Archive for August, 2016

Frozen Light – FZL 041

James Wells

There’s something mildly irksome about the phrase ‘tickling the ivories’. It’s perhaps a strange personal quirk, but perhaps it’s the louche thespy associations of the phrase which are so bothersome. There’s also the fact that the phrase really fails to convey what’s truly involved in the act of playing the piano. Well, that’s usually the case. But much of the music on Sanctuary sounds very much like the tickling of ivories. Often quiet, delicate, light, tentative and experimental piano notes flit here and there, forming irregular patterns in the air. There are passages of haunting melody, with wavering drones quivering tremulously. There are also scraping strings, trilling woodwind and stomping elephantine rhythms passing through the protracted periods of hush. But first and foremost, it’s about the ivories, and there’s nothing remotely irksome about it.

 

James Batty - Overtones

South Bank Social, York, 28th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

You know it is with the underground. People in the know, know. Networking, word of mouth… and social media. So while …And the Hangnails had intimated a ‘secret’ gig at a venue tbc a few days previous, it wasn’t until the day of the event that The Howl & the Hum announced, via Facebook, a ‘last minute’ gig with a killer lineup in the dingy upstairs room in a WMC in York’s South Bank.

Call me a scenester if you like, although I’d rather say I’ve got my finger on the pulse. Moreover, this was a remarkably un-scenester gig in many ways. The peeling, mildewed walls in the room with a capacity in the region of 35 to 40, the unisex toilets hardly hollered ‘hip’ or chic and reflected a greater alignment with the DIY / basement club aesthetic of early 80s punk.

Events like this are a(nother) sign of the times. As small pub venues go to the wall, sold off by pubcos for conversion to flats or convenience stores, and other venues find themselves subject to noise abatement orders and other untenable licensing restrictions when finances are already tight, it’s increasingly difficult for bands – especially smaller ones – to find opportunities to play live. But as the cliché goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and folks are taking it upon themselves to become increasingly creative in seeking out underused, or even unused spaces. And I’m all for it. This is keeping it real, and in a universe parallel to the glitzy, mass-produced chart fodder churned out by bling-toting major-name acts with the backing of multi-billion dollar corporate labels, this is where the music that matters can be found.

A brief solo acoustic promo for the South Bank Suicide Club prefaced a belting set from Howl & The Hum The intimate venue setting was well-suited to their detailed sound: the textured guitar sound, tom-heavy and restrained drumming, paired with their knack for monumental crescendos draws parallels with early I Like Trains, although their style is very much more geared toward alt-country with a fiery rock twist. Intense and impressive, they have a ‘great things ahead’ aura about them.

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The Howl & The Hum

The last time I saw Tooth, they were so new they didn’t have a name, but they did have some great tunes. Having risen from the ashes of The Littlemores, they’ve ditched the ska leanings of their previous incarnation, and while there are still strong traces of Arctic Monkeys in their acerbically observational indie-rock, they’re flexing new muscles with some big choruses and chunky bass-leg guitar tunes.

Tooth

Tooth

Washing Machine Repair Man offers a brief acoustic interlude – by which I mean a detour into delirious and borderline deranged shouty anti-folk, augmented by double bass and green rubber wellies – before Bull are up. Having found the last couple of performances I’ve seen from Bull to be a shade lacklustre, it was uplifting to see them on such fine firm on this outing. Guitarist Dan Lucas seems to have learned pretty much everything he knows about solos from listening to Dinosaur Jr albums, and for that, he gets my vote. With shirts off and sweat running free in the tiny venue, they really step things up a notch, and carry the enthusiastic crowd with them.

Bull

Bull

…And the Hangnails are one of those bands who never get tired, who are consistently brilliant in their volume and intensity. And not only are they a great band, but they never put in less than 100%, with the same explosive energy being poured into intimate pub gigs as festival shows. Tonight is no exception, and the crowd get down accordingly. They may have turned the amps down a bit on account of the venue and its residential location, but when the room is such that if you’re not in the front two rows you’re in the back two rows, and you’ve got a drummer who hits so hard he can cause earthquakes with a single bash of the snare, it’s still ear-bleedingly loud. And these guys go for it, a hundred miles an hour, hell-for-leather, no let up, blasting out pretty much every last one of the highlights from their two albums. Crunching riffs, piercing vocals and immesne drumming are all pulled together in a molten heat into solid gold garage-influencd alt-rock classics. By the time they’re done, we’re all deaf and halfway transmuted to liquid form, and everyone is very happy indeed.

Trundling out superlatives to apply to the individual acts or even the night as a whole seems somewhat redundant: stepping out into the cool night air, tacky from head to with perspiration and ears whistling, the buzz isn’t coming from the beer, but from the exhilaration of living in the moment.

Damnably – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Barnsley: a long way off the musical map, eclipsed by Leeds and Sheffield. Yes, hometown of cult goth rock act Danse Society and a burgeoning post-punk inspired alternative indie scene and generally represented by the micro-label Of National Importance, but nevertheless, pretty much off the radar. Enter Bruja, a band credited with creating a ‘DIY junk-punk scene that has seen them hosting their own gigs, pressing up CDs, booking tours and making their own analogue VHS Videos to lighten the depressing reality of zero hours contracts in the service industry, unemployment and increasing xenophobic hostility’.

This once again returns us to what’s become something of a recurrent theme of late in my reviews on these pages: the depressing way in which austerity Britain and particularly post-Brexit Britain is a dark and dismal place, as depressed and divided as in the late 70s and early 80s. I was barely a child at the time, but essentially grew up against the backdrop of the miners’ strike and the Falkland’s war, followed by the Gulf War. War on TV in the 80s and 90s was a revolution in itself: now it’s wallpaper, but coupled with the effects of a long-term conservative government and the sense that history is repeating with a grim predictability whips up a cyclone of bleak feeling.

Impressively, Bruja have landed themselves on Damnably – home of Shonen Knife, Wussy and Oktoboke Beaver –  for the release of their new single. Promising ‘post-industrial, South Yorkshire modulatory desolation from a young band with a mean age of 24’, ‘Tori’ is a magnificently catchy post-Placebo new-wave influenced tune with a tremolo-heavy flanged-out lead guitar and driving rhythm section. Counterpart ‘Sculie’ is infectiously pop at its core, but propelled by some energetic drumming and a guitar sound that shimmers with the sound of an early 80s chorus pedal.

Times may be bleak, but it’s a good time for music. And this is good music.

 

Bruja

A Guide to Saints – SNT020

James Wells

The coronet the title refers to is not a nobleman’s headwear but a Cornet Phase 2 amplifier, favoured by Brisbane-based musician Leighton Craig on account of its fuzzy tones. The four pieces here, each approximately fifteen minutes on duration, are built around cyclical keyboard motifs which drift, ebb and flow gracefully in a soft-focus sonic aura. They take flight and depart their original structures to float upwards amidst a cadence of chimes, whistles, chirps, chattering birdsong and marshmallow-soft synth squelches.

While the album, released on Lawrence English’s ROOM40 offshoot label dedicated to cassette (and digital) releases is pitched as ‘an unlikely subtropical Harold Budd homage – with a lo-fi suburban edge and noise outro’, the elongated organ drone of ‘Drowned World’ evokes the dystopian bleakness of a Ballard novel, the trilling clarinets adding depths and dimensions of dissonance and alienation. The attention to gradual evolution of textures and shifting tonalities is subtle, but the currents nevertheless run deep beneath the soft, iridescent surfaces.

The stammering fades toward the end of ‘Arc the Solar causeways’ are unexpected, breaking the gentle flow, but as promised, Craig retains the biggest contrast for the final track, as a multitude of howling notes swell together in a void. It’s a graceful, dreamy and ultimately mellow work, imaginatively brought to an uncomfortable and incongruous climax.

 

Leighton Craig - Green Coronet

n5MD – MD248 – 16th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The arrival of Collapsing Horizons piqued my interest considerably: the cover art gives away little, but the write-up for the Netherlands-based duo describes their sound as ‘deep ambient’. I’m more than familiar with dark ambient, but just what constitutes deep ambient? On the basis of this album, the depth refers to both the emphasis on the lower ranges, as billowing winds funnel beneath the upper tones and bassy beats resonate low in the mix, and also the contemplative nature of the music. The sounds in themselves do not create dark, foreboding atmospheres, and the broad sonic brushstrokes are, in the main, light, gentle, delicate and soothing. And yet there is detail: a lot of detail. Microbeats and subtle, but fuller, beats pulse in the background, while crackles and scratches bring texture.

Occasionally, as on ‘Gravitational Singularity’, rumbling bass and immense rhythms drive what one might call abstract drum ‘n’ bass grooves at a low BPM. Elsewhere, the dulcimer chime and stuttering rhythm of ‘Fracture’ also alludes to the trappings of drum ‘n’ bass, dissected and deconstructed to its sparsest of forms. And yet there are juxtaposing sensations of light and dark, with shadows moving cloud-like across the surface. There’s a definite sense of movement within each of the compositions (as the title suggests: these horizons are in the process of collapsing: they are not yet fully collapsed: this is not a past-tense work), and while the pace is at times tectonic, there are some nice, dainty oscillations and some soft, descending chimes that intimate more progressive leanings, as well as sharing ground with the likes of Tangerine Dream. Then again, ‘Hyperbolic Motion’ incorporates static and space-age bleeps over a heavy, stuttering kick beat that resembles a palpating heart, creating a subtle tension and a sound more closely related to minimal techno.

Because the individual tracks are comparatively short – only two extend beyond the five-minute mark – and are mastered separately instead of running together to forge a large, single body of sound, Collapsing Horizons feels much more focused than many ambient works. The individual tracks are distinct sonically, too, with clear identities, and the structures therefore are more self-contained and do not require the listener to absorb and assimilate the album as a whole. The effect of this is that Collapsing Horizons succeeds in holding the attention, and feels quite concise despite its forty-eight minute running time.

Tangent Online

Tangent - Collapsing Horizons

2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Gang of Four’s Entertainment! Still stands as one of the definitive post-punk albums, capturing the zeitgeist of the late 70s. ‘Left’ and ‘socialist’ weren’t terms spat derisively by the media. The early years of Thatcher’s dismantlement of the country in the pursuit of the neoliberalist dream was already finding many disenfranchised and angry, with musicians articulating the sentiments of a generation in voicing dissent and dissatisfaction. Sound familiar?

I’ve been listening to Gang of Four since I was in my teens: too young to appreciate them in their day (I was born in1975), I was hooked a good decade before Franz Ferdinand and others started namedropping them and their status as one of the most important bands of the era. This isn’t any kind of hip gloat – not least of all because it would be a pretty shit one if it was. But my experience of the band live until earlier this year was limited to a few shitty VHS recordings, and the not so shitty various artists compilation VHS from circa 1984 that I picked up at a car boot in the early 90s.

So finally seeing them play live in 2016, given that the current lineup only features one original member could have been a disappointment on a monumental scale. But it wasn’t. the current lineup not only sounds great, but still has that vital sense of tension, of danger, that was always the band’s trademark.

‘Live… in the Moment’ captures this perfectly, and is released in two different forms: During a year spent touring the world, the band recorded two of the best, namely their sold-out show at New York’s Irving Plaza (which will be available as a DVD or download) and their penultimate show of 2015, at London’s Islington Assembly Hall, which will be available as an audio CD, double coloured vinyl album and download. The DVD will be packaged with the CD. Both, it has to be said, are excellent.

As a live recording, the quality is good, but it’s not excessively crisp or polished, and doesn’t scream heavy EQing, mixing, overdubbing. No, this is an honest, real live album that captures the intensity and immediacy of being in a room with a band playing live at high volume. If sounds and feels like a live album: as it should: any act who sound exactly the same live as in the studio may be musically accomplished, but fails to make the live ‘experience’ an actual experience. What matters most is that the separation between the sinewy, choppy guitar lines and elastic, funk-infused stop/start bass grooves is spot on.

Similarly, the concert visuals, whole shot from a number of cameras, is straight-ahead: dark, murky, primarily from a lower, audience vantage point. Budget? Maybe, although I’d prefer to watch something that replicates the actual experience of the live show, rather than some ponced-up, glossy fixed-up representation. My only criticism of the footage lies not with the footage itself – I can handle the wobbles and slightly amateurish hand-held pans – but the editing: the cuts are simply too fast, and the zooms on fretboards, etc., simply too… zoomy. With multiple angles to choose from, they haven’t always picked the best. Still, it’s watchable enough in a way fits with the rough ‘n’ ready, ‘as it was’ approach. Moreover, it sits with the band’s general ethos: this is no major-label, big-money production and no corporate exec’s coining it at the expense of hard-working artists.

The track listing draws from across their albums with the exception of Mall, although no-one’s going to be disappointed to see that Entertainment! Is well-represented, with ‘Love Like Anthrax’, ‘Damaged Goods’, ‘At Home He’s a Tourist’, ‘History’s Not Made by Great Men’ and ‘I Found That Essence Rare’ all featuring. The DVD also features ‘Return the Gift’, which doesn’t appear on the CD, as well as non-CD cut ‘I Love a Man in a Uniform’. They all sound great, spiky and urgent, ‘To Hell With Poverty’ as pertinent now as 38 years ago. Irrespective of their influence, Live… In the Moment shows that Gang of Four are very much a going concern, and a band who aren’t only relevant after all this time, but a cracking live act.

 

Gang of Four Live

ROOM40 – RM475

Christopher Nosnibor

If the album’s cumbersome title sounds like a collection of abstractions thrown together by the same random title generator that The Fall use, then the enormously protracted song titles take the form of semi-abstract narratives which evoke mysterious, shadowy scenes.

Many of the tracks are shorter than their titles, and while the soundworks consist largely of rumbles, scrapes, thuds and electrostatic crackles which are essentially abstract, they do develop some kind of implicit meaning when played in context of the titles. The extent to which this is intentional is unclear: Toop explains the album’s development as being born out of ‘three periods of solitude’ and a conversation with composer and ROOM40 label owner Lawrence English which spurred him to reassess his perspective on releasing music in the 21st century.

Gathering sounds drawn from myriad and disparate sources which lay as ‘spores or maybe dormant clusters of digital files’, Toop has created a work which captures and conveys a sense of the ephemerality of all things. Sights, sounds, experiences, spaces, are each experienced by an individual in but a momentary way. Collectively, all the fragments of experience, however minor and seemingly insignificant, form the life lived; in short, life is one vast intertext, and it’s from this array of ‘things’ Entities Inertias Faint Beings is formed. And so one is pushed to contemplate not simply the sounds or words themselves, but their relationships to those in which they coexist, and to consider their contexts.

‘Dry keys echo in the dark and humid early hours’ is in fact a phrase lifted from Clarice Lispector’s Aqua Viva, and Toop references various other texts (Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects and Stephen Mansfield’s book on Japanese stone gardens). Toop also makes mention of a ‘hypnagogic image of ‘a transparent swimming pool suspended over the mouth of a volcano.’

As such, Entities represents a gathering of sources, a cut-up collage of sorts, gathering sound, image, memory, thoughts and ideas together in a melange of drones, thuds, whistles, hums and a miscellany of abstract sounds. There are moments of melody and rhythm, some of which are charming and delicate, but thy fade out and vanish as quickly as they emerge. When a scratchy picked guitar and conventional instrumentation emerges on ‘Compelled to approach’, it sounds almost alien in context. The mournful strings on ‘Ancestral beings, sightless by their own dust’ are draped over soft chimes and the sampled speech on ‘Human skin and stone steps’, overlaid with a solitary woodwind and low gong, takes on a hypnotic tone.

The album ultimately tapers to silence, leaving the listener to ponder and reflect.

 

David_Toop_Entities_Inertias_Faint_Beings