Archive for January, 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The Wonkystuff nights to date may have been a shade sporadic, but that’s what happens when the organisers have day-jobs and families, and more importantly, what they’ve lacked in regularity, they’ve more than compensated in quality, and that’s a major reason why there’s such a respectable turnout to a gig midweek, mid-January, in York. There’s also the warm, welcoming vibe: these nights may be musical showcases, but they’re also a coming together of an oddball community, where we’re all misfits together and it feels good and feels like home. Tonight’s lineup – as usual – demonstrates John Tuffen’s skill for bringing together acts who provide a satisfying balance of contrasting and complimentary.

It’s the Wonkystuff House Band – a collective rather than a fixed entity, tonight comprising Tuffen alongside Ash Sagar and Simon Higginbotham – who warm things up with a set consisting of permutational repetitions delivered by multiple vocals, delivered in a drab monotone over repetitive beats. Comparisons to Can, Cabaret Voltaire circa ‘Nag Nag Nag’, The Fall, Flying Lizards, Girls vs Boys, Young Marble Giants, and the more contemporary Moderate Rebels all make their way into my notes as I watch them crank out vintage synth and drum machine sounds. Cyclical bass motifs and whizzing diodes fill the air as they sit and twiddle knobs and read lyrics from clipboards and the historical leaps into the present for a while.

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Wonkystuff House Band

The start of TSR2’s set crackles and pops fireworks. The trio hunch over customised kit with wires all over to create warped undulations and machine gun fire beats that batter the speaker cones. The set builds into a dense, murky trudge. The second track, ‘What will be’ is more co-ordinated than the opener, and is solidly rhythmic, mechanoid and spacious, and metamorphosises into some kind of glam reimagining of Kraftwerk via DAF. Heavy echoes and tribal beats dominate the third track, and they very much find their groove at this point, at least for a spell, before the construction grows shaky despite solid foundations. Perhaps it’s the sheer ambition of layering up so much at once that’s difficult to keep together. Despite this, the discord and dissonance are part and parcel of an intriguing set.

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TSR2

Rovellasca takes the stage, quietly and understated and stands behind a bank of kit. So far, so standard. The set begins with deep, dark, rumblings, and very soon builds into something shatteringly immense. It’s dense. It’s loud, and fills the room like a thick, suffocating smog. The sound is thick, immersive. Time passes. Unexpectedly, elongated mid-range notes sound out and the underlying dense noise builds. I’m no longer listening: my entire body is enveloped. This is the effect of sonic force. Noise wall without the harsh. Burrs of static, pink and brown noise lurk in the immense billowing noise. The shifts are subtle, and gradual, but present over the course of the single, continuous half-hour piece. People start to become visibly uncomfortable after a time others vaguely bored. I’m loving it, and could listen all night. A slow fade to finish. The hush is deafening.

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Rovellasca

It’s a hard act to follow, but See Monstd – the new musical vehicle of radiofreemidwich’s Rob Hayler is an inspired choice, in that it represents something completely different that thus prevents any risk of comparison. There’s a lot going on here: the set starts with a sample, then breaks into what my notes describe as ‘wtf noise’. It subsequently settles into heavy harsh ambience, with dense, grating drones providing the body of sound, with swerves off trajectory for spells of audience participation, with a phone being passed around for members of the crowd to repeat lines from the sheets circulated prior to the set. This is one of those performances where you never know quite where it’s going to go, and is all the better for the element of unpredictability.

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See Monstd

And this, in a nutshell, is everything that’s great about the Wonkystuff nights.

SPV / NoCut and ADA / Entertainment One

24th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

And we’re back once again in the divergent and varied field of what’s come to be goth in the 21st century, and it’s a very far cry from its post-punk roots. The late 70s and early 80s saw the emergence of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The March Violets, Christian Death and a slew of bands who would subsequently be labelled as ‘goth’, and who were subsequently joined by the likes of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Cult, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission, etc., etc. The fact of the matter is, there was little commonality between these acts, and that goth was something of a media fabrication. What about the fans? Let’s not confuse the fans and the artists, or a subculture with its icons. So what was a scene that never was morphed into an evermore diffuse group of subcultures, with an ever-broader range of bands who had little or nothing in common beyond their shared fanbase. After metal, there can be few labels that provide an umbrella for a greater range of styles.

So here we are, presented with The Book of Fire, the eleventh album by German goth-metal act MONO INC. And while it’s goth, it’s not really my kinda goth, and couldn’t be further from the dark post-punk or art-rock stylings of the first wave of bands. Is this evolution, or dilution, cross-pollination and contamination? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The album’s first song, the title track, is over seven and a half minutes long. It begins with a slick guitar that almost manages to sound like a harpsichord, and then it glides into some kind of Celtic folk metal and it very soon starts to become uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because such buoyant energy is more the domain of the hoedown knees-up. The folk-hued power-metal of ‘Louder Than Hell’ brims with positivity about strength and stuff, and explodes with crisp synths and choral backing vocals and it’s fun enough, but it’s also pretty cringy: it’s the kind of thing Germany might enter into Eurovision.

Then again, ‘Shining Light’ has such a massive chorus and a hook so strong that it’s hard to resist even when you’re hating it: it has that uplifting surge that lifts you and carries you away on the tide from the inside.

The euphoria swiftly dissipates with the next song, ‘Where the Raven Flies’, which is the definition of theatrical cliché melodrama. And herein lies the problem, which I accept is entirely personal, at least on a primary level. In short, I think it’s cheesy and naff.

On a secondary level, and one which is more objective, what The Book of Fire represents is very much a commercial take on the genre; theatre and drama don’t necessarily equate to an absence of depth, but this is good-time party goth, and any emotional sincerity is polished away under a slick veneer of pomp and overblown production. In this way, it’s as credible as examples of either folk or goth as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ or Doctor and the Medics’ rendition of ‘Spirit in the Sky’. It displays all the trappings, but none of the authenticity. For all the theatre, there’s a woeful absence of substance, the brooding is third-rate thespianism rather than the anguish of tortured souls.

Elsewhere, ‘The Last Crusade’ is riven with choral bombast, but is little more than an obvious ‘This Corrosion’ rip-off, that once again leans heavily on Germanic folk tropes, and ‘The Gods of Love’ similarly brings together Floodland-era Sisters with Rammstein. I’m sure plenty will view this as a good thing, but they’d be wrong, so wrong. ‘What have we done?’ they ask repeatedly on the final and suitably epic finale track ‘What have We Done’, and it’s a fair question: whatever it is, it’s not good.

In fairness, it’s not quite ‘Rocky Horror’ bad on the spectrum of play-goth, but it’s not far off, and while it’s sonically ambitious, creatively, it’s depressingly derivative.

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Tensheds Music – 6th December 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Having caught Tensheds live back in 2018 and been impressed by their gritty yet flamboyant sound, the arrival of an album in the form of Deathrow Disco promised to be good news. And it really is.

No guitars. No synths. No bass. Just a Rhodes organ. And some drums. Written in three days and recorded in three more, Deathrow Disco packs an immediacy without being lo-fi in a way that’s detrimental. However, everything is upfront and direct and cranked up, delivering maximum impact with a sense of urgency.

Everything fits together perfectly, and it all serves to showcase Matt Millership’s distinctive voice. The guy’s got more gravel than Jewson’s. And while that sand-blasted larynx is used to growl out mangled blued-based songs, he’s no predictable Tom Waits rip-off like so any others. Lead single and opening track ‘Youngbloods’ packs some flamboyant keys of a grandeur worthy of Muse or Yes, but pins the trilling tones go a stomping rhythm.

Second single cut ‘Gold Tooth’ is a grainy glammy blues boogie, but sonically, it’s a collision of The Doors at their swaggering badass baddest with Suicide, mining a relentless groove with a swirling Hammond that’s been mangled and

Then again, ‘Slag’ is more like a synth Mötörhead, only with some piano thrown into the mix. ‘Deathrow Disco’ combines immense theatricality with full-blooded rock ‘n’ roll, and elsewhere, ‘Black Blood’ goes prog and at the same times reveals a softer, more sensitive side, and ‘Troubleshooter’ inches toward lighter-waving anthem territory, or maybe would without the bitter heartbreak lyrics.

Deathrow Disco is varied, and largely uptempo and big on boppable grooves, but make no mistake, Tensheds have a highly distinctive style that works well, and makes optimal use of minimal kit.

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Tensheds - Deathrow Disco

Human Impact, a “band that collects members from three of New York noise’s most important groups — the hardcore-influenced, ultraviolent Unsane, industrial anger mongers Cop Shoot Cop, and erstwhile Lower East Side pummelers Swans” (Rolling Stone), have released a video for “E605”.

The Samuel Mitchell-directed clip visually echoes the gritty, industrial-tinged noise rock on the band’s forthcoming, self-titled debut album (March 13, Ipecac Recordings). It is the second song to preview the 10-track release, with the band previously sharing the song “November”.

Watch ‘E605’ here:

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Since 2017, something has been lurking in the shadows around Merseyside, snarling from the unseen corners with a piercing horror-metal atmosphere; that something is Video Nasties, and they’re ready to strike with their moral-panic inducing heaviness.

Comprised from members from some of Liverpool’s finest heavy exports in The Bendal Interlude, SSS, Magpyes and Iron Witch,  the quintet that is Video Nasties mix death metal with punky and thrashy undertones, creating something morbidly macabre and devilishly debauched.

Recently signed to the label – on Halloween 2019 no less – Video Nasties finally bring their reign of terror to APF Records. Set to unleash their debut full-length Dominion [APF025] on Friday 13th March (of course) on all good formats – LP, CD, cassette and digital – Video Nasties are content to lurk no more; get ready for their slasher soundtrack to rip your eardrums to pieces soon.

‘Drone Eagle’ is the first taster to be shared, described by bassist Rick Owen as a song about, ‘Armageddon. We’re going to hell in a hand basket, baby and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. A demise driven by power, greed and corruption.’

Listen to ‘Drone Eagle’ here:

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Upcoming Video Nasties shows:

31st Jan – Alma Inn, Bolton (free entry)

14th March – Sound Food and Drink, Liverpool (album launch show)

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Video Nasties

Sound In Silence – 9th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Fifteen years on from initiating worriedaboutsatan, Gavin Miller resumes work under the moniker as a solo performer once more. During that time, there have been lengthy breaks, solo releases and side projects, and five albums along the way, all of which featured Thomas Ragsdale. As a duo, it was always apparent that each of them brought something very different to the table, and on paper, the differences probably just shouldn’t work, with Ragsdale’s more beat-centric style seemingly at odds with Miller’s introspective post-rock / ambient stylings. But work it did, and incredibly well. The sound evolved over time, too, from the stuttering microbeats that characterised Arrivals to the up-front booming dance grooves particularly prominent in their later live sets, worriedaboutsatan developed, but remained distinctive.

So what impact Ragsdale’s departure to focus on his solo endeavours?

Pleasingly, Crystalline still has that je ne sais quoi that’s uniquely worriedaboutsatan, despite the contrasts being less pronounced, as Miller pursues the more ambient direction that defined Revenant and Blank Tape. The eight pieces coalesce as a whole to create an album that’s mellow and subtle, with reverby guitar notes chiming out into soft washes of ambient synth. It is predominantly background in its positioning: Crystalline isn’t an album where anything leaps out and grabs the attention, there are no peaks or troughs, and the whole thing more or les drifts by on a certain level that registers low on the concentration meter. That’s not a criticism, but a personal observation on its function as a musical work: it supplements the mood and occupies a space in an understated fashion, and is something that can be played while you’re working or reading. By the same token, that doesn’t make it ‘forgettable’ or mean it isn’t worthy of attentive listening: Miller has constructed some magnificently layered compositions, and while the overall sensation emanates from broad washes of sound that could be described as impressionistic, there is considerable detail beneath the surface.

The forms are vague and vaporous, the individual instruments indistinct, but this changes on penultimate track, ‘Secretly’, where the guitar becomes clearer and more ‘guitary’, and judders as the echoes take over the notes, creating a doubling effect as the picked strings stop and stutter against a heartbeat pulse of a beat.

The album closes with the mournful drones of ‘Switching Off’: sparse, spaced out, blank in their connotations before a swell of overloaded feedback begins to rise in the loudest, most abrasive moment on the album, before it’s suddenly cut dead. Thank you, and good night.

The suddenness of this ending is unexpected, and breaks the suspension of time that the preceding half hour of amorphous sound punctuated by barely-there beats has created. It’s a jolt, and you’re back in the room.

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worriedaboutsatan – Crystalline

Christopher Nosnibor

Two Acorns – 2A16 – DL release date: Out Now / CD release date: 6th March 2019

Celer’s Future Predictions is a vast and ambitious work: spanning four discs, it’s an ambient exploration on a truly grand scale. Each disc contains a single longform track, each running at around half an hour, with the shortest, ‘No Sleep in Medan’ clocking in at 27’30”, and the longest, ‘Nothing Will Change’ 42’36”.

According to the write-up, the compositions are made with ‘tape loops, from digital and acoustic instruments, field recordings and foley sounds’, and ‘with a focus on introspection and imagination, each piece begins with all layers playing, with minimal additional long-term structural development in order to maintain a state’. There’s a conceptual lineage here, if not an auditory one: Future Predictions is the follow-up to 2018’s Memory Repetitions which was based on memory and the interpretation of it over time. Future Predictions, we learn, ‘is instead based on the idea of future situations, and should be seen as a meditation on future events’.

While the various elements of tape loops and various instruments are indistinguishable, combining in their simultaneity to create soft, supple sonic washes, hovering drones interweaving interminably, the overall effect is incredibly immersive.

The first of the four, ‘Merita’ is light, drifting like mist over dewy expanses of grassland at sunrise, and while I initially find myself waiting for some progression, expecting some transitional shift, after a time the stasis becomes the end in itself.

‘No Sleep’ inches into darker territory, with deeper, rumbling low notes but after a few minutes this sense of difference dissipates in the drift of elongated notes that have no clear definition, no forward trajectory, no overt sense of movement, but instead hover and hang in the air for all time. ‘Quaraous’ brings new layers, new tones, new, shades, a shimmering light and swell of organ to the proceedings, and for aa time it again feels different, but again, that difference fades over the course of half an hour of sameness.

The effects of Future Predictions are cumulative. It’s true that on a purely practical level, few, if any, are likely to listen to all four discs or digital files in succession, although it’s in this context of continuous play that it works best. Admittedly, this is not music to listen to, but to allow to drift by. You don’t listen: you feel it and on a subconscious level as you drift, and you let life happen and continue as normal. I read and replied to texts and emails, while the sound swelled and hummed in eternal undulations. They didn’t transport me anywhere, they didn’t ‘do’ anything. And yet, inducing a certain sense of sedation, of slowness, of tranquillity, they achieved everything.

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Celer