Primavera 2013 Review – Saturday

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By Saturday the routine of not going to bed until after 5am every day had started to catch up with me but that didn’t hamper my enthusiasm for seeing Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory playing in the beautiful auditorium building at 4pm. Having enjoyed Pantha Du Prince’s previous albums I had been a bit disappointed by ‘Elements of Light’, his recent album in collaboration with The Bell Laboratory, which I found impressive in concept but fatiguing to listen to in its entirety. Live however it came alive and was one of the most powerful performances of the week receiving a well deserved standing ovation from the crowd on finishing. For the encore we were treated to a few songs from Pantha’s 2008 LP ‘Black Noise’ and seeing them performed live, with their emphasis on acoustic percussion as much as the electronics, helped set Pantha apart from some of his peers and made for a more interesting live experience than the dull laptop gazing usually associated with many live electronic artists.

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Emerging back into the heat after an hour plus in the comfy air conditioned auditorium we headed over to the All Tomorrows Parties stage to catch Mount Eerie, whom I’d been keen to see again since watching him do a solo set last year supporting Earth. I was happy to see him emerge onto the stage with a drummer and two bass players in tow suggesting a much more filled out sound. Unfortunately the performance became a surreal and uncomfortable mess after a band started playing on the adjacent Heineken stage midway through the set. Although his music does have some intense black metal inspired dirges scattered throughout the most powerful aspect of his music are the quieter and more reflective moments and they were intolerable to listen to over the racket of another band playing so loud nearby. Sadly the show has to go down as one of my most disappointing experiences at the festival which is doubly depressing considering the high esteem in which I hold Mount Eerie’s music.

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A late cancellation by Band of Horses resulted in Deerhunter playing another set in their place on the Heineken stage. Although the replacement had been announced online and via posters dotted around the site I think many people mustn’t have heard about it because they played to one of the smallest and most comfortable crowds experienced at that stage throughout the festival allowing me and my friends to get right up front. The band raised expectations for a different set by opening with a ‘Cryptograms’ but soon deviated back into roughly the same sequence songs they played on Thursday night. I was a bit underwhelmed as I’d figured that their playing 3 albums in their entirety at All Tomorrows Parties the following month would suggest they should have a bit more of a current repertoire to chose from. Nonetheless the conviction with which the ‘Monomania’ songs that dominated their performance were played made for a more punked up and visceral Deerhunter live experience.

In a bizarre contrast of styles next up were Wu-Tang Clan and their classic brand of East Coast Hip-Hop. Their set drew heavily from classic debut album ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and it was a welcome pleasure to see a group trying to work the crowd. We were treated to a few songs from GZA’s ‘Liquid Swords’ and a lesson on the virtues of turntableism throughout the gig but it was a bit sad to witness a crowd sing along of The Beatles ‘Come Together’ generating more hysteria from the audience that any of the original material they played. I’d seen the group once before, with Ol Dirty Bastard, at T in the Park years ago and thought their Primavera set far eclipsed the ramshackle mess I’d witnessed then and provided a much more refined and direct performance which resulted in generating some of the best of crowd interaction I saw over the week.

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Leaving Wu-Tang as they played out the last 15 minutes of their slot we made our way over to the Heineken stage once again to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. It’s been a few years since I have seen Cave live and despite owning everything else he’s done I didn’t pay any attention to his 2 last albums with the Bad Seeds. His set opened with two songs from new album ‘Pushing the Sky Away’ which, while sounding great, left me a little underwhelmed and yearning for the familiarity of old material. Thankfully my wishes were granted in the form of a ripping version of ‘Red Right Hand’, with the Bad Seeds at their most grand and cinematic sounding, and snarling and vicious versions of Elvis in hell exorcism Tupelo’ and the sick twisted homicidal blues tale ‘Stagger Lee’. At barely an over an hour in length though Cave’s set felt too slight and short, especially for an artist with such a huge amount of classic material.

Next up was a rare trip to the smaller confines of a packed Pitchfork stage to see Liars who, in the form of ‘WIXIW’ released one of my favorite albums of last year. Their set consisted mostly of new material which suggested an altogether more electronic and danced based new direction that despite being mostly unfamiliar did a great job of getting the crowd, many of whom were at that point in the night just wandering about from stage to stage in search of a beat, dancing along. Despite being a long term fan of the band it was the first time I’d seen them live and they put on one of the most exciting performances I saw all week further raising expectations for their new material.

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The last headliner of the main 3 days was My Bloody Valentine whom I found myself more eagerly anticipating after the surprise release of ‘MBV’ earlier this year. I’d seen the band in 2008 and came away from the gig being glad to have seen them but a bit shellshocked by the intensity of the volume. I found seeing them in a festival setting a much more enjoyable, despite the vocals being a tad too low, and it was good to be able to identify their songs more clearly. Their performance proved to be frustrating to the locals who left in droves a few songs into the set. From further back I found the impressive scale of the noise coming from the stage prettier and more comprehensible that I’d expected and it was a joy to be treated to a few tracks from the new album which came across as poppier and more accessible than their older material. The infamous and inappropriate titled holocaust section of ‘You Made Me Realise’ was as remarkable than ever and even with the sea wind blowing behind it proved to be a uniquely intense and incomparably loud experience.

Our Park Del Forum Primavera time came to a close with Hot Chip’s 4am set which proved a fitting finale in being the only point of the festival that felt like a proper dance concert, an important part of the Primavera experience usually confined to those with the herculean (or drug fueled) energy to stick around until after 5am when the DJ sets begin. The crowd was as packed as it seemed to me all weekend and Hot Chip put on a stellar performance demonstrating their burgeoning strength as a singles band. Once thought of as a UK LCD Soundsystem the breakup of that decade defining New York band leaves Hot Chip as one of the few groups around capable of delivering live shows which satisfy the dance and indie crowds equally and their Primavera set was by far the most euphoric and crowd pleasing I witnessed all week.

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One of the most satisfying aspects of the Primavera Sound festival is the wide variety of concerts and performances that go on in different locations throughout the city during the week. From the use of the excellent, if sometimes too small, Sala Apolo indoor venue and the Ray Ban stage on festival site on the Wednesday and Sunday for additional concerts to the more boutique shows put on in metro stops and parks dotted around Barcelona it’s possible to see a lot more music at Primavera than the already ridiculous amount of acts on display at the proper 3 day main festival. On a Sunday afternoon we trekked it down to the idylic surrounds of the Parc de la Ciutadella to see a free show by Mac Demarco which turned out to be one of the most enjoyable gigs of the week. Blessed with a hyperactive positivity Demarco played one of the most appropriately located shows I’ve ever seen and his music seemed custom made for standing in the sun whilst sipping cheap mojitos. In between tokes from a joint he kept in his capo during songs and later giving cigarettes out to members of the audience we were treated to a set bustling with simple yet effective surf rock tunes. The playfulness of Demarco’s performance reminded me of the childlike aura of Jonathan Richman live and after some quite heavy and intense music over the week it was a welcome release to listen to something more optimistic and uni-formally upbeat. Impromptu covers of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ mixed together in a set dominated by debut album ‘2’ resulting in probably the most impressive and enjoyable surprise of the week.

Our final live show of the week was back at the Sala Apolo where Deerhunter were playing their 3rd show of the festival. It was a great contrast to see them play an indoor venue and although the set was still festival length and lacking the feel of a stand alone gig it was another solid performance from one of the best live bands out there at the moment. Any reservations I had about the quality of new album ‘Monomania’ had been quashed by this stage and I felt that they gave their best, and definitely their loudest, show of Primavera. ‘The Missing’, ‘Sleepwalking’ and, in particular, the title track from the new album are some of Deerhunter’s most powerful and direct live songs and despite being saddened by the fact they seem to have all but disowned ‘Microcastle’ as a source of material their replacements are equally as competent and satisfying. The band have a different feel live now and the additional guitarist allows Bradford Cox to stand up and assume the free frontman role he’s been talking in the bands recent interviews. Prior to the festival they were probably the act I was most excited to see and being lucky enough to catch them 3 times in 4 days was probably my highlight of Primavera.

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Primavera 2013 Review – Friday

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Friday started early again for us back at the Heiniken stage where we saw Kurt Vile and the Violators. Vile’s excellent new album ‘Walkin on a Pretty Daze’ has already matured into one of the most fulfilling and re-playable records released this year and I bored my companions prior to his set with my half-baked theory about the surprising depth of feeling and sensitive and wise reflection in his music and how a lot of the emotion in his songs gets overlooked in light of his stoner drawl and slacker appearance. The set drew mostly from the new LP and Vile’s electric guitar driven jams which was a good move considering he could have potentially looked pretty lost up there on such a big stage at such an early hour. ‘Tomboy’ from ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ was the only solo acoustic song aired and the band finished with a rip roaring psychedelic maelstrom that surprised me in its heaviness.

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By far the quietest day at the festival for us Friday provided a welcome opportunity to relax, explore the festival site and merchandise stands and have the chance to have a couple of beers without having to dash of from stage to stage every hour. After wandering for a while next up were Django Django who played to one of the busiest crowds we witnessed outside of headline acts at the Heineken as the sun settled. I’ve seen them once before and felt that their live show came across a little weak and limp sounding compared to the ambition of the album. Thankfully they beefed up many of their songs with some extended intros and keyboard grooves which made for a more enjoyable show but still left me coming away with the feeling that they could really do with an extra member in order to have a more powerful live presence. ‘Hail Bop’ went down a treat with the locals in the crowd as did a few other songs which leads me to believe that Django Django must be as omnipresent on Spanish TV adverts as they are in the UK.

We had another lull in the programme after Django Django, mostly as a result of the unfortunate late cancellation by Rodriguez, before heading over to the Primavera stage to catch the first few tracks of The Breeders. We basically had the intention of just seeing ‘Cannonball’ (which was again a real treat) and then heading of which seemed to be the plans for many others in the crowd.

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The next full set we saw was James Blake back at the Primavera stage. I’d heard good things about his new touring band and they didn’t disappoint. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard sub bass as deep and gut shaking as I did throughout his performance. Having not given his new album enough listens prior to seeing him so much of the material was fresh to my ears but came across well and suggested a more direct and inviting record than his debut. I was especially impressed by the rousing rendition of ‘CKCY’ which evidenced that Blake could pull off a more conventional dance sound wonderfully if only he wished. It was surreal, and kind of frightening, to hear a bunch of drunken English girls behind us singing along to ‘Limit to Your Love’, especially considering how intense the bass was in the middle section.

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After a bit of deliberation about whether to see Swans and Goat I decided to go see Blur’s headline set instead. I’ve never been a big fan of the band or the entire Britpop movement but past Primavera’s have resulted in me seeing excellent gigs by Pulp and Suede both of which opened doors for a renewed sense of appreciation for them. I was also conscious of the fact that Blur would present the only opportunity of the weekend to see a big headline performance that would get the crowd worked up. Their set did that and more and I was pleased to see some of my favorite tracks from ‘13’ (the Blur album I’m fondest of) receiving emotional live performances. As a casual fan I was surprised to find that I knew almost everything they played and even if I didn’t dig much of it first time round I got swept up the euphoria of the crowd and had a great time. Also, everyone needs to experience ‘Song 2’ live at least once.

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Last up were The Knife whose set began at the rather intimidating time of 3.20am. Prior to the festival they had been one of my most anticipated acts but I found my motivation to see them diluted by some of the quite hysterical reactions their London shows received earlier in the month. Being familiar with their live sets only through the bonus DVD on the special edition of ‘Silent Shout’ I’d initially hoped for the same stripped back show which highlighted the individual strengths of both members rather than the amateur creative dance ensemble mime performance that it was. Nonetheless I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I’d thought I would. We stood at the back where we could dance freely which had the added advantage of rendering the visual side of the performance redundant to us. It did sound to me like Karin was singing live on most of the tracks although I was skeptical about whether or not any actual instruments were being played on stage. Thankfully their new album ‘Shaking the Habitual’ is so great that I was able to enjoy the gig, even if it was just that album being played loud over the PA most of the time. Much as I felt the show wasn’t the spectacular failure some people had suggested after their London gig I do appreciate that it probably wouldn’t stand up and would look a bit ridiculous in the more scrutinizing environment of an indoor venue.

Primavera 2013 Review – Thursday

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Last week I attended the Primavera Sound in Barcelona for the 3rd time in 4 years (I ended up going to the debut of Porto incarnation in 2012). The festival cemented its standing as the most exciting and varied in the world again this year on account of its yet again stellar line up and continued creative use of spaces outside of the main festival night to deliver an almost week long celebration of music old and new. The Parc Del Forum where the main 3 days of the festival is located provides one of the most spectacular settings for seeing live music and many of the bands who play seem to step up their game because they truly love playing there.

On the Tuesday night me and my companions for the week commenced our journey through Primavera at the Sala Apolo venue seeing Godflesh or rather, being pummeled by Godflesh. The band, consisting of guitar, bass and a triggered drum machine sequencer played probably the most consistently heavy gig I’ve seen, a relentless aural assault of heavy riffs, hardcore vocals and industrial metal percussion. There was more music to come on Wednesday as well where we attended the much discussed secret gig back at the Sala Apolo. A common day signature of Primavera I’ve missed out on the secret gigs over the years due to always hearing about them when they’re sold out. The deal according to the website said that the band would only be announced 5 minutes before they came on leading to rumors abounding as to who they might be. The most exciting I came across was The Dream Syndicate (which would of made me ecstatic) and the most frightening was Shed Seven (which had us walking into the venue beforehand with a genuine sense of dread). In the end when we got in, 20 mins before the band was due, the merch guy was already set up selling Breeders t-shirts which undermined the whole thing a little. The band themselves were in fine form, running through their breakthrough smash ‘The Last Splash’ in its entirety before playing a long encore of other material which thankfully included their incredible take on ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’. I’ve never been a massive Breeders fan and I’m more familiar with debut LP ‘Pod’ than its follow up but they played with enough energy and enthusiasm and were enjoyable enough if not brilliant. Though ‘Cannonball’ was, predictably, outstanding and had the crowd going crazy.

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The first band we saw at the festival site on Thursday was Wild Nothing. Last year’s ‘Nocturne’ is still a regular on my stereo and its pleasant and tuneful wistful guitar pop filled a much needed gap that had been created by overplaying the last Real Estate album. They’re excellent new EP ‘Empty Estates’ had also worked its way into being go to balcony listening in the days prior to the festival. Live they were enjoyable enough, well suited to hearing in the sun at 6.30 in the evening but hampered a little by them playing such a huge stage and to such a large crowd and not quite having a big enough sound to match those circumstances. I’d like to have seen them in a smaller setting but I’m sure that would have just added to headache of clashes throughout the festival.

We left Wild Nothing just before the end in order to make the long trek across the festival site to the Pitchfork stage to see one of the bands of the moment Savages put on a quite incredible and energetic show. Their image is great and their Siouxie inspired agit-pop was a welcome adrenaline boost after the breezy vibe of Wild Nothing. Equipment failures rarely heighten a performance but the way Savages dealt with a guitar breakdown midway through ‘Strife’ without loosing any intensity whist jamming out relentlessly for 10 minutes on the song’s tight drum and bass fuelled groove went a long way to validating how serious and unfazed the band are.

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Rushing from one stage to another in a desperate attempt to catch full sets was one of the tiring and disorienting themes of the festival and no longer had Savages stuck their final notes before we were off again in a mad dash to catch Tame Impala over on the Heineken stage. Having written them off on the back of their debut album, a fault I attribute to my fatigue with the compressed throw everything in the mix trademark of producer Dave Fridman more than the band, I was surprised when last years ‘Lonerism’ became on of my favorite albums of the year. Live they were a lot more muscular and heavy than I’d anticipated and their glammed out psychedelic pop combined well with their screensaver on overdrive visuals to create a mesmerizing performance that suggested great future potential for the band to become this era’s (early) Pink Floyd.

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Mild exhaustion and Scottishness resulted in abandoning another trip on the slow meandering crowd train over to the main stage to see Dinosaur Jr. and instead opting to have a couple of beers in the food court and get myself a little tanked up before seeing one of my bands of the festival Deerhunter in the tranquil sea background setting of the Ray Ban stage. Missing them touring ‘Halcyon Digest’ was one of my big regrets in terms of recent gig going and seeing them perform ‘Desire Lines’ for the first time was enough to whip me up into a frenzy that took vengeance on my vocal chords the following day. New album ‘Monomania’ had started to settle more with me in the week prior to the festival but I still had doubts about them replacing original bassist Josh Fauver who I thought was indispensible to their sound. The addition of new guitarist Frankie Broyles added more punch to the band’s guitar interplay (although visually it’s miraculous that they managed to find someone more despondent and uninterested looking than Lockett Pundt to join the band). Their set relied heavily on the new album and left me with no doubts as to its deserved place in their ridiculously inventive and consistent discography. As I commented to friends during their performance, if I was 16 my bedroom would be covered in Deerhunter posters and my school books scrawled with their lyrics.

Resolving the dilemma of whether to see Grizzly Bear or Menomena who clashed had been a slight thorn in my side all evening and coming of the high of Deerhunter I opted to see the latter on the smallest stage of the festival rather than seeing Grizzly Bear on the main stage and despite the expected later reports of how wonderful Grizzly Bear were (of course they would be!) any doubts or regrets were nullified the moment Menomena started. As a band they mean a huge deal to me and their lack of more widespread recognition is one of my most rued issues in contemporary music. Their set was one of my major highlights of the festival and I spent the entire time bouncing about with the kind of energy that only something you really love can inspire. Special props to the Spanish girl behind me who knew the words to every song (I thought I did but the frowned looks of some people around me suggested otherwise)

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After the high of Menomena we skipped our way across the site over to the main stage to see Phoenix’s headline performance. In contrast to Menomena it’s wonderful to see Phoenix ascend to the status they now enjoy as they’ve made some of the most well crafted pop music of the last few years. The near constant crowd sing alongs were testament to the infectiousness of their music. The mid set dance along that resulted from the medley of ‘Love Like a Sunset’ and ‘Entertainment ‘ being fused into one big rave up was a sight to behold. The fact that by 10 minutes into their set they’d already played new single ‘Entertainment’ and their most recognized song ‘Lisztomania’ and yet the energy levels of the crowd never dropped until their last song of their encore (a revved up dance improv with Jay Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. joining in for some shredding) was further proof of the surprising depth in their catalogue. Performance wise they’ve obviously consulted friends Daft Punk before this tour (the robots came on and did a song with them in New York recently) and some of the song mashups that peppered their set were reminiscent of Daft Punk’s seminal ‘Alive 2007’ shows but played out by a conventional band.

We finished the night by catching a little bit of Animal Collective over of the main stage at 3am. The last time I saw them here, headlining in 2011, I walked away a bitter and disgruntled fan questioning his blind allegiance as they played only a couple of recognizable songs and spent the majority of their performance road testing new material (an admirable artistic move but for me poor play in terms of the inherent responsibilities of playing a headline festival set). What I saw of them this time round was much better if still a little ‘Centipede Hz ‘ heavy. They’ll always be a strange band live for me, equally capable of giving intoxicating performances of inventiveness and bliss (see their takes on Fireworks circa 2007) or being a total borefest.

Music Diary 2012 – Monday

I started off this morning reading about the eventual long overdue release of the My Bloody Valentine remasters. I pre-ordered the set from amazon a month back but decided to cancel my order at the last minute (too late it seems, they’ve now been shipped) and hold out for a vinyl release, though I’ll probably pick up the CD’s in the long run, such are the absurdities of petty fandom. Despite having ‘Loveless’ on my mind I kicked off the day listening to another touchstone of early 90’s shoegaze Slowdive – Just For A Day. Although my introduction to the band was their often favoured second album ‘Souvlaki’ and it was their third and final LP ‘Pygmalion’, with its proto-Post-Rock ambiance, sounding like a British take on Labradford, that made me mildly obsessed with them. Nonetheless it’s their debut and the visionary EP’s that frame it that I find myself returning to most often thse days. Avalyn in particular. 

Slowdive – Just For A Day (Spotify) – Headphones

Seeing their name next to Slowdive in the related artist section of Spotify resulted in me listening to a batch of my favourite songs from 4AD slowcore stalwarts the Red House Painters and their forever twinned sophomore releases Bridge and Rollercoaster. I’d guess I’ve spend the vast majority of my time listening to Red House Painters lying in bed and this morning was no different as I closed my eyes and ran through ‘Katy Song’, both versions of ‘New Jersey’ and ‘Mistress’, ‘I Am A Rock’ and ‘Helicopter’. As much as I love the rest of Red House Painters discography and Sun Kil Moon’s first releases it’s those two sepia toned pinnacles of gloom I love the best.

Red House Painters (Spotify) – Headphones

After going out to play badminton I came home and soaked my tired bones in the bath with the abstract experimental electronica of Actress’ latest album ‘R.I.P’ playing in the background. I picked it up on vinyl on Sunday on account of the all  positive press its had and after a couple of spins I’m still entirely unsure how I feel about it. I’m don’t know how much I actually like it but I do find it strangely compelling, similar to the way I felt about Oneohtrix Point Never’s last album. I enjoyed ‘R.I.P’ more after I turned it down a few notches on the volume dial, a la Eno’s Ambient 1 recommended levels. As the album blended in with the creaks of the boiler and the crows cawing outside it had a stronger effect. From that perspective ‘Shadows from Tartarus’ sounded like a car radio blasting out Dizzy Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ somewhere in the distance while I listened to Board of Canada real low.

Actress – R.I.P (lossless) – Sonos

I then had a wee nap and listed to Pan American – White Bird Release. A go-to drift album for me.

Pan American – White Bird Release (lossless) – Sonos

Moving through to the main listening system in the living room I finally listened to some My Bloody Valentine. First up the first half-dozen tracks from ‘Isn’t Anything’ (remember when the used to be a normal band?) then a few tracks from the EPs (‘You Made Me Realise’ I find both therapeutic and traumatic after seeing them roar out the middle section for a what-seemed-like-forever 20 minutes when I saw them live a few years ago) before listening to that eternal touchstone of bliss that is ‘Loveless’ in its entirety. I opted for disc 2, the analogue half speed remaster, and it sounded incredible. The sound stage is wider than the original CD and vinyl releases and I genuinely felt I heard parts that had been otherwise obscured on pretty much every song. Vocals seemed more defined and I actually think I caught a few words for the first time.

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (lossless) – Hi-Fi

My Bloody Valentine – EP’s 1988 – 1991 (lossless) – Hi-Fi

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (lossless) – Hi-Fi

A pleasant surprise this morning was the out-of-nowhere release of two new Animal Collective songs. Unfortunately seeing the band headline a night of the Primavera festival in Barcelona last year with a set comprised almost entirely of new material had left a bitter taste in my mouth about Animal Collective. Although the new stuff sounded good that night it managed to alienate the majority of the crowd, myself included, who had turned up expecting to hear at least a few more familiar songs. Whether  ‘Honeycomb’ and ‘Gotham’ were part of that set I don’t know but either way I’m willing to forgive and forget and re-ignite my love for the band in light of the potential of new material this year. ‘Honeycomb’ is a fairly typical Avery circus style and in being that it sounded a bit of a mess on first listen (as is often the case for me with Animal Collective). ‘Gotham’ with it’s moody down tempo vibe grabbed me more although I’ll have to listen to both tracks a few more times to get a grip on them.

Animal Collective – Honeycomb / Gotham (lossless) – Hi-Fi

I then listened to Beach House – Bloom for the third time through. I’ll restrain myself from saying too much now as I guarantee that this album will show up again this week but as of now it is fulfilling my expectations and more. It’s perhaps not as immediate as ‘Teen Dream’ and a bit samey on first play but it’s rewarding repeat listening immensely. It really takes off from the 6th track in and finishes strong. Can’t wait to see them live.

Beach House – Bloom (lossless) – Hi-Fi