Archive for September, 2016

James Wells

There must be something in the air. Or the water. Or maybe it’s climate change. Or perhaps it’s simply how things go with the passage of time: Courtney Love becoming uncool has slipped off the radar, and there’s a whole new generation discovering Live Through This and albums by L7 tucked away in their parents’ CD collections. This is certainly the most rational explanation for the current rash of female-fronted grunge-orientated bands. It makes sense: look at the contemporary female role models. Outside the mainstream, proliferated by slick, overproduced r’n’b and anodyne pop and as promulgated by the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Miley, strong contemporary female role models ae few and far between: even the likes of Amy Lee and Hayley Williams – a front-woman who spawned infinite clones by virtue of being practically alone in her field – are inching towards moving beyond the position of well-established toward establishment. Besides, they never stood out quite as strong as the old guard: neither of them had the guts of Courtney in her prime, or Lydia Lunch, ever.

Weekend Recovery are a Kent-based band, who cite the likes of Paramore, Green Day and Jimmy Eat World amongst others as their influences, and they’re pretty self-evident in their debut single, ‘Focus’, which sees them go for what they describe as ‘a straight up catchy pop punk number’. It’s also precisely what they deliver.

But make no mistake, this is a band with ambition, grit and drive, not to mention some songs with aggression and edge, and here’s no question that Lorin Forster is a strong vocalist and front woman. Cliché as it is, with some high-profile support slots booked, they’re ones to watch.

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Alrealon Musique – ALRN072 – 31st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

New York underground act The Strange Walls aren’t conformists or readily categorised: previous releases have been called shoegaze, darkwave, post punk, art punk, experimental, outsider. I’m not even sure what ‘outsider’ is supposed to sound like, but they’re big into their pseudonyms, thus cultivating an air of mystery around the band and their music. Emerging from an ever shifting lineup, core trio of the class of 2016, consisting of Jon V. Worthley, Dan Drogenous and Regna Yates, assisted by Jimmy Ayatollah and John Spreaders have whipped up something appropriately esoteric and wide-ranging for this release.

More significantly, …Won’t Last straddles many genres and yet subscribes wholly to none. A slow, ominous echoey bassline rent with shrieking, ghostly incidentals provide the musical backing to Regina’s vocal, which sings a vaguely familiar melody. But then it’s straight into a squalling lo-fi post-punk racket reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers crossed with The Pop Group. It’s hard on the ears, and the contrast is almost schizophrenic. When an album’s tracks are as diverse as this, spanning psychedelia and folk and sometimes incorporating elements of at least two or three within a single song, it’s inevitable that some tracks will appeal more than others, and this is something which is wholly subjective. Yet the fact that there are some clear standout tracks is an objective observation, and the sequencing of the tracks accentuates this fact. The bleak electro sound of ‘In Time’ combines steely synths with a dash of dark pop sensibility which calls to mind early 80s Cure, and with its primitive, distant drum sound and reverb-soaked synth oscillations, ‘White’ lands somewhere between Cocteau Twins and Silver Apples, and these tracks inevitably sound stronger against the softer, less structured folky strummers. ‘Snow Day’ leans heavily on early New Order, while ‘Yawdons’ fulfils the criteria for obligatory droning experimental piece.

The ramshackle production equally works both for and against the album as a whole. Being better suited to some tracks than others, at times adding space and partially obscured sonic depths, at other simply sounding messy. The result, then, is an album that’s a bit hit and miss. Not bad, and in places brilliant, but a few tracks that will likely become skippers after a while.

 

The Strange Walls

Christopher Nosnibor

The Grand Arcade is an unusual corner of Leeds: very much resembling a shopping mall, it’s home to a host of quirky independent eateries and the like, including Santiago, a slightly divey bar which does a great line in craft ales by the can and has a venue space about the size of the living room of a modern flat upstairs.

It’s a predominantly young and self-consciously cool crowd packing it out upstairs tonight, but they’re enthusiastic and respectful, which is exactly the audience Sarah Carey’s highly personal acoustic performance deserves. With some vaguely grunge-inspired chord sequences, she sings of break-ups and loneliness, frustration and self-loathing. She does so with a certain charm, and isn’t po-faced in her delivery. Her inclusion on the bill is a good move on the part of the promoters, too, as she offers a quiet and comparatively gentle start to a night that’s going to become noisier with each successive act thereafter.

“We’re ‘inges,” says the slightly chubby youth brandishing a guitar which he’s about to thrash the fuck out of. Despite the drummer’s dubious-looking hipster moustache, the northern foursome don’t piss about with posturing, and bust a gut to pound out their gnarly, grungy racket. They play hard and play angry: ‘Grey’ isn’t a Fudge Tunnel cover, but it is sludgy, bile-filled and bursting with rage. It’s getting warm in the little gig space, and more beer is required.

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Hinges

Before the show, I’d scored an interview with Mannequin Death Squad. During our exchange, they’d explained that the live and studio mediums were very different for them, in that in the studio they’re able to build up the layers of sound and instrumentation with bass and additional guitars, whereas live they’re very much limited by numbering only two, meaning that the songs are stripped back and direct. And it works well: they crank it up and play loud and hard. You’d never guess that Dan is, in relative terms, a novice drummer, or even that they’re essentially a ‘new’ band: they’re as tight as hell and exude a rare confidence, and it’s obvious as they power through an explosive set that they’ve put in some long, hard hours of rehearsal and packed a lot of gigs into their short career. Around halfway through the set, they switch instruments, with El taking the drum stool and Dan the guitar (they share vocal duties throughout) and tear through much of their soon-to-be released mini-album Eat Hate Regurgitate and cuts from the album that’s set to appear before the year’s out (you heard it here first). If you’re on the market for some blistering grunge / punk / noisy pop, Mannequin Death Squad is the band you want, and after supporting Slaves on this, their first UK tour, there’s no question that they’re destined for a larger audience.

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Mannequin Death Squad

The last time I saw Hora Douse was back in the summer of 2014, in York, supporting Post War Glamour Girls. It was a little way ahead of the release of their Crash EP, and they confessed to being a shade underrehearsed after some time out, and they were still cracking. On tonight’s outing, they’re on incendiary form. The limited notes I took during their set are practically illegible, and I’m blaming the cans of wicked craft beer for that – in particular the Magic Rock IPA at 7.4% – and the fact I was too immersed in their full-throttle angular grunge racket to write much. They’re intense, alright, and loud. And their drummer’s incedible. They work up a sweat and work up the audience, too: there’s little respite during their course of their pummelling set, and I’m reminded once more why it’s the little gigs like this, the shows that are intimate, up close and personal, that bring the greatest sense of joy and excitement.

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Hora Douse

These are bands that actually give a shit, that play like their lives depend on it despite being lucky if they break even, playing to maybe thirty or forty people – who also give a shit – on a Tuesday night, and play every show like they’re headlining Glastonbury. There is simply nothing which matches the intensity and the euphoria of being packed into a small enclosed space with people perspiring with passion and kicking out a cathartic racket. THIS is what it’s all about.

House Of Mythology – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

So, House of Mythology released two albums simultaneously in August, and having exhausted myself dissecting the David Tibet / Youth collaboration, Create Christ, Sailor Boy under the Hypnopazūzu moniker, it’s taken me a while to steel myself for this.

It’s important to be clear that this is a very different kind of album, the three (or four*) long-form tracks manifesting as darkly ambient instrumental works, which build layers of dissonance and feedback over textured drones and rumbling lower frequencies. While flickers of pan-cultural influence emerge from the thrumming layers of sound, Remoteness Of Light is entirely devoid of any of the trappings of pseudomystical bullshit.

And while ‘Agents of Altitude builds layers of sound which unsettle and unnerve, ‘World of Amphibia’ which follows, is altogether more sparse and delicate, and corresponds more obviously with the nots which accompany the album and situate it in the deep submarine world, which remain every bit as intriguing and unknown as outer space.

In describing the journey of a deep-sea dive (‘Dive a kilometre into the ocean and you leave all surface illumination behind… Descend another ten and luminous forms flicker and burst through the endless black’), The Stargazer’s Assistant contextualise Remoteness Of Light. Of course, the tribal drumming and whining pipes aren’t a literal representation of the underwater experience, but they convey the strangeness of the deep-sea world and the excitement of the decent.

Moreover, there are essentially three areas which offer endless fascination, but have been wholly inadequately explored: space, the oceans, and the human mind. Remoteness Of Light delves into, and connects with, all of these:

The droning, sonorous and subtly rhythmic sonic turnings of the title track are, at times, so quiet and careful as to be barely present, but as ever, dark and unexpected, and it builds o a wheezing, whining, moaning undulation of sound, with a long, slow playout of heavy, echo-drenched percussion and a log-tapering drone. Credit where it’s due: this s sonically and texturally interesting. With a lot going on, it conforms to no specific gene, but engages the listener in unexpected ways, and the varied textures and shades of light and dark unquestionably have the capacity to tweak at the psyche.

* Track 4, ‘Birth of Decay’, is a live recording only available on the double vinyl edition, or as a download for people ordering directly from the House of Mythology web site. It wasn’t included in the digital review copy we received, so it might be awesome or utterly shit, but if it’s on a par with the rest of the album, it should be pretty good.

 

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Skipstone Records – SKPST023

James Wells

Although Rings is credited to Erik Friedlander, it’s the first release from a new trio, Black Phebe, consisting of Friedlander (cello and composition), Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion and electronics) and Satoshi Takeshi (percussion) ‘with live looping as a compositional tool and featuring multiple trios within one’.

Rings is certainly a diverse album, and the trio’s multi-instrumentalism means there are a vast array of permutations for arrangements, and, in turn, styles. At times playful and whimsical, at others theatrical and dramatic and at others still mellow, Rings explores a host of different sonic experiences. With the accordion accompanied by plucked cello and tribal drumming, ‘The Seducer’ is a world/folk music crossover. Elsewhere, hints of jazz inform ‘Black Phebe’ and ‘Fracture’, the latter with a wandering bassline that sashays seductively hither and thither. Some of it’s really quite nice, and while some of it’s perhaps not so nice in the light and fluffy sense, the quality of the musicianship and the vigour of the diverse compositional styles is impressive.

 

ErikFriedlander-Rings

Christopher Nosnibor

For a Sunday night it York, it’s not a bad turnout, and while I’m not often a fan of seated shows, this bill of laid-back electronic-based music lends itself perfectly to adopting a less upright position for optimal enjoyment. Plus, it makes a welcome change to be able to put my beer on a table in front of me, rather than have to clutch it and thus warm it with increasingly condensation-dampened hands, or to concern myself with wearing a jacket with adequately capacious pockets that facilitate free hands for taking notes, taking photographs.

Two of tonight’s acts I saw only a few weeks ago, and when Mayshe Mayshe opened up for Living Body (for whom Shield Patterns were the main support) at the Brudenell in Leeds, I was charmed by her lo-fi minimalist pop tunes. Tonight’s set confirms that the bells, whistles, mini-pianos and hair-dryers aren’t gimmicky features of a novelty act, but genuinely useful features of a sound that’s spurred by innovation. Her songs are beautifully crafted examples of quirky bedroom elecro-pop. But for all the sparseness, there are some dense bass tones.

Mayshe Mayshe

Mayshe Mayshe

Having been less than enthused by the performance of hipster laptop DJ Game Program supporting Silver Apples recently, I’m even less enthused by Jakoby’s noodlings. In fairness, he has a lot of ideas. Some of them are good, and some are very good. But many of them are not, and his compositions have a tendency to throw everything at every track, often simultaneously. There were at least a dozen points that would have made a tidy ending to the set, but he kept bringing it back up and what’s likely intended as a brain-bending sonic overload ends up being an overlong exercise in onanism.

Jakoby

Jakoby

What a contrast, then, Elsa Hewitt. Same format in principle: a solo performer with a laptop and a mix desk, she’s understated as a performer, but it very soon becomes clear she has an immense talent and is doing something genuinely different. In this line of work, even the inventive and the radical can pale against the sheer volume of acts trying to carve a niche by virtue of their supposed uniqueness. But with some thunderous trip-hop beats – which are in places contrasted with minimalist, flickering glitch beats – and washes of amorphous sound over low, throbbing, scrotum-vibrating bass, topped with ethereal vocals and looped self-harmonies, Else forges a sound unlike anyone else. Building some slow-burning, hypnotic grooves, the gap in the market for Urban Ambient is hers for the taking.

Elsa Hewitt

Elsa Hewitt

It’s Claire Brentnall’s birthday, and having launched the second Shield Patterns album with a hometown launch show in Manchester the night before, she celebrates with a superlative performance tonight. The duo’s layered, detailed music is well-suited to the intimate atmosphere of the darkened Crescent, and the PA does it justice. The tonal separation and sonic depth is magnificent, the vocals crisp yet still shrouded in reverb: effectively recreating the sound of their considered studio recordings, it’s easy to get lost in the space between the layers of sound. Brentnall’s haunting vocals are enveloped in extraneous noise and a gauze-like blend of synths and field sounds, while Richard Knox hammers out thunderous, rolling drum sounds on an impressive drum pad setup. With the minimal lighting, it all makes for a compelling show, and a magnificent way to end a weekend.

Shield Patterns

Shield Patterns

Christopher Nosnibor

One of the UK’s biggest beer festivals may be in full swing a mile or so up the road, but a quality lineup is always going to attract a respectable crowd, especially when the headliners have spent the first months of their existence being careful to avoid overexposure. As such, a Stereoscope gig always has the air of an event about it, and tonight is no exception.

Singer / songwriter Meabh McDonnell is first up. Having turned solo after her previous ensemble, Bored Housewife, split, she’s been learning guitar and writing a set of new material. She’s nervous as hell, but makes it a part of the performance with herself-effacing chatter between songs. But she has a brilliant knack for penning amusing – and sometimes really quite sad – vignettes, lifted from the humdrum existence of daily life, and she really does have a lovely voice, and receives the warm reception she deserves.

Meabh McDonnell

Meabh McDonnell

Wolf Solent – former Federal and contributor to almost infinite bands around York, Danny Barton – is an old hand when it comes to performing, but still prefers to keep his presence on-stage low-key. Playing almost in darkness, a silhouette on the stage, he’s sporting a very dapper pale suit and some impressive Cuban heels. None of this really matters, though: what matters are his magnificently understated, lo-fi indie tunes. Despite having only three or four pedals, he conjures a vast array of sounds and textures from his guitar. It’s the perfect accompaniment to his laid-back but poignant vocal delivery.

Wolf Solent

Wolf Solent

Continuing the dark, stark mode of presentation, Stereoscope are a band who play in black and white. It’s a radical shift from their previous incarnation as Viewer: then, Tim Wright and AB Johnson would play concise, danceable pop songs, bursting with pithy social commentary, in front of eye-popping psychedelic visuals. Stereoscope play long, heavy, mid-tempo dirges built on repetition, with introspective and often deeply despondent lyrics in front of black and white videos of rivers and pavements. And they have a live drummer, which lends a whole new kind of aural dynamic to their performances. It helps that Martell James is a seriously good drummer, hard hitting and with precision timing.

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Stereoscope

They’re not going for the mass market here. And yet, ultimately, I prefer this. With Stereoscope, it’s clear they’re dredging deep into the depths of their innermost dark places. Johnson contorts himself into impossibly angular shapes as he wrings the angst from the corners of his slender frame. Immediately accessible, it isn’t, but with a slow-building intensity they grind their way through a powerful set that reaches its final destination: with the emergence of light and colour, it’s ultimately uplifting.