Archive for September, 2019

4th September 2019

There are two ways of going about reviewing albums: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to crib to the max from the press release, paint yourself as an expert on every artist however obscure they may be, while making on-point comparisons suggested by the band and their PR. The hard way is to ignore all that, listen painstakingly and go out on a limb on your opinions based purely on instinct and past experience. The hard way is to appreciate that however much you yearn to wrote objective reviews, no-one ever responds to music in a purely objective way, and reviews which take a truly objective stance are incredibly tedious to read – and to write for that matter.

So I know nothing about Kristeen Young, and expect that the cover art doesn’t really convey much of what she or her music is about. Then again, expectations exist to be confounded, and while The SubSet isn’t about goth dressmaking, the somewhat baffling choice of image is in keeping with Young’s quirky style.

‘Less Than’ crashes in by way of a starter with everything all at once: Eastern-inspired grooves collide against electronic bleepery while her vocals allude to Kate Bush in their delivery – and that’s a defining feature as she squeaks and soars her way through the album’s ten tracks. It’s an effective style that’s well-suited to the music.

Experimentalism is a prominent factor on The SubSet, and the fact there are hit-and-miss elements are par for the course and in no way detract from the overall experience: ‘Everyday Subtraction’ begins as a rather mediocre mid-pace dance cut, but steps up the drama as Young shifts her vocals unexpectedly into full-on operatic mode, while ‘In 3rd Grade’ is a tense, driving electropop shoegaze effort that throws in nods to early Garbage (back when they were exciting), before playing out on a delicate piano and soft, subtle bass and a sudden, unexpected burst of noise. When I say ‘hit and miss’, there really isn’t much miss: it’s just that some moments are more striking and distinctive than others, and Young strikes what’s probably an appropriate balance between weird and accessible to afford herself the potential of a wider audience.

‘Pretty Twogether’ is vintage electropop with a warping twist and some extraneous noise, propelled by glitchy percussion, while ‘Marine Combo Dadd’ is a semi acappella shanty with dreamy, psychedelic overtones, and it sounds incongruous, that’s because it is: once gets the impression Kristeen Young revels in creating moments of uncanniness, of oddness that are only a fraction removed from the familiar, but far enough to sit just the little bit uncomfortably. It’s a strength she works to, and well.

If The SubSet is a wildly unpredictable affair, it’s all the better for it.

AA

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New Heavy Sounds – 11th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Cold in Berlin’s evolution has followed a fairly steady but swift arc: having emerged in 2010 with the spiky attack that was Give Me Walls, Rituals of Surrender represents their fourth album. That’s a respectable work rate, and over that time they’ve remained true to their dark, post-punk gothy roots, but have become progressively slower and heavier, the guitars growing sludgier, doomier.

In musical circles, there is always a ‘new strain’ emerging, even if said strain is a revisioning of an older strain. Not so long ago, it was post-punk revivalism, then there was a vintage heavy metal return, which in turn spawned the emergence of a stoner / doom / sludge hybrid. Cold in Berlin, having crashed in on the post-punk tidal wave are now more closely aligned to another more niche strain of the latter, namely colossally heavy female-fronted bands who bring an ethereal and emotive aspect to the sludgy / stoner / heavy template. Is it lazy journalism to bracket Cold in Berlin’s latest offering alongside Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the last couple of albums by Chelsea Wolfe? Perhaps, but the references are at least instructive in terms of establishing a certain thread of stylistic commonality. But for every similarity, there are equal differences, and Cold in Berlin are most definitely a unique proposition in the way they balance the instrumental heft with Maya’s powerful vocals.

The album gets straight down to business with ‘The Power,’ which prefaced the arrival back in early September, accompanied by an appropriately moody, horror-hinting video. The bass and guitar grate and saw in unison over a slow tribal march. The tension builds and breaks in a landslide to a mammoth chorus.

The nine tracks on Rituals are heavy – plenty heavy – with some killer riffs. But that weight and the overloading overdrive is not at the expense of accessibility: the songs are clearly structured and benefit from strong and defined choruses.

Lyrically, the album is strewn with funereal imagery of death and decay, coffins and caskets, yet somehow manages to avoid cliché. The songs also pour anguish. ‘There is grief that tastes good in your mouth / there is grief that takes years to scrub out / There is darkness buried beneath my skin / there is darkness at the heart of everything’, Maya sings, pained, at the start of ‘Avalanche’ against a sparse sonar-like bass boom and a weeping drone of feedback before the drums and power chords come crashing in with crushing force. Can there be onomatopoeic instrumentation? If so, Cold in Berlin have mastered it, the pulverizing

The ritual aspect of surrender is never far from range: ‘You could string her up / you could string her up her body’s a temple for your love’ Maya sings commandingly on ‘Temples’ against a thunderous grind of heavily distorted guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Monsters’ is tense, intense, and grand, drama radiating from every note, and Rituals of Surrender is outstanding in its consistency.

Blending hefty riffology with full-lunged brooding, Rituals of Surrender sees Cold in Berlin occupy the space between doom and goth, emerging like Sabbath fronted by Siouxsie. And they do it so well: this could well be their definitive album.

AA

Cold in Beerlin - Rituals

31st October 2019

It’s a thick, lumbering riff that piles in at the start of Neverlanded’s latest effort and the grab is absolutely immediate. You remember, in just a few short seconds, why you got excited about guitar-driven alt-rock in the first place. You remember why grunge was a revelation and a revolution. You remember why roaring noise didn’t necessarily mean unlistenable shit, and when paired with a killer hook, it distilled all of the feelings you couldn’t articulate in as week of talking and letters scribbled late at night in a pre-Internet age.

The thing is, while Kurt Cobain opined, at the ripe old age off 25 or so, that ‘teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old,’ angst never completely settles, and instead simmers away until prodded. And this prods it, hard, reawakening the anguish, but in a good way. A way that doesn’t inflict new pain, but reminds you that the pain was more bearable when it had some kind of outlet, some kind of mirror. Angst never dies, it simply reforms, refocuses.

Less than six months after their F.u.U EP, Neverlanded prove that the driving force and primal angst they whipped up in the spring was no fluke, and signal their career’s forward trajectory. Bring it.

Kranky – 16th August 2019 (rarely)

Increasingly, I’m finding a need for ambience in my life. We live in an extreme world, and in that context, a barrage of extreme metal and heavy-duty industrial makes sense – because release. We all need catharsis, an outlet. You’re never going to get that from Ed Sheeran so I can only assume his fans are so numb, so oblivious, so distanced, so disconnected, so braindead that the hell that is modern life simply doesn’t register with them.

This morning, feeling somewhat stressed by life and battling with some flatpack assembly to a soundtrack of sit 90s dance tunes and tannoy hollering being blown through my window from the Race for Life event with its start at York Racecourse, just up the road, I decided it was a good time to check out – a shade belatedly – Loscil’s latest offering.

Equivalents is what you might call quintessential contemporary ambient. The compositions are formed with layers of broad, soft sounds that sweep and drift and swish and drone, eddying abstractly to soothing effect. But there are tones and textures which break the soft, vapour-like surfaces and disturb the tranquillity: not brutally so, not to violently or abrasively as to damage the atmosphere, but sufficient to prick the listener’s senses back to attention as stuttering disturbances interrupt the delicate flows.

These moments shift the album – which I’m playing at sufficient volume to drown out the pumping beats from the racecourse wafting through the window – from background to foreground, and do so in a way that isn’t jarring.

It’s the subtleties and timings of the changes that highlight Loscil’s skill as a musician. Equivalents is more than the perfect antidote to modern life and noise stress: it’s a wonderful album.

AA

Loscil - Equivalents

Sargent House – 13th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

(Hiss) Spin it any which way, but following her last two inordinately powerful albums, which saw Chelsea Wolfe expand and deepen the depth of tempestuous noise and emotional force, the ‘eagerly awaited’ cliché was never more apt when Birth Of Violence was announced. Those two albums have left me emotionally raw and breathless since release, and I continually return to them as being simply stunning. It’s the perfectly poised juxtaposition of fragility and full-tilt riffage and noise that has impact on numerous levels and renders them with a special kind of intensity. Did I anticipate more of the same? I did I want more of the same? Could I handle more of the same?

It probably wasn’t entirely strategic, and probably more a reflection of the creative ebbs and lows, but nevertheless it makes perfect sense and sits with Wolfe’s creative arc to pull back the noise to deliver a reflective and largely acoustic album this time around. It does mean that despite what its title suggests, Birth Of Violence is altogether more sedate, and doesn’t grab you by the throat within a minute of hitting play. But then, in a world of noise, some reflection and hush is beyond welcome and necessary.

‘The Mother Road,’ unveiled back in June, opens with extraneous noise, but it’s acoustic guitar and a clean, untreated vocal that stand to the fore. Without the explosive crash of percussion and melting guitars one would reasonably anticipate based on recent for, we’re left to feel the pull of Wolfe’s tone and delicate intonation. But then it builds subtly to a rich swell of sound, a subtle adaptation of the post-rock crescendo that’s not overtly noisy, but isn’t exactly quiet either, culminating in a whirling swirl of noise around her emotionally fragile vocal.

The somewhat folksy title track finds Chelsea soaring, semi-operatic but also breathy and vulnerable and transcending to another plane, while ‘Deranged For Rock ‘n’ Roll’ finds heavy, murky percussion crash in behind her unusual pronunciation of ‘rock ‘n’ roll.’ She doesn’t sound particularly deranged, but more sedated. A lugubrious violin whines while the sound swells and surges and Wolfe soars to deliver a breathtaking climax.

‘Dirt Universe’ climbs slowly down to the gloomy depths of Leonard Cohen around Songs of Love and Hate: dark, lugubrious, and yet quietly intense. So intense.

It may be acoustic-based and considerably less noisy than its immediate predecessors, meaning it has less immediacy and less velocity overall, but Birth of Violence is an elegant and also striking album. Of course it is, it’s Chelsea Wolfe.

AA

Chelsea_Wolfe_-_Birth_of_Violence_grande

Christopher Nosnibor

So I’ve been following – if that’s quite the word – Suburban Toys since the early 90s. Vicky McClelland is (I think) the fifth female front person I’ve seen them perform with, and I’ve missed some in between. She’s strong. She’s fiery, but also understated, and gets on with singing songs and sometimes playing guitar without fuss. She sounds good, and is good to watch.

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The Suburban Toys

They showcase some new (to me) songs, still solid pop-tinged punk with dashes of reggae and cues from ‘The Passenger’. The throw in a ripping rendition of ‘Identity’ by X-Ray Spex mid-set. It suits Vicky’s vocal range and delivery. Older songs like ‘With You’ have been radically reworked (again), and this is probably the most attack I’ve seen them play with in all the years since the early 90s. They finish with ‘Sonic Reducer’ played at breakneck speed with bassist Vin on lead vocals. It’s good fun. And fun is important.

The kids – fans – are less than half my age and wearing threads that were all the rage when I was 10, 34 years ago. It’s alarming. The drummer’s facial hair is heinous and the guitar straps are so short they could strim the strings with their chins… But there’s an appeal to their raw, ragged choppy guitars and I get the impression that despite the cheap sunglasses and quirky fun elements, Perspex are a serious band with some neat post-punk and 90s alternative reference points – think Pavement, think Trumans Water. And they’re technically proficient, nailing some tidy grooves and taking the set to an accomplished climax with some uptempo space rock motorik riffology. 6th formers on the piss. One girl’s got plastic beads and a very 80s blouse, while one of the sportswear cunts is sporting a Factory T. What hell is this?

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Perspex

I’ve seen Percy even more times than the Toys, and over a comparable time-span. The West Yorkshire Superheroes (who hail from York) have been around forever, and subscribe to the tradition of hardworking northern bands like The Wedding Present and The Fall, and Half Man Half Biscuit who just keep on plugging away, solid and dependable. They always look like they’ve just knocked off work and stopped off for a pint: singer/guitarist Colin Howard always has about 4 days’ stubble and they seem genuinely comfortable being middle-aged workers doing the band thing on the side. There’s a lot to be said for that, but I won’t say it here because I’ve other reviews to write and a day-job of my own, and it’s too much of a digression.

There’s actually a guy here in a Percy T-shirt, which is a measure of something. But they’ve not got the college cocks’ backing, sadly, and the room has thinned a bit. The benefit is that I’m less worried about having my toes danced on by some 6ft teenager.

Bailing in with the Fall-like ‘Hep’, they’re bring a clanging attack of furiously thrashed jangling guitars that are nearly in tune and provide the backdrop to sneering, spitting monotone vocals. And, like The Fall, they may have only recently released their first album proper 20 years into their career, but half the set consists of unreleased material. And, also like The Fall, they kick out a fair rockabilly ruckus and reference The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life.’

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Percy

‘Rubbernecking in the UK’, pushes the synths to the fore, and it’s exhilarating and also pure early 90s indie. Magnificently atonal guitar provides a skewed backdrop to sneered lyrics about the mundane everyday. Masters of four-chord chugs, ‘Unicorn’ is fierce and noisy by way of a climactic closer.

Having seen three decent bands for free and supped decent beer at £3.60 a pint I’ll say it again: pub gigs and small venues are where it’s at.

Wonkystuff – 5th September 2019

This one’s been a long time in coming: the liner notes document that the three pieces that make up Traditional Computer Music were ‘conceived and composed from various SuperCollider recordings over the years 2010 – 2014 [and] edited and compiled in Logic.

Then again, both Ash(ley) Sagar and Wonkystuff label boss John Tuffen have been kind of busy for most of the five years since this was finished, what with their being one half of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band, as well as operating as Orlando Ferguson and contributing to myriad other projects.

The title of this release is clearly a wilful oxymoron on the one hand, but on the other it’s entirely fitting, and a recognition of the tropes which have established themselves around digital musicmaking. Computer Music, once radical, is now a convention with a substantial lineage. And yet there is, somehow, a certain idea of what ‘computer music’ sounds like when presented with ‘computer music’ as a term, and Sagar manages to encapsulate that on this release.

The three numbered pieces – impersonal, inhuman, digital – are lengthy: 1 is 14:21, 2 is 19:24 and 3 is 18:58. And while Sagar doesn’t delve into retro robotix with bleeps and bloops, Traditional Computer Music explores digital soundscapes that have become synonymous with electronica.

Bulbous, warping drones weft and warp in the opening moments of ‘1’, with sounds of indecipherable origin – are they voices? Are they synthesised sounds? Tapering to an undulating mid-range droning hum after a couple or so minutes, coalescing to a throbbing hum around four minutes before dispersing into a vaporous mass after some four minutes, it becmes little more than a drone, before dissolving, fractured, splintered and broken, into painful howls of feedback that continue for a good few minutes before fading to darkness.

‘Part 2’ continues where ‘Part 1’ leaves off, with elongating feedback-filled drones extending outward for centuries and light-years back. It’s simultaneously evocative and sterile, again highlighting and exploring the dichotomies of digital music. Ash is one of those musicians who explores to the core. And yet his technicality is not at the expense of feeling. You can tell by listening to this that he lives and feels the music, wanky as it probably sounds.

The third and final track, ‘3’ moves into microtonal territory, which is crackly, glitchy, bleepy, and finds a slow pulsing beat thumping beneath an array of tweeting twittering R2D2 stutters. It descends into a morass of tweaking laser shots and squelchy pulsations buried under a growling generator hum ad there’s pitch-shifting and slowing drones galore. It becomes increasingly difficult as it progresses, dolorous drones and low pulsations and eternal, deliberate throbs roll on and on, before finally yielding to a climax of retro-futurist wibbles which ascend to a sustained rippling hum that’s not exactly comfortable whatever your preferences for sonic range.

On TCM, Ash shows that he probably knows the boundaries and remains within them, but at the same time tests the listener’s limits in a positive way. And yes, it’s good, and in its field, outstanding.

AA

Ash Sagar - Traditional