Archive for April, 2020

5th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ll spare you the retreading of old ground here, but Weekend Recovery’s evolution is one I’ve personally charted over the last few years, and debut album Get What You Came For confirmed their full transition from slick melodic alt-rock act to purveyors of fiery grunge / punk. They never lost their focus on melody, for all that, and ‘There’s A Sense’, which gives a second taste of album number two, False Friends pitches the melody very much to the fore.

‘There’s A Sense’ is ostensibly a three-minute pop tune. The guitars are a choppy, trebly, and provide a spiky backdrop to Lori’s buoyant, almost bubblegum vocals that bounce along so, so easily.

‘Tell my friends I’m coming down / and I can’t promise I’ll be back around’ she sings in the breaks when it all slows for a moment. Those slumps are relatable, and for all the bouncy and immediate tuuuuune that this blast of ebullient popness gives us, the truth is that there’s always darkness beneath the surface.

Weekend Recovery continue to expand their range, and deserve to one day rule the world.

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Noisequanoise – 29th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

What is this? A reimagined soundtrack to the popular TV series? Having not watched it (I know, it’s a crime against contemporary popular culture) I’ve no idea if the track titles are references.

What I do know is that we’re in ultra-niche ultra-noise territory here: Breaking Bad was recorded on a CD-R data discs and released on an initial run of CDs limited to 8. Yes, 8. There’s a wilful obscurantism that’s part and parcel of the scene that this clearly taps into, and it was ever thus going back to the dawn of Come Organisaton. There’s a whole essay, or even a book, in the culture surrounding the scene, and that isn’t for now, but despite what all this may seem to imply about elitism and snobbery in the noise scene, my personal experience has to date presented many accommodating, pleasant, self-effacing and self-aware, not to mention shy and reasonable people. It;s often the case that extreme art is not a reflection of the individual, but simply an outlet.

The opening bars of the album’s first piece, ‘Hidden Threat’, are serene, almost ambient, and pleasant. Then in a turn it explodes and what sounds at first like a metal bucket full of stones and a broken contact mic being kicked down the stairs in a tower block swiftly becomes a relentless swirl of churning metallic distortion, a churning blast of noise that’s excruciating. There are some vocals in there, too: pained shouting, submerged by a blistering wall of distortion. It’s so intense as to make five and a half minutes feel like fifteen.

Shifting into lower frequencies and breaking the wall with the occasional stutter, ‘Stream of Thoughts’ conjures the anguish I feel around 10am on most mornings in the office – and while the actual office experience is rapidly receding into the distance as a memory, the recollection of the trauma of operating in such surroundings will likely never fade.

And so it is that ‘My Future Plans’ is a shrieking mess of treble that jolts and jars, and with so much turbulent top-end, ‘More Pain!’ is appropriately titled as a trudging, sawing sound grinds back and forth against a squall of shrieking ballistic white noise. And it just keeps on going. There is absolutely no fucking respite. The spaces between the tracks are negligible, and while the tracks are all different, when presented with so much relentless blasting noise, the effect is ultimately flattening. That doesn’t mean it’s numbing or desensitising: six or seven tracks in, it’s still as eye-wateringly assaultive as in the opening minutes – but you’re just too battered and beaten to really differentiate one shade of overloading distortion from another, in much the same way as standing in a DIY store comparing paints. Only this is like comparing paint while having an electric drill penetrating each ear.

That said, the final track ‘The Way No Nowhere’ does seem to increase the intensity, with more rapid circulations of the internal rhythms that manifest within the whorl of noise.

It’s draining, and hard work: but then, it’s not intended as easy listening and one of the primary purposes of harsh noise and power electronics is a sonic catharsis, and one which often involves an element of self-flagellation. And in terms of delivering against objective, Breaking Bad brings it.

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Noisequanoise – 1st January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Avery Vickers, aka Death Circuit, isn’t exactly big on info, biographical or otherwise. But, specialising in Harsh Noise, Harsh Noise Wall, and Power Electronics, what more do you really need? Personality and politics are less than nothing in the face of instrumental annihilation.

An Easy Passage To The Mind is noted as having been ‘recorded on 90 minutes of cassette tape’. The medium naturally brings a roughing, analogue feel to the two tracks, which are both exactly 15:03 in duration (90 minutes would surely be unbearable even for the biggest fan of this).

What’s impressive is just how much sound is packed into those thin, magnetic-coated strips. It’s not just harsh, noisy, and a wall – that’s pretty much a given. But the density is more than a towering slab of basalt. And of course, there are no smooth edges here: this is pure abrasion.

On ‘1’, there’s an emphasis on the lower mid-ranges, meaning the experience isn’t cranium-splittingly abrasive. The sound is very much like a cross between a helicopter at close range, and a washing machine on a spin cycle, the air torn and shredded, and rent damaged by the obliterative volume. After the initial shock of the sheer sonic force, it becomes immersive. Not pleasant, but not unpleasant.

The same cannot be said of ‘2’, which may or may not be the same track cranked up to a level of overloading distortion and does actually hurt and fuck with your head even more than your speakers. It simply sounds broken. And after a quarter of an hour of it, I certainly am. It’s torture by frequency, and it’ torture by volume, and it’s torture by dissonant vibration. I feel jaw clenching involuntarily as every muscle in my body get gradually more tense. It’s horrible. And exactly as intended. Harsh.

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Ideologic Organ -  SOMA037 – 17th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The blurbage which accompanies this release was prefaced by a line from Eyvind Kang, stating, ‘The digital release idea has been a kind of lifeline, a way of thinking of music and sound as survivance and meditation’.

We are indeed fortunate: if we think isolation in the age of the global village is difficult, imagine life during previous plague pandemics. One may argue that without the blizzard of (dis)information being disseminated, we’d be in a much better place, but however much we may miss our friends and relatives, things are undoubtedly easier for many – although certainly not everyone – in the Internet age.

Writing from his Berlin sublet, where he says he is ‘here for the duration it seems’ Stephen O’Malley says ‘We are all in these similar boats, together.’ And there is some comfort in all of this. For a time, I’d been concerned that continuing with music reviews in the face of everything was somehow an act which diminished, undermined the gravity of the situation. People are dying, people are alone, unable to leave the house. And here I am spouting opinions about music?

Of course, we need all arts, in particular music, now more than ever, to fill the gaps. And the artists need to keep making music, and not just for financial reasons: artists have a tendency to respond to situations by making art, and my writing about it is part of the dissemination process. And so, after a couple of wilderness weeks where the very act of sitting in front of a screen and keyboard felt like the very definition of futility, I came to see it more of a duty.

The latest material from PHURPA, Hymns of Gyer is one of four new titles on Ideologic Organ.

It’s a low, wheezing, groaning sound that drones and echoes the introduction to Hymns of Gyer. Sounding somewhere between a digeridoo and a zen om chant from deep within a cave, it’s both ominous and meditative.

Enigmatic Russian collective, PHURPA, centred around Alexey Tegin have steadily been building a catalogue of spiritually-focused and other-worldly sounding recordings centred around Bön, Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition. Hymns of Gyer features four mesmeric vocal drones, and if Sunn O))) did throat singing, it would sound like this.

The slow undulations and the multiple voices, each droning pitch resonating against the others in an endless succession of swells and ebbs, sometimes booming and billowing.

There is no discernible structure or form, but the purpose of these performances is about a different kind of focus: an inner focus, one which achieves a transcendental oneness. ‘0.1 [3]’ and ‘01.3’ yawn and drone on for over a quarter of an hour apiece, with the latter in particular building a dense, low-end breathy intensity, elevating and ululating expansively with an effect that resonates around the lungs. This is incredibly physical music, body music in the most literal sense. It’s impossible to dissect either the sound of its effect. All you can know is that it IS. It rumbles around every inch of your being. It doesn’t speak to or of anything. It just echoes and envelops, and immerses.

Listening with no real expectation, I found my breathing slowed, my pulse slowed. Maybe this was what I needed. Maybe this what we all need. It’s impossible to be prescriptive right now, but the drowning sprawl of Hymns of Gyer very much does offer an oasis of meditative calm.

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One Little Indian – 1st May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Like many, Daisy Chainsaw’s incursion into the singles chart with ‘Love Your Money’ in 1992, was my introduction to KatieJane Garside. I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately sold, and it wasn’t until I caught Queenadreena supporting The Rollins Band in the early noughties that I came to appreciate her as a performer, at once captivating and terrifying. Queenadreena, and, subsequently, Ruby Throat charted an artistic and musical progression, and Liar, Flower is a continuation, a new iteration of Ruby Throat, consisting of Garside and multi-instrumentalist Chris Whittingham.

The band moniker intimates the kind of juxtapositionality of Daisy Chainsaw: pretty, delicate, and brutal, and it proves to be most fitting. Geiger Counter is mostly delicate, if not necessarily pretty, and definitely presents those elements of juxtaposition and opposition with serenity colliding with screaming abrasion in a varied set of songs.

‘9N-AFE’ is sparse, eerie, a mesmeric beatless trip-hop backing accompanies a lost, haunting vocal, and it calls to mind early Cranes. It’s followed by the slow-skipping chamber-folk of ‘baby teeth’ and the stark country hues of ‘blood berries’, which finds Garside weaving and soaring stratospheric notes and evoking Kate Bush.

Geiger Counter may be geared toward the quieter, more introspective end of the sonic spectrum, but it’s stylistically varied. The instrumentation is subtle, delicate, and remains very much in the position of accompaniment, placing Garside’s voice to the fore.

There are exceptions: ‘doors locked, oven’s off’ is a lilting acoustic instrumental just a couple of minutes in duration, while the stripped-back vaudeville ‘broken light’ suddenly breaks into jazz-tinged piano discord, and ‘even though the darkest clouds’ goes full electric, sucking hints of Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr into its maelstrom of guitars. Garside is on fire, sounding dangerous and demented. The lyrics are often difficult to decipher, but ‘don’t worry darling, I’ve got to wash my hands’ breaks through the chaos and screams OCD. Or maybe that’s just me. They rock it up again on ‘little brown shoes’ too, a scuzzy blues stomper with a solid groove where KatieJane wails like a banshee witch and growls like all the menace. The swampy ‘Mud Stars’ plunges into a miasma of soulful blues that becomes increasingly uncomfortable as it slides into a haze of noise.

The simple acoustic arrangements are understated, Garside’s vocals haunting in a way that slides beneath the skin: the brooding post-rock atmospherics of ‘Hole in my Hand’ are moving, but in an almost imperceptible way. It feels like the reflective calm after protracted spell of emotional turbulence.

There’s a clear and strong arc that carries Geiger Counter, an album which builds in volume and intensity as it progresses, culminating in the all-out abrasion of the no-wave noise rock riot that is ‘My Brain is Lit Like an Airport’. As a journey, it becomes increasingly challenging as it goes on, and as an album it’s stunning.

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Only Lovers Records – 27th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This is an album I’ve been on the edge of my seat for for quite some time: their debit, Observed in a Dream was fully four years ago, which feels like an eternity. The two preceding singles set the bar for expectations for Prepared For A Nightmare – preparing us not so much for a nightmare, but a haunting set of songs that built on the foundations of its predecessor, flexing new muscles, pushing new boundaries.

The title track raises the curtain in grand style, brooding drama filtered through a misty haze of reverb. The guitars wander in and out of key along doric scales that spin a gothy twist to the echoey psychedelic surf vibe.

After a mid-tempo opening salvo, ‘Ludwig Meidner’ steps it up with full-tilt rolling drums reminiscent of The Danse Society circa Seduction, blended with The Cure on Pornography. There are cold, needling synths in the mix undulating across the thunderous barrage of percussion and the sound’s filled out by a low-slung bass groove while Trond sings about ‘dancing on your grave’: the lyrical themes and musical style remains unchanged, but what is different is that there’s more space, which conjures a different darkness.

‘The Night Before’ is a doomy, gloomy trudge, sparsely set and more about layers than rive – which is perhaps true of the album as a whole this is more focused on detail, on nuance, on atmosphere. Closer ‘Endless Shimmer’ hints at all the shoegaze, even op, and it’s in the mix, but it’s taut, dense, and dark and there’s a tension that simmers beneath that’s hard to pull apart. The fadeout on ‘Goldmine’ seems a little odd, but perhaps that’s as much about fashion as anything. The 80s… This is so reminiscent as to be a repro in some way. But it’s ok: there’s no sense that any of this s forced or artificial. Prepared For A Nightmare oozes song quality and a richness of performance and appropriate production. It’s seriously hard to fault any of it.

Prepared For A Nightmare is definitely darker and deeper and less immediate than its predecessor, but it’s all the better for it.

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Géante 4 is a graphically scored piece that I’ve illustrated/written of about 10-12 minutes in length that I was hoping you could tackle as a solo piece. It involves between 3-7 voicings per section over 5 sections, in total around 10-12 minutes. I had the Japanese guitarist Michio Kurahara do a version of this last autumn when we were doing some basic tracking for this session in Tokyo.

We also did a 90-minute version in Norway last summer with 2 double bass players, a haldorophone, piano and sine wave/tape. I’d love for you to approach this very much as you like, based on the rough parameters of the score. I imagine that the common aspects to Kurahara’s version would be the sustained tones and the transitions, as well as the modes you’re transitioning between.”

So begins O’Malley’s missive to Stuart Dempster, trombonist (or, as his brief bio states, ‘Sound Gatherer – trombonist, composer, didjeriduist, et al, and Professor Emeritus at University of Washington’) with avant-garde collective Eye Music, who are here represented as an octet.

O’Malley’s directions are simultaneously clear and vague, and the same is true of the blank ambience this release contains: namely, two versions of the same piece, meaning both the four- and five-layer mixes are 12:41 in duration.

The elongated notes of echoing drones, dense, sinewy, turn gradually fade in and hover… and hover… and swirl. The overall blend of sound bears no resemblance to the sum of the parts, and electric guitar, flute, cello, trombone, harmonium, field organ, synthesizer, and bowed stringboard with metal slide and blur and melt into a broad, organic-sounding wash that paints in broad watercolour strokes.

I’m not so anal as to sit and compare the two tracks intonation by intonation, and I haven’t attempted to play them simultaneously. The 5 layer mix does feel deeper, denser, slower, darker, but it cold equally be my variable and gradually declining mood, as happens some evenings. Many. No doubt a detailed comparison may prove illuminating, and prove of some value to someone somewhere, but no-one needs it here as part of a review, and besides, I’d hate to spoil your fun.

Fun isn’t top of the list with this release: beat-free, sans overt structure, and ambient with some more brooding tendencies, the atmosphere is cloudy, overcast and hints at a turbulence that never actually arrives, but is always bubbling over the horizon: the soundtrack not to a storm, but a preceding pressure drop.

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