Archive for December, 2016

Von Archives – VON 023

Christopher Nosnibor

The idea behind the Cordiox from which Ariel Guzik’s album takes its name is a machine which was conceived by the inventor of the radio, Gugliemo Marconi, in a dream just weeks before his death in 1937. He had theorised that sound never dies, but instead emanates and radiates eternally. As such, he believed that every sound ever made still existed in the ether, and that it was theoretically possible to tune into the recordings of every moment in history. The machine Marconi visualised would confirm this theory. Guzik’s Cordiox was conceived as an instrument which crosses portals of time and bridge infinite space, and this album very much encapsulates the enormity of that concept and ambition.

‘Cordiox is a machine, an instrument that communicates through time, vibrates and resonates to its surroundings, creating a response to it, communicating with it. Rather than making an unlistenable riot of noise, Guzik’s recordings here are as much concerned with the enormity of time and space, and the way everything blurs, slows and distorts, reduced to a low hum as its ends move further and further apart.

Creating a slow-motion soundscape of almost incomprehensible enormity, chimes burst like terrestrial gongs, rippling vibrations into the cosmos. The first track is an otherworldly cloud of drifting, turning sound in which time stands still.

Long, low, languorous notes are hang in space for aeons; time stalls as the notes turn imperceptibly for eternity after eternity. The second track continues in the same vein, but works from a broader sonic palette, with elongated drones rising and drifting over the interminable sonic mass. Long, low undulations ripple slowly beneath long, tapering trumpets of fluid tonality. An eerie sonic ooze which hangs in suspension between time and space, it’s the sound of all sound, singing out across infinity.

 

Ariel Guzik - Cordiox

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23rd December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

This is Nine Inch Nails? That whipcracking Roland snare, thin and snappy, in a landlside of scuzzed-out bass noise, sounds more like Metal Urbain or offshoot Dr Mix and the Remix. Were it not for the distinctive vocals, the throbbing punk guitars of ‘Branches_Bones’ isn’t immediately regonisable as the work of NIN. But then again, it does distil into its explosive one minute and forty-seven seconds all the violent fury of the best tracks recoded under the NIN moniker. Nevertheless, you weren’t expecting that, were you?

Or maybe you were. Trent Reznor had not only promised new material before the year was out but also warned, on announcement of the release of Not the Actual Events, that ‘it’s an unfriendly, fairly impenetrable record that we needed to make’. And it is.

‘Dear World’ is dark, murky, tetchy, twitchy, deeply electronic. Bleepy synths ride the crest of an insistent drum loop, while Reznor croons in a hushed tone. It’s probably the closest they’ve come to looking back to the Pretty Hate Machine days, and I can’t help but think of the stark, claustrophobic groove of ‘Ringfinger’.

The six-minute ‘She’s Gone Away’ is a messy, mid-tempo dirge that, with its dense, dubby bass groove calls to mind ‘Reptile’ from The Downward Spiral (which along with its immediate predecessors in the shape of Broken and Fixed still stand as the band’s artistic apogee, and there’s nothing which quite scales those heights to be found here). ‘The Idea of You’ is a tense affair, and the thunking, leaden guitar slabs border on Nu Metal. Reznor builds layer upon layer of vocal until there’s something approximating an entire arena’s worth of voice – or a choir’s worth, at least, and it’s actually quite uncomfortable. If the cacophony of overdriven guitars, anguished vocals, layered synths and extraneous noise, which build to a cranium-compressing density sounds like classic Nine Inch Nails, that’s because it is.

Unveiled on the same day as the EP to advance purchasers, ‘Burning Bright’ is brutal assault buried in a dense sonic sludge. And yes, it is unfriendly, a grinding bass-led barrage that draws together the pulverizing grate of Melvins with a black metal and the ground between dark ambient and black metal. Don’t come looking for a chorus or nifty hook here: this track is predominantly about battering the listener. Yet for all its weight, there’s a contrarian element to the arrangement, with bombastic synths and an extravagant guitar solo that goes on – and on.

The overall effect of this bears parallels with Foetus’ Butterfly Potion EP; emerging as a standalone studio release, it was a relentless sonic assault, and a productional tour de force. In the same way, Not the Actual Events is evidently a studio-borne project, which utilises the kit available to achieve a bewildering sonic experience.

From reading Linda Hutcheon on postmodernism, and from digesting William Burroughs’ theories of the cut-up, I’m aware that history is essentially a construct, a representation and reinterpretation of events. As such, while it may be entirely coincidental, it’s notable that Not the Actual Events emerges synchronously to a bundle of souped-up, ultra-deluxe expanded and ‘definitive’ reissues of back-catalogue classics, which are a boon for collectors or a cynical and sacrilegious cash-milking exercise, depending on your perspective. It’s interesting, then, that while Reznor rewrites his own history, his latest material also contributes to its development, drawing on elements of the past while very much looking to the future.

Not the Actual Events is a stronger work thanks in no small part to its brevity: having kept it concise and focused, it has impact to match its density.

And if anyone’s ordered the digital version rather than the vinyl, I’d love to know what the ‘physical component’ is when it’s delivered. If it’s simply a CD, I’ll not be impressed.

 

nottheactuaevents

1st December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With Stranded on the Path, The Clouded Lights showcase a sound that’s very much rooted in the distinctly post-millennium revisioning of the post-punk sound, in the vein of early Interpol, Editors, et al, as well as contemporaries both regional (The Exhibition, for example) and international (New York’s New Politicians come to mind). So, there’s a real precedent, and a sense that The Clouded Lights are part of an expansive zeitgeist. Increasingly, it feels like that zeitgeist exists under the shadow of the apocalypse: the fear of the mushroom which loomed large over the 1980s is in many ways reborn in the 2010s (which still don’t sound like a real decade, but what can you do?) It’s an observation I’ve made previously, but the point is worth restating: the parallels between the early 1980s and the present are astounding – and depressing – and it’s small wonder that so much contemporary music echoes the sound of 30-odd years ago.

One of the key elements in the bands of the original new wave – Joy Division in particular, but listen to any of the darker, gothier bands, like Danse Society, Skeletal Family and you’ll find the same stylistic features – is strong, dominant drumming. The Clouded Lights have nailed the drumming, with a percussion style that’s urgent, tense, and, importantly, tight. The EP’s first track, ‘Borrowed Hearts’, is arguably the strongest and an obvious choice of lead, which balances bounce and bleakness, and is propelled by a busy, bluster-filled bassline that brings energy.

I’m a sucker for songs driven by rolling tom-led drumming, and the slower ‘Barter With the World’ ticks the box nicely. Chiming guitars and a vocal melody which casts melancholy shades define the song, and across the EP’s four tracks, there are some strong harmonies.

While shaded with heavy hints of darkness and defined by spindly, fractal guitars, Stranded on the Path is by no means a wholly bleak, pessimistic release, and the strong choruses and a leanings toward more uptempo material means it’s a release that’s inspiring, rather than a soundtrack to hang yourself to. It’s also a strong set, which suggests that, with live dates booked for the new year, The Clouded Lights could well be ones to watch in 2017.

 

The Clouded Lights - Stranded on the Path

Hidden Seer – HDSR001 – 25th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Aside from being a member of Leeds-based good-time festival-favourite indie band and all-round musical entertainers Hope and Social for some six years, Simon Goff’s list of collaborators is impressive, featuring among their number Aidan Baker and Pere Simonelli of Enablers. He’s an artist who can seemingly turn his hand, adeptly, to myriad musical forms. And on HUE – an album which couldn’t be further from the jaunty fun of H&S – he explores forms in the vaguest, most mutable, shifting, fleeting sense. Glitchy beats flicker through rippling strings. Tempos and counter-tempos criss-cross subtly, creating the impression of different currents running together but at different depths. It all happens beneath the surface.

Each of the album’s six colour-coded tracks is sculpted meticulously from layers of sound, the arrangements marrying electronic and conventional acoustic instruments to compelling effect. Percussion of a palpating heartbeat, glitchy crackles and mournful strings drift over low-end scrapes and rumbles. Eventually, the dark atmosphere gives way to light, blossoming brightness beams like the sun’s rays breaking through cloud. Yet there are shadowy currents which still flow beneath. After a rather grand opening, there’s a retreat into more minimal, drone-orientated sonic territories. Soft contrails are calligraphed in subtle, supple string arrangements. The space between the beats and notes is integral to the compositions: the echo, the decay. The overlap. A single note, plucked with varying weight.

Elsewhere, as on ‘Blue’, Goff creates a rarefied atmosphere through the exploration of the most minimal arrangements. Elongated, tapering drones which shift almost imperceptibly, with broad sweeps of sound like steely grey clouds turning, moving.

Picked notes and irregular rhythms combine to create somewhat disorientating sonic spaces; the shimmering oscillations of tr6 are trance-inducing hypnotic, but the erratically-cut and irregularly lopped sample snippets rupture the gentle surface with dislocation. The tracks drift into one another, creating a natural-feeling flow that, while not narrative, does possess a certain subtle linearity.

 

simon-goff-hue

Bearsuit Records – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It begins with an immense drumbeat and a warped guitar that calls to mind early Swans as it warps and distorts… but then, behind a piston-pumping mechanoid beat, it all goes a bit Stereolab. Within a minute, I’m feeling confused, disoriented, as chimes hang gracefully in the air above a demonic, guttural snarl and discordant synth chimes and eerily chirpy whistles. What the actual fuck is this? And how does the music relate to the title, or vice versa? Nothing about the album is remotely evocative of plump older women with their eyes down, smashing away with their dabbers in the bustling pursuit of the next line, and nor does it conjure any images of the 70s heyday of the bingo hall, the smoke-hazed babbling equivalent of the WMC. Annie & the Station Orchestra’s Bingo Halls is an entity unto itself.

Pitched by the label as ‘a little experimental and challenging in places’, it’s also sold as being ‘very melodic, playful and pretty accessible in its predominantly instrumental context.’ These things are all relative, of course and this is a Bearsuit Records release: these guys are all about the far-out, the whacky, the weird – something I salute them for. There is, most certainly, a degree of melody and accessibility about this release but don’t think it’s some kind of Justin Beiber / Lady Gaga / Little Mix bollocks.

‘King of the Idiots’ is a brilliantly-engineered electro-pop instrumental with a dark edge, minor chords played on analogue synths wend their way over a thumping programmed beat that says ‘1984’. It builds and swerves and builds some more until it’s ascended to the position of towering space-age electro-rock. The lilting melody of ‘The Return of Banjo Williamson’, which amalgamates elements of oriental chimes with a thrumming bass and juddering electronic beats, quite unexpectedly evokes the spirit of latter-day Cure before going all weirdy Muzak electro.

Doodling, noodling guitars and synths, drenched in echo, place the album somewhere between electronica, Tangerine Dream style ambient Krautrock and post-rock. Is there a term yet for electronic post-rock? If not, there bloody ought to be, and someone needs to let me know what it is, like, yesterday. It’s not as if worriedaboutsatan haven’t been straddling these very genre divides for around a decade. Still, Annie & the Station Orchestra offer something that’s distinctive and unique, and while elements of the various tracks lean towards a range of identifiable genre trappings, the overall effect is one of abstraction, of immediate distraction, and of stubborn non-conformity. This makes for an album that’s idiosyncratically innovative, and stands proudly in a field of its own.

 

Annie & the Station Orchestra – Bingo Halls

GIZEH – 16th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Tabu, the film, was released in 2012 to a roundly positive critical reception (Rotten Tomatoes shows an accumulated score of 87%). The scale and scope of Christine Ott’s live soundtrack, which she’s toured as a cine-concert in mainland Europe are immense. Led by delicate piano pieces, Tabu is very much an album that’s dedicated to subtlety, to remaining in the background. This is very much the mark of a successful soundtrack: a well-considered and well-crafted soundtrack does not seek to take the foreground, but to provide an almost subliminal backdrop to the movement on screen.

I write as someone who grew up in the 80s – when soundtracks were a mix of classically big John Williams scores, and fairly lame generic electro / rock soundtracks headlined by a major theme tune performed by one of the headline acts of the day, often in the form of a power ballad. Think Starship’s ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’ and Huey Lewis and the News’ ‘The Power of Love’. Equally, the Bond films of the period, with A-Ha and Duran Duran delivering the title track. I came of age in the 90s, the decade of the way-cool soundtrack. Imagine Trainspotting, The Crow or Natural Born Killers

With wibbly bass tones and tremulously mournful violins – and / or is there a theramin squealing an eastern-influnced arabesque in the mix? – Ott creates a haunting atmosphere on ‘Hitu, la Grande Montagne’, a piece which is evocative and moving even when removed from its cinematic context.

‘Sorrow – Lover’s Dance’ is the first of two long pieces, and while hushed and sparse for much of its eleven-minute duration it manages to incorporate myriad cultural elements, with Kyoto motifs and finger cymbals chiming in the distance, slowly forging an eerie, minimalist kind of krautrock, an insistent rhythm fading to the horizon.

Musically , it’s an exquisite work, and while it’s visually evocative, appreciation is in no way contingent on having seen the film.

 

Christine Ott - Tabu

Dio Drone – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

OvO’s evolution over the last couple of albums has been substantial: the brutal, demonic mania of Cor Cordium was utterly terrifying in terms of just how dark and full-on it was. Not that Abisso was exactly a stroll in the park – in fact, it was truly petrifying – but some of the unbridled power of its predecessor was exchanged for a greater range, and a closer attention to nuance with the incorporation of texture and depth-bringing electronics.

Creatura marks another shift, and yet again, they’ve come up with something that sounds like it is not of this world. Pushing hard through the loud / quiet dynamic – with major emphasis on the loud, of course – the sound is has a dense, industrial quality. Combining live and programmed drums, with the bass and percussion tracks being first recorded live and then looped, sampled, overdubbed, overlayed and generally embellished, mangled and fucked with, it incorporates elements of black and industrial metal, but it’s so much more. And so much more spine-shakingly scary. This is beyond the realms of horror. It’s extreme, for sure. It’s an album that will smash your psyche.

The stop / start drums and snarling bass calls to mind early Pitch Shifter. Above all, it’s the percussion that dominates. The mechanised double-pedal bass drum sound pounds like fury while Stefano shrieks and howls through shards of feedback on opener ‘Satanam’. ‘Eternal Freak’ explodes with drums on drums, the snare sound approximating planets exploding, and guitars like jet engines roar with cranium-cracking intensity. The deep, snarling vocal on the title track is from beyond the bowels of hell and cannot possibly have emerged from the throat of anything with even a strand of human DNA. What kind of creatura is this? It’s a mutant beast from the deepest netherworld, and that’s for sure.

While the bulk of the material is driving and muscular, the sample-strewn experimental breakdown of ‘Matiarcale’ strips things back to a kind of mutant hip-hop. The fear chords which swim around the pulverizing drum track introduce another layer of disturbance.

The appropriately-titled ‘Zombie Stomp’ reveals a hitherto unseen facet of the band, manifesting as a glam rock boogie – OvO style, of course. It’s still loud, hard and heavy, but there’s even an approximation of a vocal melody, albeit one as performed by Alvin Stardust’s reanimated corpse after it’s been possessed by the spirit of Zuul.

‘Buco Nero’ continues in this vein, a post-punk track at heart, with a tune and everything, but churned to a gut-wrenching doom-filled sludge. Counerpart ‘Buco Bianco’ is a techno-disco behemoth, along the lines of Chris and Cosey collaborating with Bathory. It would be a danceable pop tune if it wasn’t so utterly fucked up. The same can’t be said of ‘Bell’s Hells’, which is a minute and a half of thunderous savagery. Closer ‘March of the Freaks’ has hints of Nine Inch Nails about it but the stuttering beats and gnarled vocals make even Broken sound like Soft Cell.

It’s the fact that Creatura so often hints at accessibility which never emerges in actuality which renders it such a fearsome and disturbing work. Whereas Cor Cordium and Abisso were truly other-wordly, Creatura inches close enough to recogniseable forms to offer a warped reimagining of the world we know and as such, is deeply uncanny, in the Freudian sense. Weird, dark and intense, it’s an album only OvO could spew out: it’s also eye-poppingly awesome.

 

OvO cover