Archive for April, 2020

The Crescent, York, 14th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It doesn’t seem real now. It was the night before everything changed, before everything changed again a couple of days later. While cancellations were accelerating, advice and clarity was sparse, and what constituted ‘the right thing’ was very much a matter for debate. The Crescent were very much doing ‘the right thing’ based on the advice: punters were steered to washing their hands on arrival at the venue: those without e-tickets advised to pay by contactless card, while also paying contactlessly at the bar, being served by staff in gloves, pints being served in cans or single-use plastic vessels. Social distancing wasn’t yet a specific thing, and there was scant information which suggested that in excess of 15 minutes in close proximity may increase the risk of transmission. We greeted with elbows and nods. In the main, we respected the guidelines.

I’d be interested to know how many of those who attended have subsequently fallen sick with Covid-19. Not all of us were in the ‘young’ demographic; none of us was being wilfully irresponsible. The virus has become divisive in the way that Brexit was: on social media, in particular, anyone leaving the house risks being subject to vilification, abuse, and even police interrogation. We now live in a climate of fear – an unprecedented climate of fear, dominated by an unprecedented overuse of the word ‘unprecedented’.

The middle of March: a mere month ago, but another lifetime. Gig attendances were already beginning to drop off sharply as the fear spread. And with everything amping up, there was a certain sense of occasion about this: I sense that many of use attended as much out of a sense of solidarity and support: solidarity and support for the bands, the venue, the local scene, and one another. And because we knew, if only subconsciously, that the opportunities to convene like this would be numbered. Gatherings like this are what keep communities together, and keep many of us sane. I’m elated to see numerus friends, including some I’ve not seen in far too long: we catch up about parenthood and our concern for our elderly parents under the creeping shadow of the virus. We drink beer, and we watch bands.

Viewer haven’t been out in a while, and apart from time down the pub, have almost been on a self-imposed isolation for I don’t know who long. I’m not even sure Tim Wright would notice a 12-week lockdown. But here he is, hunched over a laptop, cranking out beats and backings and migraine-inducing visual backdrops while AB Johnson – still suffering the effects of concussion and sporting a black eye and struggling to remember the lyrics after a recent accident involving his face and the pavement – pours every ounce of energy into his performance. They’re the primary reason I’m here, and given the quality of the songs, the visuals, and the people they’ve dragged out of the woodwork, every moment is a joy. Johnson’s lyric sheets are scattered around the stage and his difficult relationship with mic stands is evident tonight. But despite any shakes or glitches, they remain one of the most essential acts around, and just need for the world to catch up.

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Viewer

Soma Crew are showcasing (another) new lineup tonight, with a minimal drum set-up and lap steel dronage and slide bringing new dimensions to their deep psych chugging repetitions driven by varying between two or three guitars. My notes begin to descend into sketchy incoherence around this point, but the memory-jogging ‘RRR’ reminds me that they’re masters of the three ‘r’s – repetition, repetition, repletion, and they slug away at three chords for five or six minutes to mesmeric, hypnotic effect. It seems that every time I write about Soma Crew, I remark that they’re better every time I see them. And yet again, it’s true. They’re denser, more solid, more muscular, and tighter than ever, and on this outing they feel like a band who should be playing to way bigger crowds, capable of holding their own at the Brudenell or the Belgrave.

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Soma Crew

Leeds’ Long-Legged Creatures are new on me, and they impress, with a fluid bass and big washes of texture defining the sound. An eletro/post-rock/psych hybrid, they lay down some hypnotic grooves, and my sketchy, increasingly beer-addled notes remind me that their performance is frenetic, kinetic, with some strong – and complex – drum ‘n’ bass / jazz drumming driving the songs.

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Things take a major left-turn when some poet guy steps up to the mic and spews lines and rhymes like John Cooper Clarke on a cocktail of drugs. A spot of digging suggests he may be Joshua Zero, but I may be wrong. He’s a compelling presence, though: he’s wild, he’s crazed, and his staggering vitriolic attacks are in stark contrast to the coordinated post-rock jams of the band. It’s as exhilarating as it is unexpected. It’s great.

Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you were better avoiding it. But I’ve no regrets. I miss gigs, I miss pubs, I miss live music, and I miss people. At least my last experience of all of these was truly wonderful and encapsulated everything I love about this.

10 to 1 records

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been three years since The Doomed Bird of Providence graced us with Burrowed into the Soft Sky, an album containing two richly atmospheric longform instrumental tracks. With the Rumbling Clouds of War Hover Over Us, which bears a characteristically cumbersome title, Mark Kluzek continues to pursue an instrumental direction, while moving away from Australian colonial history in favour of and exploration the escape of his grandfather Władysław Kluzek from Poland after the German invasion in WWII

The EP, containing four pieces, is demarked at four parts, indicative of a continuous but segmented sequence. Being instrumental, however, any narrative bent is very much implicit, and with a combined running time of approximately twenty minutes, Rumbling Clouds of War Hover Over Us returns to the more succinct style of previous releases.

The title makes sense in context, but carries a universality in reminding us that we are never more than a few short steps from war, and these delicately-poised compositions are heavy with sentiment, dense with instrumentation that articulates it while leaving room for interpretation.

Part 1, the title track, begins with a sombre piano and trudging drum, augmented with strings and woodwind to forge a dense, lugubrious atmosphere. There’s a slow, sashaying gallic-slash-silent movie feel to ‘You Never Became Used to Death’, and the rolling piano rolls into ‘Constant Moving Stream’ which builds the theatrics and drama with bold chords swelling over another insistent beat that marches on while a crescendo swells and then fades, its peak unrealised, the tension unresolved. The final piece, ‘But Something to Aim For’ keeps things taut, and is filmic and threatens a climax that never quite breaks, and that tension remains unresolved even with the soaring violin work and gradual layering that brings the album it its conclusion.

Being instrumental, there’s no overt narrative to be played back or unravelled here: Rumbling Clouds of War Hover Over Us relies on an element of input from the listener. True to form, The Doomed Bird of Providence conjure some stirring passages that resonate internally, subconsciously, and echo deep within.

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farmersmanual – 17th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Tissy solves for x, called tsx by friends, is the youngest avatar used by Oswald Berthold of farmersmanual, CD_slopper and pxp. Despite so many pseudonyms already available it became necessary once more to spawn a new ID because simply better fit.’ So begins the press release for recur² by tsx. I don’t even know what the fuck that means, and I haven’t even hit ‘play’ yet.

The press blurb informs us that ‘recur² is tsx’s third release since the debut recur published 2017 in the Trust label’s e-series – recur² is nine tracks sparkling and brut, four of them iced with as-usual awesome vocals by Sue Tompkins taken through farmersmanual’s autovoice tool – finished off by an amazing hi-speed hi-res video for the featured instrumental ’shallow miswant no rid’’. I’m still little the wiser.

The majority of this album’s nine tracks consists of clanking, bleeping, blooping sythniness and shuffling, melting beats that mine deep grooves that warp and weft, pinning themselves to a small space and focusing on the tonal and the textural over linearity or progression. The result is somewhat claustrophobic, even frustrating – or maybe I’m just projecting. I may not have been on the level of lockdown that prevents me leaving the house to exercise or to acquire foodstuffs, but frustration and claustrophobia and a sense of stasis have seeped into every corner of my life at the time of writing, and it’s bound to colour my perception, especially when presented with a musical suite like this, which presents a combination of depersonalised electronic instrumentation and veritable gibberish that speaks to the incoherent internal dialogue of imprisonment.

The pieces, with their impenetrable and oftentimes nonsensical titles, are all short, almost fragmentary, the majority spanning two to three minutes ‘uouh’ is the first of four which feature Sue Tompkins’ vocals, here manifesting as a sort of cracked, witchy drawl which, given its organic feel, sits at odds with the crisp digital tones. ‘Been Fly Void’ ripples digital abstractions, pulsations and undulations that stop, start, and stutter haltingly while Tompkins’ breathy vocal croon contrasts on an other-worldly level.

It’s hard to know precisely what to make of this under any circumstance, but in the context of a world gone mad, it probably makes more sense than perhaps it otherwise would.

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Following the release of their debut self-titled album, Human Impact have kept busy and continued writing and recording more songs they will be releasing over the coming months. The first of those new singles, "Contact" (which debuted via Louder Sound), was written and recorded shortly before the outbreak of Covid-19.

An eerie premonition, it predicts the new reality we all currently inhabit. In anticipation of this release, and as an act of connection in this time of isolation, the band put a call out to fans across the globe for video footage to use in the video for "Contact" showing how the Coronavirus has affected all our daily lives and environment. Asking the question: What does this new reality look like for you?

About the music and video, Human Impact remark: "We’d like to write songs about humankind living in harmony and balance with the world, about governments and corporations being of and for the people. But those songs would be narcotic lullabies spitting in the wind of what’s real. We wish this song were wrong. "Contact" was written, recorded and mixed just before the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Originally written as a response to a feeling of international vulnerability to the spread of disease via air travel, the song’s lyrics proved to be an uneasy and uncanny prediction, foreshadowing our current quarantined reality."

As residents of North America’s hardest hit city, the band has earmarked their proceeds from the song to be donated to the NYC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Human Impact ask fans to consider donating to this or their local charities as well.

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Human Impact

Photo credit: Jammi York

Karlrecords – KR077 – 24th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

For those unfamiliar (and that may well be many), die ANGEL is the collaborative project of Ilpo Väisänen (ex Pan Sonic) and Dirk Dresselhaus, which began in 1999 on a joint tour with Pan Sonic and Dresselhaus’ Schneider TM, with an objective to ‘use electronics, string instruments and effect loops to develop a sonic world that goes beyond fixed structures and clearly defined genres’. 30 years and 10 albums on, they’re still pushing those boundaries, and on this outing, the duo are joined by Oren Ambarchi.

It’s interesting to note that the material was recorded between December 2015 and January 2016, with Ambarchi adding overdubs in the spring of 2016, and the album being edited and mixed in the May of the same year, meaning it’s languished for the best part of four years., although it’s unclear as to why.

The album, available only on digital formats, comprises four longform tracks that would commonly correspond to a double 12” format

The album starts with ‘Epikurous’, which begins with a long, quavering drones that oscillates menacingly and ambulates directionless, a dark ambient cloud that drifts into the minimal throb of ‘Cargo Cult’. This piece is loosely formed around a rhythmic pulsation, a long, sonorous drone, interspersed with occasional interjections of ranging textures and frequencies. Sharp clustering bleeps and squiggling electronic fizz disrupt the smooth flow as echoic explosions and fractured rattles skitter and scuttle and scrape in and out of the frame.

‘Coup d’État’ is a bubbling foment that foams and froths unsettlingly, like a rumbling gut: it’s queasy, uncomfortable, a difficult, awkward churning that nags and grumbles, and filters into the dank miasma of the fourth and final piece, the ten-minute ‘Khormanoupka’. This is the deepest and darkest of the set, and rumbles almost subliminally, creating a deep, subterranean atmosphere, and as it crackles to a close, the listener is left empty and alone.

There is nowhere to go after this. The world didn’t end but what are you left with? An uncomfortable silence after half an hour of uncomfortable noise, noise that’s dissonant, difficult, and murky. And it works well.

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Wormhole World – 10th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Aaagh! It’s food porn overdose on ‘Jesus, God of Tower Hamlets’, the first track on ‘Looking After The Duck’, the new album by Crumpsall Riddle, aka Steven Ball and Jude Cowan Montague. Ball drones out ingredients – an Instagram wet dream or recipe for disaster dependent on your perspective – and a ream of random shit that seemingly splices news headlines and myriad found phrases read in a monotone like a shopping list over a thrumming drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide before Cowan Montague wails the fuck over it all in a truly demented fashion… and there it is: the soundtrack to our times. Nothing makes any fucking sense. To return to a paraphrased third-hand summary of Deleuze and Guratari’s assessment, a schizophrenic mindset it the only sane response to a late capitalist society. So what about now? Is this the end days of capitalism? What does anything even mean? And is looking for answers the most futile pursuit ever?

It’s clear JCM thrives on collaboration, and to describe her as ‘flighty’ is no criticism here: eclectic and diverse would be equally fair synonyms, but would fail to fully capture her free-spiritedness where it comes to her myriad creative projects. Steven Ball proves to be an inspired choice of co-conspirator for the making of musical mayhem. Suffice it to say that the abstract post-punk of Looking After The Duck, which comes with hints of Wire, couldn’t be much further from Hammond Hits, the uber-retro collaborative album recorded with Matt Armstrong, recently reissued on vinyl: while this album was an exercise in reconstructing a vintage pop aesthetic, Looking After The Duck indulges a far more experimental urge, and manifests as minimal, lo-fi indie affair that’s more reminiscent of Young Marble Giants.

‘Is this the end of the clock?’ they chant drably, repeatedly, on ‘Terra Unknown’, while circuits fizz and analogue synth sounds whizz and swish every whichway around them.

Wibbly electronic drones, pulsations, and oscillations abound, and a disembodied, wordless backing vocal provides the backdrop to abstract atonal spoken word on the nine-minute ‘Songs of Sol’, a would-be folk shanty in a parallel universe. And then it descends into a humming wash of bubbling pink noise and an analogue thrum that rises and falls, ebbs and flows, while Ball continues a never-ending monologue diatribe of randomness, a William Burroughs style cup-up without the focus. Yes, I’m struggling to find a thread of sense here, but sense of overrated in a world in which sense and linearity have all but dissolved.

The album as a whole is a disconnected, disjointed testament to postmodernity, collaging more vintage sounds – a trilling organ synth sound quivers a mournful backing to ‘The Old Man’ – with fragmented slivers of extranea, and leaning toward more arbitrary song structures over linearity. Looking After The Duck is, to my ears, leftfield and brilliantly out there: many will find it plain weird and tuneless. Many would be wrong: it’s oddball experimentalism that spawns innovation and progress. It’s also truer to the internal dialogue than many would admit, and it’s this uncomfortable truth that can be unsettling. People are scared to be presented with a mirror to their minds. This knowledge doesn’t make Looking After The Duck any less awkward or uncanny. But it is strangely brilliant, and no mistake.

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5th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ontario-based singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visual artist Clara Engel has been keeping busy: Hatching Under the Stars is their thirtieth release, and follows just over a year on from Where a City Once Drowned – The Bethlehem Tapes Vol II.

Engel’s songwriting style is subtle and understated, but there’s detail in the arrangements, and they imbue each composition with undercurrents that belie the soft, smooth surfaces. Many of the songs on Hatching Under the Stars share a common theme that links in with the title, with oviparous creatures – mostly birds, as represented by ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’, but also the occasional reptile (‘Baby Alligator’) – dominating an album riven with wildlife, ranging from ‘Little Blue Fox’(foxes are notorious raiders of nests for eggs) and ‘Any Creature’.

The instrumentation is sparse across the album’s nine lengthy songs (most it between six and eight minutes in duration), placing Clara’s exquisite voice as the focal point, although there’s a delicate and wistful-sounding slide guitar break and the song builds in both volume and depth in the second half.

‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is slow and haunting, the elongated notes undulating approximating an otherworldly birdsong that sends a chill down the spine. Departing from the album’s overarching thematic, the acclaimed early Modernist artist Marc Chagall is the dedicatee of ‘Preserved in Ice’, a sedate, reflective piece built around a cyclical guitar motif augmented by woodwind.

‘Let me out of this cage,’ she pleads in a soft croon on the eight-and-three-quarter minute ‘Old Feathered Devil’. ‘Let me run around the growing lake / until the morning comes / and I’ll be on my way.” It sounds like a sly deception, somehow, and Engel’s lyrical mastery lies in their ability to slide into different personas. Deftly, and by stealth, they ‘become’.

The version of ‘Little Blue Fox’ here is a completely different recording from the ‘Little Blue Fox’ EP: over a minute longer, it’s slower by miles, and more ethereal, subtle harmonic notes peak above the rolling picked strings while distant beat rumbles almost subliminally in the background.

While Engel’s majestic vocal is the most captivating feature on the album, it’s the way they work it around the quietly hypnotic musical motifs that makes Hatching Under the Stars so special, and listening to the album and allowing it to flow through conjures a reconnection with nature. Listening now, locked down and closed in, recalling stumbling over a urban fox on my way to work early one morning less than a month ago, the creatures of the wild feel like another world.. but as Engel reminds us on the final song, ‘The Indifference of Fire’, ‘mystery will carry on without me’… and so does life. And through it all, nature always wins.

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Ipecac Recordings –15th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Because Melvins’ staggeringly prolific output clearly isn’t enough to keep singer and guitarist Buzz Osborne occupied, he’s gone and put out a second solo album, following on from 2014’s This Machine Kills. This time working with the equally prolific frequent collaborator and some-time Melvin Trevor Dunn, Buzzo offers up nine primarily acoustic songs.

The first thing to point out is that it doesn’t sound remotely like Mevins. There are some stoner / psychedelic twists spun in, but the overall vibe is one of brooding folk. Buzzo’s trademark full-lunged vocal I more often than not replaced by a hushed, breathy drawl. It’s pretty cool and works well in context. Solemn strings swoop and soar and cast long, lugubrious shadows over soft-strummed guitar: ‘Housing, Luxury’, Energy’ has the guitar feel of one of Nirvana’s acoustic songs, but tears into a heft chorus that growls and lurches hard.

There are some moments where the simplicity is stunning in itself: sometimes, when stripping things right, right back, there is time and space to bask in tones and the way notes resonate. There is a rare beauty in the way acoustic notes hang in the air, the details of how a harder or softer pick or strum varies the intonation. And we get this often on Gift Of Sacrifice: the sparse instrumentation is magnificent, notably on the rolling ‘Delayed Clarity’, but across the album a whole it’s a feature. ‘Science in Modern America’ finds Osborn growl-crooning over a cyclical chord sequence. It’s kinda sci-fi, it’s kinda dystopian and suddenly kinda now. Elsewhere, and in contrast, ‘Mock She’ is some kind of drunk country, and the depths and layers of Gift Of Sacrifice continue to reveal themselves, meaning that what may superficially appear ordinary is, in fact, pretty warped.

So, yes, this being Buzzo, things do weird out in places – many places, if truth be told – like on the brief interlude that is ‘Junkie Jesus’, and the frantic warped string frenzy that is the outro, ‘Acoustic Junkie’. Then there’s the fact that the portentous strum of ‘Bird Animal’, to all intents and purposes a psychedelic acoustic motoric minus percussion, dissolves into fluttering R2D2 bleeps a minute or so before the end. Like the way ‘Mock She’ descends into frenzied free jazz for 30 seconds in the middle, while fractured distortion obliterates the vocals in the final verses. You envisage Buzzo sitting in the studio with the producer, leaning over and twiddling knobs here there and everywhere, and everyone present shouting ‘just leave everything alone!’ But of course, then it wouldn’t have that unique twist that transforms some solid songs into works of warped genius. And that’s precisely what this is.

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Carrier Records – CARRIER049

Christopher Nosnibor

We’re deep into skittery microtonal bleeping territory with this 24-track extravaganza. Sussman’s work is algorithm-based, meaning there’s a certain formality to the proceedings, however chaotic the notations become. And they do indeed become chaotic, explosive,

The first of these tiny sonic snippets, ‘Kr 22.2.6’ is a hyperspeeded barrage of blips that sounds not dissimilar to the old dial-up sound. Wonky chimes and clanging digital bongs abound, along with stammering, clattering metallic beats and popping electronic arrythmia jitter through EQ filters.

Variety comes in the form of splurging squelches, parping electronic squiggles that wobble digital farts: ‘Kr 28.1.6’ almost forges a semblance of a funk groove from the bubbling sonic swap. In contrast, ‘Kr 29.4.13’ ebbs and flows ins surging pulsations that set the teeth and nerves on edge with a squall of digital fizz’, while ‘Kr 30.3.14’ is fun but warped, a detuned piano bouncing every which way in a tidal wash of delay. ‘Kr 31.3.18’sounds like a call from a mobile phone in a washing machine, while ‘Kr 33.5.8’ is a sparking digital blastbeat that showers treble explosions are several hundred shards per minute.

The album as a whole is a morass of digital experimentation, and each piece is but a fragment, with running times ranging from 2:28 to 2:49. It’s bewildering, disorientating, difficult. It isn’t for everyone. But it is interesting.

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Ipecac Recordings – 24th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Some cursory research tells me that Oscillospira is an anaerobic bacterial genus from Clostridial cluster IV that has resisted cultivation for over a century since the first time it was observed. There’s a distinct compositional theme across the album’s eight compositions, although, with high drama and dynamics dominating.

Thirlwell has been mining a rich seam of orchestral drama for a long while now, in a trajectory that began with the 1985 Foetus album Nail. Since then, his projects have become increasingly expansive and ambitious, and the last decade has seen him abandon all trace of anything that could be remotely construed as ‘industrial’ in favour of grand cinematics, not only on the latter Foetus albums, but also the Manorexia releases and soundtrack works and all the other various side projects… Did I mention that over 40 years into his career, despite having tempered his wilder sonic urges, Thirlwell’s creativity and output remains unabated? And yet for all the volume, the quality remains undented. I make no apologies for the fact that I’m a total fan, and have been forever.

Few musicians are even a fraction as articulate as Thirlwell, musically, lyrically, or conversationally. Throughout his lengthy career, he’s retained his somewhat enigmatic status and singular musical view.

This collaboration with Simon Steensland is one of many during his career, and is very much representative of Thirlwell’s output over the last decade: heavy orchestral work with all the widescreen feel of a John Williams work, while at the same time seeing Thirlwell return to territories that bring industrial and orchestral together in a head-on collision.

‘Catholic Deceit’ enters by stealth with a sweep of strings, but swiftly develops into something bold and layered, before crunching metal guitars grind in hard and heavy. Revisiting the religious theme at the album’s mind-point, single release ‘Papal Stain’ follows a similar trajectory, with some energetic jazz drumming and discordant horns clashing crazily over the course of its ten-minute running time.

‘Heron’ goes choral and a little bit original Star Trek, but equally has some hushed, eerie passages that not only provide contrast, but alter the mood significantly. There’s a Swans-like stop-start guitar grind at the heart of ‘Night Shift’ over which monastic vocals echo like a ritual, and ‘Heresy Flank’ pushes a cyclical groove that’s ruptured by some classic orchestral strikes.

It’s not just the arrangements and the varied instrumentation that are outstanding in their immense vision and inventiveness, but the production too: it’s immense, and while the overall effect is one thing, the detail entirely another, as incidentals leap out unexpectedly, and different instruments rise to the to fore. Often, such details are subtle, but the effect and impact are pronounced, and something special.

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