Archive for June, 2018

The Sublunar Society 053 – 11th May 2018

James Wells

Just as Facebook advertising and Amazon recommendations prove that algorithms can be applied usefully but are no substitute for human input.

Of course, The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is subject to human input, in that it was created by Mick Sussman himself. A programme is designed to ‘compose’ ‘unique’ music, by ‘making decisions based on a sequence of randomised processes.’ The nineteen compositions collected here seem to suggest a greater leaning toward the random than the musical. There are notes and there are rhythms, but none of them seem to coordinate with one another, and the sounds are trebly synthetic, 80s computer gamey. The cover art has obvious ‘matrix’ connotations, and tells much of the story of what The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator is about. Only, this is the sound of the matrix collapsing, of being stretched and pulled in all directions, twisted and tossed.

Sussman observes in the liner notes that in programming terms, Rosenberg is a primitive piece of coding, but is sufficiently versatile to enable him to vary musical phrasings and tempos – to the extent that one option enables the user to allocate a different tempo to each instrument. Why would anyone do this? Because, I suppose. It’s an indication of Sussman’s adoption of avant-garde principles, to disassemble and reconfigure that which has gone before, to build anew. It may well be that no-one has done this before not because they haven’t thought of it, but because they didn’t want to, but that’s every reason for Sussman to be the first.

The result is a disorientating, bleepy, bloopy clamour of sound, with digital notes flying in all directions in an exercise where the concept is considerably more appealing than the experience of the end product.

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Mick Sussman – The Rosenberg Algorithmic Music Generator

Alrealon Music – ALRN083 – 20th April 2018

James Wells

The title of Anita Loos’ 1925 novel and the 1953 film starring Marilyn Monroe may have passed into general acceptance, but if gentlemen prefer blondes, I personally prefer brunettes myself. Make of that what you will, but as such, a house of blondes has limited appeal ordinarily, although on hearing this, I’m inclined to make an exception. Time Trip is a varied and expansive electronic-led work which forges expansive spaces with nebulous synths and insistent beats.

‘Discovery #1’ builds ambient eddies of sound around a droning organ synth atop a motoric groove, and there are infinite nods to the likes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream here, as undulation, oscillating synth repetitions bibble and tweet over long, undulating synth drones and insistent, repetitive beats.

There’s some droning, modular crackle and fizz to the yawning oscillations of ‘Mean Solar Time’, and the overall sensation of Time Trip is one of reaching back. It plucks flickers from shoegaze and ambience as well as the origins of electronica, positioning itself within a slow-arcing trajectory without defining its place in concrete terms.

This is music that billows, ripples, throbs and pulses, and is content to loiter on the peripheries of the focus-zone. The beats flicker and click, pitter and patter, while the synths glister and gleam, twisting in flange-soaked zero-gravity. It all feels very familiar, but at the same time, it’s rather nice.

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House of Blondes – Time Trip

Ritual Productions – 21st June 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s perhaps fitting that self-professed occultist doom collective Drug Cult should unveil their debut long-player to coincide with midsummer’s day and the solstice.

They open with a nine-minute sludge-trudge that’s bursting with the trappings of psychedelia and old-school hard rock: ‘Serpent Therapy’ starts so slow, with so much distance between each chord that it sounds like an ending, a protracted grinding to a halt, rather than the start. Yes, this is slow, and this is heavy. The guitars are close to collapsing under their own weight, and threaten to bury Aasha Tozer’s reverb-drowned vocals in the process. It’s the soundtrack to a bad trip into the underworld, and while there’s nothing of such epic proportions to be found during the remainder of the album’s nine tracks, the darkness remains all-pervasive.

There’s a classic, vintage quality to the songs, but it’s all sludged up, twisted and messy, and what the songs lack in duration (the majority are below the four-minute mark) they more than compensate in density. The riffs lumber slow, low, and heavy, the bass grinds just as slow and even lower: the percussion doesn’t propel, but instead lands in thunderous ricochets while the cymbals wash in tidal waves. In fact, it’s like listening to an early Melvins 45 at 33, save for the vocals, which never sound anything less than borderline deranged.

The sense of volume is immense, speaker-shredding, earth-shattering. And just when it doesn’t seem possible to drive any deeper, grind any lower, ‘Bloodstone’ reaches a new low in low, the essence of doom-laden hard rock riffing distilled to its absolute. The form is still apparent: Drug Cult don’t take it beyond the limits as Sunn O))) do, but against contemporaries like Esben and the Witch and Big Brave, Drug Cult stand out for their concision and their eschewing of passages of levity: this is unforgiving, ultra-heavyweight from beginning to end. As such, it’s a truly megalithic work. Worship it.

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ROOM40 – RM491 – 12th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not even as much as a distant rumble. It’s barely the sound of air. An uneven hum eventually creeps into the realm of audible perception, but it’s still so quiet as to be questionable: is my mind playing tricks? Am I imagining sound to fill the silence. The whir of the disc in the player is still louder, and stands to the fore because of its higher pitch. But no, the rumble is growing now. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes or more, but now, the sound is upon me, and it’s like an approaching helicopter, thick, beating the air. It reaches a point of sustained crescendo, from whence if continues to grow, from a low roar to an excruciating multi-tonal blitz that fills the room and fills my head. Treble whines and drones above the gut-clenching low-end and scrapes. It makes for an intense and unsettling ten and a half minutes, and I’m reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori in the way the piece’s power stems not only from the detail of tone, texture and volume: the shifts are gradual, but definite. And then it stops. Silence. The contrast. The silence is more bewildering than the noise, at first.

Thus I am introduced to the work of Australian artist Thembi Soddell. Love Songs is an exploration and articulation of experiences of ‘insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships, in connection to certain forms of mental illness.’ The album succeeds in that Soddell conveys the relatable, if not necessarily the universal, in the personal. Without the specificity of lyrical content, the listener is necessarily invited, even compelled, to pour their own experience into the spaces in the sound, to interact with the moments of dissonance and discomfort.

At times eerie and tense, at others calm, yet always with a certain undercurrent of unease, Love Songs is every bit as dark as the cover art implies. The accompanying text summarises it nicely, saying ‘it’s equal parts horror, anxiety, relief and exhilaration, often in the same instant.’

‘Repetition Compulsion’ alternates hushed passages with seering screeds of noise which halt abruptly and unexpectedly, and if ‘Who is to Blame’ employs the same type of approach, the explosions of noise are of an altogether different intensity, an all-out wall of noise that’s full Whitehouse at times, although Soddell’s focus on tonal variety is the key point of interest here. The final composition, ‘Epilogue’ returns to the territory explored on the first, ‘Object (Im)Permanence’, beginning as silence before erupting into a sustained, violent, sonic assault. The screaming upper frequencies are pure torture, and as the howl and whine of the sounds fuse to form an oppressive, painful and impenetrable wall, it feels like it will never end. And you want to… but equally, you don’t. I let the sound engulf me and a certain energy courses through me. Where is the release? There. Finally, in the arrival of silence. The end.

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AThembi Soddell – Love Songs

Touch TO:104 – 25th May 2018

The Revenant Diary feels like a long time ago now: perhaps because it was. Six years is long time (although Mark Van Hoen has released two albums as The Locust in between). And yet, it continues to haunt me in some way. Returning with Invisible Threads, Mark Van Hoen continues to explore ominous, shadowy territories.

This is a dark, immersive work. I’d had a tough – and very strange – day at work. Oftentimes, when weary, stressed, dazed, I will select an instrumental work as my review project for the evening, as I find I can simultaneously write and relax, allowing the sound to wash over me. It transpires that this may have been precisely the album – or not, depending on perspective – for the occasion. I say, staring blankly. Not really listening, not really engaged, and certainly not typing. Not thinking, and not doing anything else. I don’t know exactly how long I remained like this, to all intents and purposes, immobile, in a sort of fugue state.

On returning, and attempting to remain focused, I find Van Hoen’s dark, churning sonic nebulae every bit as arresting and distracting.

The album’s inspiration stems from multiple sources, not least of all Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion which he re-read while on tour. The album is in some respect designed as a soundtrack to this, but equally, the Invisible Threads refers to the intangible connection between all of the musical and personal influences that brought the record into being.

In truth, the context and background have only limited effect on the reception. The reception is pure: a direct engagement between sonic output and listener.

Low, humming, hovering tones undulate across the album’s seven subtle compositions. Creeping, interweaving, fragmentations of light dance across these cold, bleak expanses which often bleed together. Even the silence between seems to provide an integral part of the listening experience and contributes to the shape of the overall arc of the album.

It’s distinctly background but in a way that fulfils that criteria of ambience that affects and colours the mood rather than being sonic wallpaper, disappearing into the background unnoticed. Repeated listens to Invisible Threads have not lifted my mood: instead, I feel claustrophobic, tense, weighted by an indefinable oppression. I give up: my critical vocabulary is as exhausted as my mental state when faced with this album at this time. I take a shower. Reflect. Accept that perhaps this work is so immersive that I am, temporarily, drowned.

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Mark Van Hoen - Invisible Threads

Leeds quintet The Golden Age of TV have shared their contribution to the Leeds based Come Play With Me 7” Singles Club with new track ‘Television’, which will be released on June 22nd.

The Golden Age Of TV have quickly gathered a lot of momentum with razor sharp, whip smart and perfectly crafted indie pop. Their three singles so far have all earned support from Radio 1 with Huw Stephens playing every song they’ve released. They’ve also performed at Reading & Leeds and with bands like Fickle Friends, Toothless & Alex Cameron, and nailed it at Long Division in Wakefield at the weekend.

Get your lugs round ‘Television’ here:

Joining The Golden Age of TV will be electropop quartet ENGINE. Surfing in from the outer rim of Burley and noisily settling on the Meanwood Nebula, ENGINE continue to blaze an individual DIY trail in Leeds. The group combines sampled psychedelics with introverted song-writing of a bygone era. With their recent debut album Cucumber Water now and an ever growing live reputation including support slots with Connan Mockasin, Infinite Bisous and C Duncan under their belts, ENGINE have moved forward with the driving, infectious, electronic groove ridden new flawless pop song ‘And I Say’.

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The Golden Age of TV

Following recent albums from Grave Lines and Limb, London label New Heavy Sounds have signed self described ‘dark witch, doom duo’ BlackLab who hail from Osaka Japan. They will release ’Under the Strawberry Moon 2.0′ on 20th July. Ahead of that, they’re streaming ‘Black Moon’ as a taster of their ‘fuzz, fuzz, fuzz, doom, stoner, more fuzz’ sound. It packs some heavy trudge riffery. You can get your lugs round it here:

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Blacklab - album cover_preview

Christopher Nosnibor

The missive which contains a link to the album lays out the facts. ‘August 2015: On a sweltering summer evening, Sly & the Family Drone brought their sweat-soaked carnival of chaos to east London. This is a recording of that night.’

Café Oto seems to be the venue of choice for weirdy, avant-garde experimental acts to capture their live sound – or perhaps it’s one of the few venues that truly embraces all that it weirdy, avant-garde and experimental in the first place. This, of course, is one of the benefits of operating on a not-for-profit basis. Art takes precedence over capital. It’s also an intimate space, where even a small crowd will make the place feel like it’s heaving, and it’s possible to really feel that connection between performer and audience in an up-close setting. Truly, here’s no substitute for being able to smell the sweat and see the whites of a perfomer’s eyes

Sly and the Family Drone have been pushing the parameters of messy noise for about eight years now, and while their recoded output explores all areas of murkiness and abrasion, their live shows are something else. Chaotic and cathartic, the only predictable part is percussion – that is to say, a lot of percussion.

This particular outing is heavy, and percussion-heavy from the outset. Thick, low-end blasts thunder through pounding drums. The percussion intensifies in both power and pace, while the droning bass frequencies bottom out to a place below the pelvic region while explosions of top-end squeal painfully. Less than ten minutes in, and they’ve hit total overload. Over the course of the album’s hour-long duration, they maintain it, and if anything, continue to push further, harder, louder, harsher. Crescendo hits after crescendo, and cumulatively, it’s punishing – in the best possible way.

It’s not just a hell of a noise: it’s all the noise. Even when the noise abates and the relentless battery of snare halts temporarily, eardrum-perforating feedback and whirring, hissing shards of treble fill the space. Through speakers, it hurts. Once can only imagine the impact and potential damage inflicted on those actually present. This is less a case of ‘you probably had to be there’ and more about ‘damn, I wish I’d been there’.

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Christopher Nosnibor

There’s no such thing as a night off. I may habitually tweet that I’m taking the night off for beer and live music, but that’s simply my way of telling the world I won’t be posting any reviews, I won’t be active on social media and probably won’t be responding to emails either. Watching bands and drinking beer has been a hobby of mine for a long time now, and I still enjoy it, but even when not guest-listed for reviewing, I tend to take notes and photos out of habit and for posterity. I’m naturally assuming my memory won’t be able to store all of the live shows I’ve attended when I get older, give that I struggle now, so the reviews are rather like postcards to my future self.

The WonkyStuff nights aren’t so much niche as ultra-niche – and that’s a good thing. The mainstream is oversaturated, and to cater to those tastes is a huge gamble. Focusing on a niche and knowing it well means that while there’s a very definite ceiling on audience potential, those being catered for are far more likely to actually bother. And so it is that on a hot Wednesday, around thirty people take seats in front of the stage to witness a smorgasbord of the most far-out experimental music you’ll find anywhere.

My future self, if presented with a photo of New Victorian Architecture’s performance would likely be ‘Christ, you have seen some weird shit’. Which corresponds with the multiple texts I received bearing the letters ‘wtf’ in response to sending pictures of said performance to friends. Certainly, the visual aspect – luminous yellow fishing kit, hood up, dust mask and heavy-duty latex gloves in blue – is striking, and if anything trumps the music or its delivery. There’s a lot of silence: some just awkward pauses, others more protracted periods of hush. At one point, he checks his phone, is momentarily animated as she scrabbles around the pile of pedals before him, then stops, stands (most of the set is spent kneeling) and addresses an inaudible question to the audience. Met with silence, he shrugs and resumes. The whole spectacle is odd – which is, of course, the idea.

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New Victorian Architecture

How Buildings Fail – the musical vehicle of Simon Hickinbotham – brings a different kind of odd, and one that’s much more song-orientated. The array of DIY and customised kit packed onto a small table includes an inverted Pot Noodle carton (chicken and mushroom) which appears to contain a set of controls. The material’s centred around the grainy and the granular, analoguey synthy sounds are modulated into gloopy oscillations and swerving sine waves which collide with overdriven, clattering drum tracks. Hickinbotham rattles off rants about philosophy and reading comics. It’s a weird, nerdy clash that lands somewhere in the field next to The Fall, Meat Beat Manifesto and Revolting Cocks. ‘Creative supply is outstripping demand!’ he calls by way of a refrain in the final song of the set. He’s right, but those gathered tonight are appreciate of their demands being catered for.

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How Buildings Fail

They may look like they’re playing chess, but Ash Sagar and John Tuffen are in fact pondering a rack of effects units on the table before them. The pair sit, almost motionless, mannequin-like, expressionless, and decked entirely in black. Tuffen, another self-solder gear enthusiast, appear to be playing open circuit boards, while Sagar tweaks at a more conventional-looking mixer unit. It’s difficult to determine the actual sources of the sounds which they sculpt expansive, glitchy drones that crackle and hum. Not a lot happens over the course of the set: instead, the emphasis on slow-evolving sonic shifts, and the focus is on detail rather than drama. Distortion ruptures smooth sonic arcs and beats like bursting bubblewrap forge subtle dynamics which balance grind and levity to immersive effect. It’s a meticulous performance, and for a few moments, time stands still.

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Orlando Ferguson

Stocker / Eyes – that’s Canadian-born percussionist Beau Stocker and multi-instrumentalist Ben Eyes – are celebrating the release of their new album, Earth Asylum. However, they showcase quite a different sound live in comparison to the album, which is extremely mellow and almost of a post-rock persuasion. Their set, driven by jarring, stop-start drumming and soaring, layered guitar and sweeping synths, and occasionally punctuated by jolting, halting guitar bursts, is certainly a strong contrast with the other acts on the bill. But for all of this, their set feels, perversely, the most conventional, working as it does established experimental / avant-jazz tropes. Although overtly improvised and fluid, and perhaps a shade overlong, there’s a clear sense that they have a tight rein on their performance, and it’s hard to find fault technically.

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Stocker/Eyes

In fact, it’s hard to find fault with the night overall: WonkyStuff pitch a varied but perfectly complimentary set of acts, the likes of whom will never achieve anything beyond cult status (if even that), and provide an essential platform for the oddballs and fringe performers. And essential is the word: in an age where capital and homogenisation is killing pretty much everything but the lowest common denominators, culturally, we need nights like this.

Thou have announced their return with new full-length, Magus. With the impending release of Magus, the band have decided to take a different approach and release three EPs ahead of the full-length, each of which the band note “are all a complete sonic departure from Magus and from each other…”

Magus, Thou’s first full-length since 2014’s Heathen, will be released on 31st August by Sacred Bones Records. In the months leading into the new album, Thou will be releasing three drastically different EPs: The House Primordial on Raw Sugar, Inconsolable on Community Records, and Rhea Sylvia on Deathwish, Inc. Each record will focus on a particular sound-noisy drone, quiet acoustic, and melodic grunge-all of which is incorporated into the new record, subsumed in the band’s more standard doom metal.

‘The Changeling Prince’ will feature on Magus, and you can hear it here:

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