Archive for January, 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

My appreciation of Man of Moon is well-documented: so well so, in fact, that a link to my review of their last show in Leeds, where they supported The Twilight Sad at The Brudenell; featured in their sponsored ad for tonight, which is bang in the middle of the UK leg of a significant European tour, that also coincides with independent venue week.

Oporto isn’t a venue I visit often, other than when it’s Live at Leeds, but I have fond memories of thrashing a few chords at the chaotic end of an Arrows of Love gig here some years ago, and the fact it’s still going and housing shows like this is cause for celebration.

Touring the UK not once, but twice with the Sad has served them well, in many ways: they’ve reached a bigger audience, their songwriting has evolved remarkably, and they’ve followed the lead in inviting artists they believe in to be their touring support.

And so it is that Wuh Oh – the musical project of fellow Scot Peter Ferguson – opens tonight’s show with some thumping electronica: he’s dressed in a superhero cloak and has a bionic arm, and it’s all delivered with high theatre and elements of interpretive dance.

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Wuh Oh

There’s a lot going on, with deep, quivering bass and monster percussion driving it all. Sampled vocals, heavily processed feature prominently in a set of all-out euphoric dance. It’s as commercial as it gets in a club context and this is never going to be to my taste musically. But the execution is outstanding, and besides, it takes some serious guts to pull this kind of DJ / mime karaoke shit off, and it’s a stunning performance with all the energy.

As they did at the Brudenell in October, Man of Moon om take the stage to Suicide’s ‘Ghostrider’, and they’re straight in with driving cyclical chords and propellant drumming on ‘Sign’, before debut single ‘The Road’ from back in 2015 goes full motorik psych.

Despite being only two in number, the sound is full and by no means lacking in depth, with the guitar signal split between a pair of two-by-twelve-inch amps, with the speakers placed facing back to the rear of the stage, resulting in the majority of the sound coming from the PA rather than a blast of backline.

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Man of Moon

The set isn’t much different from their last visit, and is primarily constructed with material from their forthcoming album, but they’re tighter and more solid than ever, and the new songs have had time to bed in and take some proper road-testing.

‘Ride the Wave’ brings some thunderous bass, hefty vocal reverb and an insistent rhythm, and elsewhere. samples drift in by way of an intro, and there’s sonorous sequenced bas that churns the guts and an abundance of spaciously atmospheric guitars. ‘Rust’ brings classic vintage 80s electro with heavy Cure filtered through Twilight Sad influence with smoggy guitars and all the emotion. Dynamic and layered, it reaches the parts other songs can’t reach. And it’s this emotional intensity and increasing maturity that’s one of the most striking things about Man of Moon now in contrast to Man of Moon just 18 months ago.

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Man of Moon

‘Skin’, the penultimate track and which featured on the Chemicals EP is a clear standout: while the studio version is smoothed out and leans toward Depeche Mode, live it’s a sharp, tense, uptempo groove and with a massive nagging bass line carry hints of Placebo, and the only criticism is that it could never be long enough. Throbbing dance grooves and cowbell drive closer ‘Stranger’, which threatens to veer off on an extended ace-rock workout, but instead, stops short leaving us wanting more. The album can’t land soon enough.

24th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s kept a steady trickle of releases coming for some time now, and while the last couple – Hungan (2017) and Brunton Calciner (2019) – had bypassed me until now, the consistency of previous works, from Cam (2013), Loor (2014), and Toll (2016) was more than enough to ensure my immediate interest on the arrival of Oxland Cylinder. His music always has an intrinsic sense of place, however elliptical, and if on the face of it Oxland Cylinder appears to break this trend, the accompanying text is informative:

‘In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century the majority of the world’s arsenic was created in Cornwall and Devon. The “Oxland Cylinder” was one of the methods used and was a revolving iron tube used to process and vapourise arsenic pyrites. None of these devices remain intact.’

Immediately, we’re transported to England’s south coast over a century ago, and not only to a bygone era but a practise essentially lost to history. And in this context, Oxland Cylinder takes on layers of meaning and caries a certain historical weight.

If the first piece, ‘halan 5’, which introduces the album with discontiguous electronic scrapes and buzzes, and a swell of bleeps and bloops, an analogue bubblebath that slowly eddies and swells, feels like so many other post-Tangerine Dream ambient electronic drifts, it’s also an evocation of a process akin to alchemy, only instead of turning lead into gold, it turns minerals into alloys, including lead.

Oxland Cylinder forges temporal spaces through the medium of sound, slow-spun ambience that conjures a certain mental blankness into which the listener is free to project their own sense of alternating coastal countryside and industrial production. Some will likely visualise Poldark, although the ruins that remain today tell little of the intense labour, heavy mining and vast engines involved in the extraction of ores and pyrites and their conversion to various alloys as lined the south coast at this time.

‘Dark as a Dungeon’ finds the first occurrence of vocals: it’s a sparse shanty with ringing electronics building a glistening, metallic backdrop to the lilting vocal melody. Singing about mining against funeral echo-laden rings feels like a sad thing.

Oxland Cylinder is as rich in evocative depth and subtlety as the south coast is in social and industrial history, and an absorbing album irrespective of context or intent.

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Kemper Norton – Oxland Cylinder

Cat Werk Imprint – 7th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Walk away… walk around it.’ On the page, the words are devoid of threat or menace. But delivered in a fractured, disembodied voice that carries a strange sense of madness, it takes on altogether different shades of unsettling uncanniness. Amidst creeping fear chords, clicking insectoid flickers and scrapes and scratches, the voice, childlike and compressed warps and twists, as through refracted through a temporal veil or a spiritual force-field of some description. It feels like a communiqué from the other side. The voice is that of celebrated modernist sculptor and Henry Moore contemporary Barbara Hepworth, and this is one of the early moments on Olivia Louvel’s latest release, a work which forms the basis of the artist’s Masters degree, in which she investigates the voice ‘from preservation to resounding, while taking further the voice of Hepworth into the physical space as a multi-speaker diffusion’.

The source material is a 1961 recording of Barbara Hepworth’s voice, recorded by Hepworth herself in her studio in St Ives, the tape’s initial purpose was for a recorded talk with slides for the British Council, with an original duration of thirty-two minutes. Louvel’s resounding is of a similar duration, but instead of a linear narration which details the artist’s working methods, we get scrambled cut-up snippets which strangely still give a semblance of sense, reducing the extrapolations to the barest bones to give a sense of Hepworth’s creative processes and focus. But them, Willian Burroughs suggested that cutting up text (and for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll consider audio a form of text) reveals the truth, and while Hepworth’s talk isn’t brimming with political rhetoric and doublespeak, one feels that Louvel’s cut-up of her words does perhaps bring us closer to the heart of her meaning.

‘Must Carve a Stone’ loops and layers a breathy whisper of the word ‘carve’, which becomes an unsettling mantra. Minimal glitchtronica and hovering, echoing notes provide a ponderous, stammering backdrop to the looping, multi-tracked vocal layerings of ‘I Draw What I Feel in My Body’, and the sparse arrangement creates an uneasy backdrop to the words.

There isn’t a moment that’s comfortable or easy here, and Louvel’s ‘resounding’ of Hepworth is relentlessly challenging as an auditory and sensory experience. But it’s also impressive in the way that it provokes the listener to awaken those senses and absorb a multi-faceted presentation of what it is to be an artist.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds’ DIY scene is becoming increasingly adept at turning poky rehearsal spaces into gig venues: it makes sense from a funding perspective, but also means that while conventional scenes are struggling to stay open for various reasons (as often redevelopment as being squeezed financially) and new and niche acts are finding it increasingly difficult to get gigs, the Leeds scene is thriving and as diverse as ever.

I’ve previously sung the praises of rehearsal-room-turned venue CHUNK, and it’s Theo Gowans, who does a lot of the stuff there, who’s behind this evening’s show. Tonight, Mabgate Beach (or Madgate Beach, as the poster has it), tucked away in a corner of an industrial estate in an obscure corner of the city plays host to a brace of Newcastle noisemongers, supported by a brace of very different local supports.

I’d been forewarned that the room was small, but that’s something of an understatement.

Intimate isn’t even close.: it’s about the size of my living room, although it’s still probably a few feet bigger than The Hovel in York’s South Bank Social, which has a capacity of maybe 16. The drum kit and back-line fill most of the room, after which we manage to pack in maybe 20. And the lighting is as minimal as the space, only less consistent.

The Truth About Frank have been knocking around for over a decade now, and Alan Edwards’ sets don’t get any more mellow over time. Kicks off the bill with a riot of samples, the set comprises a single continuous improvised soundwerk, a jarring audio cut-up through which murky beats fade in and out through an ever-shifting collage of noise, creating what cut-up originator Brion Gysin would refer to as ‘a derangement of the senses’. Playing in near-darkness with a pencil beam of light emanating from the arm of his glasses to illuminate his minimal digital kit, Edwards’ stubby nicotine-stained fingers manipulate shapes on a touch screen and jab buttons, and with each prod and poke, more strange sounds emerge, and it’s brilliantly bewildering.

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The Truth About Frank

Things start to feel quite cramped when a full band with bass and two guitars play, and I’m less concerned about site lines for photographs than being smacked by the bassist’s headstock, meaning I’m happy to settle for the second row to observe Loro spin a set of mellow post-rock. It’s kinda standard circa 2004 fodder for the most part, but it’s nice, and with twists of mathiness and jazz without being indulgent.

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Loro

Penance Stare prove to be an absolute revelation. Their recent recordings are a hybrid of ethereal shoegaziness with black metal production values, and while those elements are very much present here, witnessing their colossal noise in such an enclosed space is an incredibly intense experience. There’s ferocious reverb on the vocals, and murky as fuck guitar duels with thunderous drumming. The duo explore some deep, dark atmospheres, too, and coupled with Esmé’s brutal anguished shriek, there are comparisons to both Amenra and early Cranes to be drawn here. Some of the soft instrumental segments are achingly beautiful and affecting, and are invariably obliterated by devastating distortion and howling agony. This is music that reaches deep inside and leaves one feeling somehow altered.

James Watts has more bands and projects than I have albums in my review pile, and having met him and performed alongside Lump Hammer in the summer, I was keen to see how things worked with a different slant and lineup, and an absence of knitted head/face garb. Whereas Lump Hammer ae sludgy and repetitive, Plague Rider mine a seam of pounding math metal, with Watts’ vocal veering between shrieking demonic and guttural taking a shit deep grunt. And what the fuck even is his two-string instrument with some kind of touchscreen attached? In the less-than—half-light, I’m struck by how much Watts resembles a young Alan Moore. It’s so dark, I can barely see the rest of the band to know what they look like, but they relentlessly kick out juggernaut riffs that hammer hard.

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Plague Rider

Technical difficulties struck 15 minutes in, with a power outage on the guitarist’s pedal board bringing a halt to the set, but after a brief intermission they resumed as loud and punishing as before, and then some.

In such a confined space, the effect is staggering: every beat, every chord, lands like a punch to the gut. It’s exhausting but exhilarating.

Only Lovers Records – 4th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to change the mood of the day, and for me, it’s often the case that the ping of an email containing a release by an act I like that can be that mood-lifter on a barren or otherwise unremarkable day. The arrival of Mayflower Madame’s latest offering was today’s: having been snared by their debut album, 2016’s Observed in Dream, I’ve been on the edge of my seat for more, and while 2018’s Premonition EP was more than welcome, it felt like something of a placeholder ahead of the next event proper.

With album number two, Prepared for a Nightmare around the corner, they’re offering a taste of what’s to come with single ‘Vultures’, a song about ‘desire, gluttony and vanity – both on a personal level and as a general symptom of the excesses of modern society’ which is ‘partly inspired by the art of George Grosz and Hieronymus Bosch’.

‘Vultures’ very much cements the style and sound they’ve showcased previously, with reverby guitars dominating a psych/goth hybrid form that’s got tension and drama by the spade, but also a brooding, doom-laden atmosphere. The pessimism isn’t explicit, but hangs heavy in the air. But while retaining that psychy / dark surf twang, ‘Vultures’ is harder-edged than anything they’ve released to date, pinned down by an insistent beat with the vocals low in the mix and soaked in reverb and angst. The production more muscular, too, and it all stacks up for a belting blast of tense, dark contemporary post-punk that says the album is going to be a corker.

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Mayflower Madame - Vultures (cover)

The experimental chamber collective Collectress, who create unique surrealist-tinged chamber pop and have been described as a cross between "the Elysian Quartet and possessed Brontë sisters teasing an unsuspecting dinner party" (Foxy Digitalis) release a video today for new single "In The Streets, In the Fields".

Using dance as a means to explore the nature of the music, and with nods to both psychedelia (particularly 13th Floor Elevators), and the 1937 recording of Virginia Woolf’s “Words”, Collectress play at taking you somewhere imaginary whilst staying grounded in reality- ‘in the streets’ yet also ‘in the fields.’  The band remark "we liked the sense of the transience of language as evoked by the crackly Woolf recordings, of time passing and of spaces shifting, of being in one place yet another at the same time, in “Different Geographies”. In this technological world of ours, Woolf’s “Words” speaks to us from the past, visionary in suggesting we are mere vessels for language to occur, adapt and move around in. “In the Streets, In the Fields” melodically ‘sets off’ and in some way is doing this too, its simple structure unfolding, shifting and developing over the course of the song."
Collectress continue "the film for "Streets" was always going to include dance as a means to explore and express the nature of the music. We talked about parts of the body, colours and ‘elements’ to include. We each gave our interpretation and filmed ourselves dancing at our own respective ‘different geography’. What you see in the film is a layering of those interpretations to the rhythm and layers of the individual parts of the music, to create an indefinable space that we hope has something recognisable and grounded but that also allows for an element of getting lost."

Watch ‘In the Streets, In the Fields’ here:

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Collectress Spring Shows:

Friday April 10 – Brighton Album Launch at The Rosehill, Brighton

Sat May 9 – Daylight Session (plus special guests), Union Chapel, London

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Collectress

Sky Valley Mistress  recently caught our attention supporting Black Moth at their Leeds farewell show in December, and having signed to New Heavy Sounds, their debut single and its attendant video feels like the passing of a baton.

Sky Valley Mistress spent 10 days recording at Dave Catching’s Rancho de la Luna studio in California, hanging out with the likes of Hutch (QOTSA’s ex sound man), Bingo (Mojave Lords), Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), Peaches and Arctic Monkeys who also dropped by during the stay.

Footage from their time out there is featured in the video for new single ’Skull & Pistons’. Guitarist Sean ‘Starsky’ Berry comments, ‘Skull & Pistons is about Max’s (drummer) leather jacket and the cool things he’s done in it, the video shows the band’s coolest journey to the desert to record their debut album, it was an obvious choice for a debut single and although this jacket is literally now falling of his shoulders it makes a cameo in this film.’

Watch the video for ’Skull & Pistons’ here:

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Sky Valley Mistress are 4 young upstarts from Blackburn, Lancashire, who have been honing their chops over the years up & down the country, and showcasing their blistering live set at Download, Camden Rocks and Sound City along with supports with The Subways, Cadillac Three, Earthlings and Band Of Skulls amongst others.

In fact, SVM could easily hold their own against the likes of Jim Jones, Rival Sons, Royal Blood, BRMC or any other rockers greasy or otherwise.

Still only in their mid 20s, you can only assume, on listening to this debut, that these young turks made that journey to those legendary crossroads and did the dirty deed with the dark one himself, such is the level of musicianship and vocal prowess on show here.

So how did they hook up with Dave Catching?  That’s a story in itself. It was Halloween & the band all went to an Eagles of Death Metal gig in fancy dress as members of EODM and their friends.  After the show the band blagged their way backstage.  The boys in EODM loved their costumes and SVM gave Dave Catching some of their tracks and asked for him to check them out.

Dave later came back to them and said he really liked what he heard and that if they were thinking of doing an album they should record at his place in California, the legendary studio at Rancho de la Luna.

And so it eventually came to pass.

The result of that meeting of minds and souls is the full spectrum stoner rock ‘n’ roll assault of ‘Faithless Rituals’.

‘Faithless Rituals’ will hit the world on 20th March 2020.

Upcoming shows:

Wed 29th Jan – The Jacaranda, Liverpool as part of Independent Venue Week

Wed 18th March – The Fulford Arms, York

Sky Valley Mistress