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.

AA

Blow 5

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Comments
  1. […] split albums are a thing which well-suits the resurgence of both vinyl and cassette releases. Front & Follow’s The Blow series is a clear standout in the field of the split release, with some well-considered (or otherwise […]

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