Math rock is the new post-rock. It's just how the trends go. While a year or so ago, the world was overwhelmed with long songs without words and plenty of soundscaping, today we're treated to endless rocking the fuck out in weird time signatures and a whole lot of jerky starting and stopping. While the UK was kind of light on really good post-rock bands (apart from Mogwai, obviously, and a handful of others), we've got math rock in spades and seeing as there's a big swell in math rock singers who want to sound like Tim Kinsella (Algernon Cadwallader, I'm looking at you), it seemed appropriate that the opening bands at The Brudenell Social Club were suitably mathy.
Shield Your Eyes were first, a mostly-instrumental three-piece outfit up from London who spazzed their way through half an hour of complex songs, with occasional off-mic screams, that were actually pretty standard in terms of the genre. Math rock has a pretty high standard, though (higher than post-rock, anyway; some of that stuff is dull) and Shield Your Eyes were good enough to allow me to forgive them for showing up late and pushing everything back by about half an hour. They're currently touring pretty heavily throughout the UK so keep your eyes peeled.
This Town Needs Guns' album has been dividing opinions on the Org, I've noticed, with a lot of people seeming to take issue with the singer's voice. I love them on record, live they blew me away, and thanks to the Brudenell's habit of usually leaving the vocals too low in the mix and getting to see the stunning guitar work of Tim Collis up close, any naysayers would likely have been impressed too. Although sticking mostly to their Animal-themed stuff, they occasionally dived into their rougher earlier work, breaking out the brilliantly named "Want to Come Back to My Room and Listen to Some Belle and Sebastian?" ("because people like hearing old songs") and closing on the incredible, crowd-pleasing '26 Is Dancier Than 4."
Between the overwhelming power of This Town Needs Guns and the overwhelming charm of the Love of Everything, it's hard to decide who fared better. Surrounding himself with his instruments and pedals, Bobby Burg took the stage and created his own little world of loops that he invited us to join. Backed by a girl on drums and tambourine, Burg played through a handful of his own cheerful, simple-sounding but thickly layered tunes as well as a Joan of Arc cover I didn't recognize (because secretly, the drummer admits, she wishes she was in Joan of Arc). The highlight of his set, and possibly the highlight of the whole night was when Burg grabbed an old film camera, snapped a couple of pictures of the crowd and played the sound of the flash firing and charging through his loop pedal. A truly great performance.
After all the delights we had been treated to, Joan of Arc were, to be honest, a bit of a letdown. Much of their best work is, I imagine, very hard to transfer to a live format, relying on a studio setting to make it work (the hundreds of guitar tracks on The Gap, for example) or having a particular few of their revolving cast of characters (like on the Guitar Duets album), and they have way too many songs to keep up with, pretty much releasing a record or two a year for 12 years. This meant that at no point did every single person in the room know the song they were playing -- I have seven Joan of Arc records, for example, and I only recognised a few in their hour-plus set. It made for a weird atmosphere in which they played a selection of their most standard rock songs that failed to showcase the hands-down weird shit they do so well. On top of this, there was Tim Kinsella's apparent disinterest in what was going on -- he seemed bored, or tired, or just fed up for most of the set.
That's not to say they were bad; for a band that changes members more than the one constant member changes clothes, they were incredibly tight on stage and it was overall one of the better shows I've seen this year. Coming in second place to the camera incident was when someone in the crowd yelled "Play 'Never Meant'!' between Joan of Arc songs, to which Tim replied, "That's not us, that's my little brother's band." Brilliant.