ANNA MEREDITH + RYAN VAIL & ELMA ORKESTRA + FRÖST – THE OLD MARKET, HOVE 10.02.20
In keeping with the theme of this season, Fröst are 2/3rds female, although they do have a gentleman (Steve Lewis – Ed) who plays bass and keyboards, and looks a bit like the actor John Simm. They may or may not be French. One of the singers certainly sounds French. (Johanna Bramli is Franco-Swedish Belgian and Megan Louise Clifton is British born -Ed) The Brighton & Hove News’ music editor Nick described them as being “retro synth”. He is only correct up to a point. The roots of their music certainly goes back forty years, but they still manage to sound incredibly futuristic.
There are a wide range of influences detectable: a soupcon of Kraftwerk here, The Cocteau Twins there, together with a dash of early (pre-‘Dare’) Human League elsewhere. However, the originality of their sound is greater than the sum of these glimpsed parts. There is a glacial air at times to their harmonies, which is apt considering their name. Fröst take an old template and re-tool it with considerable success. Their debut album was released in 2018 and is titled ‘Matters’ – check it out HERE.
Ryan Vail and Elma Orkestra are definitely not female, but we’ll forgive them that. They are two blokes (Ryan Vail and Eoin O’Callaghan) from Derry who have an album called ‘Borders’, which is inspired by Brexit and the effect that is likely to have upon the border in the island of Ireland. It is difficult to see who is doing what onstage as the band plays in almost total darkness. The reason for this is that the music is accompanied by some beautifully shot films which are projected onto the rear wall of the stage. As an overall performance the show is engaging and quite moving.
However, I couldn’t help feeling that without the films some of the music was at times unremarkable. At times it was also very haunting, with some lovely keyboard work. All in all I would say this was a 7/10. However, these are two very talented guys and they are a young band. I’m sure in years to come they will produce their masterpiece, and I’ll be able to brag about how I once saw them at The Old Market in Hove.
Ryan Vail & Elma Orkestra setlist reads:
‘Am I Sad’
Anna Meredith has a Master’s Degree from the Royal College of Music and has no reason to be concerned about the quality of her music. I have seen her work described as “genre-defying”. To a large extent this is absolutely correct, but I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that this is prog. I’m sure that this is an assertion that will leave many people (possibly including Anna herself) absolutely horrified. However, I shall qualify this assertion. In no way is Anna’s music reminiscent of Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Yes’s ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’. It is however progressive in the true sense of the word. It effortlessly pushes boundaries (well, the boundary-pushing appears effortless – it probably isn’t!) and goes where other musicians fear to tread. It would appear that the only limit to where this music can go is set by Anna’s imagination, which would appear to be a very wide-ranging thing indeed.
Even the band’s line-up flouts convention, Anna plays keyboard and clarinet, there’s a guitarist and a drummer – so far so normal. Then you discover that the bass end of the musical spectrum is largely taken care of by a cellist and a guy playing tuba. Thus the actual configuration according to her Facebook page is Anna on clarinet and electronics, plus cello (Maddie Cutter/Gemma Kost), electric guitar (Jack Ross), tuba (Tom Kelly) and drums (Sam Wilson).
The music itself is deceptively complex with multiple time signature changes, counterpointed backing vocals, and the occasional appearance of the music and drums playing in different time signatures without the whole thing falling apart. This is extraordinary stuff. Anna Meredith and her band represent a continuously shape-shifting peg that will not fit into any pigeonhole. I can quite unreservedly say that this is some of the most imaginative, inventive, innovative and downright exciting music that I’ve had the pleasure to hear, and indeed see played live, for a very long time.
Anna Meredith setlist reads:
‘Gotta Get Thru This’ / ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ / ‘Call Me Maybe’ / ‘Dragostea Din Tei’
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