Archive for May, 2019

I can’t remember the last time I was in a dark room with so many people wearing shades. But then tonight The Fulford Arms is Old Goff central. It’s always the case when luminaries of the 80s scene play: they seemingly emerge out of the woodwork to descend on venues under the cover of darkness. Although with early doors and an early start, its not that dark when Grooving in Green hit the stage.

They’ve been knocking around for over a decade now, and Mick Mercer may be a fan but in a game of one-word reviews, ‘derivative’ would be theirs. Singer General Megatron Bison rocks snakeskin jacket and trousers. Their clunky lyrics and blatant appropriations from left, right, and centre (the first song repeats ‘awayyyyy’ in a bad rip of The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Walk Away’) are paired with a theatrical, melodramatic delivery that doesn’t sit with the jovial banter, and their sub-Mission ordinariness makes The Rose of Avalanche look and sound strong and innovative. Tron has to hype himself into each of his rehearsed poses, and the overall effect is just… wincey.

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Grooving in Green

1919 originally formed in 1980, split in 84, and reformed five years ago, although the current incarnation features none of the founding members, or even anyone who featured in the 80s lineups. They’re from the punkier end of the goth spectrum, and musically, they’re not bad, with a solid rhythm section and some nice guitar work that switches between chunky chords and spindly chorus-drenched pick-work. Viewed from one angle, front man Rio Goldhammer has energy and presence, but ultimately, when viewed from any other angle, is a bouncing, irritating tit. And only a bozo would wear that jacket. Never mind the vest and braces.

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1919

Cold in Berlin are the clear exception to the billing tonight, being from the new wave of spiky post-punk acts. And it shows: this is a band that brings edge and vitriol back to the table, spitting and twitching. They’ve been on my radar and to-see list since they snared me with 2010’s pulverizingly sharp debut Give Me Walls, which channelled the best of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Skeletal Family an X-Mal Deutschland with its steely, serrated-edged guitars. Since then, they’ve evolved: they’re darker, heavier, doomier, but they’ve lost none of that early edge or the spark of nihilistic rage that defined them. The set may be dominated by doomy, slowed-down riffs, but they’re as much ‘Reptile House’ era Sisters and Sabbath in their grinding riffola. ‘White Horse’ is delivered at around a third of the pace of the studio version, but it’s still blindingly intense.

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Cold in Berlin

Maya makes frequent forays into the audience, from amongst whom she continues to deliver her full-lunged blasts of angst, while Adam (guitar) and Laurence (bass) step forward to the front of the stage to emanate maximum presence. They don’t just play: they perform. Not in a pretentious, posturing way, but in that all four band members operate as a unit and channel the force of the songs with a passion and intensity that far exceeds the sum of the parts. Band of the night by a mile.

Killing Eve are very much in their formative stages, and only have a demo EP to their credit an on the merch stand, but they have immense pedigree. Tim Brecheno, covering bass duties, emerged as the guitarist for All About Eve (his new project’s name a clear statement of a separation with that aspect of his past) before finding a place in the Vision Thing era iteration of The Sisters of Mercy and then forming XC-NN (who were actually pretty good in a trashy postmodern way) and subsequently Tin Star. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie Hurst was the face of Skeletal Family before the formation of Ghost Dance with Gary Marx on the explosion of the original Sisters. And this is why all the old goths have emerged tonight: these people are significant, and I can’t help but feel a certain reverence awe simply being in their presence.

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Killing Eve

From watching the show and watching the room, my perspective is clearly not necessarily representative. But then, how do you pitch this? I may be a fan and a critic, but I tend to write as a fan first and foremost, and it’s as a fan I let feeling disappointed. It’s tough to see icons of your formative years growing old, stepping down a league or two to the ranks of part-timers.

Something about tonight’s performance says they’ve been out of it for a while, and that given more road-testing, they’ve got the potential to regain some of their prior greatness. But then again, the material lacks bite and sounds a bit ordinary, on first listen at least. And any criticism is less about ageism than reducing edge over time: they still play with passion and perform with sincerity and energy and there’s no sense they’re going through the motions. But equally, there’s a certain absence of edge, punch, abrasion. They’ve got some solid tunes, but on first hearing, nothing really bites. But they seem to be enjoying themselves, as do most of the audience. And I’m not going to knock that – because fun is important.

Russian Circles named their 2016 album Guidance in reference to the uncertainty of the future. It was a fitting title for the times, with the album coming out a few months before America’s tumultuous presidential election, but it was intended more as a reference to the band’s own absence of a blueprint as they navigated their second decade as a band than as a social commentary. If there were questions as to how to move forward as a musical unit or individual doubts as to how to continue toiling as artists in the underground, the three years of relentless touring on the album only served to reinforce the Sisyphean struggle of artists. With their latest album Blood Year, Russian Circles forsake the sonic crossroads of divergent musical paths found on albums like Guidance and Memorial to offer up the most direct and forceful collection of songs in their discography.

The Chicago trio have always explored the dynamics of volume and timbre, with their albums vascilating between caustic attacks and blissful respites. Blood Year begins with the calm before the storm in “Hunter Moon”, where a few narcotic repetitions of guitarist Mike Sullivan’s melancholic plucked chords and woozy slide guitar usher in the first assault. “Arluck” charges out of the reverberating sustain of somber drones with Dave Turncrantz’s pounding rack and floor toms, expertly captured by Kurt Ballou at Electrical Audio in Chicago. The studio’s reputation for pristine drum tones is on full display in those opening bars, and when the drums break and Brian Cook’s grinding bass line forces its way into the mix it becomes evident as to why the band returned to Steve Albini’s world-famous recording studio where they’d tracked Enter, Geneva, and Memorial. Sullivan dives into the song with his signature finger-tapped leads and stacks loops of idiosyncratic harmonies on top of it. The song barrels through bottom heavy chugged guitar patterns and tightly wound noise-rock riffage before the rhythm section drops out to leave a lone guitar line in the ether. A second guitar line comes in on top of it. Then a third. The chasm fills with an orchestra of guitar loops before the drums and bass come back in and build to the song’s vicious conclusion.

With Sullivan, Turncrantz, and Cook all residing in different states, Russian Circles have typically crafted their albums by piecing together song fragments and home recordings into meticulous texture-rich studio productions. But after seven tours in North American and five trips to Europe in support of Guidance, the band made a conscious effort to approach the songs on Blood Year with the same organic feel of a live show. In an age where rock records are often built on a computerised grid, Russian Circles chose to track the foundations of the songs together in one room as complete takes without click tracks. The human pulse and unmetered energy is immediately obvious in the dissonant barrage of “Milano”. The no-frills wall of distortion and mid-tempo stomp of the song recalls some of Russian Circles’ most unrelentingly savage moments—Memorial’s “Burial”, Geneva’s title track, Empros’ “309”. The first half of Blood Year closes with “Kohokia”, a harrowing song that somehow manages to capture the unsettling negative space of Spiderland in one moment, the blurry clamor of ashen metal in the next, and ultimately arriving at a triumphant pinnacle of staccato bass chords, battering ram drums, and heroic tapped guitar leads.

Side two begins with one of the few reserved moments on the album in the slow fever-dream loop-stacked baritone guitar lines provided by Cook on “Ghost on High”. It’s less a song than a prelude to the tremolo-picked battle anthem “Sinaia”. Guitar overdubs were done at Ballou’s God City studio, and the engineer’s gift for rendering a variety of exquisite distorted tones can be heard in the timbre-rich medley of pastoral drones in the introduction, fury-of-Valhalla tremolo picking in the verses, scathing black metal-tinged snarl in the bridge, and cataclysmic chords in the finale. Russian Circles albums have typically ended with a comedown—the pensive “Xavii”, the folk ballads of “Praise Be Man” and “Memorial”, the delay-soaked ambience of “Philos”—but Blood Year ends on its most vengeful note, with the barbaric battery of “Quartered”.

If Guidance was meant to be an exploration of forking paths, Blood Year is an almost single-minded statement of authority. While it retains the dexterity, multi-faceted techniques, and dramatic compositions that have been a trademark of Russian Circles since day one, Blood Year fully embraces the most forceful aspects of the band’s repertoire.

Listen to ‘Arluck’ here (tour dates after):

USSIAN CIRCLES IRELAND/UK DATES

AUG 08 Dublin, IRE @ Button Factory *

AUG 09 Galway IRE @ Roisin Dubh *

AUG 10 Belfast UK @ Limelight 2 *

AUG 12 Glasgow, UK @ G2 +

AUG 13 Manchester, UK @ Gorilla +

AUG 14 London, UK @ Earth +

AUG 16 Bristol, UK @ ArcTanGent Festival +
Support from

* No Spill Blood 

+ A.A. Williams

With further European tour dates to be announced soon.

James Wells

Having toured together, Parasitic Twins and The Carnival Rejects release a split EP. It makes sense, really: why not having shared a stage and an audience?

This is a bit of a mix, and rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraw. That’s no criticism: both bands espouse a credible punk ethic, and while so many contemporary punk acts preach it, they bot keep it real, with The Carnival Rejects’ three songs going in hard and fast and favouring energy over technical prowess. And yes, they may be a bit standard fare in some respects, with their three-chord thrashabouts and terrace-chant choruses, but that’s their thing, and there’s a substantia audience for three-chord thrashabouts with terrace-chant choruses delivered with passion.

Parasitic Twins, Max Watt and Dom Smith are altogether gnarlier, nastier, and more abrasive. Their grind/thrash/metal cover of Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’ is killer: gritty as hell and with full-weight chug and raw-throated vocals, it’s utterly brutal and barely recognisable for the most part. But from amidst the rabid racket emerges a rendition of that chorus that’s worthy of Napalm Death

‘Feel Nothing’ is even more explosively raw, a snarking mess of distortion with drums and vocals and mangled as the guitars, the chords indistinguishable in a tempest of raging overdrive that sounds like it was recorded in a garage on a phone. And it wouldn’t work if done differently: it’s not pretty music, and it wouldn’t be right to pretty it up. Instead, putting its ugly, blunt force to the fore, it hits hard like a punch to the gut.

The two bands spin different sides of the punk coin, and jointly deliver something powerful, pure, and above all, strong.

PR EP

A ‘stripped back electronic companion to Omertà and Fermi’, Reconstructed Memories features just Paul Kirkpatrick and cellist Rachel Dawson. Kirkpatrick describes it as ‘quite different, more ambient but hopefully still engaging and melodic’, and frames it as ‘the story of life in an hour’.

Omertà and The Fermi Paradox were very different albums, with the latter (link) being an ambitiously expansive work, pushing outwards in all directions, not least in its exploration of time and space. Reconstructed Memories is much more inwardly-focused, and while it’s far from claustrophobic or suffocating, its minimal approach is, in itself, enough to redirect the energy and create a very different atmosphere.

As opening piece, the atmospheric, piano-led ‘A Beginning’ suggests, this is a linear, chronological work. The spoken-word intro, presumably delivered by Dawson, is instructive and creates the space for Reconstructed Memories to unfurl. ‘What should I write and tell? Big stories, big memories are always there… Let’s talk about some small, beautiful memories… Life is full of small memories…’ And it’s so very true. Life is not about the events, but the everyday details. It’s is easy to miss those details, too, caught up in simply existing, and waiting for the events, But you won’t move house, get married, have a child, or otherwise experience something momentous daily, or even often. Landmarks are rare and infrequent, and are relative in the context of the trajectory of a life. But life goes on, and is defined by those fleeting interactions. It’s not just the devil who exists in the detail, but life itself which occupies the cracks and recesses, the spaces in between.

And so it moves, in an evolutionary trajectory, gradually unfurling, expanding, revealing new vistas through a series of memories, reflections, and reconstructions. And it’s beautifully executed, each piece a perfectly-formed vignette delicately spun from soft, rolling piano and graceful strings. The moods are varied, at times light and lilting, others more melancholic and pensive, but ever-shifting and ever-evocative.

‘Regression One’ takes a step into darker territories, with a whispered spoken word narrative and connotations of the awkward, disturbing plunderance of the recesses of memory picked psychotherapy. How real and accurate are those memories? Memories are unreliable, coloured by perspective and faded by time. The effect, is, as the title of the next piece intimates, a blurring. Picked guitar echoes hesitantly, decaying into the mist among atmospheric, ambient strings. The arrangements make optimal use of the minimal instrumentation to create music that’s spacious and contemplative.

The artistic success of Reconstructed Memories lies in its vagueness. Such non-specificity places the process of input onto the listener, and it is they who find themselves reflecting on their experiences, their own hazy and tainted memories, prompted by abstract reminders to turn their gaze inwards. It’s the complete absence of context or meaning which renders the album simultaneously universal and personal.

Screenshot_2019-05-16 Reconstructed Memories Pre-Release Listening Masters

Treading that line between elevated art and unnecessarily loftiness and pretension… It’s a challenge. It’s not always easy to differentiate parody and sincerity, not least of all because we exist in a world in which real-life news resembles Brasseye and The Day Today. Irony is dead, and belief is the enemy in a post-truth society.

So when a press release reads half like a sample from a William Burroughs cut-up whereby Lemegeton Party is described as ‘the narcotic and occluded industrial-ambient debut for the Junkie Flamingos,’ it’s difficult to rate its level of seriousness. And, according to the accompanying text, the album is inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s Hyperion, [and] is gilded with a neoclassical sheen that alludes to both the divine and the diabolical. Kundalini’s whispered invocations which have so creepily effective in addressing psychosexually abject conditions in She Spread Sorrow are immediately recognizable here. Yet, she shifts the content towards messages of power and strength, even if cast in the shadows of desolation and solitude’.

The chances are – no criticism – that this will go over the heads of many, and returns us to the question of the extent to which understanding the theory behind any work of art should have a bearing on one’s capacity to appreciate it. I don’t believe that it should even one iota. But then again, my own background draws me to note that in their naming, Junkie Flamingos allude to surrealist juxtapositions built on incongruity, something which defined Dada and indicates a strong Surrealist bent.

The detail is that Junkie Flamingos is ‘a project conceived in 2017 by Luca Sigurtà, Alice Kundalini, and Daniele Delogu’, and that ‘Each of these musicians has their distinctive sounds: Sigurtà with his vertiginous electronica, Kundalini best known as the author behind the death industrial project She Spread Sorrow, and Delogu in the bombastic folk of the Barbarian Pipe and. Their collective amalgamation shifts but does not denude each of these aesthetics in the construction of this oblique, sidereal album.’

It’s clear Junkie Flamingos have high artistic ambitions, and ‘Evening of Our Days’, the first of the albums five expansive tracks sounds pretty serious: even a line like ‘you are a small man’ sounds menacing, threatening, dangerous when whispered, serpentine, from the mouth of Alice Kundalini against a rising tide of electronic manging. The backdrop is sparse, but ugly. ‘Shape of Men’, the album’s eight-and-a-half minute centrepiece is dolorous, sparse, and funereal as a single bell chime rings out over a low, thudding bass beat.

‘Restless Youth’ rumbles, grinds and glitches amidst flickering beats, ominous rumbles, hushes, barely audible vocals, and a general radiance of discomfort and disquiet. The lower, slower, and quieter they take it, the more you feel your skin crawl and your nerves jangle. Sitting between ambient and sparse electronica, it’s darkly atmospheric not in the ambient sense, but in the most chilling, semi-human, psychotic sense. ‘The Language of Slaves’ continues on the same path, the semi-robotic, processed vocals creating a distance between event and emotion. There’s no obvious entry point, and this is music of detachment and cognitive dissonance. These are the album’s positives. It isn’t easy to get into, but why should it be? But where Lemegeton Party stands out is in its subtlety, something chronically underrated right now. With Lemegeton Party, Junkie Flamingos steel in by stealth… and then fuck with your psyche. And that’s why I love it.

AA

Junkie Flamingos – Lemegeton Party

31st May 2019 – Constellation Recods

Christopher Nosnibor

The album title may be as soaked in sickly-sweet dripping niceness as it is cliché, but it’s very much a contrast to the name of the Montréal trio responsible for it, just as it is with the music it contains. It’s pitched as ‘an exhilarating and relentless barrage of astringent noise-punk driven by the ferociously wide-screen tri-amped guitar squall of Kaity Zozula, the brawny pummel of Joni Sadler’s drums, and the wry subliminal/phenomenological sing-speak of vocal phenom Ky Brooks’, and one for fans of Au Pairs, Harry Pussy, Magik Markers, Melvins, X-Ray Spex, Life Without Buildings, Sonic Youth, and Perfect Pussy. All of which is to say that it’s a squalling, slanted, angular, gritty, snarling bastard of a record. Noisy? Oh yes, but it’s noise that’s not only about volume but extreme discord, about tones and abrasion that drills into the skull and hammers and the head and kicks at the kidneys and spits in the face while screaming ‘fuck you, motherfucker!’

It kicks off with the title track, a jolting, sinewy mess of choppy, trebly guitar that strains away at a repetitive riff that collapses into an angry buzz before everything goes haywire, any semblance of a tune crashing into an atonal mess of crashing cymbals and whiplash guitar noise that carries the listener away on a mudslide of underproduced sonic discomfort.

Stuttering, jarring guitars that buzz like swarms of furious hornets create crashing discord against calamitous bass and crashing percussion that can’t even pretend to be jazz: it’s wayward, deranged, demented, arrhythmic and difficult, and all better for it. The vocal is more spoken word than singing, the lyrics narrative rather than overtly lyrical. Rhymes ae even further out of the window than melodies, and everything about Honey is challenging and confrontational and rejects all notions of musicality and accessibility – which means it’s bloody great.

All of the reference points and comparisons are so underground that they’re probably worthless if attempting to pitch this to a wider audience, but if you dig Pram, Voodoo Queens, Lydia Lunch, then you’re going to be so into this. Then again, The Fall and Bleach era Nirvana, Siouxsie, Solar Race, and early Pavement are equally in evidence on a scuzzing raketmongous mess of an album that’s magnificently raw and not so much underproduced as delivered as is. This is a band that would work well with some Steve Albini action, but then again, you feel that Honey captures the band perfectly and as intended.

‘Flat White’ is a dirty dinge of spoken words that boil down contemporary hipsterized consumerist culture: ‘flat white and scummy’, although the majority of the album is fast and furious and emerges through a lurching, gut-churning murk. ‘Intrinsic’, unveiled ahead of the album, is a drawling, sprawling ugly mess of guitar-driven disaffection. Flat, trudging, bleak: Brooks’ dry vocal picks apart a repetitious, circular ponderance in a barren monotone against a grinding guitar for an age before the drum thumps in and then everything blasts off into all shades of sharding splinters of screaming nasty.

Nothing about this album is comfortable. I’ve spent the last few days searching for the perfect simile, but there isn’t one. It’s not like being punched in the guts or picked repeatedly in the abdomen, and nor is it remotely like an incision from a sharp blade – more like being hewn into pieces with a rusty saw while being beaten about the torso with a lump of rock. It’s not the volume that’s hard to handle, but the sheer relentless angularity. Nothing fits, and everything grates. Honey is the most awkward and abrasively serrated record I’ve heard all year. It’s so dissonant, atonal, and messed up, listening to it makes me want to puke. And that’s precisely why it’s probably the best thing I’ve heard so far this year.

AA

AA

Lungbutter - Honey