As musically vibrant as a megapolis like London can be, there’s no refuting it being an at times artistically oppressive place. And so, every once in a while, it feels thoroughly necessary to escape. An itself oppressive November night may not be the ideal time to clamber aboard one of First Capital Connect’s lethargic Sunday services, the train taking well over an hour to meander down to Brighton, but as bracing as it may be by the sea around this particular time of year, never is it boring.
In Dog In The Snow, the suitably brumal nom de plume of local songstress Helen Ganya Brown, the chilly upstairs area at The Hope is treated to the closest the South Coast has yet come to a natural successor to Natasha Khan’s unnaturally ethereal fayre. And Brown, abetted by multi-instrumentalist Marie-Eve de Gaultier, isn’t without her fair share of trinkets and little bits of magic either – feathers hang from her capo, while a violin bow scrapes dulcet dolour from the Telecaster strings that, much like an unrelentingly competitive London scene, are clamped down tightly by this piece of restrictive apparatus. Then, adding further texture to some already majestic, compellingly inventive pieces, de Gaultier will intermittently clobber a gong dangling from her keyboard. The stage may be compact and rather cramped, but that doesn’t allow for the impact of an expansive Fire In The Sky to be extinguished – not even in the slightest.
Produced by revered Welling polymath Steve Hillier, if on record (read: SoundCloud) its leaden lyricisms of “heavy rain” and a shunning of the “material” nod toward an otherworldly revising of PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire?, then live, Brown alluringly becomes a kind of prototypal siren, or off-kilt pop sylph. And while remarkably polished, it’s the purposeful irregularity around the edges that ensures these highly idiosyncratic tracks cut deep. No more so than Brother, woebegone moans of “towering figures in the sky” premonitorily foreboding a conversely mellow beauty musical, psychedelic squiggles squelched out of a pedal underfoot combining guilefully with wintry keys chilling as an infinity whiled away within a John Lewis Christmas ad.
Brown tells of traitors and erased memories, her vocal a stirring gurgle, with another panoply of disparate textures stitched together via a set of seamless transitions. It’s still a little unrefined, if endearingly so, with the elementary techno splurges of Fear a fretful, thalassic surge evocative of Two Suns washing up on Nordic shores. But judging by the Thermos Flask stationed on the floor, there’s both warmth and humility beyond the icy exterior Brown this time fronts. However, and most pertinently, it’s outright incredible that one need only emigrate 50-odd miles southwards in order to stumble upon a songwriter that is so instantly incomparable to nigh on every other nascent musician imaginable. For Brown is evidently benefitting from the tranquility available away from the incessancy of the capital, and from an external perspective, it’s resoundingly astonishing that there should be an as yet unheralded chanteuse already sat on such a wealth of breathtaking, overwhelmingly affecting material.
It is and was, to “quote, unquote” Carmen Elle of Torontonian ensemble DIANA, “one of the coolest things we’ve seen on this tour” and the Canadians’ similarly heartwarming, faith-restoring performance is easily one of “the coolest things” seen on the circuit recently. “We’ve been on the road for a while, so we hate each other. We can go back to the Travelodge, and sleep on top of each other” Elle continues, although if anything, one assumes that, in the wake of this year’s resplendent Perpetual Surrender début, DIANA are likely to start commanding a ceaseless adulation in the none too distant future. It’d be no less than they’re due, for commensurately impressive live as was said LP, an opening Strange Attraction effervesces softly coruscating excellence over three-plus mesmeric moments.
Indeed, in the same way that Brown revels in the Sussex shadows of the capital, the four-piece have evidently thriven away from the vanguardist haven that Montréal has become in recent years. They emphatically prove the Ontarian capital to boast far more idiosyncratic fare than frat crap practitioners Drake and deadmau5, a jazzed rendition of Perpetual Surrender recalling a soundtrack from a certain compatriotic, if Québécois cirque company as much as it might at times The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out. Joseph Shabason, arguably better known as a sometime member of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer ensemble, may look a little isolated stage-left amongst a stack of keys and hefting a vast sax, although he’s the peripheral orchestrator of the piece, his immensely impressionistic refrains and solos piercing the ‘80s homage that is an overwhelming Foreign Installation. In this, their “favourite city in the UK”, few would begrudge their relocating here indefinitely on the evidence of this hulking vision, for although operating within a musical realm that’s “oversaturated” if largely underwhelming, DIANA represent a truly unique proposition.
It’s heard in the extempore, extraterrestrial fills that embellish Born Again, as well as That Feeling – a track that, like a glistering, estival revisiting of Gang Gang Dance’s Eye Contact, positively exudes Balearic allure. Paul Mathew’s bass lines lithe as Kieran Adams’ rhythms are totally adaptable, the Warm Myth man flitting almost whimsically between conventional and electronic kits, if Shabason should be the director of DIANA, then Elle is its lead. So wondrously nonchalant, she’ll flick her hair and flail her arms inquisitively so as to suggest a centrality. She indulges in a cosmic interaction with Shabason during the closing moments of a wildly exciting Born Again, her guitar tone redolent of Knopfler’s cherry-red Strat refracted through the Dark Side of the Moon that hangs despondently over Brighton tonight.
Although it’s as she assumes the timbre of a Disney songbird during New House that DIANA are at their most accommodating. As was The Deaf Institute the previous evening, the Manchester venue’s upstairs apartment becoming their temporary abode. But heavier and made that bit more stark live, it’s that which best suggests you’d be wise to “take a chance and try it”, as Elle so breathily exhales. For you’ll waste no love on DIANA – a band who, just like Brown before them, already sound far too substantial for this particular loft space…