Archive for March, 2016

Bronze Rat Records – BR5 – 26th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m late to the party here. Lauren Laverne’s already been bigging up this collaboration between Michael J Sheehy and former Dream City Film Club bandmate Alex Vald. I guess that’s the price you pay for having a full-time job that isn’t listening to and playing music, and you don’t have a production team to sift through your promos. I don’t begrudge Lauren getting in first, because I’m pleased to see the latest work by musicians who, in their former incarnation, recorded not one, but two Peel sessions.

Dream City Film Club were band out of time, and the same may be true of United Sounds Of Joy. However, the way in which music is disseminated and received now as opposed to 20 years ago means that outside the mainstream at least, music is more likely to be accepted on its own merits rather than on the basis of prevailing fashions.

There’s a strange polarity at play here: it’s harder than ever to break into the major league to achieve top-flight status and all that comes with that, in the form of international success, wealth and recognition. But the infinite fragmentation of everything beyond the mainstream means that bands can connect with niche-level audiences globally, and aren’t reliant on radio play or support at home to attain a degree of recognition. If there’s any justice, the channels now available will enable United Sounds of Joy to connect with the audience they merit.

Yes, they are an acquired taste. For those unfamiliar with his previous work, Sheehy’s soft, haunted croon comes of a surprise at first, and in this musical context, it’s particularly unusual. It’s simply so rare to hear vocals on what is, in effect, an ambient audio work. Yet with hints of Scott Walker, minus the arch theatrical side, Sheehy’s voice is perfectly suited to the

The music is wispy, vague, hauntingly intangible. Shimmering guitars tremolo in ‘The Sun That Hides a Darker Star, and the monotone spoken word of ‘Dust Veil’ cracks dryly over the sparse bassline and dark, pulsating industrial wasteland conjured by the crunching, mechanical rhythm. ‘Wounded Moon’ has something of a Michael Gira / Angels of Light quality to it, calling to mind the sparse, folkier later works, infused with a slow-burning drone.

It’s a greatly understated work, at times it’s almost sonically subliminal – yet it still succeeds in achieving a most hypnotic effect. And that’s precisely why it warrants exposure, exploration, consideration. By no means an immediate album United Sounds Of Joy is most definitely an intriguing album, built on many layers. It’s not one to hurry, but one to explore.

United Sounds of Joy

United Sounds Of Joy Online

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Crónica – Crónica 105 – 8th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not a criticism to state that oftentimes, the material on Roha feels more like a collection of sounds than a succession of actual compositions. There’s a certain randomness about the sounds, which range from clanking, arrhythmic percussive sounds, squeaks, tweets and flutters, groans and drones and distant, barely audible and completely indecipherable speech. There are rhythmic elements, but these are more emergent than overt or focal to the eight pieces. The listener is likely to find themselves pondering the connections between the sounds, or subconsciously creating, ways on which they relate to one another, the ways that certain juxtapositions affect the effect of the individual sounds.

Often delicate, subtle and quiet, if not exactly calming, there are passages which build from nowhere to great sonic density. ‘tuul’ brings great hefts of doomy overdriven noise that could as easily be a sludgy guitar as a synth sound, and is more metal than ambient, and elsewhere, the tropes of traditional folk music drift into the album’s eclectic sonic pallet. Trobollowitsch is something of a magpie, and while it would be a mistake to suggest he takes from a range of sources indiscriminately, there is a very strong sense of organicness and fluidity in the way he treats the material assembled here.

The overarching mood of the album is dark and sombre, with the funereal ‘ssbeat’ sounding a dolorous death knell, but Trobollowitsch manages to avoid creating a work that’s completely oppressive. It’s a form that takes a little acclimatisation, but in its ever-changing nature Roha is an album that deserves exploration.

Roha

Andreas Trobollowitsch Online

SIGE Records – 1st April 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

How often do you read reviews with the words ‘haunting’, ‘evocative’ and ‘brooding’? I’m as guilty of trotting these terms out as the next hack, and I’ll admit that oftentimes, I feel like a bit of a twat for doing so. Hyperbole doesn’t enthuse me as a writer or a listener. I can’t speak for all reviewers, but I mean them sincerely. I live and breathe music, it’s in my blood and it’s in by brain. Music moves me, and I use it to both reflect and to steer my moods.

But on The World Unseen, Mammifer (Seattle duo Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner) forge a transcendental listening experience from piano, voice, guitar, Wurlitzer organ, bass synthesizer, tape machines, and effects pedals, and over the course of the album’s eight tracks transport the listener, taking them first inside their own minds, and then heading on a long trip outside.

They’ve not done this without the assistance of some noteworthy collaborators:

Eyvind Kang was responsible for the string arrangements. Geneviève Beaulieu (Menace Ruine) and Joe Preston (Thrones and formerly Melvins, Earth, The Need and High on Fire) make guest appearances on “Domestication of the Ewe pt. III”, contributing additional choral vocals and bass. But The World Unseen is very much about its creators remaining in the long shadows while the expansive music that conjures images of a mythical age which predates human supremacy and instead evokes hills and trees, stands on its own merits.

Soft, subtle vocals drift over carefully-constructed passages of delicate ambience, rolling piano and layer upon layer of considered strings. In places, only the rumble of wind over a microphone is audible. As a sustained rumble, it’s menacing, but heard as wind, it’s the sound of a vast open expanse and somehow strangely liberating.

The World Unseen is a subtly powerful and ultimately moving work. It is without doubt quite definitively ‘haunting’, ‘evocative’ and ‘brooding’. It also speaks to the subconscious self and resonates on an almost subconscious, biological level.

Mamiffer - The World Unseen

Mamiffer Online

It’s sad that in 2016 there should be a need for a York Stand Up To Racism benefit gig. But, as one of the speakers noted, periods of austerity tend to bring division, and invariably, race-blame is one of the ways in which frustration at social deprivation and disparity manifests itself. And so, as war rages in the Middle East and we bear witness to the biggest mass displacement of people since WW2, there’s a disconcerting negativity toward asylum seekers, continually referred to in the media and beyond as ‘migrants’ (like it’s a dirty word, and somehow associated with vagrants), with a particular antagonism towards Muslims (as if all Muslims are extremists, and that’s before we consider Christian extremism, which has seemingly been acceptable since the Crusades).

But we’re all here – and yes, it’s a more than respectable turnout – for a mix of speakers and music-makers, disparate in style but united in the opposition to racism, to social division, to stigmatism, to segregation.

It is, necessarily, a mixed bag, and some of the speakers are more compelling than others: Pinar Aksu spoke lucidly of her experience of life in the UK since arriving as an 8-year-old asylum seeker from Turkey in 2001 and living in Glasgow, and Labour MP for York, Rachael Maskell was passionate and rousing during her succinct and well-paced speech. Some of the other speakers seemed less confident, less organised and less cogent, undermining the importance of their messages. But it would be wrong to criticise their contributions: this is about inclusivity. Not everyone can be a great public speaker, but that doesn’t diminish their societal contribution. If anything, tonight’s event highlights the way in which the current right-wing government, and the equally right-wing mainstream media are exerting their control by means of slick manipulation of the mainstream media channels. Tonight is not about spin, but the voices of real people, who have experienced the traumas of racism, of war, being heard.

Of the bands, Low Key Catastrophe and Orlando Ferguson proved to be the night’s real standouts: the former, on early, and making their debut appearance had an infectious energy that infused throughout the audience. Their brand of punky / post-punk tinged dub reggae has something of an anarcho vibe to it, and while the band as a whole are busy working out some chilled grooves overlayed with some tetchy, angular guitars, front man Jim Osman is a real live wire – a charismatic performer, he’s got the kind of passion you can’t fake and is and utterly compelling.

Low Key

Low Key Catastrophe

In contrast, Orlando Ferguson – duo John Tuffen and Ash Sagar – push hard on their avant-garde credentials and are all about the drone. Summ O))) without the power chords or distortion, ‘Earth 2’ reimagined without the gut-churning metal grind, their set, sculpted with duelling bass / guitar feedback and essentially nothing else is the droniest of drone. And it’s ace. There’s no overt political message here, but it’s clear that these guys are on the side of good.

Orlando Ferguson

Orlando Ferguson

The running order changed a few times, and things were running spectacularly late, which meant that after a long day at work after a 4am start, I wasn’t up for watching ZiZ (and I’m prey hardcore about staying it out to the end of a gig). Irked as I was at times by the apparent lack of organisation, and the conversation over performers (Nick Hall, offering his own brand of Folk Rock / Americana had a particularly tough battle against the endless babble), it was a landmark night that brought people together, and that’s what matters.

Hide & Seek Records – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been less than complimentary about Department M in the past. They’re a band I feel I ought to like, and, truth be told, really want to like. I very much get – and like – so many of their reference points and influences. I like their sound, overall, and in terms of the component parts. I kinda think their highly stylised image – specifically that of Owen Brinley – is cool, in a way. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the mac and headphones getup is a tad affected – it’s a chronic affectation, in fact, but there’s a sense that Brinley’s homage to the 80s is sincere and very closely studied in its affection.

But for all that, they’ve always felt somehow lacking, the music too controlled, the look too much of a contrivance, the sounds too preoccupied with recreating the vintage. Style, yes, but substance?

As is standard for department M (stylised with a lower case ‘d’ in the latest round of promo), Deep Control has a lot going in its favour, at least on paper, featuring as it does Owen Brinley (ex-Grammatics) and Tommy Davidson (Pulled Apart By Horses), while having been produced by long-term friend James Kenosha, who has a staggering resumé. Again, that’s a fact. It was also mastered by Tom Woodhead, formerly of Forward Russia, at Hippocratic studios, and it looks good. A decent album cover matters, and this works, although it is an unashamed reconstruction of many things 80s.

And I would love to froth at the mouth with enthusiasm for this release, or at least be forced to reconsider my stance. I actually wanted to be wrong, to declare the error of my previous perceptions of the band. But sadly, Deep Control only reinforces everything I find troublesome with department M.

But while their eponymous debut showed clear promise and a bit of edge, Deep Control is the sound of a band slipping into its comfort zone. The album’s tile and many of the tracks imply antagonism and frustration which simply don’t translate in the delivery.

It’s ironic, given the circumstances of the album’s creation. As the press release explains, ‘the lyrical undertow of the album is a discourse on coming to terms with disorders such as Anxiety and OCD whilst living in the sometimes harsh modern worlds of work and play in a Northern city. After years spent in the spin of these facets, there’s the essence of time escaping at speed – you can only sit back and watch the years whirl by.’ Again, I can relate: every landmark birthday I approach is prefaced by abject terror in the face of the ageing process, and I have a handle on stress, anxiety, panic. Despite all of this, Deep Control fails to speak to me.

The album as a whole simply lacks bite. It feels, and sounds, simply too insular to communicate any kind of message. And yet there’s no real sense of inner turmoil either.

The songs are wet, as is their delivery. There’s an eternal threat of breaking out, cutting loose, giving it some nuts, that remains unfulfilled. There’s a moment where the final bars of ‘Bad Formulae’ turn dark, and a shuddering cybergoth groove kicks in that suggests that – it being only the second track – things are going to take a turn for the intense on album number two.

But sadly, it never happens: the Depeche Mode (I very much doubt the band’s initials could be accidental) meets Howard Jones stylings lack any real meat, or sense of direction, and it transpired that Deep Control is tame in comparison to its predecessor.

‘Stress Class’ sounds like an outtake from Black Celebration, and there’s no doubt it’s better than the stuff they played before the start and during the break in the stress class I attended, but then I never dug Norah Jones or Coldplay.

Brinley’s vocals strive toward soul, but lack any guts or character – which pretty much sums up Deep Control as a product.

 

 

Department M - Deep

Department M Online

Reveal Records – 11th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Vigils comprises a suite of 11 sparse piano-led compositions. As a unit of work, its pace is predominantly sedate; the strings are subtle, graceful, and the mood is thoughtful, reflective. This is very much Birkin’s objective here, and he describes the album as ‘a soundtrack to the idea of looking back at our present from somewhere in the future’. But Vigils is not an album that cries nostalgia. It does not evoke a sense of longing for a future past. But equally, nor does it soundtrack a sense of guilt or a desire to separate from the part. It evokes the passage of time, of retrospection, of ageing, but without resorting to Instagram filters. Vigils is about time, but doesn’t set out to evoke a specific time as such, and in doing so, transcends time.

In context, ‘Accretions’ is surprisingly spirited and uptempo – that isn’t to go so far as to say it’s pop, but the rippling chords and hooky repeated motifs are accentuated with big chords that imbue the piece with a boldness that romps along in a way which is overtly accessible.

‘Moonbathing’ introduces picked acoustic guitar and harmonious vocals while a violin weaves shades of pastoral folk, while the orchestral chamber music of ‘Atomhog’ is sweet, crisp, and uncluttered in its arrangement.

Birkin explains the concept behind the album its artwork by observing that “Significant human evolution is not fast and loud but slow and quiet. So slow that you almost don’t notice it happening. Except when you look back and see changes after they’ve happened…that’s when you see the giant leaps.” Based in Derbyshire, Birkin formulated the album secluded in his isolated residence in an old mill, itself an artefact from a bygone era repurposed for contemporary living.

And while we – that of course is me speaking on behalf of an assumed section of the population right now – often speak of the unbridled pace of change, in real terms it’s all relative. Mobile phone models and laptops may change faster than you can blink, but that’s only superficial change. Lifestyles, attitudes, the big things, change much more gradually, almost imperceptibly. And indeed, it’s during those imperceptible, gradual changes, that the leaps occur.

I daresay that no-one living in the Industrial Revolution felt as though they were living in a period which would come to mark a pivotal period in human history, just as those living in the inter-war or post-war years we likely too busy simply living to consider the present as a period. Similarly, growing up in the 80s never felt like the dawn of the digital age or late capitalism, and there’s very little obvious difference between pre- and post-millennial life as it goes. But in the present, the eighties feel like another life, the sixties and seventies like historical fictions.

Time is but a construct measured in lived experience, and subtly, subliminally, by implication and by simply side-stepping stylistic trappings of past, present or imagined future, Richard J. Birkin captures all of this in a beautiful, poised and soothing collection of work.

 

Richard-J-Birkin-Vigils

Richard J. Birkin Online

Instrumental post-rock 4-piece Tides from Nebula are set to release their new album Safehaven on 6th May. As well as announcing details on the album and European tour dates, the band have also revealed a new track ‘We Are The Mirror’ which you can listen to here:

 

TIDES FROM NEBULA live

6 may: DunkFestival, Zottegem, Belgium
7 may: We Are a Young Team, Metz, France
8 may: Sanctuary, Basingstoke, UK 
9 may: Boston Music Room, London, Uk 
10 may: Audio, Glasgow, UK
11 may: Firebug, Leicester, UK 
14 may: Heretic Club, Bordeaux, France
16 may: Le Saint Des Seins, Toulouse, France 
17 may: Sidecar, Barcelona, Spain
18 may: Le Molotov, Marseille, France
19 may: La Gravière, Geneva, Switzerland
20 may: Freakout Club, Bologna, Italy 
21 may: Lo-Fi Club, Milan, Italy
22 may: Rockhouse, Salzburg, Austria
24 may: Sedel, Luzern, Switzerland
26 may: Druckluft, Oberhausen, Germany 
28 may: Neushoorn, Leeuwarden, Netherlands
29 may: Badehaus Szimpla, Berlin, Germany
30 may: Cosmic Dawn, Jena, Germany

 

Tides from Nebula