Archive for November, 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Any longstanding fan of The Fall accepts that inconsistency is not only par for the course, but part of the band’s enduring charm. The appeal of Mark E Smith, and, by default, The Fall, has always been a perverse one: revered by fans, loathed by pretty much everyone else, The Fall are the epitome of singularity. Recent years have seen them hit an uncharacteristic groove: the core of the current lineup has been in place for the best part of a decade now, and while it’s yielded some fine moments, there’s not been anything to touch the quality of Fall Heads Roll in 2005. I’d been reluctant to take a £25 punt on them delivering a decent show but when a friend who was unable to attend offered me his ticket, I joyfully accepted. Because it’s The Fall after all.

Tonight’s lineup makes perfect sense: local support and Aural Aggro faves Soma Crew are all about the motoric beats and plugging away at repetitive riffs, and having been gaining momentum of late, this is a big night for them. They certainly rise to the occasion: given the opportunity to play a full-length set to a substantial and receptive crowd, they meld together as a unit and crank out a set of psychedelic krautrock grandeur. One of the band’s more recent recruits, bassist Andy Wiles, brings movement and dynamism to the stage act, and they rock out hard amidst a tumult of FX-laden guitars and thumping mechanoid drums. No fills, nothing fancy, just a relentless groove.

Soma Crew

Soma Crew

The Fall – when they finally appear on stage some time around quarter past ten – hit a fairly solid, if uninspired – groove, too. Smith looks unsteady as he navigates the path onto the stage and tries out a couple of different mics. Against the LED backdrop, which I watched countless men well into their 40s and 50 be photographed before the show, they crank out a set which promisingly features a snarling rendition of ‘Wolf Kidult Man’ early on, but from thereon focuses exclusively on recent – and seemingly unreleased – material. In itself, it’s standard Fall.

The Fall 1

The Fall

But while fans reach out and grab his leather blazer-style jacket in adulation and the substantial mosh-pit goes nuts, it strikes me that all is not well with MES. To criticise him for being unintelligible, for pissing about with mics, the guitar settings, well, it’s redundant. It’s what he does. The first time I saw The Fall in ’94 at the cavernous York Barbican, touring Cerebral Caustic with the classic twin-drummer lineup: neither drum kit had any mics before the set was out and it sounded awful to begin with. But it’s small wonder bassist Dave Spurr stands so close to his amp, as it guarding it from marauders: Smith repeatedly silences Pete Greenway’s guitar, and drum mics – and well as cymbals – are tossed over and about the stage at will, and of course Smith spends much of the show dicking about with mics. One mic, two mics, radio mic, wired mic, backing vocal mic, spare mic.

The Fall 2

The Fall

If it were any other band, the venue would have emptied after three songs. People would be concerned for the singer. But it’s MES. He’s a legend! But as he wavers and slurs, hollering unintelligibly, by turns gurning toothlessly, lolling his thick tongue and sucking his gums, it all feels far from legendary. Smith’s performing, throwing poses, tinkering absently with atonal keys, doing all the things he does, but he doesn’t seem entirely present, and oftentimes, he looks quite lost. Like an ageing grandparent with slowly advancing Alzheimer’s, there’s something sad about his performance.

The Fall 3

The Fall

Standing on a stage awash with beer, Smith removes his leather coat. He then passes his mic into the audience (who sound better than he does); he then collects the coat he’s just removed and leaves the stage unsteadily. He returns, wearing the coat again, and, looking lost, begins hollering through his hands until someone in the front row picks up the mic that was returned to the stage in his absence. He looks grateful, and begins to holler and drawl into the mic instead.

With the recent material being very much one tempo and one dimension, the music, while well-played, fails to really grip the attention, a problem exacerbated by Smith’s non-stop sonic sabotage. Without any real standout tracks (‘Reformation’? ‘Sir William Wray’? Forget it), everything blurs into one stodgy sequence of stocky but forgettable riffs.

Fall Set

The Fall’s Setlist

The first encore fails to offer any back-catalogue excitement, but they finally end the set with a second encore in the form of a solid but unremarkable (and rather hurried-sounding) stomp through ‘Mr Pharmacist’.

But it’s not the lack of back-catalogue material that’s the issue here. The Fall, who for all time have been lauded and adored as the most essential band by virtue of their unwillingness to conform or to bend in the face of trends, feel depressingly lacking in relevance (in contrast to peers Killing Joke, who played the same venue only a couple of weeks ago). The blame must sit squarely with Smith: lacking in focus and, seemingly, a real sense of where he’s at, the show felt awkward, confused, uncoordinated and generally underwhelming, and Soma Crew were definitely the better act on the night.

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Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records – 18th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been a fan of The Wedding Present for a long time. That said, I did rather lose track of their output at some point. It happens. For some reason, I felt that they’d somehow become mired in a template-based middle-ground. Nevertheless, one of the things I always admired about the band was their ability to constantly reinvent themselves while still sounding like The Wedding Present. Going, Going… released in Europe in September and now receiving a US release, is a perfect exemplar of the way in which they achieve this: it’s an immense 20-track double album, full of overtly Wedding Present songs and songs that explore a host of different forms.

The dense guitar trudge which drives the post-rock instrumental of ‘Kittery’, the opening track on Going, Going… does not sound like The Wedding Present to my ears. But it is compelling. ‘Greenland’ features a female radio voice reading out co-ordinates over a thundering drum beat and very little else. It sounds more like Shellac than The Wedding Present. And yet, as a slow-building rumble of noise builds in the background before the track fades out slowly without anything actually happening, it shouldn’t come as a surprise: The Wedding Present called in Steve Albini to rework breakthrough single ‘Brassneck’ from their 1989 album Bizarro¸ and he ‘recorded’ one of their biggest albums, Seamonsters in 1991. The Wedding Present also covered Pavement long before Pavement were cool – before anyone had even heard of them, in fact.

In some respects, given David Gedge’s longstanding interest in the obscure and his impressively long career spent cultivating a distinctive sound has paved the way for tis radical departure. Because, while words like ‘workmanlike’ and ‘jangling’ have long been associated with the band, they’ve always been more than their critical reception, and have long gone out of their way to do something outlandish or perverse – like a single a month for a year. Put another way, The Wedding Present have always espoused the indie aesthetic on the absolute sense, in that they’ve always indulged their contrary side because, well, simply, they can.

With a haunting, wordless, female vocal and soaring post-rock guitar sound, ‘Marblehead’ is a far cry from the twangy, three-chord thrashabouts that are the band’s trademark, and the string-soaked, piano-led chamber orchestra piece that is ‘Sprague’ finds Gedge lead his crew – not to mention their fans – further from familiar territory.

It’s not until the fifth track, ‘Two Bridges’ that we get a song that showcases Gedge’s familiar gruff northern tones amidst a choppy guitar attack. It’s a thick, rough and ready and in many ways primitive indie tune that could only come from one band, even when it lumbers off on an extended riffy workout after a couple of minutes. What we can take from this is that while The Wedding Present can sound like pretty much anything, no-one else can make songs that sound like The Wedding Present. There are plenty of thumping guitar tunes – more carved from the hefty riff-driven template of Seamonsters and beyond than their jangly indie early years – and they’re decent tunes. ‘Bear’ is one of several classic examples of the Pixies-like grungers which exploit the quiet/loud dynamic. Lumbering riffs about, driving the lurching alt-pop of ‘Fifty-six’ and the all-out stomp of ‘Emporia’, which is pretty heavy and fires up a roaring guitar racket while retaining a keen sense of melody.

‘Secretary’ brings some jangle, but also a fuckload of noise all bound up with a post-punk sensibility and a jarring angularity that’s unexpectedly exhilarating, while ‘Bells’ is a standout by virtue of simply being a great song with a cracking melodic hook.

Who would have thought that some 30 years into their career, The Wedding Present of all bands, would produce something as ambitious and as impressive as this? If anything, rather than being an exercise in indulgence for the band and a drag for the listener, Going, Going… is as strong as anything The Wedding Present have ever released, and the longer format finds Gedge really going all-out to try new sounds and shapes. It’s also an album which reveals a band really concentrating on tight and varied songwriting, and when paired with a focus on tone and dynamics it makes for an unexpectedly great record.

 

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Hubro – HUBROCD2573 – 7th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Krautrock country? Opiate-sedated tribal jazz? The seven tracks which comprise Kurzsam and Fulger don’t readily slot into any stylistic field. That’s Christian Wallumrød all over. This previous releases include a solo work and a collaboration with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. This is an artist who thrives on variety, and one could probably argue with reasonable certainty, a certain sense of artistic perversity. But then, Wallumrød is interested equally in early polyphony and church music and the work of John Cage.

The pieces on Kurzsam and Fulger are sparse, minimal in their arrangements, yet fulsome in sound span. Shuffling drums, strolling, oscillating bass and lead piano that wanders all over, on and off key, along its own path. ‘Langsam’ ventures into mellow jazz territory, while insistent tom beats. The polytonal organ drone of ‘Phoniks’ offers more of an allusion to church music, but distilled to a skeletal frame, revealing the ensemble’s avant-garde orientation If the supremely brief ‘Klafferas’ is little more than a percussive interlude, the protracted meanderings of ‘Arpsam’ are an exploration of space, not least of all the space between notes, and as such, a piece which also interrogates the relationship between sound and not sound and the way the notes slowly decay while their echoes resonate in the mind. As the notes played vary slightly between each repetition of the motif which provides the key part of the track, the sense of disco-ordination increases as the track progresses.

The final track, ‘Kurzsam and Onward’ brings some levity, and its plinking keys call to mind a proliferation of 70s and 80s US sitcoms and I can’t help thinking of Taxi (despite the fact that it sounds nothing like it, and that growing up in the early 80s I never considered the show a comedy of any kind). The spaces between the playing are even longer, and push the parameters of composition and order, as well as the listener’s patience ad perception.

The less there is to hear musically, the more there is going on theoretically, and on Kurzsam and Fulger, Christian Wallumrød and his ensemble really do interrogate a broad range of theoretical positions in order to arrive at the finished work which is Kurzsam and Fulger.

 

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Blackened Recordings – 18th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a new Metallica album. You don’t need to be a superfan to know that this is a big deal. Much was made in the press in their approach to promotion for its predecessor, Death Magnetic, with no advance CDs or streams and music journalists being herded in to listen to the album but with a list of caveats and prohibitions, and while that was a full eight years ago, the same approach has been taken, with streams only being made available a mere two days ahead of release to minor-league press like myself (granted, I was given the opportunity to sign up for the listening event, but being minor-league and not residing in London, it wasn’t going to happen). Still, in this day and age, doing something different is what counts, and of course, it’s easier for acts the size of Radiohead, U2, and Metallica (and would it be wrong to mention Bowie at this juncture?) to go for inverse hype, either keeping the album under wraps or even slipping it out with zero warning because it’s going to sell by the truckload anyway, and there will always be royalty-paying radio airings of tracks and all of the other things that provide the main earnings for big-name artists after the release, and if it gets people talking, then job done.

Typing this review feels awkward. I’ve long vowed to avoid the mainstream and the major league, preferring to give coverage to acts no-ones heard of. Everyone has an opinion about the new album by U2, Radiohead, Metallica. What can I add to the general noise? And am I likely to pick it apart in the kind of depth the real fans want? Forums and fan sites chuntered a bucketload about the mixing and mastering of Death Magnetic. Going back an album further still, the virtual riots over the production, specifically the drum sound, on St. Anger still echo on. Personally, I prefer the tangy blue French cheese Saint Agur over any Metallica album, but I digress. It seems that everyone’s out for Metallica, but no-one really talks about the songs these days. I’ll come to the songs shortly, because however vociferously critics and self-professed fans alike bitch about the albums and the spoutings of the band members (or one in particular), none of the noise makes any real difference. Their albums sell by the truckload regardless. Their gigs still sell tickets by the truckload.

Like many, I was properly introduced to the band through their redefining eponymous ‘black’ album in 1991, although of course it’s easy to understand why many of their longstanding fans were pissed off by the new sound. They had betrayed their thrash roots, and were now a commercial proposition. But really, do I give enough of a shit to be ‘qualified’ in the eyes of the masses to dissect a new Metallica album? Perhaps it’s my lack of shit-giving which precisely qualifies me.

The come barrelling out of the blocks all guns blazing with the full-throttle call to arms of ‘Hardwired’: ‘we’re so fucked / shit outta luck / hardwired to self-destruct,’ Hetfield spits in the refrain. If the musical composition itself sounds like ‘Wherever I May Roam’ crossed with Psalm 69 era Ministry (‘Hero’ in particular), it at least sounds like they mean business. It’s also the album’s most concise cut, clocking in a more nine seconds over three minutes.

Following on from the max-impact opener, ‘Atlas, Rise!’ is chugging juggernaut of a song, showcasing a straight down the line metal sound and a suitably preposterous and overblown guitar break. It’s taut and tetchy, and it too sounds like Ministry circa Psalm 69 but with some characteristic latter-day Metallica licks thrown in, and the same is true of ‘Spit Out the Bone’ over on disc two. There’s almost a sense that they’re casting their eyes back to 1990 and thinking that perhaps, that was the point at which things went awry, artistically, at least, although this dissipates as the album progresses.

The hefty drumming drives the throbbing riffage of ‘Now That We’re Dead’ before it descends into post-Black Album Metallica by numbers, and everything I’d dreaded Hardwired would be. Look, it’s not that I’m anti-melody or dislike harmonies, but they can be a hindrance to the heaviness of a metal song, and Metallica are particularly guilty of working to a blueprint. Sure, it’s their own blueprint, but I’m not feeling the danger here.

Hardwired… To Self-Destruct may be a monstrous double album which contains almost two hours of music (that’s twelve tracks, the majority sitting in the six or seven minute region) but to berate Metallica for being overblown or indulgent is entirely redundant. No, the real issue here is that it simply doesn’t feel like an album eight years in the making. Compare it to, say, Swans’ last album, or Killing Joke’s latest. Bear with me on this: Killing Joke have something of a formula, and tend to hammer out tracks built around a single riff for around six minutes, but there’s nothing tired or sluggish about Pylon, and Swans’ The Glowing Man is about four hours long but is the work of a band pushing themselves into unknown territories, and beyond. These feel like immense vital albums: Hardwired does not. Ok, so they manage to churn out a waltz-time lunger in the form of the cheesily-titled ‘ManUNkind’ and it serves to bring variety to proceedings, and ‘Here Comes Revenge’ locks into a churning groove to pretty potent effect: you can get down to this. While there are some undeniably great moments – from the expansive play-out segment on ‘Halo on Fire’ and the heads-down riff of disc two opener ‘Confusion’ – there simply aren’t enough of them. But that isn’t to say that this isn’t a solid enough album.

It was but a few weeks ago that I passed something of a shrug in the direction of the latest Neurosis album, for which ’30 years in the making’ essentially translates as ’30 years refining a stylistic blueprint’, and Hardwired suffers from very much the same creative malaise. The band vary likely believe strongly in what they’re doing and have spent the last eight years perfecting the material and ensuring it sounds exactly the way they want it to, and y’know, that’s ok. It sounds good. The guitars and bass are solid and suitably dense. The drums sound fine, on my speakers, at least. I haven’t spent three weeks listening to it on a loop through headphones, admittedly, and this is very much a broad overview of the album.

Ultimately, it would be wrong to criticise an album for what it is not, and instead, the critical focus ought to be on what it is. Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is a Metallica album. The first in a long time. A lot of people will love it; a lot will be enraged by it, for myriad reasons. But it sounds like a Metallica album and does what you’d expect a Metallica album to do. And that’s no bad thing. You want a Metallica album? You got one.

 

 

Metallica - Hardwired

6th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

How exactly does one locate the work of The Eagertongue? The vehicle of Glaswegian artist Graham Macmillan-Mason, who describes his mode of work style as ‘spoken punk’, there’s nothing remotely Kate Tempest about the gritty poetics of The Eagertongue. There are no limp appropriations of hip-hop stylings for a start, no elongated vowels to intimate a sense of beat, no couplets, no doggerel – no rhymes, in fact – and there’s no pretence of speaking to or for the masses with high-minded socio-political thematics, either. But he does have an undeniable sense of rhythm which carries the pieces along nicely, and arguably, his straight-talking vignettes are far more real slices of life than the more commercially viable Tempest. No BRIT School priming here: the only privilege informing the work is the privilege of life lived as a means of gathering material, which provides instead, a first-hand grasp of the grubby day-to-day. Coupled with Macmillan-Mason’s knack for narrative, it makes for pieces which are vital and ultimately credible. But he’s not John Cooper-Clarke, either. I love JCC’s pithy poems and rapidfire delivery, but Macmillan-Mason’s brand of social commentary is darker, starker, harsher, and he isn’t out for laughs.

I referred to the material as gritty: Graham raps and raves about bodily fluids with a superabundance of cumstains and saliva and a moderate proliferation of vomit streaking his narratives. The characters who populate these insalubrious spaces are three-dimensional, believable, and presented warts and all. “She would always protest it was difficult to speak with a penis inside of her mouth,” he recounts on ‘Jesse’.

MacMillan-Mason has a remarkably calm, almost affable delivery, which is in some ways at odds with some of the dingier, grainier lines. But it’s this calm, measured approach (and that isn’t to say there’s no passion in his voice: there is, as well as a tangible sense of soul) which renders the words most effective: they’re enunciated with crystal clarity and stand out above the murky droning soundscapes – a mangling mix of guitars and amorphous electronic hum – which provide an appropriately unsettling backdrop.

Sharp, direct and unflinching, The Voices in Your Coma Sleep finds The Eagertongue bringing weight to the idea that literature was the original rock ‘n’ roll, and that literature is the new rock ‘n’ roll, too.

 

The Eager Tongue - Voices in Your Coma Sleep

Ritual Productions – 11th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

You might expect that the tracks on an album containing just six songs would consist of long, dawn-out affairs. But not Thralldom’s latest offering: there are a couple that extend beyond the six-minute mark, but in the main, these are short pieces, under four minutes in duration. But in terms of dark intensity, they’re immense.

The introductory instrumental, ‘Cosmic Chains’ is a disturbing vocal cacophony from the bowels of hell which paves the way for the blackened trudge of ‘Chronovisions’, which truly sets the tone for the album as a whole. It’s seriously fucking dark, tangled gothic guitar lines weaving tapestries which depict unspeakable events of demonic torture and pain.

It may be that Thralldom have been silent for over a decade, but is seems that the intervening years since their last release have been spent crawling through subterranean passages by candlelight, stooped, starved and rabid, and battling with marauding demons every step of the way. And so as what’s billed as ‘Thralldom 3.0’ emerge, screaming and agonised into the light, it’s hard to tell if they’ve slain those demons or become partly consumed by them: Time Will Bend Into Horror forges a netherworld of tempestuous torment. The title is fitting in that it reflects the ancient evils which claw their way through the spaces between the crooked notes and mangled power chords which form the fabric of an album which soundtracks a walk through purgatory. In the hands of Thraldom, a four-minute composition feels like ten or more as they grind out the darkest, most oppressive noise.

The angry grey surges of noise which crash and thrash over a violent percussive assault on ‘The Corpse of the Radar Towers Over All’ collides against the churning discord of ‘Dark Grey Mist’, a track which brings elements of Swans’ Cop into a metal maelstrom that’s as black as the canal of Satan’s sphincter. It’s gnarly, alright – and then some – and brings horror in spades.

Thralldom - Time Will Bend