Archive for March, 2018

Sett Records – 23rd March 2018

James Wells

Acquainting myself with the band, it transpires that they were founded in the 90s, and that this is the ‘post-punk rock-noir’ outfit’s first album since Return to the Breath in 2000. 18 years? What the fuck have they been doing? I remember the music press making a deal of the five years it took for The Stone Roses to deliver The Second Coming, although that pales against the eternity My Bloody Valentine took to record the follow-up to Loveless. And as for The Sisters of Mercy… Well, they’ve been holding out 27 years now. Something about a contract for a million quid not being forthcoming, or something.

There are some clear Sisters influences to be found in the mix of Chandelier. They’ve got that echoey, chorus heavy guitar sound down and it’s an interloping weave or notes against a strolling bass which heralds the arrival of Chandelier, and its opening track and single cut ‘Beginnings’. Part ‘First and Last and Always,’, part God’s Own Medicine era Mission, part mid 80s Cult… it’s all there.

The one thing that’s clear is that the last 18 years haven’t been spent innovating or reinventing their sounds or bringing a dynamic, unexpected edge to the classic ‘goth’ template. There’s nothing wrong with the songs or their execution, other than the fact they sound painfully studied and generic. So, the press blurb references a lengthy roll-call of The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, The Joy Formidable and Republica (I’m really not hearing any Republica in the mix, although the shadows of Rose of Avalanche and Rosetta Stone before they went all NIN loom large).

While the sounds – the echoic, fuzzy valvey guitars, for example – are vintage, warm, organic, and the mechanised percussion sound is par for the course, the emotive edge of Chandelier feels excessively studied and lacking in personality. From the drum reverb to the controlled flange, everything about the album is familiar to the point of déjà-écoute. It’s very much rote and by-numbers. It’s got everything, apart from passion and energy. And originality.

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Autumn - Chandalier

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If you’re on the market for a snarling slab of black metal driven by a relentless technoindustrial beat and laced with a twist of humour and a tang of schlock-horror, you probably can’t go too far wrong with the latest offering from The Netherlands courtesy of Walthar the Unbearable of Evil.

It’s got a narrative and everything: ‘Depressed by the corruptive powers and silly fearbased methods of the big religions, Walthar The Unbearable now turned his hopes to the Haitian Voodoo religion. Learned to master their sacred tantrums from his bokor. With these new powers he is desperate to give them a try……. Who will be the first!’

Who, indeed?

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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