New To Us – Grawl!x

In the spirit of tenuous links as today’s main event is from Derby, we thought we’d take a slightly questionable look at musical local derbies. Derby’s traditional rivals are, of course, Nottingham. The traditional clash between Derby County and Nottingham Forest was recently ranked as the 11th biggest derby in English football (which we must admit is not actually that rivalrous). It all stems from the charming Mr Brian Clough’s decision to scooch 14 miles down the road into the hot-seat at Forest. Musically though it’s sadly a bit of a mismatch – Nottingham has world class venues like the Royal Concert Hall and Rock City, a classical music scene described as “active”, Tindersticks, Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode and err Jake Bugg, while Derby has the Assembly Rooms, White Town, Haiku Salut and 2nd wave punk-band Anti-Pasti. A comfortable drubbing from Robin Hood’s boys!

Up in the North-East, with all due respect to Middlesborough, there’s only one rivalry that anyone’s noticed. That between Sunderland and Newcastle. The battle between the Black Cats (who play in red & white for err some reason) and the Magpies might sound like a nature themed mismatch, but on the football fields they’re both scrapping in the lower echelons of the premier league. Musically though as we’ve mentioned before they’re both flying high. For every Maxïmo Park Newcastle gives the world, Sunderland hit back with The Futureheads, for every Let’s Buy Happiness there’s a SLUG, and for every Sting there’s a Dave Stewart from the Eurythmics. These two great rivals are just to close to call, the presence of Field Music just giving Sunderland the win, via the drawing of lots.

Up in Scotland the derbies might be inter-city rivalries, but there’s a lingering tension between Glasgow and Edinburgh on the grounds of them being incredibly different. Edinburgh’s pretty and historic, Glasgow’s gritty and modern, Edinburgh said no to independence, Glasgow said yes, Edinburgh is twinned with Florence and Nice, Glasgow is twinned with Havana and Turin. Basically they don’t agree on much! Edinburgh’s produced loads of great bands, Ballboy, Withered Hand, The Bay City Rollers but up against a musical heavy-weight like Glasgow the East-Coast comedy experts didn’t really stand a chance. Orange Juice, Mogwai, Belle & Sebastian, Bert Jansch, Camera Obscura, Aztec Cameras – sorry Edinburgh you just didn’t stand a chance!

We could do these all day, Leeds v Manchester, East-London v West-London, Birmingham v Coventry, Belfast v Dublin. It’s lucky musicians aren’t generally that naturally competitive or it could get ugly out there.



Grawl!x – pronounced Graw-lix if you’re wondering, is the work of James Machin, previously the front-man in much missed Derby shoegazers, My Psychoanalyst. On record it’s just James, but the live show will see the project fleshed out to a five-piece live outfit. Wondering what a Grawlix is? It’s the squiggle they use in comic books to represent bad language! Wondering what the ! is all about? So are we!

Gentle washes of beautiful sound, a distant echoing vocal accompanied by a gentle piano or a shimmering guitar, the odd hint of backing vocals, short rattles of drums, tremolo picked electric guitars or wave of strings. Though there’s a tremendous feeling of space, it’s a record that sounds like it’s made for filling giant rooms, despite the fragile and intimate nature of James’ vocal delivery.

James is from Derby, a city who’s most famous musical moment was probably White Town’s smash hit Your Woman. In recent years though a number of bands have passed through the city, from Haiku Salut to Menace Beach. The scene might not be exactly burgeoning with talent but like any student city there’s always some good music hidden in the cracks.

Grawl!x only played their first ever live show at the start of 2014, however he’s quickly produced his excellent debut album, Good Grief which is coming out on Time Travel Opps on February 14th, which is a Saturday, so we can only assume he’s a soppy romantic!

It is, put simply, a beautiful album; the hushed barely audible vocals are destined to draw crowds to a hushed reverence. In a similar vein to the likes of Peter Broderick or Marissa Nadler it’s a record of quiet, understated beauty that slowly unfurls itself with repeated listens. Littered with the contrasts of light and shade, melodies carry dark undertones as the beautiful instrumentation twinkles above them.

The latest track to be lifted from the album, Atlas Bear is a fine example, opening with a gentle wash of barely audible noise and a lone meandering guitar, his cracked vocal enters as a piano line reminds you of the instruments percussive quality and is latterly punctuated by a heartbeat kick drum. An arresting and beautiful highlight on an album that’s full of them, from the wheezing accordion and glockenspiel instrumental Secret Handshake to the alt-country tinged Lonely Fools and Crazy Horses that recalls Los Angeles indie-heroes Local Natives.

Why Not?
Occasionally the music is little more than a wash of sound, and it can be too subtle for its own good. It can get lost its own melancholic undertones but it’s a small price to pay for the beauty and detail elsewhere.

Good Grief is out on Time Travel Opps on February 14th. Grawl!x play London’s Union Chapel on the 21st of February.

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