OK, I apologise in advance; this isn’t just a Lilygun review although, if you want me to cut to the chase, they were great and even better than the first time I saw them a few weeks ago. The gig at “Upstairs at the Garage” on Sunday night highlighted issues with today’s music scene that we all need to think about. But I’ll tell you about the gig before I get on my soapbox.
The four bands on the bill all have female singers but that’s just about all they have in common. The first two bands, Cryogenica and Riot in Paradise, didn’t really do anything that I loved instantly but they got a good audience response, so fair play to them. Your Army livened things up a bit with some good songs and energetic playing and powerful lead vocals. Their set moved the night up a gear towards Lilygun’s headline slot.
I know this is a Lilygun live review, but I’m not actually going to say too much about the show. I’ve reviewed the album and interviewed Anna-Christina and if you’ve read those, then you’ve got a pretty good idea about what’s going on. The band are dynamic, well-rehearsed and on top of their game. The set is basically the songs from the album and when the band play this well, they’re a force of nature. The line-up is a bit of a surprise tonight (if any Lilygun line-up is ever a surprise) because Aaron John has taken over lead guitar duties while David Ryder Prangley plays bass and Belle Star (of course) is drumming. The personnel change certainly doesn’t have any negative effect on the band; if anything, they’re a tighter more focussed unit because all of them have already been involved at some stage in the band’s history.
It’s difficult to pick out any highlights because the band was on fire, the songs were great and there was a bit of an edge to the performance as well. You can see “Sunlight Dream”, “Conversations” and “Diamonds” here but my personal favourite was “Scum”, the song which disses all the haters, with an even more personal edge tonight (especially when Anna-Christina made a point of asking Aaron to introduce it).
So why wasn’t the venue absolutely packed out? Four bands to see at a pretty good price; even on a Sunday night, I was shocked at the low turnout. When Lilygun play bigger gigs, they always go down well so why isn’t that audience turning up to a smaller show?
It certainly isn’t because of a lack of commitment on the band’s part. I’ve met Anna-Christina a few times and I’ve never met anyone more passionate about and committed to their music and getting people to listen to it. Maybe it’s London, maybe it’s the recession, maybe everyone’s staying in to watch Downton Abbey. Let’s get real everyone; if we don’t go to these gigs, they won’t happen.
OK, rant over; back to Lilygun. They have a great set of songs with a wonderful sense of dynamics, they’re playing really well as a unit and Anna-Christina is an incredibly charismatic leader. They’ve done the album now and they’re ready to take on the world. All it needs is one little spark and the whole thing will lift off. One synch opportunity, one radio play in the right place or one well-placed support slot is all they need to launch them; they’re ready.
It’s hard to believe that this is the debut Lilygun album because it’s so self-assured. It stands up to repeated listening, and even rewards it. The band has released 2 singles so far this year and both feature on this first album, but more about both of those later. This is a set of songs written by the band’s dynamic and charismatic singer, Anna-Christina, demonstrating such variety that it’s difficult to pin the sound down to 1 genre; there are elements of punk, metal, riot grrrl, Goth and even hints of early English folk. We’ve had it on constant repeat here at Riot Towers for a couple of weeks now and it still sounds great.
I love it when an album blows you away from the first notes of the first song and the Lilygun debut does exactly that. “Sunlight Dream” (an “Inception” reference, perhaps) blasts in with drums, big grungy guitar chords and howling lead guitar slipping into nice clean, strummed chords underpinned by drums and a rhythmic bass figure before a multi-tracked vocal refrain leads up to the first verse; and that’s just the intro.
This is an album that rewards you for listening to the tracks in the right order. The songs are all strong enough to stand alone, but hearing them in sequence creates a clear narrative flow. The first pair of songs introduces us to the powerless outsider with “Peace of Mind” building from a tribal drum pattern through a couple of verses to a blazing chorus and a typically blistering guitar solo.
“My Ways” moves the narrative on to insight into the loner’s situation before “Moonlight” starts to reveal a glimmer of a positive outcome. “Excuses” is the first sign of a reaction to the loner’s situation and a clear message about taking responsibility for our actions. “Conversations” takes a step backwards into negative emotions before the 2 songs which bring the album and the narrative to a positive conclusion.
“Scum” was the first song from the album to be released this year and it’s a huge anthem, playing to the group’s strengths with quiet verses interspersed with a huge chorus which is built around a massive descending guitar run and the song’s big message :”There’s no need to be a victim of negativity”. The final song “Diamonds” brings the journey to its end with the beginning of a relationship and another very clear lyrical message: “Don’t let your past decide who you are”.
It’s all very well telling a good story but the music has to enhance the story as well and this is where Lilygun have absolutely aced it. You won’t find a one-dimensional or one-idea song here; they all fizz with musical ideas and great playing. The arrangements squeeze every last drop out of a fairly traditional line-up of 2 guitars, bass and drums (with the odd touch of strings and multi-tracked vocals) and create a huge dynamic range across the album. I know it’s unfair to single out any particular contribution but James Ford’s guitar work is really powerful and took me back to the early days of Skunk Anansie and the brilliant Ace.
This is a great first album from an original and inventive band and I haven’t heard anything else this year to surpass this in terms of raw power and dynamic range; they’ve been on the horizon for a while now and this should be the breakthrough. This is a great album. Buy the CD and listen to all the tracks in the right order; I can’t wait to see them live.
Release date 10/09/12 on A Line Records/Cargo.