Archive for June, 2019

1st July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Dog on a Stick is the second musical project featuring Rick Senley to have come my way this year – and we’re only halfway through June.

Dog on a Stick came about ‘thrashing out Cramps and Pixies noise while squeezing melodies from the din under a west London railway arch’, but there’s a post-punk edge to debut single ‘Dead Driver’. Selney’s guitar intro is a chorus-heavy Curesque effort before the overdrive kicks in and the song takes off on a tense trajectory. The propulsive rhythm hits a taut groove, over which Liam’s vocals become increasingly wild and desperate.

Singer/bassist Liam starts out coming on with something of a Bowie-like croon, but by the end, he’s emitting a rabid howl of anguish, rendered even more potent by the motoric nature of the backing and the dirty, squalling distortion that screams through a mess of treble beneath that bulbous bass.

Clocking in at almost five minutes, it’s a sustained scream of raw emotion that hits hard and cuts deep. It’s blistering and it’s intense. Bring us more!

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Dog on a Stick

The industrial techno-rock duo Cubanate have just issued a video for ‘Kolossus’, the title song from their brand new EP. The spectacular, frenetic clip is directed by E Gabriel Edvy of Blackswitch Labs, who previously made a video for a track from front man Marc Heal’s 2016 solo album The Hum

The EP marks Cubanate’s first new music in over two decades and contains five new songs plus remixes of the title track by Rhys Fulber (Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Conjure One) and DROWND. Released on 7th June, it was previewed at live shows in London (co-headlined with Pig) and Leipzig (Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival) in early June.

Watch ‘Kolossus’ here:

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Cubanate

CUBANATE / Marc Heal photo by E Gabriel Edvy

Hydra Head – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The backstory to the release of Final Transmission is a sad one. Having reconvened in February 2018 to begin work on a new album after being busy on myriad other projects, the meeting at their Boston rehearsal would be their last with bassist Caleb Schofield, who was killed in a road accident at the end of the following month.

The album’s opening track carries all the poignance and pain of this loss, featuring as it does a voice memo sent by Caleb to the band immediately after the rehearsal, containing a sketch for a new song, played on acoustic guitar. The melody is merely hummed. And yet it’s all here, and Schofield’s own final transmission forms the starting point of the bands own final transmission in its current format.

Final Transmission features all of the quintessential grunge tropes, dominated by driving guitars churning though three- and four-chord riffs which exploit the quiet/loud dynamic. A quarter of a century on and is still hasn’t grown tired, at least when well-executed, and it’s fair to say Cave In have got it nailed. There’s a definite 90s feel to it, but then, there are so many other elements subtly woven in: if ‘All Illusion’ has hints of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, it’s also laced with dashes of prog and psych, and there’s a dreamy, expansive quality to many of the songs here. More than any other band, I’m rem

‘Lunar Day’ goes dingy, dirgy, grinding doomy prog, while hot its heels follows the uber-bombastic guitar extravaganza of ‘Winter Window’. Both tracks are short (the former is less than two and a half minutes, the latter four and a half) but structurally they’re sprawling and epic. ‘Lanterna’ gets a bit Metallica but we’ll let it pass since it grinds out hard and low with a surly bass. Closer ‘Led to the Wolves’ is a raging tempest that simply explodes in all directions in a blistering tumult of overdrive, the bass being absolutely gut-churning.

Where Cave In go from here, who knows? But from a deep, dark place, they’ve delivered something that’s also deep and dark, as well as powerful and engaging.

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cave-in-final-transmission

Christopher Nosnibor

3pm on a Sunday afternoon may seem like an odd time for a noise gig, but one of the many great things about this rehearsal space that sometimes puts on live music is that being truly independent, it can do whatever the fuck it pleases. Noise aficionados tend to be undercatered for in general, and while it’s fair to say the Leeds scene is pretty healthy, even the most nocturnal of creatures have crawled out of the woodwork for this afternoon’s session of sonic torture. And being in the middle of an industrial estate, they don’t have to worry about the neighbours, meaning they can really crank it up at CHUNK.

The thing about a small scene is that you get to know or otherwise at least recognise people, and while we’re all misfits, we’re all misfits together, and the atmosphere – as promoted by the organiser, Theo, who incudes a ‘no bigots!’ stipulation on the poster – is inclusive, accommodating, and friendly. And we’ve all brought our own booze. I exchange dialogue with strangers and friends alike, and it’s incredibly relaxed. There’s a lot to be said for the fans of more extreme music – mostly that most of them are really decent people.

Duo Black Antlers are making their first appearance here and there’s no information to be found about them anywhere. Thunderous echoing beats and stray bleeps coalesce to form a dreamy but solid backdrop to emotive vocals buried in all the reverb ever. Some crisp electropop is massacred by wall of echo and murk which has an intensity when delivered at ear-shredding volume. Their singer is given to performing some form of interpretive dance when she’s not pacing and singing, and has a strong yet understated presence. It’s a stunning debut, and the warm reception is well-deserved.

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Black Antlers

Long, spacey tones, rapid bleeps and blistering noise, paired with slow bass beats and explosive sampled snare cracks dominate a dizzying, disorientating wall of digital noise that flies off in all directions. This is Early Hominids. They know all the most brutal, pain-inducing frequencies, with blistering treble and squalling feedback howling from the speakers. Bleeps, blips, twitters, wow and flutter are crushed into an excruciating wall of distortion for what feels like a torturous eternity. They endlessly dick about with swapping bits of kit and moving wires, and while this isn’t a conventional ‘rock’ performance, there is an element of deconstructed performance to something like this.

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Early Hominids

My notes become shorter as the afternoon progresses: partly because I hadn’t really considered that 7% Polish lager on an afternoon might have quite an effect, but moreover, because it becomes increasingly difficult to consider note-taking when you’ve got brutal noise blasting in your face and you’re so immersed in the experience that documenting it seems vaguely futile. Because as a fan, it’s about being present, feeling it. Process and assimilate later – if at all. And this is something you feel even more than you hear, where sound takes on a physicality.

Glasgow’s Stable serves up looping echoes, woozy synths and relentlessly thudding uptempo beats… Hints of Suicide, only nastier glitchier, treblier performed by a guy with a mask with two faces… Slightly disturbing… Harsh. Noise. Stop / Start. Brutal. Unintelligible vocals.

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Stable

Headliners PURPURA are not so harsh, but definitely crank out a noise wall. It’s punishing, and it hurts. Burrs of blistering treble break through the speaker-breaking noise.

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PURPURA

It feels far later than the hour, and my brain and ears feel they’ve been thoroughly assaulted when I leave. And it’s been great: if ever a lineup reflected the diversity of the brad umbrella of ‘noise’, while hosting a show in a great space with a great vibe, it’s this.

Canadian composer Scott Morgan’s 12th long-player as Loscil takes its title from an influential series of early 20th century photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, abstracting clouds into miasmic, painterly canvases of smoke and shadowplay. It’s a deeply fitting analog for Morgan’s own musical process across the past two decades, fraying forms and tones into widescreen mirages of opaque texture and negative space. The name Equivalents referred to Stieglitz’s notion of the photographs as being equivalent to his “philosophical or emotional states of mind;” the same could be said of these eight weighty, shivering chiaroscuros of sound. Each piece unfolds and evolves enigmatically, adrift in low oxygen atmospheres, shifting dramatically from pockets of density to dissipated streaks of moonlit vapour.

The entirety of the record was created specifically for the album with the exception of ‘Equivalent 7,; which began as a dance score for frequent collaborator Vanessa Goodman. The album version of this track was reworked with Vancouver musician Amir Abbey aka Secret Pyramid.

Listen to ‘Equivalent 7’ here:

Cherry Red Records – 7th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The Membranes’ very long and even more unusual career reaches a new landmark with the release of What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away marks the release of their ninth album. Forming in 1977 and releasing their debut long-player in ’1980, it would be 26 years between To Slay The Rock Pig (1989) and Dark Matter/Dark Energy following the band’s return in 2009.

John Robb’s career fronting Goldblade from 1995 onwards, as well as a music journalist and Louder than War’s head honcho, with occasional TV ‘talking head’ appearances kept him occupied for much of the intervening time. The fact he’s sustained most of these activities since resuming activity with The Membranes is beyond staggering. How does he do it? The level of energy the man puts into a single gig would leave me crippled for a week (and I’m hardly a layabout).

Anyway. The new album. 16 new songs. While Dark Matter/Dark Energy was concerned with the enormity of cosmic existence, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away places its focus more closely on existence closer to home, exploring ‘the beauty and violence of nature’. Inevitably, there’s a human perspective on this: most creatures simply adapt or die in the face of nature’s force: only mankind marvels at nature, while at the same time believing it can harness, defy or otherwise conquer its unstoppable force. Yes, as a species, we’re smart, we’re highly evolved, but we’re completely deluded.

The press blurb pitches it as being ‘a game changer in the tradition of Manchester bands like Joy Division’ (can an album that forms a lengthy tradition be a gamechanger? Surely it must cut free from tradition in order to do this), and it features appearances from Kirk Brandon (Theatre of Hate, Spear of Destiny), and 84-year-old folk singer Shirley Collins, one of England’s premier folk singers of the ’60s revival. Chris Packham also contributes, as does the ‘legendary’ Jordan, who practically invented the punk look in 1975.

What Nature Gives… probably is justifiably a game-changer in that it reaches far beyond the parameters of post-punk and expands massively on The Membranes’ output since their return. Sonically, it’s an immensely expansive piece, featuring as it does the 20-pieceBIMM Choir, pitched against dark drones and heavy atmosphere – and of course, driving bass and choppy guitars. What were you expecting, some ambient/prog crossover effort?

It gets off to a strong start as ‘A Strange Perfume’ weaves a tripwire lead guitar over tribal drumming and a driving bass while choral vocal soar in and out before exploding into a grainy blast of distorted guitar. It’s a hell of a rush, and the production while full, is up-front and punchy.

Robb’s bass on the expansive title track is pure Peter Hook, while his vocal is stark, flat, metallic, calling to mind Ian Curtis. But the soaring lead guitar, strings, and layered backing vocals take it to another dimension. ‘A Murder of Crows’ offers something different again, a furious blues/funk attack that kicks like The Screaming Blue Messiahs at their most manic.

Steve Albini once said something about putting your best songs at the start of an album, and it may be the case that the initial force dissipates after this on What Nature Gives… as the band explore deeper, darker, more expansive territories. But this is considered, paced, and musically articulate. ‘Deep in the Forest Where the Memories Linger’ is evocative and forceful in equal measure, with ethereal choral sweeps swooping over thrusting guitars, before ‘Black is the Colour’ – a song about ‘the dark heart of winter’ and ‘the time when nature’s cycle in at its lowest ebb’ – is delivered in a style reminiscent of The Fall, sneering and spitting over a stocky, cyclical bassline. That this song features on the ‘Summer’ side of the vinyl’s seasonally-themed four sides is telling in terms of the mood: Winter is a recurrent theme here, and maybe I’m projecting my own feelings into the songs, but the urge to hibernate or hang myself are strongest during the bleak months of long, dark nights spent indoors brooding and reflecting on all shades of melancholy. ‘The Ghosts of Winter Stalk this Land’ and Winter (The Beauty and Violence of Nature) pursue the same theme, with the latter exploring synthy territory as a backdrop to Chris Packham’s spoken-word narrative.

‘A Murmuration of Starlings on Blackpool Pier’ continues the theme of ‘A Murder of Crows’. And builds the drama, with samples crackling in over brooding strings and tense, hushed vocals, while ‘The Magical and Mystical Properties of Flowers’ mines a classic loud/quiet grunge dynamic, blasting out with a storming three-chord riff.

It’s all there on ‘Nocturnal’ with a crackling synth-driven verse, thumping bass groove, choppy Gang of Four guitars, and a hook that references Joy Division’s ‘Transmission,’ and in context the press release makes more sense: this is an album which actually harks back to and connects with the touchstones which lie at its roots. It’s not derivative, but intertextual in construction. But the most important point of note is that it’s incredibly well-conceived, and the execution of an album that’s so ambitious in scope is outstanding, and What Nature Gives… sees The Membranes hit a new creative peak.

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Ahead of the release of new album Of The Sun in September, Polish alternative rock act Trupa Trupa offer up a slice of dreamy yet motorik post-punk in the form of anti-fascist song ‘Remainder’, as well as announcing a handful of tour dates.

“It pretends to be nice,” says singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski of the album, “But really, it’s not nice. These are contemplative songs about extremes. Sometimes, I call it vital pessimism. We cherish our freedom but the place where we are from is also a grim reminder of the evil that people are capable of. We cannot forget it. We cannot justify it. We must remember and not be indifferent.”

Tour dates announced so far:

24.09 – HAGUE (NL) – PAARD
25.09 – PARIS (FR) – POINT ÉPHÉMÈRE
27.09 – LONDON (UK) – CORSICA STUDIO
8.10 – NEW YORK (USA) – UNION POOL
9.10 – WASHINGTON DC (USA) – PIE SHOP

More to follow….

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Panurus Productions – 21st June 2019

Inspector Fogg is Newcastle filmmaker Wayne Lancaster, and his eponymous album threatens ‘ten tracks of warm synth-based stuff.’ For some reason, this makes me think about pissing down my own leg.

The slow, soft wash of sound that marks the album’s arrival in the form of ‘Fuyu’ isn’t nearly as embarrassing or as uncomfortable, the drones swelling and rising in and out of step to forge fluidly fluctuating rhythmic ebbs and flows. Although very much of the album is ambient to the point that structures are lost in the drift, each composition has a distinct identity and mood.

‘The View Across the River’ begins as a delicate strum before yielding to polyrthymic bleepery, while ‘Strange Tales’ is dark and vaguely sinister. If ‘ominous’ sounds like a similar descriptor, it’s different enough to mark the subtle shift in atmosphere as ‘A Year From Now’ casts reflective shadows between held breaths.

There’s more substance to ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, an insistent beat and pulsating synth behind a rolling piano creating a groove that evokes an action sequence in a film. But its erratic stops and starts are jarring, and it’s almost an act of self-sabotage as the one piece that seems to be going somewhere is simply gone in just over two minutes.

The pieces become shorter and seemingly less evolved towards the end of the album, with ‘Oil on the Road’ and ‘Case Closed’ being sketches of around a minute each. The former is driven by a grimy, buzzing synth bass overlaid with 80s-sounding electronic keys that threatens to go all Harold Faltermeyer before an abrupt ending, while the latter is a piano-based outline that has infinite scope for expansion.

Assuming this gradual diminishment of development is all part of a plan of sorts, the logical analysis would be to attempt to unravel its purpose or meaning. But this is art, and art so often defies logic. And while the snippety pieces are vaguely frustrating, the album as a whole is satisfying in its balance of variety and cohesion, and its infinitely preferable to pissing down your own leg.

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Inspector Fogg

Bad Paintings – 28th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

My introduction to Elk came a couple of months ago, when I accepted the invitation to see US touring artist Dylan Rodrigue and travelling companion Sie Sie Benhoff playing a few streets from my house. How could I refuse? I wasn’t disappointed by any of the acts, but that night, Elk were a revelation.

Elk is essentially the project of 21-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. According to the accompanying text, his brooding and beguiling work on debut album Beech marries up the sound of Daudi Matsiko, Florist and Talons with the lyrical depth of Phoebe Bridgers. Being unfamiliar with any of these – and pardon my existence in a cultural vacuum – I’m judging Elk in isolation and on their own merit. This doesn’t seem such a terrible strategy. Elk’s music emerges from isolation, but also a place of otherness.

Live, Elk is Joey with his brother, Mikey, and it’s Mikey who’s the mouth and the presence, the chirp and the banter. Joey is practically mute, almost embarrassed. He’s the very epitome of shy and retiring. This comes through in his music, too. And such beautiful music it is, too. Words almost fail. In my review of that live show, I drew comparisons to Sigur Ros and commented on Elk’s ethereal post-rock leanings. They’re in evidence here, too, but it’s perhaps important to also note that Elk don’t share the twee, ersatz fable-like trappings of the Icelandic precursors. Yes, it’s fragile, folksy, post-rock, but it’s very much distinctive and affecting without being affected.

Beech contains just seven tracks, and is spare and concise in every way: the arrangements are minimal and uncluttered, with room to breathe in these inward-facing sonic spaces. These are songs that send shivers down the spine, and yet it’s incredibly difficult to articulate the precise source of their effect – which is of course precisely the key. The best music just creeps up on you, reaches in and touches the innermost parts by subliminal, subconscious routes. The fact the music of Elk is so understated is integral to its emotive power. ‘Stupid World’ begins as a simple acoustic composition, with Joey’s plaintive voice hinting at Neil Young and J Mascis, as much in its sad introspection as anything.

It’s quiet, hushed, the very definition of introspective. And it’s truly beautiful.

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Elk - Beech

Kranky – 7th June 2019

James Wells

The press release informs us that ‘Jacob Long’s reductionist rhythmic ambient vessel, Earthen Sea, ebbs towards a more purely elemental state on his second excursion for Kranky, Grass and Trees’. But what does this mean?

Long’s approach to the album involved “simplifying things as much as possible,” and the result is an album that’s so simplified as to be almost intangible in its minimalism.

Rhythms are mere ripples, echoes of soft pulsations and clicking microtones. ‘Tidal’ as a descriptor carries connotations of immense, powerful surges and propulsive currents, but here, I’m referring more to the soft lapping of lazy foam on a soft, sandy shore on a still, warm day. The steady flow induces an almost hypnotic tranquillity as the sea remains still and the earth moves almost imperceptibly.

The track titles are less contradictory than self-negating and suggest a sense of uncertainty as their central premise: ‘Existing Closer or Deeper in Space’ and ‘Spatial Ambiguity’ are representative, and are also indicative of the sonic vagueness of Grass and Trees. For all of the pastoral imagery the title invokes, the music (and individual tracks) present more of a preoccupation with space: not just outer, but inner, the infinite space of the mind.

Its effect is to soothe the aching labyrinths of that inflamed infinite space with soft, organic tones, resulting in a work that feels like it’s been sculpted from nature. Not natural, but the natural world re-ordered to mirror the internal flows of the mind and body.

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Earthen Sea – Grass and Trees