Archive for September, 2016

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.

 

Outside_8

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.

StereoscopeStereoscope 2

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.

clang records – clang045 – 19th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

A note hangs in the air, sustaining, resonating, slowly decaying. Just before silence encroaches, the next note is struck. It hovers, hangs and gradually fades. A slow, oscillating drone crawls beneath. There is movement, but it’s evolutionary.

‘Brittle Evenings’ is led by an unfurling picked guitar line, deliberate, ponderous, reminiscent of the later Earth albums. Ghostly tones remain, sonic erasures which correspond with the idea of the palimpsest, and offer clues to the way the pieces formed. 14 short, quiet guitar pieces penned by Bell Monks for an art opening in 2012 provided the basis for the work. Later, they invited Ben Willis and Matt Sintchack (contrabass and saxophone respectively) to play over the tracks. Despite the addition of these new layers, they still felt the work seemed incomplete, and so called upon Gregory Taylor to rework the tracks digitally. Finally, with over 100 minutes of audio, it was Lars Graugaard’s editing which shaped the ten pieces which comprise the final track-listing. As such, the album is the result ofnear-infinite layering, relayering, additions and deletions.

But as to where one individual’s contribution ends and another’s begins is impossible to determine, and the beauty of the album is the way in which the parts blend, smudge, and blur together, folding into and over one another, obscuring, reshaping and remoulding to accommodate or obliterate previous layers and edits.

Each piece is also formed around shifting tones and sounds, the shapes and structures indistinct, fluid. Indeed, very little of the original guitar work is in evidence on listening to these pieces. Warm tones and an organic feel permeate the album’s fabric, although this is touched by a counterpoint of mechanical sounds, whirring, grating, rumbling. As one layer of sound fades, another emerges, leaving the shadows of the one before. Long, mournful strings quaver over rippling electronics and dulcimer-like chimes flicker in soft washes of sound. On ‘…Et Tremblant Feuilles’, perhaps the album’s most linear piece, a sonorous bass with gothic overtones builds a darkly ominous atmosphere.

The semi-industrial dark ambience of ‘Caress of Sun’ is constructed of layers of sound, heavy drones and interminably elongated scrapes, growing denser, deeper and more abstract as it progresses, emerging in a dazzlingly kaleidoscopic world. It isn’t until the album’s eighth track, ‘Sublimation Residue’, that the guitar becomes prominent once again, and once again, it gradually fades out to be engulfed by a soft sonic cloud.

 

Bell Monks   Gregory Taylor

James Wells

Sometimes, arguably at its best, music has transportative qualities, either by capturing the essence of a place, or by triggering a memory which takes the listener to another time or place. On Voyages, Jonty Harrison marries these elements together.

The field recordings collaged to form ‘Espaces caches’ are eclectic, from birdsong and passing traffic to distant voices, the wash of waves, and creaking doors. Lifts and tannoy announcements, trains and miscellaneous, extraneous sounds bring the city and countryside together over a low-level hum.

‘Going / Places’ takes the travel and transportation theme further, having been inspired, Harrison explains in the accompanying notes, by contextualising the work thus: ‘One day, nearly 25 years ago, when I was recording a journey on the London Underground, a lost overseas visitor asked me directions: that incident gave me the idea for a piece based on the broad theme of travel…’

And, essentially, ‘Going / Places’, is a collection of field samples which documents a journey, or a succession of journeys, literal and mental. Because geography is a state of mind. It’s perhaps worth taking into account the fact that while the sounds were gathered from around the globe, the listening experience – even on a mobile device – is likely to e rather more fixed, geographically speaking. And the location is the context, is a way.

Although the track listing shows this as a single track with a running time of 59:55, the disc is mastered to twenty-three individual tracks, all segued, with some of the segments less than a minute long. Along the way, Harris takes sounds from different countries, and gives flavours of myriad different cultures. Ringing bells on trams, marimbas, chatter of a bustling market, birds and insects, myriad sounds of life, and life on the move. The sense are vivid, vibrant, recorded in full colour (so to speak). There’s a palpable sense of movement, of motion here, and Harrison describes the segments as ‘scenes’. In his ‘rough guide’, he lists the locations and sound sources. The notes, in their way transport you there.

With this album you may never need to leave the house to cross the oceans to explore the world. But after hearing it, you may want to.

 

Jonty Harrison – Voyages

James Harrison

Integrity Records – 21st October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This instrument-swapping Australian duo don’t piss about, blasting into their debut EP at a hundred miles an hour with the spitting guitar frenzy of ‘KYMS’ – that’s (should) ‘keep your mouth shut’, as the refrain goes.

They’re pitched as being ‘lost somewhere between The Melvins and Taylor Swift, and Dan’s aggressive holler is contrasted by El’s nonchalant pop tone. Previous single, ‘Sick’ doesn’t only sustain the initial momentum, but ratchets things up a notch. ‘Sky’ brings a mammoth bottom-heavy sludge riff to underpin the duelling vocals, the end result being somewhere between the no-wave noise of Sonic Youth and school of ’94 grunge.

The well-timed breakdowns and softer moments only accentuate the force of their straight-ahead, driving, hell-for leather blasts of bratty, sharp-tongued punky noise. Of course, as much as it’s always about the songs – and these are killer songs, without exception, with an unquestionable pop tint – it’s about the attitude. And yeah, MDS have got plenty of that. This is the sound of a band who have that perfect blend of being pissed off and not giving a fuck, the sound of a band who play hard for the release, who crank it up to the max because, well, it feels good and because they can. It’s a short, sharp, shock of a release, and one equates to awesomeness turned all the way to eleven.

 

MDS_picBW1

Christopher Nosnibor

Does Ashley Reaks ever sleep? Continuing his prodigious output with his ninth (?) album, his second of the year and his third in just twelve months, This is Planet Grot sees him shift from his distinctive anarchic blend of dub, ska, punk and experimental mash-up with a straight-up punk album. It’s a style that suits him well, and somewhat ironically, may stand as his most commercial album to date. Reaks’ dissatisfaction with people, politics and the world at large has been vented extensively over previously releases, but to hear him actually singing and yelling over driving guitars and thumping drums really pushes it all home.

Having recently toured as support for The Dickies (and covered vocal duties on occasion), Reaks’ knowledge and appreciation of the school of ’77/’78 is displayed abundantly here, and his knack for a chorus while still spitting bile over choppy chords owes everything to the likes of 999, The Vibrators and The Adverts and nothing to latter-day pretenders of punk like Green Day. ‘Freaks of the World Unite’ is a perfect example of an accessible yet fully punk, fist-pumping, pogotastic song which has ‘single’ written all over it, while the terrace chanting ‘Manipulator’ is, quite simply, a quintessential punk song, and clocks in at under two and a half minutes.

The production captures the vibe, too. There’s an indefinable quality to the way the instruments and vocal are mixed which (not being an engineer or producer myself) that recreates the ragged sound of the seventies without sounding artificial.

Some of the zanier, off-kilter guitar lines, coupled with the cover (one of his deranged collages) share common ground with the dark derangement of Rudimentary Peni, but for the most part, This is Planet Grot plays it straight, hard and fast, and is abrim with nifty bass runs and straining guitars. And, because it’s Ashley Reaks and because it’s a proper punk album, This is Planet Grot is unswerving in its sociopolitial contents, the anti-establishment sentiments delivered with sincerity and rabble-rousing gusto.

 

Ashley Reaks - This Is Planet Grot Cover Art

With their Eat, Hate, Regurgitate EP schedules for release on October 21st, and a UK tour commencing on Mondaym 12th September, Australian sczz/grunge duo fillow up the beltting ‘Sick’ wth a video release fr ‘KYMS’. Watch the video here.

 

Tour dates are as follows:

Monday 12th September – London, Old Blue Last
Tuesday 13th September – Brighton, Hope & Ruin
Thursday 15th September – Hull, The Adelphi
Saturday 17th September – Scunthorpe, Café Indiependent
Tuesday 20th September – Leeds, Santiago’s
Thursday 22nd September – Edinburgh, Sneaky Pete’s

16th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Hands Off Gretel, formed only a year or so back, have already received frothing endorsements from Shirley Manson, Kate Nash and Linda Perry. The primary focus of such enthusiasm is nineteen-year-old Lauren Tate, who draws her inspiration from the likes of Brody Dalle and Courtney Love. It’s perhaps easy to forget that Courtney was, at one time, a formidable and fierce front woman: the first to Hole albums, Pretty on the Inside in particular, were raw, confrontational and really screamed home just tough women in rock could be.

Described as ‘a powerhouse of creativity’, Tate’s not only the band’s frontwoman and songwriter, but she also designs the band’ merchandise and is responsible for their videos, album artwork and photography. Some may say that it’s an example of control freakery, but bands tend to need someone with ambition, focus and (metaphorical) balls to make things happen, as musicians are, all too often, slack fuckers.

Without wishing to denigrate the contributions of the other band members – Burn the Beauty Queen is clearly a collective effort – and the sonic impact is more than a solo effort.

They come snarling out of the traps with high octane grunge-rager ‘Always Right’ and as much as it’s reminiscent of early Hole, L7, Babes in Toyland and Solar Race are equally a fitting comparison. There’ so much attitude here, and so much fire.

‘Always Miserable’ is so stripped back as to be no-fi to begin, but then halfway through its seven-minutes, it positively erupts in driving riffage and overloading guitar assault and vitriol. ‘bash my brains out, I’m so bored,’ Lauren sneers and hollers nihilistically amidst a tempest of driving guitars. She’s pissed off, alright. And over the course of the album, she vents on alienation, angst and (self) loathing with raw-throated rage, while the musical backing works the classic quiet / loud dynamic perfectly. And when they slow the pace and tone down the overdrive, as on ‘Little Man’ (and again, I’m reminded of Solar Race here), it’s stark and bleak as hell. It also provides a neat counterbalance to the three-chord stomp-and-holler tracks like ‘Oh Shit’, and if single cut ‘Teethin’’ is their concession to a pop track, it’s in the tradition of, say ‘Violet’ or Nymphs at their best (whatddaya mean, you’ve never heard of Nymphs? Sort it out!).

If Burn the Beauty Queen sounds like it’s from the school of ’94, that’s because what goes around comes around, and frankly, the whole pop/punk, post-hardcore and limp, packaged angst of what counts as ‘alternative’ for most of ‘the kids’ these days lacks guts and conviction. Paramore? Fuck that. The fact Lauren Tate is half my age suggests it’s not my nostalgia for the grunge era that makes me prick up my ears at Burn the Beauty Queen, but the fact there’s a new generation tapping into that primal release that only three chord and complete loathing of everything can give. And Burn the Beauty Queen is a great album: it’s got the rawness and authenticity that made grunge exciting. The fact that Tate looks the part will no doubt help Hands Off Gretel get exposure they might otherwise not have done, but to be clear, it’s the music – the power and the passion that crackles from every note – which is what makes Burn the Beauty Queen an essential album.

 

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