Tag Archives: Mike Vennart

Re-re-‘Sized

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If you loved Oceansize you’ll love The Demon Joke, the new album from former frontman Mike Vennart. The swathe of Unfamiliar material was a bit much for me to take in at the Brighton gig a couple weeks back – the potential was clear, but this isn’t music that gives of its best up front; it requires patience, the better to tease out the intricacies.

If you’re not familiar with Oceansize I’d fall back on ‘it’s Elbow (heartstrings) vs Mastodon (asskick) spiced with a little Faith No More (contrariness)’. And as much as I adore Oceansize‘s expansiveness I love that Vennart can satisfyingly cram as much into 4 minutes as his former band did into 8.

Mark Heron was all over the kit for four albums and as many LPs, and his Moon/Portnoy presence would be missed if new boy, Denzel’s math-y economy didn’t chime so well with the new music.. ‘He nails it, does he not’ opined Vennart at the gig: quite so.

The polyrhythmical plod of Duke Fame reels out tentacles of appealing melody whilst the easy singalong remains tantalisingly just out of reach, in the fine tradition of Money, or Turn It On Again. My favourite song here.

And maybe it’s the weight of taking the helm, but Vennart‘s vocal is suffused and enhanced by a new soulfulness previously only touched upon. FNM‘s Mike Patton was a discernable influence on Vennart‘s earlier work with Oceansize, and one that he audibly digs into once more, with added conviction. For the great soul singers – Gaye, Knight, Turner, Simone – sweetness and simmering aggression were like yin and yang: always in balance, even when unevenly distributed. Great rock singers, from Glenn Hughes, thru Morrissey, Mike Patton, Maynard Keenan to Andrew ‘Darroh’ Sudderth draw on this tradition; and Vennart exhibits it here too. Check out Don’t Forget The Joker.

Amends has the gravitas and compelling art-mospherics of the best of the ‘Size’s‘s closing epics, condensed into less than four minutes.

Sometimes less really is more. Vennart has succeeded in inhaling all that was great and memorable about Oceansize and expressing it with yet greater feeling, brevity and wit. ‘Prog’ doesn’t have to impose on our time to make its point.

This is possibly his best album… he compared it in recent interviews to the mighty, Everyone Into Position, which I still recommend unreservedly; though TDJ certainly gives it a run for its money…

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Re-sized

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Pre-ordered my copy of Vennart‘s debut album week before last. Pretty excited. For those unfamiliar (no pun…) Mike Vennart achieved artistic, if not financial longevity as singer/songwriter/guitarist with indie-rockers, Oceansize. Negotiating a scarcely-categorizable line between Post Rock, Nu Prog and Art Metal, this sadly-short-lived, Manchester-based crew infiltrated the hitherto-unimagined no-man’s land between Elbow and Mastodon, jamming to fondly-remembered tales of Cardiacs, Faith No More, Tool and Radiohead; refreshed by lashings of mushroom tea. Heady brew? Fuck yeah! And a finely-balanced one too: heaviosity aplenty for die-hard metalheads and cool for the too-cool Guardian fashionistas.

The best rock band to come out of Manchester for a decade.

A year to the day following that band’s dissolution, Vennart and fellow Oceansize cohort, Richard ‘Gambler’ Ingram launched British Theatre: a canny proposition, streamlining the distorted, glitchy and lush atmospherics of the former, whilst substituting a full backing band for laptop dancing. Not a million miles from Radiohead‘s Kid Amnesiac days, albeit grimier, more louche, sordid.

Ingram, and former Oceansize guitarist, Steve Durose both contribute to the new record, The Demon Joke, but to all intents and purposes it’s a one man show now. He launched the new tracks – or some of them at least – at a gig downstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar here in Brighton last week and I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t make head or tail of them. I felt the same way the first time I heard Effloresce (much like Trout Mask Replica, Angel Dust, Second Toughest In The Infants and Spirit Of Eden: sometimes brilliance takes time to absorb and process, even when it’s presence is instantly recognizeable).

In interview, Vennart references (second Oceansize LP) Everyone Into Position, both musically and personally, suggesting ‘I’ve not believed in a record as much since…’ which is good news for me, since EIP is my favourite ‘Size album, though follow-up Frames comes bloody close, and Trail Of Fire (from Frames) is not only my fave Oceansize track but perhaps my favourite song of all time. They didn’t play that at the gig, though they did pull a few classics out of the bag, including Music For A Nurse, Ornament (The Last Wrongs) ‘really long and fuckin’ hard to play’ and Part Cardiac. Even the deceptively-basic, Sabbath-y grind of the latter – from Oceansize swansong, the uneven, Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up – conveyed more emotional depth than their support act, Lithuania’s Mutiny On The Bounty, whose selection of sub-Depeche  Mode b-side material merely served to confirm the futility of industrial, post-rock instrumentalism. The wank dripping from a sea of dumbly-nodding post-hipster beards. The ‘Size stood out from the crowd and one has a feeling that Vennart‘s new collection – written whilst on the road as Biffy Clyro‘s live utility guy, studio-enhanced and mixed by Gambler and Durose will too, thanks to a lifetime of musical geekality absorbed from Maiden to Radiohead. The live presentation was augmented by Durose on guitar and b/vox, Gambler on bass and keys and newkid Denzel on drums, who along with Jo Spratley (Spratley’s Japs) also appear on The Demon Joke. The latter is winging it to me as I type, whereupon the chance to make fuller sense and fall once-again in love will surely present itself…

Can’t wait, chaps 😉

Another track, Infatuate is also available upon preordering here

You know you want to…

Fresh from the vault (10)

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Liverpool aside, is there a city in the UK more crucial in the history of our rock scene than Manchester? The Hollies, 10cc, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Happy Mondays/Black Grape… The now defunct Oceansize continued that tradition of making daring, against the then-fashionable, superlative guitar-based rock music. Their trio of EPs in the late ’90s/early ’00s garnered attention in the British indie press, and debut LP Effloresce earned them an instant cult-following with it’s post-rock soundscapes, driving riffs and compositional complexity. Thanks to the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mansun, Pure Reason Revolution and Porcupine Tree, musicality and ambition were back in, and prog was no longer the dirty word it had been back in the Britpop years.

Second album, Everyone Into Position, though generally critically-acclaimed, lost marks in some quarters for attempting to be too diverse: to me that’s its strength. Over its 70-min duration, the mood is constantly shifting and evolving, both within individual songs and as a unified piece. It’s a cliche to talk of a ‘musical journey’, but totally apposite here, and it’s a journey at times as blissful and awe-inspiring as gently orbiting the Earth, at others more akin to an extended motorway pile-up; full of jarring impacts, life-before-my eyes slo-mo and time-stands-still moments. And on the subject of cliches, how many bands boast – exaggeratedly, in the main – of being musically hard to pin down? Oceansize were genuinely difficult to categorize, though: there are moments of metal intensity, sparse post-rock repetition and enough tricky time-sigs to please the prog-heads, with flashes of Manc rudeboy swagger. Deep, bowel-stirring riffage is interspersed with lush atmospheric passages, vocalist Mike Vennart employs similarly-diverse approaches from a darkly-seductive whisper to demented, unintellible screaming: he cites Cardiacs and Mr Bungle as his favourite rock artists, also slyly admitting to being a big Maiden fan in his youth – that’s an interesting mix of influences right there…

Imagine members of Tool, Deftones, King Crimson, The Beta Band, Radiohead and Gazpacho joining forces to form the ultimate art-rock supergroup: it’s that good.

Since the band’s demise following fourth long-player Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up, Vennart and guitarist/keyboardist Gambler have followed the more atmospheric thread with their British Theatre project, whilst guitarist Steve Durose has joined the ranks of fellow-Manc-based heavy space-rockers, Amplifier, following a stint as their touring guitarist. Both bands have created fine music, but for my money Oceansize combines the best of both: pummelling rock intensity and nuanced atmospheric beauty. Like Sweden’s Opeth, it’s the sheer contrast in musical mood from moment to moment, song to song that gives them their edge: the Home and Minor EP, like the latter band’s Damnation album, eschewed their more metallic leanings in favour of a more mellow vibe, and like Damnation, whilst undeniably beautiful it’s the band’s least interesting release. Everyone…, along with third album Frames is a record I come back to time and again and it never fails to blow me away.

British Theatre Pre-order

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Manchester (UK) based alternative music duo British Theatre are set to release ‘Dyed In The Wool Ghost’ on August 20th. It’s their second batch of songs this year following ‘EP’ back in February. Whilst the combination of singer Mike Vennart’s vocals and the atmospheric ebb and flow of the music bears inevitable comparison with the pair’s work as part of Oceansize (see below), the tone of BT’s songs are generally more low key. Oceansize were one of the most distinctive  British rock acts of the last decade and despite overwhelming critical and public acclaim never quite crossed over from a strong cult following to bigger things. Shorn of the former group’s more metallic leanings these fragile, beguiling, textured soundscapes evoke Radiohead ‘Kid Amnesiac’ period, Bic Hayes ‘Mikrokosmos’ albums, even latterday Talk Talk, yet still retain an appealing character of their own.

 

 

Like what you hear? Point your browser in the direction of BT‘s Bandcamp page (link below) where you can pre-order the 12″ for £7 ($10.92) + shipping or name your price (min. £2.50/$3.90) for the download (mp3 320, FLAC, assorted nerd-friendly formats).

http://britishtheatre.bandcamp.com/album/dyed-in-the-wool-ghost

 

And check out some clips of the boys in more rocking mode with Oceansize below:

 

 

 

 

Fresh from the vault (5)

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Still with my gig head on and in anticipation of upcoming dates with Fish and Yes, I thought I’d share a previously- unpublished review of a classic gig from a now sadly-departed British band. The mighty Oceansize played alternative rock worthy of the name: fiery, complex, emotionally engaging and frequently exhilerating:

Oceansize,  Brighton Concorde, 06 Oct 2010

“You must never lose touch with silly” as Humphrey Lyttleton once advised his ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ cohorts. Like the late, great jazzmeister, Oceansize are serious musicians with a well-developed sense of the ridiculous: their intro tape consists of looped samples from a Venom gig; Cronos’ faux-demonic cackle rousing his – frighteningly – enthusiastic audience to increasing heights of ritual ecstasy. Tonight’s audience are mostly too young to remember Venom, but when the band stroll on and tool up, anticipation has been properly ramped up to a simmering intensity.

New album opener ‘Part Cardiac’ also begins the set: a grinding doom metal call to arms, which lacking either the unnerving tempo shifts or dreamy interludes typical of their music sits uneasily within their canon. It feels like a second intro. ‘Superimposer’ hits the spot, though: imagine Mastodon covering Radiohead fronted by Ian Brown – artful, heavy yet dead catchy with a certain Manc brassiness. The mix is fat in the bottom end – I could feel the shockwaves sloshing the Guinness around in my stomach – whilst generally clear enough to allow the subtleties to shine through, although guitarist Steve Durose’s backing vocals are occasionally drowned out in the cacophony.

“Our best songs are always track seven”, Vennart intones dryly, by way of introducing ‘Silent/Transparent‘, a song which, actually sounds a little ‘Oceansize by numbers’ to me. ‘Self Preserved…’ is a fine album, yet it’s some of the older tracks that ultimately move me the most. Amputee (from their debut EP of the same name) remains a potent reminder of their early impact – and of Mike Patton’s impact on a younger Vennart – and the show almost inevitably ends with another long-running fan favourite, ‘Ornament/The Last Wrongs‘. In between, ‘Unfamiliar’ and ‘Trail Of Fire’ represent ‘Frames’: the latter is perhaps the band’s best 8 minutes. From rippling opening through thunderous double bass drum climax to sweet fade, I’m transfixed. Like ‘Superimposer’ these songs showcase just how jaw-droppingly effective Oceansize can be with all the elements in perfect balance. Their propensity for juxtaposing piledriving aggression and lush ambience is second to none. They also serve OTT: songs like ‘Homage To A Shame’ and ’Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions’ layer on the riffs, beats and screams almost to the point of tilting from sheer excess. We (sadly) get neither of those tonight, but ‘Build Us A Rocket Then…’ and ‘It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To’ are very much in that tradition: relentless, intense and ever so slightly daft.

Those same superlatives could equally well be applied to Cardiacs; a band much beloved of Oceansize. Tonight, Vennart draws our attention to a Cardiacs/Tim Smith tribute album to which Oceansize have contributed, ‘ Leader Of The Starry Skies’. That I ordered it the following day is a tribute to Vennart and company’s conviction. This is British art rock at the top of its game, a must-hear for any – not too – serious prog fan. Seriously.

(Couldn’t find any decent quality footage of OC live to link to so here a couple of tasters of them rockin’ da warehouse ;-))

And in the studio: