Archive for September, 2016

Folk Wisdom – FW007 – 21st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It begins with a drip. Then silence. Another drop. Irregular, both in pitch and distance apart. Bubblish, sloshing. Chiming, ringing notes skip over the swashing ripples. Pipes and people, all passing through. And throughout, continuously, the sound and sensation of running water, or, at last, the evocation of running water. The sounds are fluid, metaphorically where not literally. It’s a graceful, natural sound. But beneath the organic, idyllic surface lies a serious and darker undercurrent.

Initially inspired by an expedition to the Tujuksu glacier near the Kazakh city of Almaty, Gletschermusik began with the recording of sounds of the glacier, at an altitude of 3,500 metres, melting. Many artists would have been content to have left it there: field recordings can be fascinating in themselves, and Geir Jenssen’s Stromboli – recorded at the edge of the crated of the bubbling volcano – stands as one of my favourite field recording releases of all time. The recordings, made by the placement of highly sensitive microphones in the crevices of the glacier, proved to be just the beginning, though, and the project would evolve through a succession of life performances and an international conference.

With climate change being perhaps the greatest challenge to face humanity at any point since prehistory, it’s laudable to find artists engaging in such a way, without taking a messianic stance. Gletschermusik is a project born out of a genuine desire to raise awareness and prompt discussion. Be honest, who even knew there were glaciers in Kazakhstan? And yet, as far back as 2003, there were reports emerging that the glaciers in the former Soviet republic were melting at an unprecedented pace. It’s a project that provokes thought.

Subtly, and intelligently, the project reminds us that water, and the planet, is mutable. Gletschermusik (literally, ‘glacier music’) takes the sounds and images of the melting glaciers as its inspiration, but ventures out in various different directions. As such, this is a work which has been composed and performed rather than belonging to the world of field recordings. Sonically, it’s a wide-ranging electroacoustic set. While ‘Winter into Spring’ highlights the small changes the seasons bring, in relative terms, the album as a whole is concerned with the long-term changes and the effects of global warming. ‘Eiskritalle’ introduces dynamic drumming, while ‘Geologdun Yry’ takes the form of an acoustic folk song. It is, by its nature, a highly personal response to the natural world and man’s difficult relationship with his environment. Consequently, the individual pieces do not necessarily evoke glaciers, or if so, not in any conventional sense in terms of the languages of music or criticism: there are no icy synths or interminable crawls to be heard on Gletschermusik. Similarly, the drama of such cataclysmic ecological and environmental change is not expressed in dramatic, tempestuous crescendos that boom foreboding. Gletschermusik is remarkable for its delicacy, its easy musicality. It’s rare and also extremely welcome to find a work which is conceptually heavy but handled with such lightness.

 

Gletschermusik

Advertisements

 

A year or so back, maybe, from the ashes of York-based psychedelic drone act Muttley Crew emerged York-based psychedelic drone act Soma Crew. Sort of. The same band in essence, it was undoubtedly time for a change of name, but there’s been something of a lineup reshuffle in the process, and, on the evidence of this, the first Soma Crew EP, a sonic evolution too. This means that while there are still heavy hints of Black Angels, and the songs are still built around two or three chord chugs swathed in layer upon layer upon layer which twist and turn over the course of six minutes or more, there’s new stuff going on which wasn’t present on the Muttley Crew album which came out in the Spring of 2015.

With a ragged guitar sound and Simon Micklethwaite’s vocals adopting a sneering, drawling tone, there’s a punk edge to the EP’s first cut, ‘Pulp’. After a left-turning detour around the mid-point, it bursts into a raging racket of dissonance. And all the while, the drums keep on hammering out a relentless mechanoid rhythm, holding it together while everything else collapses to beautiful chaos. The slow-burning ‘Path With Heart’ brings it down a notch or two and offers a more low-key and introspective aspect. It’s exactly the music you’d expect from a band named after a muscle relaxant which works by blocking pain sensations between the nerves and the brain.

‘Vital Signs’ is perhaps the first track here that’s truly representative of their live sound, a motoric droner, with murky, overdriven and reverby guitars yawning and veering across one another over a thumping locked-in groove with no let up for over six and a half minutes. The eight-minute ‘Prizefighter’ begins at a lugubrious crawl. It takes its time… and then the overloading lead guitar breaks in, noodling in a smog of a chugging rhythm to drive it to the end.

The rough edges and hazy production give the songs an immediacy, and beneath the layers of reverb and cavernous delay, there’s a pulsating energy that gives EP 01 (aka Soma) a rare vitality. Rebirthed, re-energised, this band may be habit-forming and should be used only by the person it was prescribed for.

 

Soma Crew

SOFA – SOFA552 – 7th October 2016

James Wells

Le Stanze is Ingar Zach’s fifth solo album. His previous works have explored the potentials of percussion and electronic sources for the basis of his compositions, and Le Stanze sees him continue to expand in this field. ‘Groundbreaking’ is a word which is used in reference to many artists, often somewhat spuriously: in Zach’s case, it’s entirely apposite. While many of the sounds are overtly percussive in origin, it’s where Zach takes the sounds which renders Le Stanze such a fascinating album.

A flurry of sticks against skin is followed by silence. The silence is as important as the sound: Zach understands contrast and dynamics. He also understands range: single thuds at an infinite range of timbres contrast with chimes and jangles, scrapes and long-decaying echoes. A mesmeric heartbeat-paced thud underpins a sustained clamour of tinkling chimes like an alarm bell. Long, low notes loom beneath, almost subsonic, almost subliminal.

On ‘Il Battito Del Vichingo’, a battery of tribal percussion builds to a polyrhythmic frenzy. It contrasts with the drifting ambience of ‘L’inno Dell’ Oscurita’ and again with the shifting, sharp-edged metallic ibrationss of ‘E Soplitudine’, which slowly builds a long, sonorous drilling hum. In places, it’s almost unbearable in its tonal intensity, frequencies which assault the aural receptors and scrape at the soft matter within the cranial cavity.

Not only is it an intriguing listen, but on Le Stanze, Zach brings a magic, a mystery, to the act of making music, the process.

 

Ingar Zach

Gizeh Records – GZH70 –4th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Aiden Baker’s name features on a staggering number of releases, and while Nadja – the duo consisting of Baker and bassist Leah Buckareff – may only be one of many side-projects, the discography they’ve amassed since 2003 is substantial, to say the least. On The Stone is Not Hit by the Sun, Nor Carved With a Knife, they offer three immense ambient doom tracks which make for a welcome addition to that discography.

‘The Stone’ opens the album with a deep, slow bass. A delicate guitar is soon obliterated in a deluge of overdrive. Over the course of the track’s imposing twenty-two minutes, they build a pounding groove, the drum machine and bass in combination emphasising the heavy rhythms. Baker’s vocals are low in the mix, and with the textured, picked guitar chords, they straddle the grinding abrasion of Godflesh and the majestic shoegaze of Jesu. The contrast between the mechanical, industrial drum sound and the rich, organic sound of the guitar is integral to the sound, while the space between the notes is a core aspect of the composition: the stop / start mid-section of ‘The Stone’ jars the senses.

‘The Sun’ provides the album’s colossal, megalithic centrepiece. It takes its time to rise, and a steady, soft, meandering clean guitar and gentle, reverb-heavy vocal owes more to psychedelia and shoegaze than ambient or doom. But there’s a simmering tension that builds slowly but surely. The textures and tones gradually transition from clean to distorted, before drifting out into an extended ambient segment. Yawning drones roll and rumble: these are vast expanses of sound, twisting out toward an infinite horizon. And when the guitar and bass return, it’s with an even greater, more crushing force. The drums are distant, partially submerged by the snarling, thunderous bass and immense guitar which carries the listener on am oceanic expanse of sound.

A subtle, amorphous drone hovers atmospherically through the final track,’ Knife’. Arguably the album’s most ‘pure’ ambient passage, it’s hushed, mellow, almost soporific and marks a real contrast with the previous two tracks. There’s a part of me that, on first hearing, found ‘Knife’ a shade disappointing in context of the album as a whole: ‘The Stone’ and ‘The Sun’ set a certain expectation that, at some point, devastatingly heavy, thunderous bass, crashing drums and cinematic drone guitar will hit like a landslide, but it simply doesn’t happen. However, on reflection – and this is an album which requires much reflection – it’s a well-judged change of form. In confounding expectation on the final track, Nadja show that they’re not tied to formula.

In exploring the contrasts of volume, texture and mood, The Stone is Not Hit by the Sun, Nor Carved With a Knife is a more considered and ultimately rewarding work.

 

Nadja - The Stone is Not Hit

Southern Lord – 30th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a new release on Southern Lord. What more do you need to know? I mean, it’s not going to be some delicate chamber pop or winsome indie effort, is it? Hurry on by if you’re on the market for some chilled-out glitchtronica or ambient, or indeed anything that isn’t ball-bustingly nasty… right? Well, almost. With Okkultokrati’s new album, Raspberry Dawn, the label with a reputation based on its commitment to gnarly, guitar-based brutality takes a break from business as usual to offer something rather different – although it’s still by no means commercial, accessible, or easy listening.

Pitched as being ‘weird, wired and quite possibly the holy grail for those looking for radical rock reinvention and new sensations in the current era’, Raspberry Dawn promises an amalgam of ‘classic 70’s riffing, snotty punk, and brash old school metal, inventively mixed with pulses and spikes of dark wave and ice cold, psychedelic repetition.’

In truth, it’s oftentimes a pretty ‘what the fuck?’ kind of album: ‘World Peace’ is a four-chord punk stomper at heart, but with piston-pumping drums, black metal vocals and all sorts else, not least of all some doomy synths, thrown in. It’s kinda like a mash-up of the Sex Pistols and The Damned in their ‘gothic’ phase with Quorthon on vocal duties. There are changes in tempo and eardrum-busting leaps in volume, too. What DO you make of such a mess of stuff? Christ – or Satan -only knows what’s going on with the title track, a punching punky-pub rocker at heart, it also tips a nod to the old-school speed-metal of Mötörhead Frenzied, fucked-up fun, t’s probably the most straightforward track on the album, even when a piano enters the mix in the final bars.

It’s experimental, but not in the conventional sense: aside from the dark ambient passage at the start of ‘We Love You, which starts out as a darkwave electro groover before rupturing into a psychotic industrial/metal reimagining of The Psychedelic Furs, Raspberry Dawn is very much centred around solid, square 4/4 rhythms played at high speed and fairly standard chord sequences knocked out on overdriven guitars. The snarling vocals in themselves aren’t all that unusual. But that doesn’t make it ordinary.

‘Suspension’ is a lurid, hypnotic opiate haze of a nightmarish dreamscape, woozy and uncomfortable. The psychotic psychobilly attack of ‘Hard to Please, Easy to Kill’ is a snarling synth-driven beast with a throbbing bassline, and ‘Hidden Future’ is a snarling black metal Big Black squall.

There’s a lot going on. A lot going on. You need to concentrate to appreciate.

 

Okkultokrati

Christopher Nosnibor

Soma Crew were an obvious and natural choice of support for cult psych at The Lucid Dream on their first visit to York in their nine-year career. I first heard The Lucid Dream back in 2010, when they set their stall out with a brace of impressive EPs. Since then, they’ve released two long-players, with a third out next week – hence the tour.

Soma Crew, playing their second set of the day, are on top form. They’re loud, and they’re in synch. In other words, they’re exactly as they need to be for an optimum performance, and they piledrive their way through a set which opens with the spiky, angular ‘Remote Control’ and culminates in a squall of feedback.

DSCF5938

Soma Crew

Call me prejudiced, but I had low expectations for Eugene Gorgeous. It’s a shocking name, for a start, never mind the fact the band members and the gaggle of mates they’ve brought along, who have little to no grasp of gig etiquette or what moshing is about, are barely old enough to drink but fuck me, they’ve got songs and, mannequin-like bassist notwithstanding, energy. Stylistically varied, there’s an alternative / punk edge to the bulk of an impressive set. And, credit to them and their fans, they don’t do the all-too-common thing of sodding off afterwards, and instead stick around for the headliners. It’s a wise choice.

DSCF5952

Eugene Gorgeous

The Lucid Dream ae stunning, and seem determined to make their first trip to the city is memorable one. They may look mundane, but musically, they’re sublime, and they sizzle their way through a set of kaleidoscopic songs which are densely layered and deeply melodic. It’s hazy, blurred, hypnotic shoegaze par excellence. With an early start to the set, it looked like being an early finish, but The Lucid Dream have slowly but surely built a following based on slow-burning epics, and when they announce that they’ve got three songs left and they’re quite long, they’re not kidding: the segued three-track finale sees them lock into a sustained crescendo that explodes for the best part of half an hour. With the set crashing to a climactic close, it makes for an exhilarating and convincing performance. If only they’d had copies of the new album on sale…

DSCF5987

The Lucid Dream

Antime – Antime#018 – 14th October 2016

James Wells

There’s something perversely apt about the fact that members of Soft Grid, Jana Sotzko and Theresa Stroetges (ala Golden Disko Ship) met in an abandoned hospital ward. The album begins with the slow, dense electro-throb of ‘Herzog on a Bus’. Hefty percussion underpins looping, layered vocals. From the mechanised murk emerges a rolling, picked guitar line, delicate and tranquil. Harmonies play a major part in the album’s overall focus and form: while there are huge ruptures of noise and bursts of dynamic drum and guitar, in places reminiscent of latter-day Swans, it’s the vocal harmonies which really captivate and provide the focal point.

The twelve-minute ‘Minus Planet’ provides the album’s towering centrepiece, with a mellow electronic pulsation reminiscent of Tangerine Dream breaking out into a surging crescendo before taking a sharp turn around the mid-point and swelling into a The stripped-back and downbeat ‘Two Barrels of Oil’ is low, slow and haunting, a sparse bassline providing the backing to near acapella vocals. The final track, ‘Corolla’ has elements of folktronica and flamenco, and again, through a kaleidoscopic Krautrock transition, the sound builds to a shimmering crescendo.

Corolla is the sound of a band who take the progressive ethos rather than the vintage 70s sound, and actually make music that’s forward-facing and inventive.

 

Soft Grid - Corolla