Archive for May, 2017

GoldMold Records – 24th June 2017

James Wells

‘The Sinking Feeling is testament to the fact that you can take crushing self-doubts and turn them into something else. With three totally unique personalities and backgrounds, the band converge on subjects of depression and loss. Each with their own trials, each member contributing to the unique dynamic that is proof that there is beauty and worth in every tribulation.’ So says the press release. Who would have known they’d have been from Glasgow? Not that all bands from Glasgow are depressed, miserable fucks,

Even without the blurb, the vocals are a dead giveaway, however murky the production. And the production is seriously murky. It sounds like a sock was stuck over the condenser mic they recorded the songs into while packed into one of their parents’ bedrooms. But beneath the mud is gold: the three songs which comprise the ‘One’ EP are magnificent slices of punky grunge alt-rock with some neat hooks buried like depth charges

There’s the bluster of Bug era Dinosur Jr about the three songs on this EP, particularly opening track ‘Standard’. Closer ‘Mary’ goes a bit more post-hardcore with some angry, throaty vocals contrasting with the slacker drawl that runs alongside.

Would it benefit from better production? No. This is music that’s real, raw, emotionally charged and played from the heart. And no multitracking and crisp EQing can supercede that.

 

 

The Sinking Feeling

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SOFA – 7th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I recall that in my teens, having read the word ‘ephemeral’ just once, I used it in conversation and mispronounced it, much to the amusement of one of my fellow students. My phonetic pronunciation is replicated in the title of Miguel Angel Tolosa’s album. There’s little relevance to this anecdote in the wider picture, but that’s actually the point. It was a brief moment in time, long past and irrelevant and inconsequential on every level but for the fact that it lives on as a moment of embarrassment in my memory. And herein lies the relevance. Moments only exist in the moment: any record or document of the moment may change the context, the complexion and the enduring recollection of the moment, but in the context of the ongoing continuum of time, once the moment has passed, it’s past.

There’s surely something of a contradiction in a recorded work centred around the concept of ephemerality. The very act of committing the sound to a recorded medium captures it in time, imparts a date stamp (literal or otherwise) and locks the moment for perhaps an eternity. Ephimeral exists within these contradictions. It doesn’t exactly explore them, but the compositions – individually and collectively – serve to create a fleeting atmosphere centred around transitions and contrasts.

While the majority of the album’s compositions are preoccupied with ambience – wide, sweeping sounds, building ever-shifting cloud formations in sonic form, with the threat of a storm always looming but never becoming an actuality – there are other pieces which break the mould of fleeting, fractal aural nebulousness to coalesce into something denser, if not necessarily more tangible or readily compressed into structured musicality.

The album starts dark, ‘Rio de Cristal’ dominated by an undulating low-end drone, which segues into ‘Tropismos’, on which a dark, murky swamp of sound is rent with barrages of grinding noise and attacks of snapping shrapnel akin to machine gun fire. It’s the kind of aural experience that makes the skin crawl and the nerves jangle.

Light and dark are juxtaposed throughout, often simultaneously, with menacing chords and notes which scrape like metal against fillings filtering beneath soft, expansive clouds of sound. And perhaps it’s in the experience and the sensations this music provokes within the listener that the ephemerality of Tolosa’s work is truly apparent. The listener is left chasing fragmentary thoughts and feelings, often conflicting, arising in response to the simultaneous aspects of the music.

So how does Ephimeral leave you feeling? By turns elated but tense, strained but calm, and ultimately confused and conflicted and adrift, at odds with oneself.

 

Miguel Angel Tolosa – Ephimeral

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m here as a paying punter. I’m here to pay tribute. As a fan of Swans from my mid-teens in the early 90s, I had never expected to see them play live. But the last seven years have yielded four albums of ever-expanding enormity and ambition; I’ve seen the band play not once, but three times, and had the opportunity to interview Michael Gira, an artist I’ve long admired. I’m here to experience that sonic force one last time, and to thank the band in my own small way for everything they’ve given since returning with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky in 2010.

The crowd swells steadily during Little Annie’s performance. Little Annie may be petite, as her name suggests, but she’s an awesome presence. She has insane cheekbones and intense eyes – more than once she fixes on me and I feel as if she’s boring into my soul. I fear she knows I failed to complete and publish a review of State of Grace, her 2012 album with Baby Dee. I’m feeling a pang of guilt over it now: she really does have an incredible voice. Rich, with a deep grain and so much soul. Her rendition of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shipbuilding’ packed so much emotion, and she remarked that she wished the song wasn’t still relevant today. Closing a set of originals and covers, she seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiastic and vocal audience response.

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Little Annie

Between acts, I was surprised to learn just how many of those who packed down the front were not hardened Swans gig-goers, but first-times, many half my age and only relatively recently acquainted with the band (standing there, on my own, sporting a fedora and a shirt with the Greed cover art on the front seemed a prompt for people to gravitate toward me and strike up conversations for some reason). I told them to get to the bar and get themselves some earplugs if they wanted to live.

Swans take to the stage at 8:30 prompt and begin to work a single throbbing drone. Ten to fifteen minutes later, not much has changed beyond the volume and intensity with which it’s played. Whereas once Swans were all about delivering a sustained and brutal assault, latter day Swans are very much focused on the slow-build.

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Swans

“I hope they play ‘Screen Shot’ one enthusiastic youth had said to me beforehand. Having done a spot of research on Setlist.FM, I was fairly confident that they would but instead pointed out that Swans’ live sets were less song-orientated and primarily concerned with the end-to-end succession of ebbs and flows and immense, sustained crescendos. They do play ‘Screen Shot’, and, indeed, the set broadly has the shape of the performance captured on the new live album Deliquescence. In other words, the bulk of the set is centred around ever-evolving performances of material from The Glowing Man and contains extended workouts unavailable in studio form and developed through the live performances. This may be the final tour of this iteration of the band, but they’re not looking back: there’s no ‘Oxygen’ or ‘A Little God in My Hands’, and there’s sure as hell no ‘Your Property’ or any other material hauled from the back catalogue to pander to any old-timers hankering after the classics of the band’s previous existence.

During tonight’s show, from my vantage in the front row, it’s hard to be certain if they achieve the totally annihilative volume I’ve witnessed previously, on account of the fact I’m in the front row. While the full force of Norman Westberg’s guitar and Christopher Pravdica’s bass amps blasting me at face level, and the band’s staggeringly vast backline being the primary source of sound, the comparative levels of the drums and vocals through the PA are dramatically reduced.

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Swans

Westberg’s patient guitar playing – he chews gum and nonchalantly cranks out a single chord for an eternity without blinking – sits perfectly against Pravdica’s tetchy, repetitive grooves, while Christoph Hahn remains dapper, hair slicked back, while torturing lap steel in the most unimaginable and sadistic of fashions.

The absence of Thor Harris does have an effect on the sound: the burly, hirsute percussionist brought heightened detail and texture to the band’s immense sound and both he and his huge gong brought something to the visual aspect of the show. Not that thee six men on stage produce a sound which lacks depth, range and detail, tonally or musically, and similarly, to witness six musicians play so cohesively, so naturally, while working so incredibly hard is quite something to behold. The expressions on their faces are of intense concentration but they do occasionally shoot one another knowing smiles and even break big grins from time to time. Gira’s unique and inimitable style of conducting his companions and the way the sound seems to be shaped, sculpted in real-time by his flailing arms and stomping feet isn’t a sight one easily forgets.

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Swans

Perhaps even more than on the swirling, two-hour long exploration which is The Glowing Man, the band’s – and no doubt given his recent comments about the future direction of the Swans project in its next phase – Gira’s growing interest in evolving a more abstract style of musical form is placed into sharp relief over the course of this endurance test of a set comprising a mere five pieces and with a duration fractionally in excess of two and a half houurs. He has the lyrics on laminated A4 sheets on a stand in front of him, but his vocal utterances are few and far between, and when not consisting of wordless drones and ululations, the syllables are elongated to abstraction and unintelligibility. This isn’t a problem or a criticism: it simply illustrates Gira’s move towards exploring the language of sound without the need for actual language.

After the show has been brought to a shuddering climax, they stand in line to receive a lengthy – and more than well-deserved – ovation. Gira introduces the players in turn before they take three long, leisurely and appreciative bows. We know we’ve witnessed something special, and, moreover, there is a sense of occasion. This is the end of an era. It’s been scary, unsettling, and nothing short of amazing. Swans: we thank you.

Svart Records – 2nd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Depending on your perspective, drone metal masters Gravetemple are either a(nother) Sunn O))) offshoot, or a supergroup. Comprising Oren Ambarchi, Stephen O’Malley and Attila Csihar, the trio have many interconnecting threads, and s Gravetemple, they create something quite different – and arguably more overtly ‘metal’ than any of their other projects.

According to the press release, ‘on Impassable Fears, Gravetemple have refined and diversified their nuanced form of all-consuming, abstract death metal inspired heaviness. The essence of their other-worldly vocal exhortations, the maelstrom of frenetic beats and heavy guitar sounds are ever-present, as is the sheer power of their delivery. Yet Impassable Fears is far from unrelenting, there’s shifting dynamics, revealing an abundance of unexplored sonic detail, across all intersections, deftly balancing minimalist and maximalist sounds with finesse.’

It’s true: there is considerable range in texture and tone, and Impassable Fears is not an hour-long solid wall of excruciating noise. But there is a lot of excruciating noise and punishing volume, and the sonic density of the songs as they’re recorded is optimal for the most part.

Opener ‘Szarka’ begins by melding a strolling, subterranean bassline and blustering beat to a shattering guitar which very quickly goes sludgy, and from thereon rapidly descends into guttural brutality. Shrieking demons flee in terror at the depth of the darkness conjured by the thick, blacker than black guitar noise. Crackling distortion and scraping feedback grate against a rumbling percussive attack on the ten-minute ‘Elavúlt Földbolygó (which translates as ‘World out of Date’). A twisted mess of psychedelic metal dragged from the bowels of the earth, it builds relentlessly, growing ever louder, ever more frantic, and ever more dense over the duration.

The experimental and atmospheric ‘Domino’ offers respite, exploring a throbbing electronic ambient vein to disorientating and unsettling effect, and segues into ‘Áthatolhatatlan Félelmek’, which pulls back on the full-on aural attack, at least during the first minute or so. The track instead proffers forth a sparser, but ultimately more sinister, more subtly atmospheric vision of hell. But eventually, the rolling thunder breaks out, demonic drumming drives a searing scourge of molten guitars and a droning bass that’s so low and so thick it realigns every last inch of the intestinal tract – and then continues to twist malevolent for what feels like a most uncomfortable eternity.

The tranquility of the haunting drift that is ‘Az Örök Végtelen Üresség,’ which closes the album is welcome, but there are darker undercurrents which run through. The final notes are crashing chimes which echo into silence, leaving more of a hanging question mark rather than a resolution or serving the listener with a sense of closure and relief.

 

Gravetemple artwork (by Denis Forkas Kostromitin

Sub Rosa – 6th March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Hey, I’m a sucker for any band who mixes rock, new wave, psyche, kraut, experimental and repetitive music. Consequently, I was sold on the pitch or Babils’ fourth album even before I’d slipped the disc into the player. Reduced to a five-piece following the passing of co-founder Michel Duyuck in November 2014, Ji Ameeto represents the first release of the Brussels-based collective without Duyuck.

The album contains just two tracks, each around the sixteen-and-a-half minute mark. The title track is one of those swirling psych-hued expanses which find layer upon layer of sound emerge, converge and diverge at an infinite array of angles. And all the while, the rhythm section keep on plugging away, thumping out a hypnotic, motoric beat and locked-in bass groove. If my opening sentence reads sarcastically or as being somehow facetious, that’s only partly the case. There is something about long songs that go on and on and on that I find hard to resist. Perhaps it’s an extension of Henri Bergson’s theories on comedy, whereby he suggested that repetition was a key facet of successful comedy, to music that render such heavily repetitious grooves so compelling. Or perhaps it’s the fact there are effectively two songs going on here: the unstinting, relentless rhythm section which hammers on down an unswerving path, countered by everything else, not so much a hotchpotch of incidentals but a succession of fragments and slivers of songs overlaid in top of said rhythm section.

‘C’est la raison pour laquelle nous ne cesserons jamais de recommencer’ throws together a spaced out baggy bassline and shoegaze guitars – and production values – with dark, gothic overtones. Honking horns bleat wildly at incidental junctures, while spiralling guitar breaks rupture from the vast foggy vistas conjured from the swirling sonic depths. At times a cross between The Cure’s Carnage Visors and early Ride, but at the same time altogether more immersive and ‘druggy’ sounding, it’s a disorientating composition which not only celebrates but positively hinges on the contrast between the dissonance and weirdness of the lead lines, and the consistent solidity of the bass and drums as they drive onwards towards the horizon, holding down the same grove for an eternity and more.

 

Babils

It’s not so very often we get to shout about great bands doing work for essential causes we really believe in. It would be easy to be flippant and blame Bono and his ilk and the Comic Relief etc., crowd for the bad rep charity recods often have, but the fact is that the current focus on mental health has been a very long time in coming. For Three Minute Heroes, Warren Youth Project Initiative have taken a different kind of approach, and, with some great bands (a fair few previously endorsed by AA), have asembled an album of impressive quality.

Three Minute Heroes is a Warren Youth Project Initiative integrating Music and Mental Health.  Based in Hull, the Warren have taken successful musicians and connected them with school children from Hull and the East Yorkshire area as a way for the children to express their feelings through the lyrics and music.

15 artists including bands supported by BBC DJs Huw Stephens, Steve Lamacq and Radio X‘s John Kennedy have taken the childrens’ lyrics & turned them into a thought-provoking album: Three Minute Heroes: #HearMeOut.  

Hear and buy the album here:

 

Three Minute Heroes

Oracle Rouge – 28th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

French cyberpunk / dark-wave project Fixions are, they say, influenced by ‘classic movies such as Blade Runner, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, the extreme metal scene from the 90s, Amiga video games, Fixions evolves in a style mixing dark and surrealistic elements, bombastic, powerful production, and a solid 80/90s dystopic science-fiction aura.’ With this, their fourth album, they threaten ‘the most extreme and deep release they ever produced’ in the form of ‘a concept album inspired by classic cyberpunk fiction tales, where every track depicts one of the thousand dangers the “Edgerunners” will encounter when visiting the city at night [and] sees Fixions merging futuristic urban ambiances with dark epic elements and heavy, abrasive sounds’.

While the concept might not be rendered entirely explicit through the album’s 16 instrumental tracks, but themes emerge both from the audio content and the titles (not to mention the cover art) applied to the compositions: ‘Crimeware’; ‘Terrorwave’; ‘Black Chrome Riot’ all contrive to summarise the intent of Genocity, which to all intents and purposes does come across as a sort of reimagining of Neuromancer in audio form.

Jittery, skittery, interloping lead lines weave their way over thumping basslines that wow and drag, melded to stomping, insistent, industrial-strength disco beats. It’s all about the imposing soundscapes and minor chords, the tension and the relentlessly restive digital flittering. There are grooves aplenty – hard, driving eurodisco grooves packed back to back, interspersed with more contemplative Kraftwerk-inspired tracks.

Does it sound futuristic? Not really. The ‘80/90s dystopic science-fiction aura’ is all-encompassing. The sonic elements are all tried and tested, well-worn tropes which evoke the spirit of ‘the future’ as it looked in those line-green neon-hued imaginings from the 1980s. As such, it’s possible – and indeed hard to resist – viewing Genocity as a sort of nostalgia piece, in which the time and space being yearned for is a golden age in which the future – a future which ultimately failed to become the reality in the present in which we now find ourselves – offered exciting and near-infinite potentials. Perhaps the realisation of that failure is the thread which ties the fictional technological dystopias of the 80s and 90s to the bleak cyberreality of the Internet and the digital age as we now experience it. At least the dystopian digital futures depicted in fiction were, and are, just that – fiction. Artificial Intelligence and automation, a reality in which everyone carries a computer which pinpoints their precise location 24/7 have not given us more leisure time, or more freedom, but has instead overtaken and occupied every inch of everyone’s lives and resulted in the erosion of freedoms at a pace which perhaps even outstrips the technological advances themselves.

When faced with incalculable progress and its effects on the psyche, it’s only natural to regress to safe times. There is, beneath the tension and amidst the dark currents which flow through Genocity, a certain sense of a regressive channelling. And so while it may not be the sound of the future, it does provide a perfectly serviceable recreation of futures past.

fixions_genocity