Archive for May, 2018

ANTIME – ANTIME20

Christopher Nosnibor

According the bio, ‘Bad Stream is guitars and machines vanishing in the spaces between Radiohead, The Notwist and Nine Inch Nails only to reemerge amidst ambient, noise, and drone. It marks Martin [Steer]’s attempt to release his own history, alienation and loneliness into the chaos of the digital world and to retain their substance in doing so.

This is very much Martin’s thing, essentially a solo project, and the album represents five years of work, of gathering, of sifting, of seeking ways to represent the realities of life in contemporary society.

“I look at my phone even while I’m playing guitar,” says Martin Steer, “and that isn’t even entirely voluntary. The 2010s really changed my perception of how digital technologies and social media affect me as a musician. Through Bad Stream I want to make sense of this particular kind of anxiety, and to use sensory overstimulation as a way to develop an independent and progressive musical language.”

I can relate. Starting out as a writer around the turn of the millennium, I was fascinated by the idea of postmodernism – because although the concept emerged in the 70s in considering writing of the 1950s and 1960s, I was completely engaged in the notion that this was something that was happening now. Whatever McLuhan, Lyotard, and Jameson, or Deleuze and Guattari had to say about the effects of accelerated communications and a ubiquitous blizzard of media and sensory overload, nothing could truly predict or account for the psychological impact of living in the second decade of the second millennium. Nothing we’ve seen before corresponds with the endless twitching, the nagging anxieties of text messages without response, the barren Facebook page, the diminishing Twitter following, the hassling, haranguing, emails and messages, the relentless barrage of information and contact from every direction.

Besides, theory and practise, however closely they endeavour to merge, invariably and inevitably exist with degrees of separation. And so it is with Bad Stream. It’s a nicely-assembled album, with some suitably dark and intense moments, and the production balances the slick, crisp ultra-digital with the messy, reverby, sonic halo that pulls it all back a way.

I often wonder what the musical landscape would look like if Nine Inch Nails hadn’t happened. It seems that one act not only spawned a genre unto themselves, but reshaped the musical landscape, to the point that what would once have sounded ‘edgy’ now sounds mundane, and so much can simply be filed as ‘derivative of Nine Inch Nails’. In drawing in a samples, semi-ambient segments and more besides, Steer extends hi sonic palette beyond the NIN template – but by the same token, Reznor’s shadow looms large over the majority of the compositions here.

Amidst the accessible (granted, it’s all relative) electro tunes, the bleak ‘Drown on Mars’ builds a pulsating bass groove over an insistent beat that call to mind the darker, more downbeat moments of The Downward Spiral and With Teeth. But where Steer separates from Reznor is his unswerving tendency to offer melody and chorus over obliterative noise. On the one hand, it’s a relief: life is punishment enough – but on the other, there’s a sense that he simply doesn’t push far or hard enough, and fails to convey the anguish, the anxiety, the trauma. ‘Polyzero’ is a cracking stab at surging shoegaze with a resonant electro throb, and it’s perfectly executed – a kind of hybrid of ‘March of the Pigs; with Nowhere era Ride. And I dig. But Bad Stream fails to convey the claustrophobia and relentless bombardment and the mental anguish it engenders. It’s a relatively minor criticism, though: everything is fucked-up enough as it is, and do we need more music that mirrors, even amplifies back, the torment of the overload that is life as we experience it? I’m too fried to conclude right now…

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Sacred Bones – 8th June 2018

I’m accustomed to feeling tense and anxietised. It’s more or less my default setting. The insomnia. The 4am sweats, the nocturnal panic attacks that feel like asphyxiation. There are peaks and troughs, of course, although I often find that immersing myself in music that probably ought to add to my unsettlement has something of a neutralising effect. After a few wavering weeks, during which I discovered that Naproxen isn’t the painkiller for me right now, experiencing shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat and heightened anxiety being the most pronounced of the side-effects. None of this was especially conducive to writing, and even listening to music was proving to be less enjoyable than usual. The prospect of facing my inbox was more than I could reasonably bare most days. A week after my last dose, I’m feeling the calmest and most overtly ‘normal’ I’ve felt in a fair while. If this is perhaps excessive disclosure, it’s a question of context. However objectively I want to operate as a reviewer, listening to music as a ‘job’ inevitably entails an element of the personal. There’s simply no escaping this. Any response to art necessarily involves a subconscious and emotional element. A critic is a person, not a machine: we don’t critique and opine with algorithms.

Sifting through the scores of emails, I’m cheered to find a fair few releases to get excited about. Where to start? Well, this seems like a reasonable opener…

That Uniform and The Body should come together – or perhaps collide, screaming head-on into one another – is a logical, if terrifying idea. It’s pitched as ‘a collaboration that pushes both bands far beyond their roots in industrial music and metal – creating an immersive listening experience that truly transcends genre’. And I suppose it does. The Body have long pushed far beyond the confines of metal, and have forged a career that thrives on collaboration – or, put another way, a career that extracts new levels of nastiness by channelling carnage through other acts.

It’s a messy, murky sonic miasma that seeps from the speakers: a cacophony of impenetrable shrieking – like some mass acid-bath or people trapped in a burning room as the flames seer their flesh – tears through a thick aural sludge that’s heavy on bass and light on production polish.

A nervous drum machine pumps frantically, as though in the throes of a panic attack, beneath a mess of noise on ‘The Curse of Eternal Life’. The vocals are distorted, dalek-like, and there’s more screaming in the background, and with everything buzzing and whirring away, it’s impossible to know what the fuck’s going on, let alone if there’s any kind of attempt at a tune in there. It’s like listening to the Dr Mix and the Remix album played on a shit stereo through next door’s wall.

There are crushing guitar chords and crashing beats on the slow grind of ‘Come and See’, evoking the essence of early Swans or Godflesh, but with Michael Berdan’s sneering vocal style, there’s an overtly punk aspect to the pulverizing industrial trudge. It may be one of the most structured compositions on the album – in that there are actual chord sequences audible through the sonic smog – but it’s still hard going. But then, it’s no accident: neither act is renowned for its accessibility or ease of listening. And when two acts as uncompromising as Uniform and The Body meet, and there’s still no compromise, then the sum is instantly an exponential amplification of uncompromising. It was always going to hurt: it was simply a question of how much. And it’s nothing short of punishing.

When they do turn things down a bit, back off the guitars, and tweak musical motifs from the electronic setup instead of extraneous noise, there are hints of melody – and even grace – these emerge through the fog on ‘In My Skin’, and in context, it’s almost soothing. In any other context, though, maybe not so much. It’s like saying that Prurient are soothing in comparison to Whitehouse.

Mental Wounds Not Healing is – to use a term all too often tossed about in reference to anything a bit raw or intense – visceral. Listening to the album, I realise I’m grinding my teeth, chewing my lip and gnawing at the inside of my check. I’m clenching my jaw, tightly. My shoulders are hunched. Mental Wounds Not Healing isn’t just intense: it makes me feel tense. The density and lack of separation makes for a sound where everything congeals into an oppressive morass. The production – such as it is – only emphasises the claustrophobic sensation; being unable to distinguish one sound from another elicits a broiling frustration, and a certain paranoia, as you wonder if maybe there’s something wrong with the speakers or your hearing. It’s not pleasant, and the seven songs – none of which run past the five-minute mark – make for an endurance test. And yet for all that, it’s a powerful experience. It’s no wonder the wounds aren’t healing: this is the soundtrack to scratching and scraping at the scabs, picking away until the blood seeps once more. Insofar as any psychological damage foes, this isn’t going to help, but it’s fair reflection of various tortured states.

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The London based alternative/indie rock trio Desert Mountain Tribe will release their second album on 1st June. Om Parvat Mystery is co-produced by the band with James Aparicio and was recorded in London and the Faroe Islands. Najma Akhtar, the well known British singer of Indian ancestry who has previously collaborated with the likes of Page & Plant and Jah Wobble as well as making several acclaimed solo albums in her own right, features on two songs.

Describing the new album, DMT say : “We’re very proud of this new record. It definitely shows a progression from our personal tastes in music and style of playing. We didn’t consciously make an effort to sound different from the first album but it felt like a natural development to a more experimental sound.”

Ahead of the album, and following lead single ‘Wide Eyes’, they’re streaming ‘High Drive’. Get your lugs round it here:

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Ventil Records V009 – 24th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

ƒauna’s style is billed as ‘dystopian avant pop’, and her second album is a magnificent mosaic of alienation. Vintage drum machine sounds click and pop out spartan rhythms, overwhich bibbling synths loop and ripple.

The press release emphasises the album’s dominant themes – facing down an uncertain future, dissecting new digital identities, the importance of political activism – and points to the fact that Infernum is very much an album of our times. But so much of the album’s intrigue lies in its juxtapositional positioning, its straddling of contemporary and retro. This also applies in absolution to the sonic makeup of the album.

The first track, ‘Primus’ has ƒauna outline – in a detached robotic voice – the circumstances surrounding the making of the album. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole, a work of retro-futurism which may or may not be autobiographical. It’s a mistake to synthesis the artist and the art, and this of course connects with the issues of identity – in particular virtual and digital identities. Who is ever truly themselves on-line, in public, in company? In any context, identity is a construct, and ƒauna explores the layers of construction here.

Supposedly emerging from ‘a dark crossroads between conceptual pop, downtempo hip-hop, and the euphoria of the club’, these influences manifest primarily in sparse electro compositions which resonate with the kind of tape-looping experimentalism of the underground of the late 70s and early 80s. The structures and overall production are sparse, the compositions perversely disjointed, deliberately angular, with .

Then again, the rolling synth swell of ‘Death Fly’ and bouncy insistence of ‘Lonely at the Top’ are crisp pop, distilled down and refined to its purest, most immediate from, while elsewhere, ‘Went Home Got Lost’ pushes more overtly contemporary dance-orientated tropes to quirky but affecting effect.

It’s an analogue take on an analogous representation of postmodernism: the collision of past, present, and future, with no clear distinction between the boundaries. And watching those boundaries dissolve with every clipped, synthetic beat is fascinating, and in some strange way, quietly exhilarating.

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Having released one of our favourite albums of 2016 in the form of Observed in a Dream, Norwegian band Mayflower Madame return with their new Premonition EP on 18th May.

Through four tracks of psych-theatrical ingenuity, shady shoegaze and 1980s dark romanticism, the EP conveys the wintry feeling of their home country – icy and gloomy, haunting and majestic.

Title track ‘Premonition’ is an apocalyptic love song where dark psychedelic post-punk combine with haunting vocals to create a feeling of impending doom.

Stream ‘Premonition’ here:

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Exile On Mainstream – 11th May 2018

English intergenerational duo Noisepicker are one of the new generation of two-piece acts who sound like full bands. Not by virtue of any trickery, but because they whack everything up full tilt and rock hard. Peace Off sounds like a band, albeit one with the guitars and drums dominating the mix.

There are so many shades, but for Noisepicker, it’s a spectrum of subtle blues that colours their lumbering, riffy racket. The songs are heavy, raw, the lyrics dark. It may mark something of a stylistic shift for Earl of Mars and former Lord of Putrefaction Harry Armstrong, but he still pours all the anger into it, his thick-throated vocal roar the perfect vehicle for this kind of heavy, heavy scuzzed-out stoner blues metal.

Pulverizing, slow, heavy discord worthy of Swans circa 1984 swiftly yields to swaggering heavy rock on opener ‘No Man Lies Blameless, which thunders away with the grainy grungy heft of Black Sabbath as filtered through Melvins. It sets the tone, and the tempo: Peace Off very much favours weight and groove over pace, the riffs big and gutsy (although when they do pick up the face, as on ‘O What Mercy Sorrow Brings’, they really do drive hard and fast.

‘A Taste of My Dying’ is the grittiest, grainiest blues, dark and dirty and slowed to a crawl. Under any other circumstances, you’d be thinking about grime and sweat, but at this low, low tempo, it’s more of a case of Led Zep on Temazepam. Armstrong gargles and spits the words to ‘He Knew it Would All End in Tears’ against a roar of guitars and crashing drums: there’s nothing fancy about Kieran Murphy’s style, and that’s a virtue, as the songs are focused in a fashion that delivers optimal force.

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