery sometimes hides on record, but it’s far more than that. The accidental focus of this film is the relationship between the Berninger brothers and the shadow that Matt’s success casts over Tom. The extended time they spend with each other sheds light on this shadow and paints a fantastic and honest portrait of brotherhood, complete with rivalry, frustration, love, and misplaced towels and water bottles.
Comparisons have been made to This is Spinal Tap and they’re not entirely unfounded. Tom seems to naturally attract misunderstanding and mishap in a way that Christopher Guest could never script. The film’s been fantastically edited to make the most of Tom’s unintentionally natural comic timing and the result is a film that I’m sure will go on to be quoted endlessly by fans, as all cult films are.
Whether you’re a fan of The National or not, this is a great film in its own right and well worth checking out. The honesty and openness with which both men allow themselves to be shown is admirable and a key part of what makes this the film it is. Mistaken for Strangers is playing in the Cinedrome at Green Man this weekend so if you want a couple of hours away from the main stage, this will be a more than welcome break.
We are continuing to follow Llinos and Hannah, from Green Man // Red Woman, and their video adventures.
We seriously love Cassandra & Pam – we want to curl up next to them and sleep like kittens.
Gary Raymond reflects on the essence of Green Man as he relives his Saturday at the festival.
I’ve been wracking my brains trying to think if Green Man could have booked a more downbeat headliner than Far Out’s Slint last night. Maybe a dead Slint might have brought the tone down, but not considerably. This, however, is not a criticism of quality, for Slint’s post-grunge insular, grating meandering songs (not so much post-grunge, as emerging from the swamp draped and dripping in the sludge and weeds of grunge) were delivered with a lachrymose power few bands at Green Man could dare to match. Nevertheless, the billing was bold, and somewhat typical of Green Man’s attitude when it comes to the bands that play. There seems to be no real interest in booking the ‘biggest’ bands to go up top, but more focus on the ‘best’, or the most interesting. Slint may not have had any intention to get a bunch of ’90s headswingers to pump their fists in the air, but they delivered a visceral, blue-grey performance.
Much more fist-pumping on the Mountain Stage before them was The War on Drugs, and if you had an idea of the type of live act this band may have been beforehand, chances are your assumptions were confirmed, if filled with more glow. The War on Drugs, as I wrote yesterday, are a joyous American retro rock outfit, with heavy helpings of Springsteen, ’70s Dylan, a bit of Neil Young in there, too (again, we won’t mention the obvious influences of MOR). But Adam Granduciel is a generous and shyly charismatic front man, a superb guitarist in the old style, the band cranking up and then back, with just the right amount of denim. I highly recommend a War on Drugs gig to anyone who enjoys the occasional ‘Wooooo’ just as a guitar solo breaks in at high speed.
And Green Man, going back to the line-up again, seem to have this slightly off-centre thing to a tee now. The Saturday afternoon had the note-perfect run of the charming Angel Olsen, followed by the masterful Neko Case (my review of that show heaps more detailed praise here), and then Hamilton Leithouser. Each performance seemed to build upon the foundations of the last. Sharon Van Etten, another truly superb songwriter on show at Green Man this Saturday, seemed to pin the whole thing together. The acts on the Mountain Stage this day all seemed to be connected, all paying tribute to one another in various ways. It gave the impression of the touring troupe; an idea of what life, and friends, on tour are like. Adam Granduciel even dedicated one song to Durutti Column impresario Vini Reilly, for a slightly surreal twist, although, as with so many acts this weekend, once Reilly’s name was invoked, you could hear his distinctive guitar sound in so many others.
The idea of American folk rock has leaned casually on the festival all weekend. A quick visit for a morale-boosting gin and lemon tonic to the Speak Easy bar had us all sitting on the floor watching an acoustic band perform an impromptu jam of ‘The Weight’, complete with a harmonica-off between the band’s harmonica player and a young girl from the audience. These things are busks, you must understand; there is no stage, no front, middle or back, and if the fiddle player is front and centre, it’s just because she got there late and it was the only standing spot left.
Earlier on, as we rushed to get to Sharon Van Etten on the Mountain Stage, we were held up by a Cajun funeral procession, the brass ensemble stopping every few hundred yards to break into raucous blow-out of the ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ that had been slowly marching them along. Behind, joining in, was a tail of festival punters, eating their chips, sipping their beers, just being there. Later on another procession passed by, this time without the death masks or the steam punk regalia of the NOLA march. This was more Rio carnival. Just two of a procession of processions.
Green Man, musically, has a great deal to offer, but at its centre is an idea, and the idea is as much about having a good time as it is purity.
In the current sea of light ambient pop, Gary Raymond looks forward to something with a bit more bite, specifically, Hockeysmith in the Far Out Tent later today…
As far as the current trend of morose-looking girl acts goes, Cornwall’s Hockeysmith are amongst the most interesting. Sisters Annie and Georgie in fact are perhaps most interesting because they look less morose and more quietly threatening. What is alluring about them is the inability of the music press to satisfactorily pigeon-hole them. They may look familiar at first glance, as the industry looks for girls that are a bit like Haim, a bit like Savages, a bit like The XX, but there is some interesting stuff getting through the cynicism. Can we expel our mindset from the Mercury Prize generation for a moment, and think more the bastard children of Slowdive? The children of Slowdive who are still going through the ‘hating the parents’ phase.
At Green Man, they are to take the same stage most commonly reserved for the dance acts, and they do have a place at the table for that AGM, but they could equally knock about with the likes of Warpaint, or even Tycho or a bit of Eno. Speaking of Eno, a few years ago he spoke in an interview of the great ease with which anybody could create good music nowadays – ‘I could take anybody in this audience to one side and teach them in a few hours how to create good music.’ (The question is, he said, is whether simply good music is worth anything). But the real test now, is song-writing – it has hardly moved on since the days of Purcell, has not moved an inch since Ivor Novello. It seems artists like Hockeysmith have understood Eno’s first point very well, and the music is good, but it seems they have an interest in tackling his second point, too. At the moment the material on their début EP is rooted in a gloomy take on anthemic literalism, particularly tracks like ‘Hesitate’. However, ‘But Blood’ shows real promise, and if they have half as much attitude on stage as they do on record, half as much intensity as they do in their promo photos, they will be ones to catch this weekend.
Jim Morphy rues a missed opportunity to see ‘post-rock’s dark overlords’, Slint.
Good morning, captains and festival-goers. It’s the Sunday of Green Man and Slint played yesterday.
Slint, the magnificent. Slint, the almighty.
Although, post-rock’s dark overlords and the self-described ‘Friendliest Festival in the World’ doesn’t seem a natural match.
Slint’s name on the bill highlights that the festival is now moving far beyond its folksy roots. It also says something about Slint’s emergence into the light after years of being one of rock’s mythical beats. Slint now playing gigs to friendly families in a field in mid-Wales.
Not to worry, though, even if things don’t seem quite right, as Slint are the best band at Green Man this year and they were not to be missed.
Slint’s first album, Tweez, produced by the great Steve Albini, was released back in 1989. It’s a great record. But it’s their 1991 album, Spiderland, that gives them their hallowed spot in rock history. It’s a hugely influential album. Post-rock is pretty much built on it. Mogwai and Sigur Ros being just two of the bands that wouldn’t exist without it.
Slint (formed in Louisville, Kentucky) split up before Spiderland was released. Years later, three of the band reformed to curate the 2005 All Tomorrows’ Parties Festival. There have been occasional spells of activity since, including their 2007 tour in which they performed Spiderland in its entirety (the London show being one of this writer’s favourite ever gigs).
Green Man is lucky to have had them. And Slint are lucky to have had Green Man. Let’s hope the ‘odd couple’ thing worked.
I hope you all enjoyed them, Green Man goers. I wish I was there. I should have bought a ticket. It’s been too long since I saw them. Slint, (screams) I miss you.
Francesca Kay ponders the morning tracklines at Green Man in ‘Wet Grass’:
Mud path will emerge,
Recording every footprint
Here’s Wales Arts Review’s Michael Lydon waxing lyrical about Neutral Milk Hotel’s classic album In the Aeroplace Over the Sea – they close the festival tonight on the Mountain Stage…
The critical analysis of contemporary music, and indeed all music and even all art, is a redundant act when in quest of apparent ‘greatness’. After all, the worth of an artistic work is reliant on reception, which often negates individual taste in preference for an apparent collectiveness which dictates greatness. Hence, every 1001 Albums to Hear to Before you Die, or Best Albums Ever! list seems to include the same assortment of artists with their greatest offerings. And yet, is this really what true artistic greatness amounts to? Is there room for individual taste over collectiveness? Or should we all just accept Revolver, or Pet Sounds as the greatest offering in contemporary music, and go and check out the newest cinematic offering of Batman while we are at it? Alternatively, however, let us every now and again celebrate less collectively acknowledged greatness, and seek out those artistic achievements which just need perfection thrust upon them. Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, in the opinion of this critic and varying individual friends and colleagues, is a perfect album; and one which should be painted with the description of great.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea begins with the lyrics:
When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers
And how you built a tower tumbling through the trees
In holy rattlesnakes that fell all around your feet
And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder
And dad would throw the garbage all across the floor
As we would lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for
Taken from the album’s opening track, ‘King Of Carrot Flowers, Part 1’, the boldness, beauty and humour of the lyrics are indicative of the lyrical quality of the album, and an early indication of the albums greatness. In fact, the album’s finest lyrical moments – ‘Your father made foetuses with flesh licking ladies’ taken from ‘O Comely’, ‘The only girl I’ve ever loved, was born with roses in her eyes, but then they buried her alive, One evening 1945’, taken from the Anne Frank-inspired ‘Holland, 1945’, ‘Sweet communist, the communist daughter, standing on the sea-weed water, semen stains the mountaintops’, from ‘Communist Daughter’, and ‘What a beautiful face, I have found in this place, That is circling all round the sun’, from the album’s title track, ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’, being just a brief example – would be comfortable placed alongside the work of Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, or even William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby, Jr., or Charles Bukowski. And yet, the brilliance of the album is not solely reliant on its lyrical worth, musically it is also supreme, with band members Jeff Mangum, Jeremy Barnes, Julian Koster, Scott Spillane and various additional musicians blending an assortment of instruments – including guitar, organ, bowed banjo, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, flugelhorn, zanzithophone, and the Irish uilleann pipes – into a sound that should not work, but does, and masterfully so. This point is best illustrated by the album’s penultimate track, ‘Untitled’, which fuses much of the album’s diverse instrumental use into a wonderful carnivalesque sound, which would later be echoed in the work of Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and arguably the Flaming Lips.
What makes In the Aeroplane Over the Sea a great album is that it was created consciously as an album, and not an assortment of tracks with a special place made for stand-out singles. Therefore, the album, as with all great albums, must be listened to in full and in sequence to fully appreciate its worth. This fact has led many critics to speculate that the album was initially meant as a concept album, with a linear narrative about Anne Frank the central theme. Yet this simplistic analysis fails to acknowledge other narrative motifs present throughout, which indicate that the album is a more complicated ‘old world’ Europe vs. ‘new world’ America exploration, with the album saturated with darker imagery of place and time from both worlds. Thus, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, in narrative terms, is a complex non-linear exploration of societal darkness, and yet this coincides with a musical narrative that is linear, as tracks feed into each other, giving the work a fluent sound; and therein lies the album’s greatness. If you wish to explore Neutral Milk Hotel’s greatness, I implore you to check out In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, or make your way to the Mountain Stage at the Green Man festival on Sunday August 17th, and check out greatness in person.
Day 3’s Green Man Playlist takes into account the possible accumulative hangover of any festival-goers out there, and we have selected a very sedate, but no less fantastic, hour of music to get you in the mood for the day ahead. Some wonderful low-key acts today, such as Alexis Taylor, Samantha Crain and Stanley Brinks mix very easily with some more familiar acts, such as headline acts First Aid Kit and Neutral Milk Hotel. And we play out with the beautiful Lanterns on the Lake, who close the Walled Garden tonight. Enjoy…
original illustration by Dean Lewis
The Wales Arts Review gratefully acknowledges a grant from Arts Council Wales in support of our rolling coverage of Green Man.