October 13th 2009.
Reviewed By Harry Naybors.
Naybors here with review of a recent Homemade Lemonade performance at The Dukes Bar and Grill, which all things considered proved to be pretty spot on.
Before we begin, let me fill you in:
Homemade Lemonade began performing live music to Lancaster audiences during October 2008. Debuting as a three piece outfit performing long sprawling ambient electronic-acoustic music; they’ve since begun bridging ambient/experimental electronica with more traditional song forms; expanded their personnel and performed across the city and further a field, most recently at Manchester’s Fuel cafe with Lancaster compatriots Uncle Jeff.
At the time of writing, HML sees founding members Tristan Clutterbuck and Robin Williams alternating vocals, guitars, model looks, attire and electronics. Seb Geoff lending drums, Say Nice Things About Everyone’s John Basset the bass guitar and former Oddsocks and All Nerves of Forest art-bod Tommie Introne fleshing out on extra guitar duties.
Their self produced first album ‘100% Lemons … ‘ was released via Barnbox (www.barnbox.co.uk) records on July 2nd 2009 and features 15 songs written and recorded by the band since its inception. Before sex pests ran her out of town, Jo Gillot would throw in a stalwart fiddle for good measure – showcased nicely throughout the record, and Ponies CEO Tom Bramhall lends a vocal chord or two to ’Transference’. Tonight though the group is pared down, intimate like to just Tristan and Robin; one twelve string guitar, two mics and a laptop.
Watching HML tonight, it strikes me that Tristan and Robin have gotten to a point now where the songs glide very beautifully. Stripped down as it is, the dual vocals melt everything into its place remarkably well. A solid catalogue of a dozen plus songs seems to be growing all the time and stretching themes across spiritual doubt, disillusionment, romance, tragedy, devotion, anxiety, desire et al. It’s a rich, thick and dark berth to fall into. Like good molasses. Roll deep.
I spoke with HML in May of this year, when the boys were finishing up the songs that would make up the brunt of the album. We spoke about the bands’ origins, discovering shared interests and some of their early performances. Coming back a few times to their commitment to exploring ‘different’ spaces in sound and song and likewise some of the challenges, both practically and artistically, they’ve faced in achieving the same. HML’s adventures amongst Lancaster’s music/arts community were drawn on throughout, with reference to their production work for a growing range of artists/performers. They also championed some of the city’s artists, record labels and organisers who’d been integral to respective projects, including Opposite of Robot’s Richard Turner (Opposite of Robot), and Lancaster‘s answer to Arthur Askey, Kriss Foster.
If we go back, way back, to last year, their first shows featured a minimal set up – two laptops, manned by Tristan and Robin; Matt Miles on solo guitar, a Roland 606 drum sequencer, pop bottle, set of keys, crisp packet and a pie wrapper, ‘a two in one pork pie wrapper’. Bathed in darkness, save the glint from their VDU’s, the trio buzzed and clicked their way through twenty minutes’ ambience. Being there was like catching Artemis in full swim, sexy as hell! I spent up at the bar (Reece‘s Nutrageous), so I couldn’t offer much by way of donation. But the next week I sent along a cheque for all of £500. It felt good to do it. I’d recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in local music/artists.
Back to the story, when Matt Miles left, Robin and Tristan found they’d been writing ‘songs’ respectively and sought an outlet. On borrowed equipment, they performed again as a duo showcasing a mixture of ambient electronics with more traditional songforms. Though Tristan told me that the general response to HML live set was initially polarising. Folk would either cream or baulk as they began playing around town:
‘Hampered by equipment problems they seemed to struggle for identity. Members swapped roles a little too often for a consistent sound, veering from squealing guitars to drones, to a harmonic guitar and violin piece that seemed to make a whole song where others would have found an intro’ (Lunecy Review, March 2009).
Let’s not mince words. I found myself in the creaming department.
For me, HML was a return to ‘modern music’ that I figured left behind in the old country (The Wirral). After their first show, I dug up a bunch of old records – Warp based, Mego based etc. Doped myself up on old newsprint and relived my halcyon-outpatient days circa 2002. When I came to, they’d changed their tact. Brought vocals, lyrics. I thought about how another meeting of interests, Fog’s Fog (2003) blended down tempo scratchy folk with glitchy electronics for some engaging, sombre detours. And how HML’s twin forces (elctro/acoustic) can be seen to compliment one another to creating a unique and kind of idiosyncratic of their own.
But so much for chasing dim intimations. Turns out it was a shared interest in radio personality Bob Dylan, “period singer“ Tom Waits and electronic/ambient duo Autechre what brought Tristan and Robin together. The latter inspiring them to start playing with ‘Max/MSP’, Cycling 74’s modular, interactive software package.
Tristan: ‘it’s basically a programming language, but it’s not text, it’s a visual language so you have objects. An object will be a recording. (It’s) not a sampler but one can record audio and one can record playback and you (can) link them all together and put these objects in an order that makes sense and make an interphase … There’s all these visual objects as well like signal meters and things like that …
‘the first time I’d heard Autechre I’d heard nothing like it before … it’s algorithmic, so it’s very cold, goes through a programme and churns this (thing) out … but at the same time there’s this element of random(ness), it’s unpredictable, and you don’t know what’s happening with it’
Some research told me that Max has some 15 years’ history. The ’MSP’ serves as an acronym to its pioneer Miller S. Puckette, whereas the “Max” allows for the digital manipulation of incoming signals in real time; accounting for some of that wild, bending soundscape that’s become a backdrop to HML performances: ‘I guess originally we wanted to do something different‘.
When I ask what turned them on towards electronics, this sense of the ‘different‘, HML tell me, grew from a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction with their output: ‘I (Tristan) guess my thinking about it was (that) I was writing songs that weren’t ‘great’ and if there was something else there to make it more interesting then maybe that could sort of justify it … for me, the electronics is what drove me to want to perform how we perform now. If we didn’t do electronics I don’t think I’d want to do it’
This sense of the different recurs through our conversation. On Tom Waits (name checked, I’m told, in their song ‘Tom‘): ‘It’s always different with Tom Waits, you never know what you’re going to get‘.
So consistency isn’t something that I tend to look for when I listen to HML songs/recordings. From the outset they were changing, exploring (like their boy Dylan?). And you know maybe like with Dylan, it takes some time for people to get used to a ‘different’ sound and space?
Recent reviews have been more favourable:
‘Loops, drones and spiralling riffs with mantra-like vocals characterise much of their live set. Crashing waves of guitar under a chant of ‘I can walk on water’ … give way to a bleak early-Factory Records sound updated with electronic effects … reaching an impressive drawn out climax in the explosive ‘Bliss, Ostensibly.’ (Lunecy Review, July 2009).
The album sounds accomplished, weighty. Searing guitar freak outs and sombre detunes. Considered, impassioned lyrics and vocal deliveries always striving beyond themselves (quote requests to www.everybody-loves-good-naybors-dot-org.org). There’s umpteen hidden tracks and ambient inflections – not to mention the accompanying limited edn. free form cdr what came with it.
Their cd-launch show was wrenching. Cool under sparse blue light the band sounded as though they were pounding their way out of a submarine. No easy task be assured. They gave a lot of themselves that night and it was splendid.
Tossing it around at the Dukes bar, I wondered whether fair critique would be measuring HML against its own standards – to create something ‘different‘? Matching a considered, programming language with spontaneous, improvised detours. Adding a lotta passion and sharing the results.
So whatabout tonight’s performance?
Their performance tonight has a fight on its hands. The bar clatters on as it does. The room is full of chatty kids on a school trip, that and some regulars. People aren’t paying much attention.
It doesn’t matter really, HML do what they do and it’s as good, if not better than it’s been before. They’ve been able to master some of those early equipment problems and meld rolling ambience into some very moving passages and songs. For me they’re passionate, challenging; far reaching.
After HML get done the cast of a current Steinbeck adaptation shuffle through with an acoustic guitar and troff pre-show rendition of negro-spirituals. It’s a theme park trip for the kids.
But whatever man, there’s other shows.
Locally HML have been a welcome addition to the Barnbox roster and its events, and also found favour with sonic expeditionaries 3D Tanx. Harvey Lord likes ‘em. Ponies loves ‘em and they’ve proved themselves an asset to locally produced music, engineering and recording Jo Gillot’s debut, the Moll Baxter Band, recording and assisting with Stephen Hudson’s (Uncle Jeff) solo recordings. Having released their first record they’re set to record a second later this year. The new line up promises some interesting changes.
Autumn falls and Homemade Lemonade continue to cultivate their special difference …
Check them out if you can at www.myspace.com/homemadelemonademusic