This December, this very day, we bring you the return of the Elba Annual! For this first annual post of 2013, we were very lucky to get some insight from Jo Mango. Jo’s career is something of wonder consisting of a great collection of material alongside regular collaboration work, including a recurring presence in the band of modern folk heroine Vashti Bunyan. Her beautiful EP When We Lived in the Crook of a Tree is released today on Olive Grove Records and we featured the title track on our most recent mixtape. I recommend this EP most highly. It has a storytelling quality that immerses you completely in the song; the vocals, lyrics, scoring and production all contribute to this. It’s a succinct little listen that is as close to perfection as you can get. Jo’s account of 2013, much like her songwriting, is very compelling. There’s also a little bit of news regarding what’s to come in 2014. Did I say little? I meant huge. A huge bit of news!
Album of the Year
White Lighter – Typhoon.
I’m probably doing that classic thing here that big groups of people voting on best albums of the year always do, which is picking the most recent! But I think I’m mostly picking this album because of the experience that went along with it. Sometimes, as the years go by, you begin to feel like the magic and the energy of really being a crazy fight-to-the-death spend-your-last-pound suffer-the-post-gig-blues-for-a-month fan of music can wane a wee bit. Or it seems like it was a long time since you last heard an album that spun you round with how much you’d never heard anything like it before. So when you have a special moment with an album, it becomes a bit more precious. I really love the songwriting of Typhoon. I listened over and over again to their previous EPs etc. (the lyric writing in a song like “Sickness Unto Death is just amazing). So I was really waiting for their new album to come out. When it did, I made myself wait, like a little kid, until the CD from their Bandcamp arrived through the post from America. The day that it did, I took a really long bus journey with my headphones on and listened to it through twice on my headphones, in my own little world. It was like drinking a long cold drink just to sit and listen. I’ll admit I hadn’t done that in a long time. And the sun was a low winter sun that made wonderful patterns on the windows as a tiny moth walked back and forth across it while I listened. I nodded my head as they sang: “I will try to hold it, I will try to keep the moment, like a photograph of the sunset, like a little kid with a bug net, like a dying man, I swear.”
Song of the Year
Frightened Rabbit – Nitrous Gas
I really hate picking favourite songs. Eeek. I think it’s just impossible. There are too many of them! And they all serve a different purpose for a different time in your life, don’t they? However, if I have to choose, then I thought I should probably choose a song that compelled me to put it on repeat, that I could listen to tens of times in a row and still enjoy. Well… I use the word ‘enjoy’ loosely! Because this is such a sad sad song. But there’s something just so compelling about ‘Nitrous Gas’ by Frightened Rabbit. Those low voices, and the vocal harmonies are beautiful. The chord choices are perfect. It’s transfixing.
Best Gig You Played
Oh, the best gig has to be one of the shows we did in Japan. The engagement of the crowds with the music on that tour was extraordinary – it was such active listening that it felt like the music was being pulled from us. All the shows were brilliant, especially the night we played for Pastel Records in Osaka and one at the gorgeous Hi Fi Cafe in Kyoto (where Paul Buchanan was playing on the stereo when we first visited). But I think the stand-out show was out in the countryside in Ukiha – a really small town surrounded by fruit tree orchards and rice fields. Water/Wood Records and the band AutumnLeaf along with their family and friends put on the show, which was held in an old Japanese Medicine Museum. Apart from the giant bugs that fell from the wooden ceiling onto the stage while we performed (it was so quiet that you could REALLY hear a bug drop… ugh!), it was a perfect night. After the show we all sat down to a massive plate of sushi and fried lotus root, and communicated somehow in broken English/Japanese and laughed through the early hours. We slept on the floor in a hundred year old Japanese house with wood carved screen panels, Shinto shrines in the corner, and no bath (because we use the hot springs from the mountains). Altogether beautiful really!
Best Gig You Saw
I really did NOT go to enough gigs this year. But stand out shows have to be the set that Japanese band “Alps” (maarupus) did at our Kyoto show. Their music is so unbelievably delicate and quiet, and they have no idea how talented they are! I tried to record them on video on my iPhone, but you can’t hear them, because they were too quiet even for the microphone to pick up! The other one that sticks out in my mind was a two-piece version of Prehistoric Friends, with Casio keyboard and Viola. What a genius combination that is. And the show (at the Old Hairdressers) was for a homelessness charity too.
Any Musical Thoughts to share on the Year 2013
2013 was a year I tried to collaborate more, to let go and say yes to things, to give things a go. So I think the results of that when they come out in 2014 will be my vocals or contributions cropping up in lots of different places. I’m looking forward to that.
What does 2014 Have In Store for You
Ok… I’m going to say it out loud, put it out there, and therefore it has to be true. A NEW ALBUM!!! I really need to pull my socks up and get faster at writing albums. 6 years between albums is not acceptable! (Maybe playing in Vashti Bunyan’s band, something rubbed off on me, I don’t know). So we’ve got three songs at least ready to be recorded. And the ideas are coming. I’m thinking this album is going to be more of a pick-me-up. I need to write songs to cheer me (after listening to Nitrous Gas on repeat, obviously!!), so that’s what I’m aiming for. I also hear that Vashti is in the studio at the moment, so I’m hoping that she might have me back to play some shows with her if she takes that back out on the road in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy the EP (and potentially a remix album/EP too).
Jo Mango plays The Glad Cafe on 14th December with Call To Mind and Behold, the Old Bear. Tickets are available here.