Archive for December, 2018

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

Solemn Wave Records – 6th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

We’re inching into winter and again my inbox seems to be getting darker and gothier in its content – or perhaps it’s just my SAD-attuned headspace. Either way, this is one extremely welcome arrival.

As a prelude to the album ‘Black Light, White Dark’, Evi Vine have given us ‘Sabbath’ as a single release, featuring The Cure’s Simon Gallup on bass, along with guitar by Peter Yates of Fields of the Nephilim. It’s a slow burner, and it’s epic and then some: fully nine brooding minutes of slow, smouldering atmosphere and hauntingly evocative melodies which burst into dazzlingly kaleidoscopic curtains of sound.

It’s one of those songs that lures you in with its grace and delicacy: Evi’s nuanced, emotionally rich and moving vocal, reminiscent by turns of Jarboe, Chelsea Wolfe and – perhaps at a short stretch – Julianne Reagan (she can swoop and soar, and I suspect her choice as backing singer by The Mission is no coincidence) is alluring, ethereal, simultaneously creating a sense of vulnerability and otherness. And as the sonic storm swells into a dense and richly-layered mass, the effect is intensified, until finally, the surging sound is all there is… nine minutes simply isn’t enough. Allowing the hypnotic bass and deliberate groove to take over and transport me downstream as the guitars build and build, deeper, louder, more and more, until I’m drifting, I find this is a song to loop, and loop…

The six-minute single edit is even more not long enough, and probably isn’t short enough to get much radio play either – even though it absolutely deserves all the audience it can reach. The fact mainstream audiences aren’t likely equipped to handle the intensity is their loss, but also a sad reflection on things. Because this is music to embrace, and be blown way by.

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Evi Vine

16th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest offering from gothy New York duo GHXST is appropriately titled. That said, ‘gloom’ carries connotations of moping, listlessness, and the six tracks here are anything but mopey or listless: the downcast, foreboding bleakness of atmosphere is matched by a crackling tension which provides a more complex dynamic.

It begins with a dark pulsating throb and a heartbeat bass drum, distant, buried. Guitar excess howls over the top before settling to a dirge-like crawl of spindly, echo-soaked twang reminiscent of latter-day Earth with hints of Neurosis-inspired post-metal. Shelly X croons and whispers, a combination of ethereal longing and menace as shoegazey washes of sound carry her disembodied voice through the clouds towards the stratosphere.

‘Ocean is a Desert’ is still atmospheric, and combines searing country an psychedelia into the mix to create something epic and immersive Moreover, it brings a greater sense of solidity and a more obvious structure as they start getting riffy and the mechanised drums kick through the murk, and things grow denser still on ‘Vaquero’, which invites comparisons to Chelsea Wolfe and Esben and the Witch at their most sonically dynamic with its brooding drama.

Samples and strings and quivering synths pave the way for the 80s-shaded synth-goth of ‘Bad Blood II’, a chilly, steely grey song that’s both graceful and tense and calls to mind Curve at their best. Single cut ride is dark and dense, taking cues from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Mushroom’ and offering hints of A Place to Bury Strangers to deliver a deep, dark buzzing throb of mid-tempo droning guitar noise, before ‘Ride’, unveiled in advance of the release, is a gritty, grainy, mess of low-slung low-end riffage swamped in reverb and dirty distortion. And that’s the appeal of GHXST right there. Music to get lost in and to drag you down into the undertow of those dark, deep currents.

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GHXST - Gloom

Christopher Nosnibor

My appreciation of the debut album by Leeds noisemongers Irk is already out in the public domain, as is my admiration of their capacity as a live act. It was only fitting that they should launch their debut album at Chunk, the rehearsal space which has become the hub of the new Leeds underground / alternative scene which has begun to emerge since the Brudenell – still the best venue in the country – has become increasingly popular and catering ever more to bigger-name acts. And there’s no escaping the fact that without the tiny venues, the microscenes, the free and cheap spaces where anything goes, there’d be nowhere for the bands of the future to explore and develop ideas free from the limitations of marketability and the pressure to achieve success. Commercialism strangles creativity, and we need the obscure band who want to fuck shit up more than ever in these desperate times in the stranglehold of corrupt, constricting neoliberalist capitalism which is not-so-slowly eroding every real freedom for the ordinary person.

Chunk is so no-budget, so DIY that there’s no licence for tonight’s (free) event: its BYOB, and people file in with carrier bags containing four-packs and the atmosphere is just so laid back that my anxieties about finding the place (Chunk is hidden through a door up some steps (which I worry I may fall down on my way out) next to a car repair place in an industrial area two miles out into the arse-end of nowhere) and all of the other stuff I panic about but tend not to talk about evaporate almost immediately. There are friendly faces, faces I recognise, faces I can chat to, and it feels more like a house party than a gig.

Only, there’s a gig PA and there are bands, and Beige Palace are on first. I note that they’ve been using a quite from a review I wrote of their live debut on my only previous visit to Chunk in the summer of 2016, which says ‘Beige Palace make sparse-sounding music that’s jarring, dissonant and hints at a clash between early Pram and No Wave angularity.’ Two yeas on, it still seems a fair summary. ‘It’s not math-rock’, their diminutive and moustachioed front man, Freddy Vinehill-Clifee forewarns the audience before they begin their set. He’s right. It’s atonal, droney, repetitive noise-rock with an almost spoken word delivery. Kelly Bishop’s flat, elongated vowels are reminiscent of Mark E. Smith in the early years of The Fall. They’re bursting with nagging, awkward guitar lines and clattering percussion playing unusual time signatures, too. So, like math-rock, only not. Or something. But it’s not about labels, but the music, and while they’re still rough ‘n’ ready, their confidence and intuition has evolved a lot over the last two years, and they turn in a more than decent performance.

Beige

Beige Palace

It was the release of BRITN3Y that brought deranged Edinburgh 3-piece Britney to my attention, and I’d been itching to see them live ever since. They don’t disappoint. Comprising bass – through a fuckload of pedals; vocals – through an even bigger fuckload of pedals; – and drums, they deliver sonic riots in the form of blistering sub-two-minute noisefests. Occasionally, chuggy riffs and even grooves emerge from the screaming, spasmodic mess, albeit fleetingly. It hurts after two songs. It hurts a whole lot better after ten. The speaker a foot from my right ear is sounding like it’s fucked and they just fuck it harder with a relentless barrage of explosive, brutal hybridized noise that draws on elements of metal, hardcore, and grindcore and Final Fantasy (the victory fanfare is a recurrent feature throughout their set and closes it, too, while the infamous Tidus Laugh from FF X also features). They’re joined at the end by NALA for some screaming vocals to wrap up set appropriately culminates in an ear-splitting wall of noise, and I’m not the only one blown away.

Britney

Britney

It turns out that Jack Gordon still has the copy of The Rage Monologues from the time we exchanged books. He’s read my review of the album, and during our brief exchange, I’m reminded that so many of the people who make art that pushes extremities, in whatever way, are the most pleasant, polite, and mild-mannered people you could wish to meet. It’s their outlet, and it’s what keeps them sane. Better to make brutal art than commit mass murder. Probably. Jack – bespectacled, sporting jacket and chinos and looking like any other smart-casual office worker – is a nice guy. But with the aid of a PA, a backline, and a bottle of Buckfast, he brings the brutality.

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Irk

If the disappearance of Blacklisters from the Leeds scene following Billy Mason-Wood’s departure for Germany left a jagged, gaping hole, then Irk more than manage it fill it with their own rendition of that Jesus Lizard, Touch ‘n’ Go skewed 90s US noise-rock racket. The trio are quite a different proposition and are very much their own people, but the comparisons and local lineage are impossible to ignore. And in this enclosed space, with the volume at pulverising levels and the warmth of community and camaraderie only adding to that of the proximity of bodies, everything comes together perfectly.

Christopher Nosnibor

You know what I appreciate, less as a critic but first as a fan of fringe music? Promoters and venues that can see beyond the bottom line, who appreciate and support art, and actually support grass roots music and artists who exist so far outside the mainstream they’re probably lucky if even their mums have heard of them, just because. The Fulford Arms in York is a rare venue indeed, and in booker Dan Gott they’ve struck gold. Facebook may have only shown there were 17 attending in the hours before and as I approached the venue, but there were at east three times as many actually in attendance, proving Facebook is a measure of nothing other than Facebook users’ capacity to click buttons on a whim. Actions very much speak louder than clicks, and the turnout alone says York isn’t as dead, conservative, or disinterested as all that.

Tonight’s lineup is a classic, with Gott’s own band, Snakerattlers – more of whom later – as the main support.

But first up, Gillman, a solo artist playing guitar and drums. Have I ever seen a drums-and-guitar one-man-band before, apart from the ancient busker who’s been on the streets of York paying awful Elvis covers for the last 30 years or thereabouts? I really don’t think so. Gillman looks harp in suit and bootlace tie and just-so oiled hair and does fucked-up rockabilly country stuff that got some real grit and a 60s psych twist. With minor chords and shedloads of echo, not to mention some deep twang, it’s like David Lynch meets Gallon Drunk. A plume of smoke rises from the edge of the rum kit, and he looks like he’s delivering a final sonic sermon from the top of a pyre. It’s pretty intense.

Gilman

Gillman

Tensheds proves that looks can be deceiving. Tensheds – pianos and gravel and whisky vocals extremely reminiscent of Tom Waits and assisted by an anonymous but extremely able drummer – looks uber-goth, but the majority of their set is given to knees-up theatrical piano-based blues songs. Said piano at times is given a different voice, and a bit of crunch and overdrive and sounds more like a guitar as the pair power through some glammy stompers. And Tensheds are definitely better than seven, although I’m taking a risk saying that in York.

Tensheds

Tensheds

On my arrival, Snakerattler Dan told me how their tireless touring had really tightened them up and that in many ways, the band has come on a long way in a short time – and watching the husband/wife duo tonight, for the first time in a few months, it’s very much apparent that this is very much true. Naomi’s drumming may still have a loose-limbed swing to it, but she’s hitting harder and tighter, and Dan’s very demeanor, and not just his playing, is tripwire tense. Every song is a short, sharp blast of adrenalised rockabilly garage. They’re not just playing the songs any more, they’re fully performing them, attacking them, and channelling the musical energy with every thread of their beings and at a hundred miles an hour. It’s proper, powerhouse stuff. Primitive, simple and stompy, Snakerattlers’ songs grab you by the throat and shake, rattle and roll. Ferocious and fun, this is truly the essence of rock ‘n’ roll.

Snakerattlers

Snakerattlers

Less straightforward is Mark Sultan, who’s responsible for an immense body of work both solo and with almost countless bands over the last 20-plus years. Musically, well, it’s rock ‘n’ roll too, with a strong punk element, but the execution brings all levels of bizarre as he walks on stage and sits behind the drum kit, brandishing a guitar, decked out in a snug-fitting hooded top adorned with eyes and sequins which my seven-year-old daughter would have loved. He proceeds to talk at length about problem gas and divulges that he’s farting freely while performing (there’s even a tour poster depicting beans on toast with the header ‘Mark Sultan’s UK Fall Flatulence’, and he spits a lot, mostly down his own front. Such openness and lack of pretence is unusual, and perhaps it unsettles a few people. Some leave. It’s their loss, as we’re in the presence of a true eccentric and a rare talent: Mark Sultan really puts on a performance, and works hard, playing with tireless energy and enthusiasm.

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Mark Sultan

I realise that while two hours ago, I’d never seen a drums-and-guitar one-man-band before, apart from the ancient busker who’s been on the streets of York paying awful Elvis covers for the last 30 years or thereabouts, I’ve now seen two and they were both bloody great.

Everyday Life Recordings – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

“We went into the studio with a couple of songs to record an EP, and we ended up with an album-length EP. We like to just let things happen and for songs to mostly write themselves. It’s a case of mucking around and seeing what feels right and what doesn’t. We say it all the time, but it’s important to note – we don’t intend anything. We don’t feel like ‘artists’ with grand statements to make.” So London-based ‘anti-music’ collective Moderate Rebels say of their second album, Shared Values – proving they’re fairly strongly anti-promotion, too.

Perhaps their lack of giving a shit, their lack of pretence, their self-effacing rejection of artistry is key to what makes Moderate Rebels true artists. It’s in this self-imposed distancing, even more than in their pursuit of repetitious, off-kilter kraut-influenced indie that Moderate Rebels really betray the influence of The Fall. You very much get the impression that if they had a hit they’d immediately bury further underground just to be bloody-minded.

‘The Value of Shares’ kicks it all off with a motoric drum machine – vintage, primitive, muddy and half-buried in the mix – and a chugging, wonky guitar that becomes increasingly swathed in flange and as they plug away at one chord and one line on and on and on, it gets more messy.

‘Stranded in Brazil’ is languid and magnificently sloppy in that early Pavement way, while ‘Eye in the Sky’ pitches a damning picture of austerity, privatisation and the whole morass of economic shit of 2018 against a ramshackle three-chord groove. There’s no shortage of those, with singe cuts ‘I Love Today’ and ‘Faith & Science’ being not so much standout tracks as prime examples of Moderate Rebels’ capacity to push a template to the max and achieve optimum effect.

‘Who will save me from my government?’ they ask – repeatedly – on closer ‘Have to Save Myself’, before answering with the song’s title. Repeatedly. It might not be a grand statement, but in a simple couplet they’ve captured a certain vital essence of the now. The answer encapsulates the culture of privatisation and absolute neoliberalist capitalism. Fuck you: save yourself or die. And in its absolute reduction to the repetition of just two lines, it also reminds us of May’s empty mantras and the soundbite media that dominates every aspect of our lives.

The structure of the album – essentially alternating spaced-out, meandering psychey efforts with straight-ahead, thumping Krauty rockers – swiftly emerges, and if, as a formula, it’s far from subtle, it’s no detraction, just as the fact that Shared Values sounds very like its predecessor, 2017’s The Sound Of Security, with its atonal multi-vocal disharmonies and sparse, repetitive song structures and lyrics, whereby two lines and three chords are stretched past the four-minute mark. And yet it’s not for a single second remotely tedious – and I say that completely without sarcasm, because they’ve totally nailed the trick whereby an infinite sonic loop feels like a kaleidoscopic tunnel that pulls the listener ever forwards despite being rooted to the spot. All of which is to say, it may not be a huge leap but then, if didn’t need to be. In the canon of wonky Kraut-rock, Shared Values is every bit as welcome and necessary as The Sound Of Security. Here’s hoping they continue to release an album a year for the next 40 years, and that they all sound like this. Meanwhile, it’s enough to play the two albums they’ve got out back-to-back and on a constant loop.

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Moderate Rebels - Shared