As I was lucky enough to be a member of the road crew on the final Swans tour in 1997, I can vouch for the accuracy of Michael Gira’s description of the “stinky old Heavy Metal tour bus” that carted us around Europe (Invisible Jukebox, The Wire 286). Gira is also spot on regarding the lugubrious humour of Pan Sonic (or Panasonic, as they were then known). During a lengthy debate on the merits of ten-pin bowling, Mika Vainio responded to a criticism that the scoring system was unnecessarily complex with the doleful comment “It does not matter what is the score”.
I’ve never recommended a concert at B72 before in this column, so let’s rectify that oversight now. This place is one of my favourite spots on the Gürtel, with a friendly vibe, a cool spinning wheel of spirit bottles behind the bar and a split-level interior that affords a fine view of the stage from upstairs. This month it plays host to Caribou, alias Canadian electronic musician Dan Snaith. Active since 2000, Snaith released two albums as Manitoba until a lawsuit from American proto-punk singer Richard Manitoba forced a change of name. His work is notable for infusing the often dry and cerebral genre of electronica with a lush, dreamy warmth. On his most recent record, Andorra, Snaith effortlessly evokes that brief period in the mid-60s when pop was frying at the edges and transforming into psychedelia.
There is no great tradition of guitar-based alternative rock in Austria, although fans of the genre in Vienna have always been well served by the many British and American bands who include the city in their touring schedules. And the regularity with which these artists pack out venues like the Szene and the Flex is testament to the popularity of guitar rock here. The few established Austrian names in the field, such as Naked Lunch and Garish, have recently been joined by the excellent A Life, A Song, A Cigarette, who drop in at the Szene this month as part of an extensive Austrian and German tour. ALASAC’s début album, Fresh Kills Landfill, is one of those rare first records that announces its creators as not merely promising, but in possession of an already fully formed talent. It’s a beautifully autumnal folk-rock record, with the lyrical vocals of singer Stephen Stanzel (who also plays guitar and mandolin) curling around the chiming instrumentation of the other five band members, which includes cello and accordion. By turns sober and exuberant, ALASAC are clearly influenced by alt-rock bands such as Wilco, but have their own distinctive and lovely sound. And they sing in English, too.
And finally, a necessary antidote to all this upbeat songcraft. Jesu are a British band fronted by Justin Broadrick, best known as the leader of the now defunct, groundbreaking Industrial outfit Godflesh. Between 1988 and 2002, Godflesh carved out a niche for themselves as pioneers of slow, grinding music, building on the innovations of Swans and adding slowed down Metal textures. After disbanding Godflesh Broadrick launched Jesu, supposedly as a vehicle for lighter, more melodic impulses – although Jesu share much of Godflesh’s approach, including their monolithic sound structures and general air of lowering doom. And if that doesn’t bring home the fact that winter is here, nothing will.