Archive for January, 2018

Dependent /Amped – 26th January 2018

It would be easy to criticise Kirlian Camera’s new album for being a genre stereotype, entrenched in darkwave clichés of thumping disco beats propelling shuddering sequenced bass undulations and chilly, inhuman synth sweeps. But having formed in 1980, the Italian act, having mutated from pedalling synth-pop to progress into darker territories as the 8s progressed, are part of the first wave of bands to fore the style.

As maligned and misunderstood as it is, goth and its subcultures and musical substrains have endured, impervious to fashion, and any ebb and flow which has witnessed an upsurge in popularity has seemingly been coincidental.

I’ve no aversion to electronic music, but as a general rule, dark wave / cold wave music leaves me, well, cold. It’s not that synths and carefully produced vocals can’t convey emotional depth and that there is nothing to connect with, but as a style, it tends to lack humanity and consequently resonance. There’s music you hear, and music you feel. The electronic strains of goth all too often tend to be heavily stylised, entrenched in the well-established tropes.

As a listener and critic, I’m in no position to judge or undermine the actual emotional content of the lyrics or to question their sincerity. I am no-one to challenge how strongly any individual feels something, and I’m the last person to deride a so-called goth for being sensitive. It’s a matter of articulation: eternally drawing on a limited bank of metaphorical references and stock-phrase imagery, it feels more like the feelings are pulled tightly into a corset or genre conformity than a true release of pent-up, innermost pain. Moreover, the drama-focused delivery feels to careful, too meticulous in its presentation.

Despite a shifting line-up over the years, Elena Fossi has covered vocal duties since the turn of the millennium, and her melodies are excellent, strongly delivered with grace and nuance. So what’s the issue? It’s certainly not technical or compositional. It’s not about lack of range in terms of tone or tempo, either: ‘Helium 3’ goes all swampy, with whiplash snare and a stark, minimal synth chord sequence reminiscent of The Human Leagues ‘Being Boiled’ overlaid with creeping fear chords, atmospherics and samples. ‘Kryostar’ brings robotix vocals and a pounding technoindustrial beat, and a relentless juggernaut groove paired with soaring, choral operatics.

But whether it’s rolling piano and breathy vocals building the drama, as on ‘Traveller’s Dream’, or bombastic synth explosions, Hologram Moon feels very stylised, controlled. And thus we return full circle. It would be easy to criticise Kirlian Camera’s new album for being a genre stereotype, but however well-crafted, well-performed and well-produced, it would be difficult to compliment it for being anything more.

AA

Kirlian Camera - Moon

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Cleopatra Records – 29th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Duran Duran without Simon le Bon? Yes, indeed. Their earliest iteration featured Stephen ‘Tintin’ Duffy. Andy Wickett, formerly of TV Eye subsequently stepped in on vocals, before Simon joined the band. And yes, however synonymous with slick veneer 80s style and pop music, Duran Duran very much always were a band. Real musicians playing real instruments. Le Bon’s vocal talents may have played second to his image, but his voice played an integral part in their overall sound.

This four-track demo, recorded in 1979, includes an early version of ‘Girls on Film’ and, ‘See Me Repeat Me’ would later be reworked to become arguably the band’s defining song, ‘Rio’.

These cuts showcase a more new wave orientated sound, accentuated by Wickett’s more ragged and less overtly melodic vocal style. While the busy funk-laced bass that would feature in their later work is clearly in evidence, especially on ‘See Me Repeat Me,’ the vibe is more reminiscent of Gang of Four. The middle-eight is a chaotic, jazz-noise workout, and there’s a sharp, dark edge to it. The production (the songs were recorded at UB40s home studio) is altogether more direct and more raw than that which came to define the band’s sound on signing to EMI, and it’s in keeping with the more attacking style of playing.

‘Reincarnation’ is positively gothy, with Wickett taking his cues from Bowie and sounding more like Peter Murphy as he snakes his way around some chilly synths and urgent tribal percussion.

There’s a real urgency to ‘Girls on Film,’ the chorus of which is immediately recognisable when it emerges from the furious flurry of nagging clean guitars and driving funk-infused bass. But the verses aren’t only different musically and lyrically, but convey a very different perspective, with Wickett, who co-wrote the song, explaining that “the lyrics were actually inspired by the lives of the stars of old black and white movies…. It is important for people to understand the true origins of the song ‘Girls on Film’ and to hear the edgy sound that Duran Duran had in the beginning,” he says. “This song was inspired by the dark side of the glitz and glamour, where these perfect idols suffered tragedy and addiction. The film Sunset Boulevard was also a big influence with its tale of a fading movie star.” Shiny pop, it is not.

The last track, ‘Working the Steel’, is again percussion-heavy, with hints of Adam and the Ants, and the vocal hook is a howl. Duran Duran would never sound this angry or intense again, and of course, had they continued in this vein, they’d have likely achieved minor cult status with a couple of EPs and that would have been that.

As 80s icons, however polished and on-trend, however deeply they seemed to revel in surface, Duran Duran have, throughout their career, had darker currents and certain depths beneath the gloss. This – maybe – or, one would like to think – has played a significant part in their enduring popularity. That, and their capacity for great pop songs, of course. This release is very much a sketching out of ideas, rough, incomplete, unevolved. But it captures an energy, and, with the elements which would subsequently become prominent in their sound in place, does sound like the beginning of something: rather than simply a piece of juvenilia, it’s a relevant and insight-giving piece of history.

AA

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Undogmatisch – UNDOGMA3 – 19th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

This all sounds very complicated, both in terms of concept and execution. This is the first in a series of releases which contain remixes of tracks from the album Madame E, by Mirco Magnani and Ernesto Tomasini. So far, so straightforward. Madame E is ‘a free reinterpretation of Georges Bataille’s short novel Madame Edwarda (publ. in France 1941), in which Eroticism, Religion and Death are interlaced.’ Bataille is by no means an easy read. And while I’m yet to hear Madame E, ‘Plaisir’, at least in its remixed form, is by no means an easy listen.

Pink and white noise and strains of feedback which register in the range of bat-hearing jostle against jolting ruptures of panoramic bass frequencies and irregular, thumping, electronic beats. It pulsates and throbs and bristles and jars. With soaring, semi-operatic falsetto vocals drifting over the ever-swelling electro-industrial grind, it comes on like a deranged and super-intense hybrid of Scott Walker and Whitehouse. Maybe that could be a future project, by way of a counterpart to Walker’s collaboration with Sunn O))). Or maybe tis already fulfils that ultra-niche gap in the market.

So where’s the complication? Well, this release is credited to Ken Karter, the remixer, for a start, despite it containing music originally composed by Mirco Magnani and Ernesto Tomasini. So, this release is the first in a series which sits under the banner of MADAME E. Rèintérprétations et Remixes, which will be released periodically as one-sided 12” singles in limited editions of 10 – which is barely a test pressing – and digitally. These are designed to ‘include different points of view from artists somehow close to the album’s topics and atmospheres’. And after the last remix taken from the album, the whole remix series will be published as an album titled MADAME E. Rèintérprétations et Remixes.

I’m not entirely sure of the purpose of the individual digital releases, but that’s a question of economics and practicality. This is clearly less about practicality and convention than it’s about art.

It’s a release which invites meandering dissections and deep, analytical appraisal. It’s a release which likely deserves it, too. But there’s a time and a place, and a work so deeply invested in intertext and context. We’re in the realms of critical theory and reader reception, with a work which purposefully challenges its own place and function. But when high art meets populist electro tropes, anything goes. And with this, anything goes.

AA

Plaisir

Crónica 136 – 9th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something seriously awry with my promo download of the album. The tracks won’t play any audio, and instead flit by as if scrolling, searching through a menu on fast-forward. It’s a disorientating experience, and frustrating. But my curiosity I piqued, and so I feel compelled to piece together a review from the sources I can access, starting with the album’s BandCamp page on the label website.

The genesis and evolution of this collaborate project is described in the most factual of terms in the accompanying blurb.

To start AMT and Tarab exchanged materials and objects. AMT exchanged a single sound sculpture for Tarab’s collection of small objects. This material exchange led to activity. AMT manually manipulated, Tarab also, but more often than not he placed the sculpture in situations and let them work on it. Once again exchanges took place, this time of audio material. Elements where then selected and arranged and further rearranged; some left untouched and some where [sic] transformed.

I know little about either act, beyond the sketchy bios which accompany the release. On the evidence of the contents of this curious split album, Artificial Memory Trace – a project by Slavek Kwi, a sound-artist, composer and researcher interested in the phenomena of perception as the fundamental determinant of relations with reality – create fragments of sound, with seemingly random bumps and scrapes and whistles and near-mic distortions and whatever snippets come to hand tossed together to make bumpy, jumpy sonic rides. Very brief, bumpy, jumpy sonic rides at that: the seven AMT contributions to this release are under the minute mark, but what they lack in duration is countered by their intensity. They don’t make for easy or smooth listening.

Tarab’s seven pieces are lengthier and present a very different approach to composition and arrangement. Scuffling shuffling scrapes and thumps congeal to render soundscapes that couldn’t possibly sit within the ‘ambient’ bracket. It’s altogether too jarring, the intrusions unexpected and sometimes surprising. You can’t settle to this, you can’t mellow out or relax. If fact, this is a sonic experience that provokes twitchy, tetchy reactions. It’s not music to ‘like’ but to appreciate artistically. Its challenge is its strength.

None of this is to pitch one act against the other as being more ‘evolved’: if anything, their contrasting styles and near-duality is integral to the appreciation of this release.

How seriously should it be taken? Probably quite seriously. Nothing about Obex intimates an explicitly light-hearted release, an album geared towards ‘fun’. And yet amidst the dark, ponderous clanks and rumbles, something about Obex suggests an entertaining aspect, and also hints that this is art for the love of art over and above any grander narrative. And, context / no context, this is an interesting, textured work, rich in texture and dynamics.

AAA

OBEX

Candlelight Records – 23rd February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Having caught Black Moth live early on, before the release of their debut, I’m in a position to attest just how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown. And third album, Anatomical Venus shows their trajectory continues upwards and outwards: with each release, they’re bigger, and simply more.

If debut The Killing Jar was a rock-solid heavy rock album that revelled in the vintage riffery of Sabbath and its successor, Condemned to Hope was the sound of a band coming into their own and filing out their songs with heavier, denser chuggage, Anatomical Venues combines the strongest elements of its predecessors and brings an even harder, heavier edge, while at the same time bristling with even sharper hooks and stronger vocal melodies.

‘Buried Hoards’ blends grunge and goth to forge a dark grandeur, while the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Severed Grace’ finds Harriet bring a certain sneer and tantalisingly teasing edge to her delivery, which weaves its way around a serpentine lead guitar and super-dense bass throb. And across the album, Back Moth bring groove galore. Anatomical Venus leans toward the quicker tempo: ‘A Lovers Hate’ is less Sabbath and more Motörhead, a punk attitude informing the driving guitar-based assault. Compositionally, it’s stripped-back and simple, something that’s been core to Black Moth’s work from the outset: namely, that the riff is king. Front and centre, the riff. Simple, but effective, four chord workouts lie at the heart of most of the songs. In the world of both rock and pop, less is invariably more. Back Moth know this and exploit it well.

There’s no substitute for a beefy bit of guitar you can get your head down to. Not that they lack technical prowess: the solos are killer, but never overlong or excessively flamboyant. There’s simply no fat to be found on Anatomical Venus.

The album’s last track, ‘Pig Man’, lands somewhere between Lydia Lunch and Melvins, with a churning sludge metal riff and a sassy, semi-spoken verse… and noise. Cathartic, chaotic noise building to a climactic crescendo.

Black Moth’s strength has always been their knack for solid, hard rock that fundamentally plays to the rules – by which I mean, their focus has been quality over innovation. This is actually an admirable quality, because they’re a band who grasp what makes rock music rock. But Anatomical Venus sees the band extend their horizons, without losing sight of any of the qualities that made them in the first place. And in bringing everything all together, and making it tighter, tauter, and as dense and heavy as ever, Black Moth have delivered their strongest, most focused album to date.

AAA

Black Moth - Anatomical Venus

gk rec. 2018 – 4th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The ever-prolific and some enigmatic Gintas K kick-starts 2018 with his umpteenth album (26 available via BandCamp for a start) in fifteen years. We don’t hear much from Lithuania, and the chances are that the exploratory and chiselling works released by Gintas K will reach the broader populace is an injustice.

Acousma Light is a mangled mass of bubbling analogue bleeps and whistles, R2D2 slowly melting over a sulphurous swamp amidst an immersive smog of low-end hums and disconsolate drones. As such, it very much continues in the vein of one of the most confusingly-titled releases ever, 2014 (Attenuation Circuit 2017), which was released last year.

Gintas K (no relation to Michael K or the associated neoist project of multiple identity associated with the name) sits in the broad bracket of avant-garde in his approach to creation. He describes himself as ‘a sound artist exploring granules, hard digital, memories,’ and has had works released on an impressive array of labels which promote experimental and avant-garde works, including Baskaru and Crónica. But, perhaps more admirably, K continues to release material apace with or without label backing. This is an artist in the truest sense – one who places artistic endeavour before commercialism, and clearly creates by compulsion rather than being motivated by any desire to create ‘product’ of an overtly marketable nature. And there is nothing commercial or marketable about Acousma Light, an album with a detailed theoretical context which I shall sidestep here, because its not integral to appreciating the audio experience.

It’s awkward, uncomfortable, tense, jittery. The compositions – such as they are – are formed around flickering circuitry, skittering notes – not exactly musical, so much as resembling sparks flickering from a defective socket. Much of Acousma Light reminds of the pink noise extravaganza of early Whitehouse releases like Total Sex, or more contemporary works like

Yoshio Machida’s Music from the Synthi and Yasunao Tone’s AI Deviation #1, #2. It’s also an expansive work: the bulk of the nine ‘episodes’ extend far beyond the five-minute mark, with ‘Episode#3’ (17:24), ‘Episode#4 (9:27), and ‘Episide#7’ (12:50) really pushing the parameters with extended sequences of unsettling noise.

There’s nothing comfortable about any of this. There isn’t supposed to be. Unsettling noise, ever-shifting carpets of discomfort casting patters over which snakes slither and crawl: this is the shape of the ever-shifting shape of Acousma Light. Dark, murky, hazy: above all, this is an unsettling scred of noise which offers a different kind of immersive.

Gintas K

Everyday Life Recordings – 8th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

They’re described as ‘motorik-punk outsiders’. Something about those three words grabbed me. Individually, they’re words I read several times a day in reference to bands being thrust in y direction for a critical appraisal. The world of music PR and criticism – not that many critics seem to be especially critical these days – is awash with cliché. And cliché begets cliché: no-one’s interested in inventing the next big thing: it’s far safer all round to recreate the last big thing in an infinite loop of regression. Punk never died, it just got diluted and turned into guitar-pop for teens too sappy to handle anything heavy. But when did the Krautrock revival begin? When The Fall emerged with their Can-influenced repetitious racket in the second half of the 70s, acts like PiL and Joy Division may have cited leading exponents Can and Kraftwerk as a touchstone, but few really embraced the now-ubiquitous ‘Apache beat’ innovated by Neu! And it is ubiquitous, and has been for some years now.

Still, few punk bands of any strain incorporate relentless, repetitive 4/4 rhythms in an overtly Krautrock way. Moderate Rebels, however, have really made this their signature (if you’ll pardon the pun). Not that they’re ‘punk’ in the sense it’s commonly perceived, nor in any of its contemporary revisions: Moderate Rebels have very much taken the spirit of The Fall as their template, and having set the template, they work the absolute fuck out of it over the course of the thirteen tracks on this, their debut album.

There’s certainly something Fall circa Bend Sinister or Frenz Experiment about the chugging ‘Extraordinary’ with its drawling, monotone an almost off-key multiple vocals, repetitious lyrics and endlessly looping chord sequence and beat. It should be as tedious as hell, but the longer it stretches out, the more it drags you in, and it’s a killer earworm. The only criticism is that it simply isn’t long enough. It’s a trick they repeat on a number of occasions, with guitars that jangle and scrape at skewed angles over strolling basslines and pulsing synths. And all the while, the rhythms hold steady, mid-tempo, stomping along with minimal fills. These aren’t songs that follow verse / chorus structures, evolve, build, or ‘go’ anywhere. The effect is simply cumulative. And that’s only amplified over the album’s duration: dipping in’s fine, but it’s best played as a whole, and better still, on repeat for a full afternoon, to achieve optimal enjoyment and appreciation.

Moderate Rebels are by no means one-trick ponies, though, and there is more to The Sound of Security than calculated monotony and the ploughing of sonic furrows that dig into the psyche by virtue of sheer tenacity.

There are pieces which work spacious atmospherics, with sputtering vintage drum machines bursting through elongated e-bow drones and rippling piano. Elsewhere, the laid-back and loose ‘Waiting for the Water to Clear’, and the slacker country of ‘I’m Feeling the Deep State’ showcase a more indie, Pavement-y vibe.

But mostly, it’s about plugging away, chugging and thumping. The reverb. The repetition. And the repetition. And not to forget the repetition. There is no such thing as too much of a good thing.

AA

Moderate Rebels – The Sound of Security