Archive for March, 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s fitting that a band as wildly eclectic and sonically unpredictable as Bearfoot Beware should have a suitably varied and contrasting but complimentary lineup of bands on the bill for their album launch show. And it turns out that tonight is a night of energetic bassists.

Ganglions’ bassist is almost swamped by her instrument, but she kicks out some thumping basslines around which the Sheffield trio forge an unusual blend of grungy post-rock jazz with melody. It’s an unusual blend. Some moments border on the twee, a shade muso, even a touch indulgent in their noodliness, but their tightness carries the complexity of the songs’ structures and nagging, interloping guitar motifs which even incorporate currents of reggae and skiffliness. They’ve also got enough energy and drive – both the songs and the band themselves – to make it all pull together, making their set engaging and entertaining.

Ganglions

Ganglions

It’s quite the leap to go from a compact three-piece unit to the sprawling ten-legged groove machine that is ZoZo. RSI means that front man Tom has had to ditch the guitar and stick to vocals only. The two vocalists are set up in front of the small stage, and Fred really throws himself into the choppy, cutty guitar parts.

However, it’s the exuberant lunges of bassist Joe, who cranks out some driving bass noise, that provide the band’s most striking visual focal point, while sonically, it’s the big, raucous, sax sound that defines the band’s brand of art-rock. Their frenetic funk fusion calls to mind aspects of Gang of Four, Talking Heads, and Shriekback, but their more flamboyant inclinations and pop sensibility perhaps owes more to acts like The Associates, ABC, and Orange Juice. They’re as tight as they are lively, as well as being good fun.

ZoZo

ZoZo

Bearfoot Beware blur final soundchecking with the actual set, lurching headlong into scorching rendition of ‘Point Scorer.’ It’s a hell of a way to introduce the new album to the crowd, and they follow with a couple more newies before touching on the back catalogue. The songs twist, turn, lumber and lurch unpredictably, and as I watch them, I can’t help but wonder just how much they must rehearse to memorise the complex song structures and play every change with such precision. They don’t just play, either, but really perform. Again, it’s the bass player, Richard Vowden, who provides the axis around which the band spins, both as a physical and sonic presence. Energy emanates from him as he bounds and lurches around, legs going all over, a perpetual blur, his contortions almost literal interpretations of the musical compositions, while the chunky grooves hold down the spasmodic, fractured guitars.

Bearfoot Beware

Bearfoot Beware

Their Pavement meets Shellac meets No Age stylings make for an angular racket, but it this somehow suggests a band out of time and hung up on the US alternative scene of the 90s, its delivered with a twist that’s representative of the contemporary Leeds scene. It’s perhaps hardly surprising that a band whose members have established a rehearsal space and studio that lie at the heart of a DIY subscene all of its own should epitomise it.

I’ve digressed, and am no longer focusing on the set, but any launch event is only the beginning of a journey. Bearfoot Beware are here, and they’re now, and they’re kicking ass with Sea Magnolia. Tonight, they’ve thrown it out to Leeds, and tomorrow the world. It deserves to float.

This is it Forever – 12th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Ok, I’m biased. Thomas Ragsdale’s work as one half of worriedaboutsatan and Ghosting Season has enthused me for over a decade now, and his solo work, too, has consistently mesmerised and enthralled me. This isn’t just journo gush: his work is rich and immersive and simply never disappoints. His latest offering, the three-track ‘Under Dwellers’ EP is no exception.

The BandCamp blurb describes it as ‘Three pieces of music paying tribute to the world beneath our own’, and goes on to describe how ‘Acid lines are fed through tape echo and back into a reel to reel machine… Randomised synth arps clatter around unpredictably inside a distortion unit… Crumbling piano melodies faintly cry out over the hiss and hum of modern circuits… Sounds made by a human, but with no control. Music for beneath the grit and surface of our modern world’.

Ragsdale translates all of these things into something more than pitch, more than process jargon, and presents a set of atmospheric, semi-ambient compositions, rich in tone and texture, and which utterly envelop the listener.

There is little point in detailing either the structure or sound of the individual pieces, or much else for that matter. Dark clouds drift and scrape, twist and turn and swell to fill the air. Yet There is depth, and above all a certain intangible grip and pull here. One listens. One reacts. One feels it, somehow, subliminally, a head-tingling, gut-pulling soundwork.

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Thomas Ragsdale - Under Dwellers

Jahmoni Music – JMM209 – 23rd February 2018

James Wells

Straight into weird shit territory here. Wordless, atonal vocals layer up, ululating and droning and whatever, the tape stretched and slowed and generally fucked about with, while a monotonous bass throb and thumping industrial beat holds an insistent four/four. Think The Fall crossed with Throbbing Gristle. It’s not the full picture, but is a flavour of ‘To Evacuate is Difficult and Infrequent’. It may or may not be a song about bowels. But probably is.

DJ Marcelle is certainly not a DJ in either the conventional or contemporary sense: nor does she present the image of the club DJ throwing down bangin’ tunes for the euphoric masses. Her website uses a kind of Scooby Doo Mystery Machine typeface, and her tour photos all document the soups she’s consumed. This explicit lack of coolness is a cause to celebrate her as an artist. This is not about trends or commercial endeavours: this is about making art with sound.

‘To Reveal the Secret’ is a lo-fi mess of sample loops and clattering drums, and calls to mind the jittery experimentalism of the early 80s avant-garde scene: again, the shadow of TG looms, but equally, the playful oddness of early Foetus and lesser-known acts like Meat Beat Manifesto offshoot Perennial Divide. It pretty much bleeds into ‘Walking Around Aimlessly’, another mash-up of looped samples and old-school tape effects, mining that seem of William Burroughs cut-up inspired audio experimentalism that marked Cabaret Voltaire’s first few albums. Firecracking percussion and wild analogue bleeps provide the fabric of the frenetic finale, which lands in the form of ‘To Sing Along’. The irony is as heavy as the bass, and it rounds of a set that’s noteworthy primarily for its weirdness and apparent celebration of the random.

And random’s where it’s at. Psalm Tree is weird but groovy.

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DJ Marcelle

Ici d’ailleurs – IDA119 – 30th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The lengthy blurb which accompanies the latest release from Matt Elliott’s Third Eye Foundation, active since 1996, covers a lot of ground. A lot has happened since Semtex, the expanded reissue of which I ruminated on a couple of years ago. And yet. Wake the Dead may not match the violence, but still packs a restrained intensity.

‘Words have no place here except to confuse matters a little further. And the 40 minutes of throbbing, hypersensitive dubstep that make up the record are not aimed at sending a message to the mind. The intention is to make souls dance, to unite them and to remind us that, despite our choices and individual convictions, we are all components of the same whole and whether living or dead, we are connected forever.’

Increasingly I find myself returning to my own reactions and responses to music, and the separation between the objective and the subjective. Any engagement with music must necessarily be subjective. Dismissing chart music because it’s vapid crap is still a subjective opinion, given that objectively, it serves a social (and economic) function and is invariably extremely well-executed and produced in technical terms, and to complain about a lack of emotional depth or lyrical complexity may on the surface appear to be an objective criticism, but a listener’s lack of connection with it is subjective. Flimsy radio-friendly fodder is entertainment: it’s music that strives to achieve different ends which is art.

Wake the Dead, while pitched as having the purpose of ‘making souls dance’, is very much art in that it exists to evoke a deeper emotional response than ‘it’s got a good beat.’ Not that the beats aren’t good, but the slow, deliberate rhythms are more of the variety one nods to rather than getting down to.

The title track sets the scene and the tone, with majestic, sweeping tones and soaring choral voices which rise towards the heavens above a slow, hypnotic semi-tribal beat has a rich resonance. The smooth, soothing cello is countered by occasional trills of feedback, creating a subtle but essential dissonance which alters the mood considerably. Gradually, over the course of the track’s thirteen-minute span, low-churning bass frequencies begin to throb and beats become stronger but also more fractured as looping echoes collide against one another disorientatingly.

‘The Blasted Tower’ combines gliding strings with stuttering, rapidfire fills, a balanced juxtaposition of soporifically soothing and twitchy tension, before ‘Controlled Demolition’ slides into murkier and rather heavier territory. With the structures less defined and a cacophonous collaging of sound pitched against warping bass tones, it makes for a cerebrally-challenging passage that culminates in a collision of brooding strings and extraneous noise.

The album’s only words are to be found on the shortest track, ‘That’s Why’, with a sampled shout of ‘Fucking pigs! I hate the fucking pigs!’ looped and mangled and fucked to fade. It feels a little incongruous, but provides a well-placed change in both tone and tempo ahead of the final cut, which takes the form of an elongated, wheezing drone graced with wordless female vocals which echo an abstract spiritual transcendence.

The six compositions segue into one another to form a continuous forty-minute suite. The atmosphere is dark, but more the darkness of twilight and shadows than pitch black small hours. There are moments where it feels a shade bleak, but these are contrasted by moments of uplifting beauty; the overarching sensation is one of a haunting feeling. As the sound fades to silence, the feeling of immersion hangs for a time. There’s no way to place that sensation in an objective context: this is about how the abstract language of sound touches the subconscious.

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IDA119_front

Superstar Destroyer – 16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s pleasing to see that Bearfoot Beware are still here after eight years and a bunch of EPs to release a third album. They’re one of those bands who are destined to remain on the fringes of cultdom, who will never be huge, but who produce art, and do it for the love. Now more than ever, in a climate where the industry is all about money and is populated by careerists and independent bands and venues are simply unable to sustain their existence due to the world needs bands like this. Bands who are driven by passion and a desire to make the music they want, without keeping an eye on trends or pandering to markets. They’ve always done their own thing, and ‘Sea Magnolia’ is no sell-out and offers no concessions. To anything. They’re as DIY, and uncompromisingly all-over as ever, and, best of all, they’re showing no sign of their frenetic energy dissipating or being otherwise subdued or contained in order to mould their style to accommodate commercial pressures.

The title connotes infinite blandness, an absence of character. This certainly isn’t the case where BB’s lively sonic firecrackers are concerned.

The album kicks off in shouty fashion with the angular, jolting ‘Point Scorer’, which manages to swerve in some noodly mathy moments between the jarring chords. The tracks are packed in tight, and hard on its heels slams in the riffy, grungy, ‘Without a Shot Fired’. It’s got a driving urgency and has a hard(core) edge.

If ‘Knot in the Rope’ calls to mind Shellac in terms of its instrumentation and the choppy guitars and chunky bass, it’s certainly no bad thing. It’s a big, dense, shouty sonic ruckus. And then it goes a bit Pavement just over halfway through. As it happens, ‘shouty sonic ruckus’ pretty much covers the album as a whole – and most of their back catalogue, got that matter. But Sea Magnolia feels more organised – however haphazard, chaotic and discordant it is. Because it has some nifty riffs, and the rhythm section is strong and sprightly as it leaps and lurches with precision timing from one segment to the next. ‘No Wisdom’ is particularly twisty, turny, amped up, choppy, jarring. And with the majority of the album’s nine uptempo tracks clocking in around the three-and-a-bit minute mark, it’s succinct and a lot more focused than it probably first appears.

None of the songs on here is straightforward: you won’t find anthemic choruses done to death over predictable structures, and lyrically it’s as just as non-linear in formulation. Every couple of bars you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen next, and whatever you’re probably expecting, it won’t be that. This, of course, is precisely the album’s strength. Predictable it isn’t and there’s never a dull moment. And yet for all that, they still throw in some decent hooks amidst the chaos. It’s a massive achievement – and a great album, if you can hack it.

Bearfoot Beware – Sea Magnolia

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Bearfoot Beware

Oh yes…. Known first and foremost as the lynchpin of instrumental band Earth, Dylan Carlson has become one of alternative music’s most ambitious pathfinders. It seems beyond appropriate, then, that Carlson’s new solo endeavour is titled Conquistador. The five-track record channels the indulgent drone of Earth while traversing uncharted sonic terrain. Listen to the album’s first single, ‘Scorpions In Their Mouths’.

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DylanCHollyCarlsonlores--1

Dylan Carlson by Holly Carlson

Lifted from last year’s ‘Night Tides’ EP, which very much got our vote, the rippling trancegaze electroambient ‘Coral Sea’ has now been paired with a video. It’s gloriously mellow, and you can watch it here.

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Lunar Twin - Coral

16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I have to eject and check the disc to make sure I’ve not bobbed in New Order’s debut after hitting ‘play’ on this CD. I haven’t, but The Vaulted Skies have that whole c.1980 sound down to a tee, with the clinical rhythms and steely synths shaping the landscape.

The Vaulted Skies – as if the band name wasn’t indication enough – plunder the seam of the dark post punk style that occupied the first half of the 80s, and – while a roll-off touchstones and reference points feels a shade reductive, it’s entirely relevant and appropriate to namecheck The Rose of Avalanche and Rosetta Stone.

The opener, ‘Does Anyone Else Feel(Strange)? culminates in an explosive kaleidoscope of retro synth and thunderous drums that calls to mind ‘Walk Away’ by The Sisters of Mercy and this overtly gothy groove carries through the other three songs on this EP. ‘The Night’ lurches and lunges and bucks over a thick, warping bass groove.

When they slow it down and do the sparse atmospheric thing, as on ‘The Falling Man’, The Cure’s Faith looms large as an influence, with heavy traces of Japan in the mix. Whoever described them as ‘the lovechild of Robert Smith and Boy George’ was at least half right.

And this is where, as a critic, the duel between objectivity and subjectivity sets its markers and gets to tussling. Objectively, it’s derivative and by-numbers. Subjectively, it’s got a gloomy emotional draw and a certain tension. Objectively, it’s well-executed. Subjectively, those nagging guitar parts and basslines hit the spot. So where you do go?

From a purely personal perspective – and if truth be told, and response to music has to be personal – the technicalities and matters of production count for nothing when a work hits and resonates on a personal, emotional level, which is never remotely objective or rational, but always instinctive, gut-driven. And when aspects of my personal life are difficult, I invariably find I’m prone, if not to regression per se, but to a certain tendency toward nostalgia. And all of the acts The Vaulted Skies draw on, intentionally or otherwise, pull me back to being 15-21. My formative years, my musical discovery years, my goth years – years I never fully left.

Do I get a sense of actual nostalgia from this? No. members of The Vaulted Skies probably weren’t born when any of the aforementioned bands were in existence, or even in the early 90s. It’s not their fault they were born too late. They cannot control time or style. But they cannot control their musical output, and it completely does it for me.

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Vaulted Skies

Salt Lake City-based duo Eagle Twin share ‘The Heavy Hoof’ from their incoming and third album, The Thundering Heard (Songs Of Hoof And Horn), due out on March 30th via Southern Lord.

About the track Gentry Densley comments,”The Heavy Hoof is the first Eagle Twin song we ever wrote so it has been something we have played throughout the years but never properly recorded until now. Its a simple ditty, that has only gotten heavier over time, all about death and the devil and all that good stuff!  Its also about, you know, leaving your particles tingling, dancing in space, after your consciousness has been trampled."

‘The Heavy Hoof’ is heavy alright: get your lugs round it here:

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Eagle Twin - Thundering

Let’s skip the preamble: we fucking love Cannibal Animal. Their latest effort, ‘Ellipsisism’, released on 16th March through Warren Records is a snaking goth-tinged swamp-surf garage rattler that calls to mind the spirit of the late 70s and early 80s with haunting, echo-drenched guitars and frenzied vocals. But we don’t need to talk it up. Just listen to this:

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Cannibal Animal