Archive for May, 2018

Young God Records

It’s perhaps too much to convey the experience of hearing Soundtracks for the Blind for the first time on its release in 1996. Admittedly, hearing any Swans release for the first time was memorable – I was introduced in the late 80s via Children of God, which, aged 17, was unlike anything I had heard before. It was what one might call a pivotal moment. I was compelled to explore their back-catalogue, which yielded a succession of further pivotal moments, not east of all on the discovery of Cop.

For all its length, The Great Annihilator was pretty straightforward, and represented a continuation of the White Light / Love of Life albums. Just a year later, Soundtracks for the Blind was altogether different, and represented a new expansion on all levels. It was about three hours long, for a start. The third song was over a quarter of an hour long, and there were extensive instrumental passages that bordered on ambient. Elsewhere, reworkings of older songs, bent almost beyond recognition (‘YRP’ and ‘YRP 2’ emerging from ‘Your Property’ from 1984’s Cop), surfaced amidst the churning soundscapes drawn from the contents of the library of tape loops and found sounds gathered by Michael Gita over the band’s whole career. It felt like the culmination of a lifetime’s work. It felt fitting it should be Swans’ final studio album, and it seems appropriate that its remastered reissue should arrive when Gira has again called time on the band. Its arrival gives us cause to reflect on the cyclical nature of the band’s career, and the differences and similarities between their first unbroken span and their later incarnation, which closed with another uber epic in the form of The Glowing Man and followed by a live document (as Soundtracks was accompanied by the conclusive Swans are Dead, so The Glowing Man was accompanied by Deliquescence).

This is the first time Soundtracks has been released on vinyl, and naturally, its formatting and packaging is something else: as the press release and Young God website detail, ‘the vinyl package will consist of four LPs in jackets enclosed in a box with a poster, insert and download card. The box set will be a limited edition of 4,000 copies worldwide and once sold out will be followed later in 2018 by a gatefold LP version. The album will also be reissued on CD featuring a repackage of the original digipak for the 1996 Atavistic release plus a bonus disc of the contemporaneous Die Tür Ist Zu EP (a German language version of some of the material from Soundtracks that also includes unique material) recently released for the first time on vinyl in the USA for Record Store Day 2018. Outside of the USA, Die Tür Ist Zu EP will be released as a limited edition companion piece double vinyl set, also on 20th July’. Yes, as with the previous reissues, they’ve gone all put to render a truly definitive edition.

Listening to Soundtracks now, it seems that Gira, having declared the band spent in 1997, spent a long time cogitating over the directions and possibilities that this album presented, and took them as the starting point for the post-millennial iteration: it certainly shares more with this period than its predecessors, with exceptions like ‘The Yum Yab Killers’ which delivers the same kind of punch as ‘Mother/Father’ on The Great Annihilator (and recoded live, with somewhat muffled sound, it still seems a shade incongruous in its inclusion here, although Jarboe sounds so fucking fierce I’d not want to make to big a deal of it). We’re reminded, too, that Soundtracks emerged during a fairly prolific spell for Gira, and it’s perhaps inevitable that elements of other projects – namely the solo album Drainland and The Body Lovers / The Body Haters. ‘All Lined Up’ is a different version of ‘I See Them All Lined Up’ which featured on Drainland. It’s simultaneously more distorted and weirded-out, and more explosive, more driving, more… Swans.

Some of the rambling monologues are quite disturbing (with recordings of Gira’s father talking about his life and excerpts from FBI tapes, amongst other things), but then so is the musical accompaniment that provides the backdrop: ‘I Was a Prisoner Inside Your Skull’ and ‘How they Suffer’ make for uncomfortable listening.

There are some incredibly tender, raw, emotive moments: Gira’s voice, cracked and plaintive on ‘Animus’, as woodwind bursts around him from a hovering hush, is one of Swans’ most affecting moments. For a band whose back catalogue contains some of the most intense sonic brutality ever committed to tape, it’s quite a contrast, and perhaps all the more moving in context.

It’s a sprawling expanse of sound, and it isn’t entirely cohesive. Gira’s conception of sound as something malleable and his approach to dynamics would evolve immensely in the time away from Swans, and as such, Soundtracks is as much a signpost toward the next phase as a bookend to the one it belongs. At the time, it was almost too much to digest. On revisiting, the same holds true. The density of both sound and ideas, the sheer scale of the album, the fact that it condenses fifteen years into two and a half hours… of course it’s too much to bear. This was always the way with Swans: even their gentler albums are delivered with an intensity that transcends words. And this, of course, is the ultimate objective of music – to touch body and mind in ways that are beyond any form of articulation. Soundtracks for the Blind doesn’t simply touch those parts, but poke, prod, squeeze and stab at them.

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Unsounds – 60U – 1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tout ce que je sais is the second part of Chaton and Moor’s ‘Heretics’ series, which, according to the blurb, sees the duo ‘revive the most obscure, violent, erotic passions, summoning the great gures of their personal mythologies. In the company of Caravaggio, Marquis de Sade, William Burroughs and gures such as Jose Mujica, the duo immerses the listener in another world history peopled by radical thinkers’. ‘Heretics’ pays homage to those heroes who have used transgression and excess as a necessary means for creation. In this new album, recorded live at the Carreau du Temple in Paris on the occasion of Périphérie du 35e Marché de la Poésie (2017), Anne-James Chaton and Andy Moor deliver a radical work at the confines of literary and musical creation.’ The first release came in a giant matchbox, complete with textured side and a huge matchstick. No, I haven’t burned my copy. Yet.

The fact it is a live recording creates a certain degree of difficulty in terms of how to weigh its realisation. Granted, there’s an immediacy to the stuttering, fractured ruptures of dissonance what scratch through at forty-five degree angles to the rhythms and overall shapes of the compositions. But to doesn’t feel like a definitive document: something is missing.

‘Casino rabelaisien’ is a stark, minimalist grind, throbbing and churning away at a short, repetitious sonic loop of bass and extraneous discord reminiscent of Suicide and with cluttering, scratchy guitars that call to mind The Fall pre-1980. The murky sound accentuates the claustrophobic atmosphere, and Moor’s monotone delivery. The words being spoken in French mean I’m excluded from their meaning and from their sense. Oftentimes, the language of sound is enough to transcend linguistic barriers. But with the musical aspect so minimal and the vocal aspect so much to the fore on this work, I fear that much of the significance – and quite simply much of the content – is lost. Burroughs et al – this is my field, so to speak. But I simply don’t recognise it, let alone connect on a level where I can engage critically in terms of its conceptual content. Nothing about Tout ce que je sais conveys the brutal perversion of de Sade on a sonic level, for example, and there’s nothing that brings the bewildering explosion of ideas or the narrative fragmentation of Burroughs’ writing here.

‘Conquins coquettes at cocus’ jolts and jars, the crunching guitars choppy over a haltering, stuttering rhythm worthy of Shellac. It’s sparse in instrumentation, but it’s intense, and Moor’s dry, almost inflection-free delivery provides a counterpoint and contrast.

There’s something deep and haunting in the very notes of ‘Clair Obscur’, but the limited instrumentation means it feels somehow incomplete, unfinished. And then here’s the applause and the shouting from the audience immediately after; while being there would have almost doubtless have been a quite remarkable experience, the material would equally doubtless benefit from a proper studio realisation in order to capture the nuance and the detail of the compositions and their arrangements.

‘The Things That Belong to William’ closes the set; a slowed-down, opium-slurred Burroughs drawl creaks through the jolting, jarring spasmic guitar chords. It’s interesting and uncomfortable, but doesn’t go any real distance to create the same kind of temporal dislocation of Naked Lunch or any of Burroughs’ cut-up works. Is this a failing? Probably not in real terms. We land, then, at a place where we’re faced with the disunion between expectation and actuality.

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Anne-James Chaton & Andy Moor – Tout ce que je sais

1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It all starts with an air-raid siren. A historical sound with connotations of WW2 for many, but still heard in places like South Korea and Japan, it’s a sound which provokes an almost biologically-wired shudder of unease. They may only be tests, but the sound of sirens in the last 12 months reminds us that stability is but precarious. And then the snaking, surfy bass strolls in, awash with reverb… and then the guitars… It’s all pinned to a locked-down groove, and Trond Fagernes’ voice rises up from amidst it all as if from the back of a cathedral. You saw it all coming, right? They obviously did and approach by stealth, before building to a whiling cacophony by way of a climax. But for all of its noise and tension, this feels more introspective than anything they’ve done before.

Norway’s Mayflower Madame draw heavily on post-punk influences – music born out of the dark days of the early 80s, corresponding with the period when cold war tensions escalated to warrant the labelling of ‘the second cold war’, and the economic boom years widened the chasm between the haves and have-nots was rendered more conspicuous by the rise of the yuppie. And so on.

What Mayflower Madame bring to the gothy party is a potent dose of Nordic noir psych and a dash of shoegaze, all doused in massive reverb, and the four tracks on Premonition continue the trajectory of their 2016 debut album, Observed in a Dream.

The claustrophobic focus continues on the swirling, shoegazy ‘Before I Fall’; the guitars twang through a gauze of drifting synths and echoey fx that create a certain distance between the listener and the actual song, an unusual sense of both space and an absence of space. ‘Alma’s Sermon’ is centred around a backed-off yet insistent motoric beat and has greater immediacy and – it’s all relative – upbeat vibe. But then closer ‘Siders Seek’ plunges deeper into darkness: a paranoid shiver runs down the spine of the track’s tremulous guitars, and everything about the song’s construction seems to be about concentrating the tension. And yes, this is tense.

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Mayflower Madame – Premonition EP

Metropolis Records – 8th June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

After an eternity on mute and with Raymond Watts seemingly in a creative wilderness, the PIG renaissance continues apace with the emergence of Risen less than two years after The Gospel and last year’s remix EP Swine & Punishment, as well as four digital / or tour-only releases off the back (bacon) of The Gospel. Risen finds Raymond Watts on fine form as he unleashes porcine pundemoneum once more.

As the press release proudly proclaims, ‘the Lord Of The Lard calls on Ben Christo, Z.Marr, En Esch, Tim Skold, Marc Heal, Phil Barry, Mark Thwaite, Anita Sylph & Emre Ramazanoglu & gets to work on bringing glam to the damned’. It is a hell of a lineup, and pleasingly, Risen is a hell of an album. It’s actually a lot less overtly glam than The Gospel and finds PIG at their eclectic best.

‘The Chosen Few’ opens and hints at a return to the darker industrial grind of Sinsation and Wrecked. But while it’s a mid-tempo slow-burner, this being PIG, it’s not only got poke, but layers: hints of gospel lace the chorus, and it builds through a sinewy lead guitar break to a towering churn, with orchestral strikes and strings adding to the sense of drama. It’s impossible to declare anything to be truly ‘vintage; or ‘quintessential’ PIG: Watt’s project has always been built on hybridity and eclecticism. But against its predecessor or releases like, say, Pigmartyr, which were more direct, paired and back and rock-orientated, Risen draws together all of the divergent elements – from classical samples to battering technoindustrial antagonism – from the beginning of the band’s career onwards. Strings bolster up-front metallic guitars and thumping disco beats, and the sleaze is amped up to 11. As such, it’s all going on on Risen, and it’s something to see PIG rebuild the momentum and exposure they achieved in the mid-90s having benefited from association with Nine Inch Nails.

It’s the electro aspect of Pig’s sonic arsenal that leads the swaggering groove of ‘Morphine Machine’, which echoes the ham-glam of The Gospel. The opening chords of ‘Loud, Lawless & Lost’ sound very like The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ before swerving into a lift of Bowie’s ‘Fame’. The nagging, clean guitar and funk is sort of perverse in its presence, but this is a PIG album, and anything goes. There’s always been a tongue-in-cheek element to Watts’ approach to both lyric-writing and composition, his infinite wordplay and musical intertextuality and hybridity representative of a postmodern playfulness, and it’s on display in full force here. Moreover, Watts dominates every bar with his JG Thirlwell-esque throat-based theatrics.

‘Truth is Sin’ plays the slow-burning anthem card to good effect, while allowing Watts space to spin infinite spins on clichés, and elsewhere, the solid chug of ‘The Vice Girls’ and ‘Leather Pig’ comes with instant hooks that are hard to resist.

PIG have always been about the remixes, and quite (but not entirely) unusually, have been given to chucking remixes of previous prime cuts onto new albums: as far back as 1992’s A Stroll in the Pork, Watts &co have been slipping remixes and multiple versions, and five of the fourteen tracks on Risen are remixes, while ‘The Cult of Chaos’ first appeared on the Prey & Obey EP.

None of this makes their discography any more navigable, but and it’s often difficult to describe any ‘new’ album as being entirely ‘new’, but again makes Risen entirely representative of the PIG oeuvre. And this is perhaps the most welcome addition since their return. Praise the lard indeed.

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Membran – 1st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Endless reverb? Check. Jangle? Check. Breezy vocals half-buried amidst swirling swathes of overdriven, FX-drenched guitars? Oh yes. If their 2016 debut, Either That Or The Moon, pitched DMT as significant and exciting proponents of pulsating psychedelic rock, their second absolutely cements it. It’s not about innovation, but quality. Quality of songs, quality of execution. And DMT deliver solid quality with consistency here. But that isn’t to say there’s no innovation here: Om Parvat Mystery finds the trio pushing boundaries more than merely their own, and this is an album that shoots off in all directions.

The album barrels in with ‘It’s All Good’, which is true to the promise of the title, before ‘Way Back to You’ crashes in with splintering guitar and a thumping, repetitive rhythm section driving a quintessential psych-hued shoegaze riff. ‘Spyders’ does that heavy groove thing, with a swirling blend of airiness and drive keeping it moving forward while at the same time pinning it to a single spot. The whole gloriously kaleidoscopic affair calls to mind Chapterhouse and early Ride. So far, so nice and true to type.

But Om Parvat Mystery represents a massive expansion for DMT. Granted, ‘VII’ may venture a bit too close to Oasis territory for comfort or to be entirely cool, although it’s salvaged by a brilliantly nagging echo-heavy lead guitar and some reverbed-to-fuck vocals that are more Jesus and Mary Chain than Gallagher brothers.

But this album finds the band expanding in myriad and often unexpected directions. I’m a sucker for long songs that have a turn around the mid-point. ‘Chemical Genius’ is one of those: it begins as a thumping desert shoegaze trip, with reverb stretching to a heat-hazed before a sudden turn into something altogether different. After an explosive mid-section, it becomes a lot more overtly dancey than anything they’ve ever done before, but by the same token, it’s all about the driving, motoric groove, and dense, shimmering atmosphere. And it’s at this that Desert Mountain Tribe excel. And because of these quite dramatically different moments, Om Parvat Mystery brings elements of surprise and exploration without alienating the established fan-base. Difficult second album? DMT have absolutely smashed it.

DMT - Om

Loner Noise – 25th May 2018

It’s a delight, when facing an endless stream of dross and mediocrity, or otherwise stuff you’ve never heard of but that has only limited appeal (I daresay I’ve bypassed some great music on the basis of a dismal press release or email, but then again, I’ve squandered countless hours listening to cack that’s been oversold), to receive a promo invitation for something that’s quality is assured.

Bristol trio Nasty Little Lonely have, since day one, been kicking out gut-punching, balls-out riffage with a grimy, sleazy edge, and they haven’t put a foot wrong. ‘Wicked Vicious’ continues the trajectory set with their two previous singles on Loner Noise, ‘Ugly Vitamin’ (October 2017) and ‘Glitter’ (February 2018), and plays up the ‘power’ in ‘power trio’.

‘Wicked Vicious’ is driven by a snarling, lumbering bass, over witch jittery, tripwire guitars, tense with treble and stretched, sinewy and angular across in a mathy mess reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard and a hefty, grinding hunk of the vintage Touch ‘n’ Go roster, as well as contemporaries who’ve drawn on the same sources, like Blacklisters. It grabs you by the throat in the first attacking bars, and then tightens the grip, pinning you against the wall and constricting.

There’s nothing pretty about this venomous assault: Charlie Beddoes may be coming on almost cuetsy in her semi-salacious, squeaky vocal, but make no mistake, there’s menace and malice and venom behind that hissing, spitting, yet also bubbly delivery, and the relentlessly churning rhythm section. It may only be 2:47 in length, but seriously, check the weight and the girth: ‘Wicked Vicious’ packs some serious meat. Nasty… vicious… killer.

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NLL - Wicked

Baptists have shared the mid-paced rock-stomper ‘Victim Service’, which is taken from their third album Beacon Of Faith, out through Southern Lord on 25th May.

Beacon Of Faith broadly follows the same trajectory as the album’s predecessors, Bushcraft (2013) and Bloodmines (2014) – combining raw adrenaline-fuelled emotion, venomous vocal delivery, gigantic guitar sound, and a visceral rhythmic propulsion – a sonic manifestation of desolate rage, bolstered by a palpable sense of urgency.

Beacon Of Faith is densely-packed yet Baptists’ sound is far from claustrophobic, there is melody amongst the dissonance, as the band more deeply explore the noise rock vistas that have always underpinned their sound.  
Lyrics are drawn from their direct experience of a broken society and general discontentment with everyday life. A multitude of issues are in the firing line, from the Canadian court system, issues surrounding substance abuse, mental health, and how the more fortunate “tend to dismiss people who have been dealt a less-fortunate hand” – as guitarist Danny also reflects.

Listen to ‘Victim Service’ here:

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Baptists - Beacon