Archive for January, 2019

Kasuga Records 022 – 5th February 2019

James Wells

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, less is genuinely less. The latest release from Syntax is sparse, impersonal, and keenly pursues the angle of ‘less’. In fact, Current is s sparse, so much ‘less’ that as times it’s barely there. So barely there I found that while working on this review of the album, I’d forget what I was doing and become side-tracked, distracted – by more or less anything. The fact it’s also being released as a limited-edition physical item -and SD card – that’s so much less you could easily lose it.

None of this is to say that Current is uninteresting: conceptually, it has substance and depth, and the accompanying blurb is a fascinating read, and it’s worth quoting at length:

‘Starting from the postulate that energy becomes form and form becomes energy, Current articulates — based on aesthetic rigor — the audible forms of electric current, seen as vital energy and the active principle of an artificial consciousness.

‘The analysis of sound phenomena from this perspective can be perceived as a source of meditation, which reflects a physical phenomenon on a philosophical field. Sonic details and structural artifacts (sic) are exposed to their own sonic value and examine — from a phenomenological perspective — the idea of flux, energy, artificial consciousness, self-direction and the capability of self-knowledge.

‘Within the sonic construct of Syntax, Laurian Bardoș draws strong influence from his study in medical psychology. From this perspective the evolution of his music has been greatly influenced by the study of perception and the Gestalt theory, which connects the spatial (geometric) form with the temporal form (sound).’

Sonically, Current manifests as a lot of wibbling drones and glitchy microbeats, sometimes so densely packed as to effect an almost scratching, crackling sound that creates interference against the almost subsonic low-end oscillations. Clicks, pops and hushed thumps draped in whispers and accompanied by sporadic modular pulsations that bleep, bloop, and bubble. Fizzing static, white noise, crackling distortion, whistles and sounds so fine as to create aural drizzle. Sonar echoes…. Everything is probing, exploratory, but the lights find only darkness and it’s impossible to find any sense of direction. And in this way, it becomes apparent how conventions of form and structure in music have a bearing on our bearings, so to speak, and cut loose from those conventions, Current presents something of a challenge.

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Front & Follow – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front & Follow continue their ever-fascinating The Blow series of split / collaborative releases with an album by Dunning and Underwood, aka Graham Dunning and Sam Underwood, who’ve used this release to showcase their Mammoth Beat Organ project.

I’m mature enough to refrain from making any puerile quips about mammoth organs and instead get down to the business of reviewing an album which showcases the sound of a machine they describe as ‘a modular, mechanical music contraption, designed as a two-player, semi-autonomous musical instrument’ which ‘plays unusual, sometimes erratic compositions drawing on drone music, minimalist repetition and fairground organ techniques’.

None of this prepares me for the reality – which is, arguably, one of the strongest, and also the most far-out – releases of the series yet. I’ll focus here on the music rather than the machine – which has some kind of quirky steampunk look to its construction – because while in a live context, it’s no doubt quite a spectacle, in the medium of recorded sound, the sound is all you have to engage with. And the sound is rich in strange, unsettling atmospherics, a work that nether light nor dark but hovers uncertainly in the shadows of its own casting.

The first piece, ‘Song or Chimney Sweeps’ transitions from elongated, atonal drone to trilling fairground organ, although the notes waver and wheeze, and assonance and order are rapidly replaced by dissonance and disorder and the different notes play in different times, and what begins as something playful and lighthearted pretty soon becomes a horrible headfuck. This, of course, is a good thing. The headfuckier the better as far as I’m concerned. Clearly, this is an album that calls for more vodka. Lots more.

The peeping, parping, tooting, quavering atonality of ‘Blown Coda’ is constructed around droning not-quite chords which droop like deflating bagpipes. There’s an almost child-like naivete to the mismatched conflicts of key. The way young children have no concept of key and will simply play notes to hear a sound and will play randomly – and for protracted, torturous periods – comes to mind here. Only, these are long, slow nots that trickle and weep over erratic arrhythmia. Contrastingly, ‘Acorn Factory’ is largely percussive – or at least sounds that way. Tinny, irregular beats – the sound of something hitting the bottom of a metal bucket or something – peculiar, difficult to place in a musical context.

‘Demon’, one of the pieces that’s more overtly ‘structured’ or ‘composed’ sounds like some kind of primitive drum ‘n’ bass, with clattering, ramshackle rhythms proving the backdrop to honking horn and woozy drone, all muffled by a blanket or raw, barely-there-production.

Then there’s what anyone – even the most passionate avant-garde aficionado – would likely describe as ‘weird shit’, starting with the woozy atonal discordant mess of ‘Odd Duty’ placing the emphasis on ‘odd’ and ‘Padlocks on a Bridge’ bringing together wheezing bellows notes with off-kilter percussion.

All the vodka isn’t quite enough to make sense of this sonic derangement. It isn’t abstract, it’s just warped and wilfully perverse. And it’s little short of genius.

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Blow 5

Daughters, who saw their new album, You Won’t Get What You Want, chart in the UK and place on countless year-end best of lists such as The Quietus, Rolling Stone and Bandcamp, kick off the new year with the premiere of their video for ‘Less Sex’, directed by former bandmate Jeremy Wabiszczewicz.

Singer Alexis Marshall said of the enduring partnership, “More than a decade after Jeremy was a founding member of Daughters, he proposed an intriguing concept for a ‘Less Sex’ video, dark and unnerving, to match the mood the song carries with it. To say we are pleased with the end result would be an egregious understatement. Our dear friend has gone all out and with that, provided us with a visual accompaniment that, quite simply, floors us with every viewing.”

The video arrives as the band is prepping for their first North American tour in support of You Won’t Get What You Want, with European touring to follow in April and beyond.

Watch the video here:

Daughters 2019 tour dates:

April 5 St. Petersburg, Russia Mod Club
April 6 Moscow, Russia Pravda Club
April 8 Munich, Germany Backstage Concerts
April 9 Stuttgart, Germany Juha West
April 10 Paris, France Point Ephemere
April 11 Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Belgium Le Botanique
April 12 Berlin, Germany Cassiopeia Club SOLD OUT
April 13 Hamburg, Germany Hafenklang
April 14 Tilburg, Netherlands Roadburn
April 15 Ramsgate, UK Ramsgate Music Hall
April 16 Bristol, UK The Exchange SOLD OUT
April 17 Manchester, UK The Deaf Institute SOLD OUT
April 18 Glasgow, UK The Hug and Pint
April 19 Leeds, UK Brudenell
April 20 London, UK The Dome SOLD OUT

June 21 Clisson, FR Hellfest

Aug 2 Katowice, PL OFF Festival

Aug 7 Jaromer, CZ Brutal Assault Festival

Aug 8 Rees, DE Haldern Pop Festival

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Pelagic Records – 25th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m something of a latecomer to the Mono party, although given their credentials, I can’t fathom for the life of me why I haven’t explored a single one of the nine albums they’ve released over the last twenty years. Too much music, too little time, is probably the only real reason. And, witnessing them live by way of an introduction, my initial impression was only middling: on the night, I found more in Jo Quail’s surging waves of cello and the gritty abrasion of A Storm of Light. But context matters, and I had gone for the other two acts, and so now, with a large gin and a candle for light, I’m ready to approach their latest, the Steve Albini-recorded Nowhere Now Here with fresh ears.

‘After You Comes the Flood’ lifts the curtain on a proggy post-rock crescendo that offers up every shade of grand. It’s a crescendo that doesn’t only sustain, but swell to even more monumental proportions, with layer upon layer of sound and richer, dirtier distortion filling the background.

Quite a deal was made when Mono featured vocals for the first time not so long ago, and the performance of songs with singing seemed to be a major topic of conversation when I caught them in Leeds last year. They’re used sparingly here, and on the vaporous, shoegaze drift of ‘Breathe’, they serve more as another instrument than a focal point.

The string-soaked epic that is the title track again follows what is by now a well-established post-rock formula of long, gradual builds and rapid drops that pull back from the precipice, but it’s so magnificently executed that it would be churlish to criticise. And herein lies the album’s success: much of the material does fall under the broad umbrella of ‘standard’ instrumental post-rock (although acknowledging that Mono were one of the bands who contributed to the creation of a genre whose tag they reject is important), the compositions and their performance are masterclasses in shifting dynamics and delayed gratification. As they lead the listener through ponderous passages of awe-inspiring grace only to reveal towering cathedrals of sound just around the corner, even the predictable forms hold unexpected twists, like the sonic supernova that explodes at 5’39” on ‘Sorrow’.

Steve Albini is perhaps more commonly associated with ‘noisy’ music, but his reluctance to be credited as a producer is a reflection of his abilities as a technician, and the fact he strives to capture the essence of any given band’s sound rather than impose his own vision on their work. With Mono’s method involving playing live in the studio, the pairing makes complete sense, and it’s fair to say that Nowhere Now Here very much captures not only the sound, but the feel of a live show, with the shifting tension, emotional resonance of chiming guitars brooding in the dark, and the exhilarating rush of catharsis that effuses through a truly blistering crescendo. It’s those indefinable, unmanipulable details which make Nowhere Now Here.

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Mono - Nowhere

Solemn Wave Records – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Over a decade into this music writing thing and I still get a massive buzz receiving albums I’m excited about hearing ahead of release. Mostly because like many other music fans, I get impatient and overhyped with anticipation. And then… well, what then? When a work is so rich and resonant, and communicates on a level which transcends words. Describing not sound, but sensation is more than a challenge, especially when that sensation is overwhelming.

Single release ‘Sabbath’ gave me something of an Evi Vine rush and raiding the back catalogue only amplified my anticipation for BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK, and never mind the suspense, it’s a belter. No doubt much will be made of the roll-call of contributors, including The Cure’s Simon Gallup on bass and Peter Yates of Fields of the Nephilim on guitar, but the songs ultimately speaks for themselves here.

A mere six songs, yes, but when the first is a slow-burning behemoth that treads the delicate line walked by Chelsea Wolfe, it’s immediately apparent that these are songs of a rare intensity. ‘I Am the Waves’ explores brooding, hushed and downright downbeat passages which glide into deep, immersive washes with serpentine guitar lines snaking around trepidacious drums and haunting, fragile vocals. ‘Afterlight’ ups the tempo and the tension, rolling drums and extraneous electronics creating a dense swell of sound. Evi sounds twitchy, anxious, her voice adrift in multidirectional reverb. The atmosphere is fractured and strained: you don’t just listen to this, you feel it. BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK leads the listener to some dark places, but then a function of the most powerful art is often to challenge, to affect, rather than to simply exist and entertain.

The sprawling yet elegantly-poised nine-minute ‘Sabbath’ is still a standout, its contrasting passages of fragility and crushing weight the perfect counterpoint to one another. It drives and surges, on and on, a dense, textured wall of sound that’s completely immersive. Its only shortcoming is that it is, well, just too short.

‘My Only Son’ presents a more minimal aspect, a delicate piano providing the primary accompaniment to wistful, reflective lyrics. It’s well-placed, bringing things down a notch – but the incidental strings and voices bring contrast and discord, meaning it’s never an option to really settle into a sense of relaxation and comfort, and the low-rumbling electronics which open ‘We Are Made of Stars’ deepen the unsettling atmosphere. Stretching out to forge a suffocating dark ambience, voices whisper hauntingly in the distance, before the eleven-and-a-half-minute finale, ‘Sad Song No. 9’ dredges every last ounce of aching beauty from the deepest melancholy. And when the bass booms in and the guitars kick in, it soars majestically. It’s a perfect conclusion to an album worthy of the word masterpiece.

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Silber Records – 6th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The five soundscapes on Internecine Vampires are exploratory and carry an air of the vague and tentative. That isn’t to say indecisive or uncertain: Fisher has a clear sense of purpose here, and this mellifluous ambient work ventures into some interesting sonic territories, not least of all in the juxtapositions of texture and tone.

The liner notes describe the EP as ‘a free wheeling exploration of un-winnable situations & social conflict that drew inspiration from everything from chess, Star Trek, & Timothy Leary to considering the ways in which social groups too often fail to connect in meaningful ways’, and explain how ‘Fisher was also thinking about how queer & trans individuals are too often placed in the unwinnable situation of being evaluated on their ability to “pass” & considered inauthentic in relation to the “authentic” dominant culture… The unwinnable situation is an invitation to redefine the terms of success; to imagine different ways of being & of relating to the world & those around you; to reject simple binaries & to reject the internecine vampires that lurk within ourselves & our culture. Individuals are meant to be recognized as just that, individuals.’

I may have a doctorate in English literature, but ‘internecine’ is a new entry in my vocabulary. Meaning ‘destructive to both sides in a conflict’, it’ a strong addition and it’s the perfect selection for describing the gender wars which are currently raging in all directions, wreaking havoc with destructive infighting around what very much ought to be a common cause. The wider narrative is that gender conflict is a convenient distraction from everything else, particularly given that those battling it out tend to be left-leaning individuals. While I’m not about to suggest which battles anyone should choose, I do have a certain personal interest in the lines marked out between the sides, for reasons I’m disinclined to retread and labour here. Individuality should be a given right: what the world needs is for those individuals to unite against the enemy of governmental tyranny, etc., etc, etc.

On ‘Maps Of Loss And Longing’, soft xylophonic notes hover in a mist of reverb and slowly twist and warp. It’s subtle, but tangible. ‘Maru’ offers elongated, scraping drones of feedback and low, sonorous hums below, which twist together and twist apart. It’s delicate, graceful, sans form, and undirected. ‘Zugzwang’ brings a mournful violin, a banjo picked in a sparse, mournful fashion, against a dolorous, funereal beat and the occasional blurt of extraneous noise, while closer ‘Soon’ is a slow-turning sonic drift, a soft, supple cloud that changes form slowly, almost subliminally. It’s perhaps analogous to the EP and its message, in that it works as a piece of music, but its intent isn’t necessarily apparent. Objectively, this is no obstacle to the appreciation of what is a neatly-gathered and carefully-poised ambient instrumental assemblage that flows naturally and fluidly to form a cohesive piece of work.

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Luka Fisher – Internecine Vampires

Christopher Nosnibor

Casting an eye back to my reviews from last year, I discovered that it took me until 14th January to lug my carcass to see any live bands, and that was just up the road to see some friends play. Well, it’s friends playing that has forced me out of my hole for my first gig of 2019, too. For this, I’m grateful to the Wharf Street Galaxy guys: I don’t fare so well at this time of year, and the urge to hibernate all too often overwhelms the will to socialise.

After the hike from the station to Hyde Park Book Club, I’m pleased to find them near the bar sipping soft drinks and coffee, although I’m ready for beer and the Northern Monk Heathen IPA (purchased before realising it registers an ABV of 4.2%) does the job nicely as we riffed about various methods of making coffee and matters of male grooming – rock ‘n’ roll over 40s style.

Tonight’s show is the 50th birthday celebration of Neil Gumbley, guitarist in the first band on the bill: apparently, he’s not keen on birthday celebrations, but is keen on gigs, so decided to put one on with bands he likes.

The scrappy, scant nature of my notes is less as a result of the beer, but more as a result of being too busy enjoying the bands and conversations in between acts, although Vat-Egg Imposition make enough of an impact to not really require any notes to jog the memory. Musically, they’re all about the Fall-like repetitions, which is cool, but nowhere near as striking as seeing a bloke dressed as an egg and lofting a yellow carrier bag. It transpires the bag contains packets of crisps, which are distributed to the audience before they perform ‘I Bought You Crisps’, a tale of everyday heartbreak that’s both sad and funny. For entertainment, they’re top-notch, and I might even say egg-shellent.

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The Vat-Egg Imposition

Wind-Up Birds aren’t bad either. I’m understating here. Choppy post-punk guitars and a stonking rhythm section propelled by some tight, crisp drumming define the sound. Somewhere between The Fall and The Wedding Present, they do ranty, political, etc. You get the idea. They’re bloody good at it, too. And the theme for the evening is pretty much set solid.

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The Wind-Up Birds

‘Fuck me,’ my spidery scribble says. ‘There are people here in WSGB T-shirts!’ And they’re not members of the band! This is likely to be the band’s last show for a while, given that D. Procter (Message) is heading off to Scandinavia for PhD-related pursuits for 8 months very soon, although with more related projects than even they can count, the other members won’t exactly be twiddling their thumbs in his absence. And as a final show before their hiatus, it’s a stormer: yes, they’re on fine form. ‘Freedom to Comply’ (which pursues the theme of totalitarian conformity under the auspices of free capitalism and as such stands as a complimentary counterpart to ‘Organised Freedom is Compulsory’ from the first EP) is hammered out over a single chord augmented with strains of sculpted feedback, and the low-down, sleaze-funk of ‘Sex Master’ is delivered with audacious panache. I struggle to contain my mirth, and I’m laughing with rather than at them: this is a band that gets the ironic juxtaposition of middle-aged men in red boiler-suits doing pseudo-slinky.

Yes, ‘Hector and Harangue’ always gives me cause to smirk a little, the title and lyric lifted from an early review of mine, and it provides a well-placed change of tempo and tone with its faster pace and shouty, hooky chorus. No, they’re not so big on choruses.

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The Wharf Street Galaxy Band

There may be something of a dearth of puffins in tonight’s set, but ‘Ritual something-or-other’ (I can’t decipher my own handwriting or trust my own ears – it turns out to have been ‘Transgalaxial Time Travel (Slight Puffin Return’) boasts thumping tribal beats and a scratchy guitar reminiscent of The Fall on ‘Muzorewi’s Daughter’, and Procter finally melts into hollering harassment against Ash’s (Throb) slow-drip bass groove. And they play their slinky cover of ‘Warm Leatherette’, too.

On the journey back to York, WSGB’s John (Visual Balance) gives me a proper introduction to early OMD, whose work I’d never explored based on my lack of enthusiasm for ‘Enola Gay’. I offer some pointers for 90s Depeche Mode albums and probably talk a lot of bllocks because I’ve had three 440ml cans of Heathen, but it’s all good and I’ve never been more pleased to have forced myself out of the house instead of wallowing in the winter blues. Winter motorik grooves is definitely the way to go.