Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Eurosonic 2011: the Thursday night files

A couple of hours gallivanting around Groningen last night – memo to self: hire a bloody bicycle next year – and a couple of very fine acts caught in action as Eurosonic got into full swing. Yes, there were also …

Fri, Jan 14, 2011, 12:47

   

A couple of hours gallivanting around Groningen last night – memo to self: hire a bloody bicycle next year – and a couple of very fine acts caught in action as Eurosonic got into full swing. Yes, there were also some ropey acts. From the don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover dept: who knew that a band called Mads Langer would sound like a castrated Script? Or that a band called Goose were not really worth a gander? Anyway, on with the good stuff.

Instant love for Agnes Obel, the Danish performer who cast a bewitching spell with some gorgeous, engaging tunes, including a mesmerising cover of John Cale’s “Close Watch” (download for free here).

Very much taken with Swiss/German combo Boy (it took me longer to find their Myspace than to type this post so far) who came across as a sassy Pretenders’ with a neat line in smart, radio-friendly tunes and also Zaz, a French singer with a beautifully warm voice and a winning mix of soul, jazz, folk, pop and hip-hop tunes. Was glad to see Danish duo Murder again, an act with a bevy of haunting blues-folk tunes (and a very fine new album called “Gospel Of Man”), and also to finally see The Staves, three sisters from Watford with a Mountain Man-like sheen to their folk-pop tunes.

Spent a lot of the night in the Simplon venue to see SBTRKT, Star Slinger and James Blake. The SKTRKT live show featured Aaron Jerome (the SBTRKT producer who dons a tribal mask) and Sampha on vocals pushing some gorgeous dark, bassy electronic pop (some of the vocal tracks took the sound into deep Chi-Town house territory). Star Slinger’s one-man set was deep intrumental hip-hop with plenty of soulful airs and graces. And JB? Well…

I rarely hang around for full sets at events like Eurosonic. Catch three songs and hit the next room. You’ll see the act again and anyway, there are plenty of fish in the sea. But like Robyn and Lykke Li at previous Eurosonics, there was something about Blake which made me buck that trend. It was a mesmerising, exquisite, deep set, a performance which reminded me of Bon Iver, Mark Hollis and Portishead in places (especially the vocals and this beautiful sense of space). Throughout, over dazed sleepyhead bleeps and slow-motion classical minimalism, Blake sang these songs which built from wisps and whispers into dramatic exclamations.

What I find so fascinating about Blake is that he’s the most unlikely Next Big Thing/Sound Of 2011 act you could possibly imagine. Such elegant, graceful minimalism doesn’t seem to have a place in the hyper-accelerated culture we seem to find ourselves immersed in. But a quirk of time and place means we’re listening to the notes between the music and mentioning Blake in the same breath as Brother.

What’s also interesting is the long-term stall which Blake is setting out for himself. Time and time again when I come across a new act, I try to imagine if they’ll still be playing, performing, writing and recording five, ten or 20 years from now. Most times, I can’t see it. The act will be lucky to get to a second or third album. With Blake, though, you can already note where he’s going to head with his music. It’s not about ambition or imagination, but scale and scope. Long after the Sound of 2011 bandwagon has been consigned to the scraphead, Blake will still be making sublime sounds. Yes, that’s a prediction. He’s the real deal.

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