Amelia’s Magazine | The Witch And The Robot: Album Review

When scouring the latest releases for something worthy of talking about, an album opener of the primary school rhyme to remember Henry VIII’s wives, is going to catch your attention. Recently signed to Andy Turner’s ATIC Records, The Witch and the Robot are a treasure trove of oddities waiting to assault and bemuse your senses with their first release ‘On Safari.’


Aforementioned opener, ‘Giant’s Graves’, introduces a theme that runs throughout the album of pagan chanting, psychotic percussion and bizarre lyrics. With a name check to philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas, in the following track, lead singer Andrew Tomlinson screams: “God is mackerel” against an array of fowl (as in bird) noises.

Standout track, and title for that matter, ‘No Flies On Me (Jam Head)’ is an example of the alluring world that the band create, rich in competing layers of sonic beauty. If you were wondering, it’s about wealthy golfers who employ a man to take the bait of flies by covering his bonce in the sticky stuff.


Live performances are known to emulate some kind of terrifying children’s party with helium balloons, cream pies, fighting and bunting all playing a part. In addition to putting out the most unique blend of folk, psychedelia and prose heard this year, the band run a night where each punter is entered into a compulsory meat raffle. They explain: “We sometimes play surrounded by raw meat on stage. It’s referencing our own mortality, the fragility of life, it’s visceral, sexual even, but also it is nicely weird.”


At this stage, you’re probably wondering where a band of such peculiar entities are from… That picturesque, romantic stretch of idyll, the Lake District of course… That same region of the UK that has inspired the poems of Keats, Collingwood and Wordsworth to name but a few. This could perhaps explain the spoken word entry on ‘Sex Music(Beef on Music)’, which does narrate a meeting of the sexes but in a less romantic context than our nineteenth century forefathers. Their eccentric yet catchy sounds have caught the attentions of fellow Cumbrians and Amelia’s Magazine faves, British Sea Power and they were asked to open their festival in north Yorkshire.


If you can’t make your mind up whether they are performance art with access to a recording studio or actually have the intention of being a band at all, De-Nihilism should answer this for you; a sprawling rock track that transports you to the Arizona Desert, but there you’d most probably be wearing a silly outfit and singing a shanty.

This album is humorously fun yet dark and mysterious all delivered with a conviction and musicianship that compels another listen… “Divorced, beheaded, died/Divorced, beheaded, survived.” Just in case you’d forgotten.

Categories ,aim, ,andy turner, ,british sea power, ,the witch and the robot

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Amelia’s Magazine | Album Review – She & Him – Volume 2

I suppose I should let Zooey Deschanel go by now. I was so young at the time, a mumbling, shy teenager with a crappy haircut (admittedly, the hair hasn’t improved much) when I first developed a bit of a pathetic fancy for those big blue eyes of hers – I can’t say my admiration of her looks hasn’t dimmed, admittedly (and somewhat shallowly), but I’ve grown wary of her acting ability. Being typecast is something some, if not most, actors attempt to avoid, yet Zooey thrives on playing what’s referred to in critical circles as the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ role – a bit kooky, a bit insane, and just a tad an absolute fiction of a person, one who exists in the minds of fevered male youth everywhere. Her purpose is to bring the lead male out of his emotional shell, to embrace life, to seize the day (and, presumably, to act as therapist and counsellor and tissue) – to be, in effect, a nothing of a person but a blank canvas who’s just waiting for a chance to listen to all the moaning and despairing and general torment of the soul that characterises the most privileged demographic group in history, the Young White Western Man of the 21st Century.

So – as her roles keep her locked up in a safe little box, a box that doesn’t allow too much range (even (500) Days of Summer, whilst specifically a film about how real life doesn’t conform to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, was hardly a stretch), I’m in danger of losing sight of Zooey Deschanel, Actress. All I will have left is Zooey Deschanel, Attractive Celebrity. Being left with that would just be unfair to her as an individual, considering how lovely she is an all – though let’s not concentrate on how I know this, or how I met her, or how her height disappointed me, or how her strapless dress was perhaps a brave choice for the evening but she rocked it admirably – let’s leave that for now. OK? OK. What we’re talking about today is She & Him’s Volume 2, the second album from the musical collaboration between Zooey and folk singer-songwriter M. Ward. Their first, the aptly-titled Volume 1, was an excellent stab at breathing new air into 60s country-folk, and Volume 2 is a further step forward. What it also does is reaffirm, for little old neurotic me, that Zooey Deschanel is a very ably-talented singer and songwriter. Zooey Deschanel, Artist, if you will.

Halfway through first track ‘Thieves’ and the blueprints from Volume 1 are still there – gentle drumbeats, an electric guitar-line with a lovely country twang, and Zooey’s lilting voice that’s as sweet as a glass of freshly-squeezed fruit juice (I’m an orange man, myself, but other fruits such as banana or kiwi would be acceptable alternatives). It can feel a bit like well-trodden territory, but the compositions are just accomplished enough to avoid this (though, of course, one has to ask how long this formula – and it is a formula – can keep working).

M. Ward still stays mostly in the background, leaving the spotlight to his leading lady, except for a notable appearance on a cover of NRBQ’s ‘Ridin’ In My Car’, here reinterpreted as a duet. The other cover here, the Milton Kellem-penned standard ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’, also manages to be reinterpreted in such a way that’s not hugely different to the more memorable versions by singers like Skeeter Davis – things are shifted around only slightly to achieve that She & Him vibe. Zooey’s recurring lyrical theme here is of losing or dumping a man but being the happier for it, so the background hums and ahs on this cover totally fit between the ballad to Californian lovin’ that is ‘Home’ and the filled-with-longing ‘ba-da-da-dum’ chorus on ‘Me and You’.

In The Sun’, also a single, fizzes and bumps along thanks to Ward letting his guitar do a little bit more work than on Volume 1 – I think it can be safely said that he’s let himself show a little bit more here. Despite mentioning earlier that, yes, he’s still largely a background figure, the actual music that carries Zooey’s lyrics so delicately is still mostly his work, and there are some more flourishes, a few more touches of individual energy that come peeping through. He’s got a very distinctive husk of a voice, and it would be nice if he could show us a bit more, but, as it is, Zooey still does well on her own. You can hear the smile on her face when she sings, “why do I always want to sock it to you hard?” on ‘Over and Over Again’ – she plays the role of the strong-willed woman admirably, and these are most determinedly not laments. At its heart this album is about sassiness.

I suppose the main lesson to be learned from She & Him is that soft rock isn’t a terrible sin. Sure, it’s repetitive, but when the basic framework is so enchanting (especially on closer ‘If You Can’t Sleep’, which has a fair shout at being the most beautiful lullabies you’ll hear this year). There’s something comforting about familiarity, and here that comfort comes in spades.

Categories ,album, ,Country Rock, ,folk, ,ian steadman, ,In The Sun, ,Indie, ,Indie Folk, ,M. Ward, ,Milton Kellem, ,NRBQ, ,review, ,She & Him, ,She and Him, ,Skeeter Davis, ,Volume 1, ,Volume 2, ,Volume One, ,Volume Two, ,Zooey Deschanel

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Amelia’s Magazine | Wilderness Festival 2011: Sunday Review

Laura Marling by Jenny Lloyd
Laura Marling by Jenny Lloyd.

Sunday at Wilderness Festival came somewhat early due to my ill informed decision to put up the tent in the family camping area, health a major no no when you’ve been up late and the little buggers are raring to go at 7am. If only there had been a decent map, or someone to guide us towards the quiet area when we arrived (we did ask, and were told to camp wherever we fancied).

Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011. All photography by Amelia Gregory.

The next issue was locating something decent to eat for breakfast, which proved predictably difficult given the small number of food vendors on site. For a festival that boasted of its culinary stripes I found this aspect sadly lacking, and in many ways inexcusable. Wilderness must have known how many tickets were sold, and how many could be fed at the giant daily banquets (which sold out long before we had a chance to book). Why then were there not enough food stalls to feed everyone else? At all times there were huge queues, and if I’d had small children to feed I would have been frankly fuming. As it was we tried to grab our meals at downtimes when the queues were not so long.

Tom Hodgkinson by Barb Royal.

Then it was time to head straight back to The Idler Academy to take advantage of their eclectic daily line up. Brave Old World saw a conversation between Idler founder Tom Hodgkinson and his friend Matthew de Abaitua, who has just written a book about The Art of Camping.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review tom hodgkinson photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review Matthew de Abaitua photo by Amelia Gregory
Art-of-camping Cover
Particularly entertaining was their mutual disdain for Glamping, and their po-faced conclusion that they could earn more as purveyors of festival yurts than writers.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review theo simon photo by Amelia Gregory
Theo Simon of Seize the Day gave a passionate speech in praise of the Luddites, who stood up for their rights 200 years ago this year. Being a talented musician he easily glided between talking and live performance of traditional folk songs used to promote their ideologies.

zocalo 2011 Poster
David Bramwell spoke amusingly of his year long trip in search of Utopia at a string of intentional communities across the world, including Findhorn, Damanhur, Esalen and Osho Leela. Despite his sometimes cynical commentary it was obvious that he had made many good friends along the way before returning to his home in Brighton where he decided to play his part in creating an urban Utopia – setting up the Zocalo, whereby local residents get their chairs out on the streets and make new friends in the community. He hopes the idea will spread so why not check out his website for more information (also check out the poster above).

Wilderness Festival 2011 review beyond the valley photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review rosita bonita photo by Amelia Gregory
The pink tented Secret Market Emporium area stocked a whole host of small maker designers, including Beyond the Valley (who designed the Wilderness website and programme) and I totally fell for Rosita Bonita‘s printed leather necklaces. Love.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review playsuit parlour photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review vagabond van photo by Amelia Gregory
The Playsuit Parlour stocked wonderful wrap dresses made from upcycled ethnic fabrics, and from a beautiful renovated silver airstream the Vagabond Van sold environmentally conscious clothes and jewellery.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review Daniel Johnston photo by Amelia Gregory
I only caught the end of Daniel Johnston, who looked like he had just climbed out of bed, trackie bottoms tucked into bunched up white socks.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review Guillemots photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review Guillemots photo by Amelia Gregory
The Guillemots at Wilderness Festival
The Guillemots at Wilderness Festival by Dan Lester.

Guillemots followed up with an energetic set, which made me realise just how many of their songs I am familiar with. And I was quite transfixed by the bassist’s shorts playsuit.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review Laura Marling photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review Laura Marling photo by Amelia Gregory
Our last act of the day was Laura Marling, who gave a staggering solo acoustic set, a testament to her incredible talent, ‘I’m conscious of not being a party festival band so I’m going to play… a slow depressing song,’ she said before holding the large crowd in near silence for an hour – something of a feat.

YouTube Preview ImageLaura Marling live at Wilderness Festival

We left Wilderness Festival as the remaining festival goers geared up for one last night of late summer abandonment. I had a wonderful time but there were quite a few aspects of the festival that need tweaking: when people pay a lot of money to go to a festival there is no excuse for shirking on certain basic provisions. Next year there simply have to be more food stalls with more choice of food and there need to be more loos tended to more frequently, especially at hotspots, eg. near the main stage. Given the popularity of the discussions bigger tents for these would be a wise idea. And it turns out that even at a festival that trumpets its other attractions the music remains extremely important: it definitely felt as if there should have been more choice, and a second main stage.

Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory
Wilderness Festival 2011 review photo by Amelia Gregory

Wilderness Festival retained much of the eccentric magic that makes Secret Garden Party so special but it didn’t quite deliver on the added extras: something to work on for 2012.

Don’t forget to check in with my review of Saturday at Wilderness Festival too.

Categories ,2011, ,acoustic, ,Barb Royal, ,Brave Old World, ,Cornbury Park, ,Damanhur, ,Dan Lester, ,Daniel Johnston, ,Esalen, ,Findhorn, ,Glamping, ,guillemots, ,Intentional Communities, ,Jenny Lloyd, ,Laura Marling, ,Luddites, ,Matthew de Abaitua, ,Osho Leela, ,review, ,Secret Garden Party, ,Secret Market Emporium, ,Seize the Day, ,The Art of Camping, ,The Idler Academy, ,Theo Simon, ,Tom Hodgkinson, ,utopia, ,Wilderness Festival

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