Archive for December, 2018

Green Recordings – 30th November 2018 (Big Mouth)

A Gradual Decline is the debut album by CUTS, the audio-visual project of composer and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr. It follows the release of the EP ‘A Slow Decay’, which came out in October. The titles suggest a trajectory, an overarching theme, and Tombling’s preoccupation with environmental issues and global warming is the key here. “We are living in the age of the Anthropocene and it feels like everything is in decline,” he says.

He explains the process and inspiration as follows: “I have tried to make a record that feels like it’s all come from one place. My only musical influence on this was William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’. Not the music, but the process. The idea of a decline in sound really suited the concept of this record. All this music and instrumentation trapped in this declining digital signal. I wanted it to sound brittle and precarious. I also wanted to avoid doing overly dark material, opting instead for something that was more fragile, melancholic and even hopeful in moments.”

As such, this is a concept work, and a concept that’s conveyed by the medium of chilled-out electronica, propelled by quite mellow beats. And while there is a melancholy hue to the instrumentation it doesn’t exactly say ‘potential collapse of civilisation’ or ‘global warming: aaargh, we’re all fucked’. This is no criticism: it’s hard to reconcile the now with the future prospects was talk about endlessly but never seem to reach. Even positioning the Anthropocene is problematic, although using the increasingly popular placing of post-1945 as the marker, with that year being tipped by the Geological Society as The Great Acceleration in terms of the impact of human activity on climate and environment as the defining feature of the current geological age, is perhaps instructive in the context of Tombling’s comments that “we’re in a moment where extinction is regular. I wanted this record to reflect these frailties.”

The press release promises ‘11 widescreen, electronic compositions in response to global political and environmental breakdown,’ and explains how A Gradual Decline addresses the planet’s current fragility using actual field recordings of ice collapsing from glaciers’. This isn’t apparent in the music itself, and a lot of A Gradual Decline given to quite simple, straight-ahead electronica, and while there are warping synth washes to be found hither and thither, it’s gentle and genteel and doesn’t instil a gut-churning sense of panic. Then again, some of the pieces are quite stark and spacious.

The album’s trajectory is – as the title suggests – gradual. The pace slows and structures become increasingly loose and delineated, beats more fractured and fragmented as it progresses. It’s fitting: the slide into increasingly turbulent weather isn’t something noticeable on a day-to-day basis and on a global scale, rapid change is relative.

But by the time the listener has drifted through the rippling piano rolls and low-stuttering pulsations of ‘Maboroshi’ and the dilapidated slow-drone ambience of ‘Fear of Everything’ which suddenly vanishes to nothing after thirteen minutes of formless drift, the sense of journey becomes finally apparent.

A Gradual Decline is an album that makes more sense and grows in appeal with time to absorb and assimilate, to reflect and to refocus. Given time, A Gradual Decline makes sense. Its just a shame we don’t have the luxury of time to save the planet.

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CUTS - A Gradual Decline

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Teeth of the Sea… where to begin?

Who can say when, or how, the Wraiths began to make their presence felt. Yet when Teeth Of The Sea entered their base of operations The Facility to begin work in Autumn 2017 on their fifth album – the follow-up to 2015’s Highly Deadly Black Tarantula – it seemed hard to deny that these ghostly interruptions were at play. By November, all three members were in agreement that the disturbances were tangible and impossible to ignore.

It wasn’t just the more familiar spectres of the band’s collective and overactive imagination – the unruly morass of ‘80s horror and sci-fi movies, industrial ballast, 2000AD terror, ‘70s-damaged experimental brinksmanship and atmospheric grandeur that they’d somehow conspire to sculpt into coherent structures. For as much as the band were determined to create a vivid and maximalist work that threw all of the wildest imagination into sharp relief, what resulted summarily went beyond anything they could have expected.

The Wraith is out in February. Meanwhile, you can watch ‘Hirareth’, which we highly recommend:

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Teeth of the Sea

7"/DL – Not on label – 16th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Pharoah Chromium’s Gaza was one of the most remarkable, and incredibly powerful releases of 2016: an audio collage constructed primarily with audio captured during during operation Protective Edge in Palestine in July and August 2014, it was a document of life in a war zone.

The press release which accompanies this 7” vinyl-only release, described as ‘a spoken word record with a sonic background’ explains that ‘Quatre heures à Chatila’ is a continuation of the Gaza project’, although this time the focus is on ‘the massacres that took place in the refugee camps Sabra and Shatila over the course of three days in September 1982, in Beirut, Lebanon’.

Of the Gaza LP, I suggested that context was everything, and this is also true here, as the accompanying text explains: ‘In an eerie twist of fate, one the most talented and subversive writers of the 20th century happened to be visiting Beirut at the time these gruelling events occurred. He was one of the first foreigners to enter the camps and witness the carnage. His text “4 hours in Shatila” is a minutious and poetic account of the war crimes Genet’s eyes encountered and endured for 4 hours that day’.

As such, the release – culled from the Eros & Massacre album project – features Elli Madeiros reading two segments of Jean Genet’s text against an electronic backdrop of elongated drones and a drifting wave of overlays from buzzing top-end and extraneous intrusions that bend and twist forged by Ghazi Barakat (aka Pharoah Chromium), and augmented by guitar courtesy of Osman Arabi on ‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ on side 1, and whispers courtesy of Rahel Preisser on ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ on side 2.

‘Une Photographie a Deux Dimensions’ creates a creepy, unsettling atmosphere, flickering sonic shadows skitter this way and that behind the narrative, and while perhaps it’s best appreciated in its native tongue and without the encumbrance of text or the need to engage in activity which distracts from the listening experience as intended, the availability of an English translation of Genet’s text on-line does help in fleshing out the context. It also serves to render the full horror of the experience explicit.

The shorter ‘Saint Genet à Chatila’ is built – at least at first – around a looped, cascading motif. The vocal is delivered close-mic and with a certain urgency as digital diddles flit every which-way, spider-like across stop-start surges of bass that start sparse but echo to rolling thunder. It’s spine-tingling and uncomfortable, although one suspects something is lost in translation – or lack of.

Fittingly, as much as Genet’s depiction of the gruesomeness streets littered with bloodied corpses is horrific, it’s the pains he goes to to articulate the limitations of any given medium which render his account so powerful:

‘A photograph doesn’t show the flies nor the thick white smell of death. Neither does it show how you must jump over bodies as you walk along from one corpse to the next. If you look closely at a corpse, an odd phenomenon occurs: the absence of life in this body corresponds to the total absence of the body, or rather to its continuous backing away. You feel that even by coming closer you can never touch it. That happens when you look at it carefully. But should you make a move in its direction, get down next to it, move an arm or a finger, suddenly it is very much there and almost friendly.’

As such, Barakat must necessarily accept that the medium of sound can only convey so much, and while the composition and recital evoke the bewildering scenes and the effect of witnessing them first-hand, they can never truly convey that lasting traumatic impact.

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Chatila_front

Ipecac Recordings – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Planet B finds Justin Pearson – of Dead Cross, Retox, and more bands and projects than even he could probably name – pair up with hip-hop producer Luke Henshaw. The result is a gloriously mangled hybrid of punk and hip-hop that’s more in the vein of the crossover collaborations that featured on the Judgement Night soundtrack than anything thrown up subsequently by nu-metal or anything else that’s followed. No doubt this is something Ipecac head honcho Mike Patton considered when the album landed with the label, having delivered the belting ‘Another Body Murdered’ with Faith No More in collaboration with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. back in ’93.

Having spent what seems like forever criticising people for becoming fogeys prematurely and becoming locked in an era that corresponds with their late teens / early twenties and bemoaning the fact that there’s no new music that’s any good, I’ll confess with no small disappointment that just typing that gave me a major pang of nostalgia, and that I haven’t listened to any mainstream or chart music in about eight years now, and I really don’t know who’s who or what the kidz are listening to now (and although I have been subjected to ‘What Does the Fox Say?’, Pingfong’s ‘Baby Shark Dance’ and ‘Skibidi’ by Little Big, I’m not sure how representative these are of anything). But the notion that there’s no new music that’s any good is patent bollocks. The fact of the matter is there’s more good new music emerging now than ever before – it’s just a matter of taste and knowing where to find it. Ipecac, it has to be said, are pretty consistent as a source of things both noisy and strange, and while the styles and forms may not be entirely predictable, the quality usually is. Planet B’s eponymous debut is illustrative, and while it’s new music with roots in older music, it still doesn’t sound quite like anything else current.

Political and pissed off, Planet B is an album with attack, taking not the mellowed out doped-up end of hip-hop but presents a fiery force-for-change antagonism that’s more Body Count or Beastie Boys at their best. As one would reasonably expect from an act featuring Justin Pearson, the result isn’t pretty, but it is pretty intense, and ‘Crustfund’ makes for a strong start: deep, pounding hip-hop beats and snarling synths provide the backdrop to an uncompromising and aggressive vocal courtesy of Kool Keith, (one of a roll-call of inspired guests featured on the album).

Things take a turn for the more direct and driving with the fast-paced pulsating groove of ‘Join a Cult’ – the backing sounds like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, while the vocals are a pure punk whooping holler, brimming with anger and nihilism. ‘Manure Rally’ and ‘Come Bogeyman’ are also thunderous stompers reminiscent of Ministry (the latter featuring the percussive talents of Martin Atkins), and big mid-tempo beats and dense, looping low-end are one of the defining features of the album as a whole. This certainly contributes to providing Planet B with a sense of cohesion – which is much-needed given its eclecticism.

Like many, I’m wary of covers of songs I really, really like, and am often heart howling in despair ‘Sacrilege! How could they do that?’ or, conversely, ‘why did they bother? It doesn’t do anything different.’ The cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down’ is unexpected – slowed down, stripped down, it’s brutal and ugly – and quite outstanding.

Although the production is significantly cleaner and the overall, and the vibe altogether less violent, Planet B shares shouty, sneering, snotty common ground with Uniform’s The Long Walk. And as The Long Walk is one of my favourite albums of the year (despite its relentless fury and clanging noise invariably leaving me physically and emotionally drained and with a headache), it’s a big thumbs up for Planet B.

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Armalyte Industries – 7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

However dark, gritty and sleazy <PIG> have gone over the course of their lengthy (try 30 year) if sporadic career, there’s always been both a wry humour and an appreciation of pop in evidence. This has been thrust to the fore in the latest releases in the shape of the grimy but shiny glam of ‘Risen’ and Raymond Watts’ most recent collaboration with Sasha Grey for a cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s the Way (I Like It)’ which was pure pop and pure filth in equal measure.

The three covers on offer here – Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’, Elvis’ ‘Blue Christmas’ and ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ (John Lennon) – are quite surprising in their straightness, but that isn’t to say there isn’t a twist. That is to say, it sounds like <PIG> covering some Christmas classics. Of course, the instrumentation is a little different, and Watts’ gravelly, low-throated style is distinctive to say the least – meaning that George Michael’s heartbroken lament is transformed into a leery come-on with more than a hint of Tom Waits about it, not to mention guitars that sounds like a Status Quo 45 played at 33.

‘Blue Christmas’ trudges and grinds, with Watts delivering his best snarling, sneering JG Thirlwell imitation against a backdrop of Bryan May guitars and soaring chorals. The incongruity is both genius and magic. Wrapping things up with ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, Watts backs off the irony, the sleaze, and the bombast. There’s no knowing wink behind the gravelly croon here, and it’s genuinely touching. And with all of the profits from this release going to

International Rescue Committee, the purpose of which is to ‘reunite refugee families torn apart by war, persecution or harmful policies’, we get to see a different side to <PIG>: for all of the theatricality, for all of Watt’s near-preposterous showmanship, there’s a real sense of humanity not even a scratch beneath the surface. With Black Mass Watts proves he’s not only the God of Gammon but a decent human being, spreading the real spirit of Christmas in these particularly bleak, Trump and Brexit-dominated times.

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Pig - Black Mass

OUS – OUS017 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibpr

Juxtapositions… oppositions… rippling waves of abstraction shimmer in broad washes while darker current bubble beneath… but the mood soon turns ugly as the bubbing low end becomes a churning throb and the soft waves harden into sharp-edged shards and extraneous sounds interrupt the smooth edges.

On ‘Feel Safe’ time and sound warp and blur: the time signature is but an illusion, an allusion to time rather than any true marker, and the naturally-occurring rhythms which emerge from the interweaving notes are constantly shifting, at first disorientating but gradually the while weft and warp becomes an aural blanket that softly smothers the senses and envelops the listener.

Nemeček conjures so many layers and with such subtlety it’s often hard to appreciate just how much is happening simultaneously. The soft rolling bass and drifting, cloud-like mid-ranges of ‘Organs’ become subject to crackling interference toward the end of the track, while ‘Incidents I’ is a disorientating oscillation.

The digital release benefits from the inclusion if ‘Incidents II’ which segues into ‘Incidents I’ and is a slow-building beat-backed blast of thunder that swells to epic proportions, and while the mellifluous sonic nebulae are as expansive and kaleidoscopically immersive as they come the dense, deliberate beats an booming detonations of sub-bass provide a sense of structure and form that focuses the attention back in. That isn’t to say the form places Recurrences fully foreground, or that the compositions even hint at linearity: they drift in and drift out again without having an overt direction. And all of this is good.

Recurrences is constructed as an ambient work, and its semi-abstract form and drifting layers of soft-focus vapouresness more than fulfil that criteria: that there’s more besides and beyond doesn’t detract from that ambition, and Recurrences is something of a masterclass in advanced ambient which occupies background, foreground, middleground, and twists the psyche all at once.

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Recurrences

Forking Paths – FP0015 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The title has very personal origins for Evan Davies, the man who records under the Blank Nurse / No Light moniker. A sufferer of Pure OCD – a form of OCD which manifests with no external behaviours or rituals, with the compulsions being mental rather than physical – and depression, Davies spent his teenage years tormented by the fear of HIV infection.

HIV 1994 sees Davies confront and channel the experience creatively, using what the press release describes as ‘often-overwhelming mental health issues’ to create song which are ‘like exorcisms for emotions and memories’. The context suggests that this was never going to be an ‘easy’ album, and however deftly Davies combines his wide-ranging and, in the face of it, incongruous and incompatible influences, which span ambient and neoclassical, hardcore, black metal, noise, and house, the clashing contrasts would be awkward enough without the anguish behind the compositions themselves. And so it is that on HIV 1994, Blank Nurse / No Light hauls the listener through an intense personal hell.

‘Blood Fiction’ begins with a collage of voices and extraneous noise before lilting string glissandos and a soft bass steer toward a calmer, more structured path. It provides a recurring motif, but one frequently interrupted by passing traffic and low rumbling noises. And so gentle tranquillity and ruptures of disquiet are crunched into one another before ‘Mocking of the Ghost of Crybaby Cobain’ really ratchets up the intensity with unsettling collision of styles, with pounding industrial percussion and expansive electronica that’s almost dancey providing the backdrop to the most brutal screaming vocals. It actually sounds like an exorcism. Or Prurient with more beats.

And it only gets darker, more disturbed and more disturbing from here: the lyrics are unintelligible, guttural screams of pure pain, and the tunes mangled to fuck, glitchy, twitchy anti-rhythms hammer around behind quite mellow synth washes. ‘Flu Breather’ sounds more like a demon dying of plague in a nightclub conjured in a nightmare, or, perhaps more credibly, the outpouring of indescribable, soul-shredding anguish that cannot be articulated in any coherent fashion.

There are some straight-ahead, accessible moments amidst the cacophonous chaos: ‘Outside the Clinic is a Hungry Black Void of Nothingness’ is a brooding electro-pop piece with a real groove and a narrative of sorts, and calls to minds Xiu Xiu, while ‘No Ecstasy’ goes all Wax Trax!, coming on like late 80s Revolting Cocks . But these tracks are very much the exception, as the majority of the others twist, turn, break and collapse in on themselves. Redemption and light are crushed and swept way in a succession of disconnections and claustrophobic dead-ends. It’s deeply uncomfortable from beginning to end, and much of it sounds like opposing sonic forces at war – which probably makes this a successful work, providing a deep insight into the tortured mind of the artist.

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Blank Nurse