Archive for May, 2017

17th April 2017

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: because neither music reviewing nor cranking out postmodern novels no-one reads doesn’t pay the bills, like most writers and people slugging along in the lowest reaches of the music industry – personally, I like to pretty it up by describing it as ‘operating at a grass roots level’ – I’m compelled to endure the drudge of corporate life to survive. After a bad day at the office – which is every day – I like the fact I can either escape into discovering brilliant new music. Equally, it’s immensely satisfying to savage a release just because I can’t get away with calling my boss a cunt and the rage has to find some outlet.

So here I am, unwinding with a pint of homebrew and among the email stack that’s perhaps even more terrifying than my inbox at work, and Plastic Baricades present themselves. I really shouldn’t like this: the band cite an incongruous list of influences including Radiohead, Oasis, The Shins, Biffy Clyro, Coldplay, Muse, Razorlight, and Nirvana.

They’re pitches as being ‘romantic and honest, gloomy and curious, melodic and melancholic’, a band who ‘chronicle life in the troubled yet fascinating XXI century with painstaking sincerity.’ No question: these are troubled and fascinating times. If we entered the new millennium with a sense of trepidation, there was no way anyone could have predicted the shitstorm that is Trump and Brexit and… well, the list goes on.

‘How Goldfish Grow’ is a supremely summery tune with a feelgood vibe. It’s built around a nagging guitar line and buoyant bass groove, and with a huge, hooky, singalong chorus, infectious may be a cliché but the most appropriate word going to describe ‘How Goldfish Grow’.

Plastic Barricades

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Sê-lo Net Label – 12th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This isn’t an album that’s easy to position, but I’m not about to labour any hyperbolic proclamation that it’s genre-defying or even unique in its hybridity. The press blurb pitches Stars are a Harem as a modern day answer to Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, where the music is steeped in the avant-garde tradition while being accessible to the public ear thanks to “pop” recording techniques and a softening of the harsh sounds associated with the 1960s avant-garde amidst American jazz music.

I’d actually go so far as to say that aside from some unconventional structure as some unusual and incongruously explosive percussion – and perhaps a tendency to incorporate unexpected stops and starts to stutter the flow of the subtle, mellow and overtly jazz-inspired instrumentation – Stars Are A Harem is a raw and soulful work which has mass appeal.

Gaugh has one of those voices that wows people: you just know that casual listeners catching him perform a low-key club show (and I rather suspect that’s the kind of show Gaugh tends to perform) would absolutely melt and rush to the merch stall once they’d done clapping their hands off, even if they hadn’t quaffed a quart of prosecco. Yes, he has soul: deep, deep soul. And however wayward or experimental some of the songs are in their conception, and however ‘jazz’ the pieces are stylistically, the execution is smooth.

Alongside urgent, arrhythmic drumming, not to mention segments of deftly created and technically impressive drumming, strolling soothing and strolling basslines, pegged back and considerate (even when they build to the calamity of thunder) are a consistent feature of Stars Are A Harem.

While Stars Are A Harem clearly and explicitly exploits the wilder tendencies of avant-garde jazz stylings, it also does a while lot more. Moreover, while Stars Are A Harem excitingly finds Micah Gaugh mine an avant-garde seam, the more experimental tendencies are kept rigorously in check. And herein lies the album’s greatest achievement, in that it’s an overtly accessible and enjoyable album, but one with unconventional undercurrents, pitching to the underground and the overground at the same time.

 

 

 

Micah Gaugh – Stars Are A Harem

Burn Church Press – 26th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Just because I’ve spent the last decade whittling down my cassette collction from over 500 to fewer than 50 doesn’t mean that I don’t think the tape renaissance isn’t cool. It represents a return to the appreciation of tactile, physical media, as well as a format that has a certain fragility which adds to its appeal: the idea that the cassette was cheap, convenient but also potentially damageable and disposable means that it’s possible to enjoy something of an ambivalent or even conflicted relationship with cassettes, often on a tape-by-tape basis. The return of the cassette suggests bands are haring back to a bygone age when acts – before the advent of the CD-R – would sell tapes at their gigs. These were often bands too new or too skint or too unsigned to have any vinyl releases.

The title of the debut release by Newcastle post-punk band Lost on Me also reminds us of the pre-internet era when bands would cut a demo and send it around gig promoters and record labels the like in the hope of getting gigs and more exposure, or even a recording contract and the chance to record in a proper studio rather than on a beaten-up four-track borrowed from a mate.

‘Protection’ bursts from the speakers in a blizzard of fractal, interlooping guitars, a mass f chorus and delay, and one might be forgiven for an initial thought which incudes Editors by way of a reference point – I’m thinking forst album era, I’m thinking ‘Munich’ in particular. But then Martin Downing’s dense, dark baritone enters the mix, and its heavy timbre has far more ‘gothy’ connotations, calling to mind Chris Reed from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.

‘Landslide’ is a chiming pop tune at heart with a nagging guitar line, but the throbbing bass and deep, growling vocal casts heavy shade across its sunny surface. Third track ‘Balance’ brings a sinewy tension and a density that, again, is reminiscent of the Lorries.

The stuttering bursts of drums propel the wistful, emotive closer, ‘New Beginnings’ into territories which bring together contrasting dynamics to good effect, and once more indicate that these guys have studied the darker (and often more drum machine driven) side of the early 80s alternative scene. The production also contributes to the effect in a major way, with deep, deep reverb all over everything and a slightly hazy, murky analogue veil hanging over the guitars, in particular the thick bass tones. It’s all in the details, and they’re certainly not lost on me.

 

Lost on Me - Demonstration

ti-Records – TIRECS004

Christopher Nosnibor

What do you need to know about this album? Well, GIW is the solo project of trumpeter & performer Pablo Giw. He hails from Cologne, Germany, and Never is Always is his debut album.

‘Morning Machine’ finds Pablo spin some rhythmically-intoned spoken word that’s archetypally beat in its style and delivery. Slow, subsonic trip-hop beats glitch beneath warping free jazz parps which cut their way across spaced-out drones.

A nagging looped motif provides the core of the framework of ‘What’s Outside Isn’t There’, and it’s around this that changes in tempo and tonality, force and spirit that the atmosphere and mood of the piece shift over its duration. The blurb describes GIW as ‘having electronic music in mind, but creating it by acoustic and instrumental means’, and while there are times when his plays the trumpet like a trumpet, over the course of the album’s eight tracks, he demonstrates a stylistic eclecticism and inventiveness that’s hard not to admire.

Never is Always finds GIW striving to ‘redefine his role as a trumpet player and us[ing] his instrument as sound generator for complex harmonic layers, a drum machine or as a filter for his voice. It’s when GIW pushes his boundaries the furthest that he’s most impressive and successful compositionally, and while the more obviously trumpet-led, jazz-flavoured compositions like ‘The Golden Calf’ aren’t short on late-night hot city isolation tension and atmosphere, even with the swaying rhythms which underpin its loose groove. Far more interesting are the swelling cathedrals of unsettling noise which form the fabric of the short but intense cracking blast of ‘Right Endeavour,’ which forges a dense noise which is both electro and other-wordly in its manifestation.

If the dreamy soul which occupies the first half of ‘I Saw You – Trouble’ is unremarkable s of and in itself, the fact it sounds like it’s a synth tune is indicative of Pablo’s technical abilities, and when it skips into darker, glitchier terrain around the mid-point, the context is rendered even more impressive.

‘Hain’ barrels into avant-garde technoindustrial territory, with clattering, clanking percussion and blasts of white noise that calls to mind the experimentalism of early Cabaret Voltaire or Foetus.

Never is Always is nothing if not varied in its approach and style, and in being something of a mixed bag isn’t wholly consistent. However, it would be wrong to be overly critical, and not only because it’s GIW’s first effort but because it’s the work of an artist willing to explore, to experiment, and to throw it all out there. It’s less a matter of variable quality as a matter of taste, and while I abhor anything that whiffs of ersatz Beatnick bollocks, that’s just me, and what really matters is that Never is Always is an ambitious and eclectic effort which shows that we’re looking at an artist with substantial and possibly unique potential.

TIRECS004_front

Exile on Mainstream – EOM082 – 23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

So, are Tricky Lobsters anything like Scottish indie band of the 1980s, Close Lobsters? No. They may share a crustacean genus, but sonically, Rostock-based rockers Tricky Lobsters swim in very different waters indeed. They’re little known outside their native Germany, where they have a substantial following, but it’s well known that the Germans really do like their rock and that British acts who enjoy only cult status domestically are huge over there (take, for example, The Sisters of Mercy and Placebo, who regularly headline festivals there while receiving comparatively little attention back home).

Worlds Collide delivers everything you’d likely want from a proper rock album that has no pretence of being anything else. Opener ‘Bitter Man’s Fame’ sets the tone, with big, ballsy blued-based rock riffage amped up to eleven. Think Mötörhead covering 70s ZZ Top. Or perhaps the other way around: like ‘Just Got Paid’ played with gnarly aggression. And then with a big, greasy dollop of psychedelic biker attitude spat in on top.

‘Big Book’ is a quintessential heard rock tune: it’s not subtle, and it’s not especially clever, but it is big, especially in the chugging rhythm guitar and twiddly breaks department. But what separates Worlds Collide from so many albums of its ilk is just how dense it is, just how thick and up-front the guitars are, how much attack these guys bring to the performance.

They’re a proper power-trio, and it’s the thunderous rhythm section that holds it all together as they piledrive though riff-led behemoth after riff-based behemoth. The slower, quieter moments, like the reflective first section of ‘Dreamdiver’ with its picked guitar and sad-sounding strings only serve to accentuate the meaty heft of the bulk of the album’s nine cuts.

It may, on the surface, seem like rather weak summary to state that Worlds Collide is a rock album you can really rock out to, but given just how diluted and limp so much so-called rock music is these days (I’m not being an old fart: we exist in a time where PVRIS and Linkin Park are classified as rock bands. I mean… seriously), it’s refreshing to hear something as unapologetically old-school and played with energy and guts as Worlds Collide.

 

Tricky Lobsters - Worlds Collide

It seems like an age since we heard from Officers, even by their standards, and they’re not a band renowned for their prodigious work rate.

Following the release of the band’s debut album, On The Twelve Thrones, OFFICERSembarked on two celebrated tours with electronic music pioneer Gary Numan, forming a strong friendship that led to the penning and releasing the C.A.L.M. charity-supporting single ‘Petals’ together on the bands own label (hitting No.2 on the German airplay singles charts), and collaborating on various remixes together.

OFFICERS have written and recorded tracks for TV and Film including for ‘The Blacklist’, ‘The Finder/Bones’, ‘Scrubbing In’ and ‘BBC Earth’. The band have remixed, toured and collaborated with artists such as Placebo, and Linkin Park.

The band are Official Ambassadors for the mental health charity the Campaign Against Living Miserably (C.A.L.M) and work with the charity on a number of awareness raising events and campaigns each year.

But On The Twelve Thrones was almost six years ago, and even ‘Attack’, the first single from the forthcoming album emerged over a year ago now. Still, quality beats quantity, and as is always the case with Offers releases, ‘Born in May’ was worth the wait. Watch the vid here:

 

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This is it Forever – 12th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

It may only contain two tracks, but Gavin Miller’s latest solo offering is not only magnificently executed but also displays the epic qualities of a full album over its understatedly intense twenty-minute duration. Released digitally and as a USB lightbulb, the concept extends far beyond the title, although the music this release contains does very much explore the contrasts between light and dark – not in the extreme contrasting sense, but in the form of subtly arranged compositions which exist in the space between the two, a shadowy intermediate space.

It begins with an echoing piano chord and hesitant beats kept low in the mix swathed in a sea of reverb. Acoustic guitar and tapering synths enter the mix and gradually the layers build, both in terms of sound and atmosphere. There’s almost a touch of mid-90s Swans about the hypnotic repetition and opiate sedation which permeates the track’s first segment. Slowly, the structure evaporates, leaving a fogged air in suspension, intangible yet still in motion. And then the heavy beats – bassy, bulbous, booming – begin to drop against the sparse contrails which linger and drift. And so ‘Floodlit’ intimates – by means of a deliberate, repetitive motif structured essentially around two picked chords which transition to another place altogether – the power of artificial light penetrating darkness.

‘A Brief Flicker’ presents a different kind of illumination, something altogether more fragile and less harsh than the fixed white glare of the floodlight. While a haunting three-note sequence hovers in the background, this is a track which is overtly ambient, and with a loose structure built around amorphous sound which drifts and rumbles around the canals of the mind.

Gavin Miller - Illuminate

Contrast is the key here: the two pieces are contrasting within themselves, and against one another. The lighting may not be bright but it’s in the direction and the relief it shines that Miller steers the focus onto less obvious details.

Gavin Miller - Bulb