Archive for January, 2018

Wolves & Vibrancy

Christopher Nosnibor

German label Wolves & Vibrancy is predominantly given to releasing metal, which makes worriedaboutsatan something of an unusual choice. Still, any release by the genre-straddling electronic duo is welcome regardless of who releases it. With two tracks spanning twenty-five minutes, Shift sits somewhere between an EP and a mini-album. And while it’s categorically not metal, because it’s worriedaboutsatan, it does, most definitely, err toward shades of darkness is places. But equally, because it’s worriedaboutsatan, it’s a work built on contrasts and detail.

On ‘Shift 1’, the rendering of those contrasts and details is analagous to a pencil sketch drawn with a relaxed, free hand, the shading effortlessly contoured by a smooth, easy, and relaxed wrist action to form soft, organic shapes and subtle movement.

A throbbing, low-to-mid drone swells dark, sombre. The first beats are but scratches. Paired, isolates. Hanging n space amidst the dense swirl. But they pick up – almost imperceptibly at first – and slowly, so slowly, begin to approximate a sedated heartbeat. From the building tension and growing density, just as it threatens to reach a critical mass of claustrophobia, emerges a soft, supple, rippling sound of light. Toward the end, a stippling, dappling pattern of light in the form of an interweaving motif rises on a slow wave.

‘Shift 2’ is more about stark contrast, black and white op-art flickers: the interweaving motif that surfaced, spectral, in ‘Shift 1’ takes on a new dynamic, a new tone, and dominates the front end of composition. The result is the sonic equivalent of a monochrome kaleidoscope, the patterns shifting in time and sequence with disorientating effect. Simultaneously calling to mind the vintage works of the likes of Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield and contemporary microtonal experimenters, it’s immersive and powerfully hypnotic. In time, it tapers away, and the temp slows, returning to the heartbeat bass and echoic click, before resurging around the mid-pint to weave a mesmerising sonic latticework.

Shift is appropriately titled given its endless evolution and morphology. In context of their oeuvre, its one of their ostensibly less ‘beaty’ releases, but it’ still displays the dynamism and sense of atmosphere that was have made their trademark since their emergence as premier purveyors of music that crosses post-rock and electronica. And as such, while it marks yet another evolutionary progression and expansion, Shift is quintessential worriedaboutsatan.

worriedaboutsatan – Shift

AA

The Fulford Arms, York, 14th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Two weeks into the year and I haven’t had a single night off writing CD reviews to drink beer and check out some live music. The simple fact is, times are hard and I’m in the mod to hibernate. But tonight’s extravaganza is one of four nights of epic showcase events to mark the fourth anniversary of the current management – Messrs Sherrington and Tuke – taking over the venue. It’s something that deserves to be celebrated.

Time was that there was nothing much to be found in York apart from acoustic blues. York became synonymous with blues. You couldn’t walk into a pub without some bloke with a guitar doing blues. Some of it was good. Some of it was extremely good. Some of was less good and the less said about the remainder, the better. It’s all too easy to have too much of a good thing, let alone a middling samey thing. The Fulford Arms, as was, was integral to the scene for a time. Then, everything changed. Under new management, The Fully Arms really started putting on proper gigs. Taking chances with less obvious artists. Sorting out proper lighting. And with a decent PA, upping the volume.

Tonight is one of four gigs showcasing the expansive range of local talent which is anything but centred around gentle acoustic blues. Of the four nights, this is perhaps the most eclectic, with everything on offer from quirky, theatrical avant-art folk pop to droning psyche, via hard-groove electro and post-punk pub-rock.

Having still been cooking with my own fat spatula at 6pm, I’m too late to catch the band Fat Spatula. Shame, because their brand of US-influenced alt-rock / indie is rather cool. I was also too late for the electro pop of Short Dark Stranger who I heard good things about. I suspect he was the gut standing to my left in the conspicuous silk shirt while I supped my first pint to the strains of Jonny Gill’s acoustic alt-rock which furnished the space between sets ahead of the arrival of Percy. These guys have been knocking around since forever, and still hit the mark (E. Smith) with their post-punk, Fall-influenced sneering takes on the workaday life.

In fact, the first time I heard Percy was circa 1998, at a pub just over the river. They were on the same bill as a band called Big Vicar, who were fronted by AB Johnson, who now forms one half of tonight’s headliners, Viewer, who meld sociopolitical lyrics and indie sensibility to driving dancefloor-friendly beats courtesy of Tim Wright, who in another world is the seminal TubeJerk.

There’s so much more than blues, and so much more than Shed fucking Seven going on here. Meabh McDonnel’s self-effacing kitchen-sink folk tunes are good fun: she’ll probably not take the compliment, but her voice is superb and her lyrics are funny and often poignant, and unstintingly honest and direct. The delivery is an integral part of the charm of her performance: it’s not about polish, but relatability and being real.

Soma Crew’s set is abridged due to apparent technical difficulties but out front their psych-drone attack had been sounding good, while Naked Six – the closest to blues it gets tonight – crank out the kind of vibrant, full-tilt set melding AC/DC and Led Zeppelin with a grunge twist that they’ve made their standard.

DSC_0184[1]

Naked Six

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Viewer, seeing as they called it a day before re-emerging as Stereoscope a while ago – and playing in darkness for the majority of their set, or otherwise illuminated only by stark backlit images. I’ve watched – and reviewed – these guys more times than I can recall, and not because I invariably drink too much beer at their shows (AB is one of those guys who is just the best for sinking pints and talking bollocks with – but, miraculously and ever the professional, he always manages to deliver the lines, cast the poses, and, just as miraculously, stay upright during their sets). They’re late starting, but this seems to work n their favour: the audience is even more buzzed up and ready and they groove hard as Johnson throws his shapes and wry commentaries into the space before him. They get down, albeit a bit tipsily – to Wright’s insistent beats and grinding synths. And Viewer were – are – ace because they straddle the line of playing dumb and acting up to dumbness.

DSC_0190[1]

Viewer

Every single last one of the acts playing on tonight’s bill could go far given the right breaks and adequate effort. But this is the time to simply celebrate a landmark moment for a venue that’s spent the best part of its four-year existence punching well above its weight (Ginger Wildheart? Wayne Hussey? The March Violets? to name but three) while providing a space for some far-out and emerging acts. Hell, they’ve even had me on, more than once. But this is what small independent venues are for. It’s so hard to get a break these days, and it’s venues like this, with open doors and open minds, which keep new music alive.

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

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

884850

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