Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

25th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

National Instruction is Soma Crew’s debut album. This is something of a technicality, as they rebranded shortly after the release of Another Dead Insect in 2015. And while all of the defining features of their previous incarnation remain, Soma Crew, having solidified with their current lineup, can be seen to have made marked progress since then.

The sonic haze which hangs heavy over all of their previous recordings and which defines their live sound is present and correct. On National Instruction, there’s also a wilful raggedness to the performances, with guitars and vocals titling off-kilter every which way, often to quite disorientating effect. It’s also by far the best-realised representation of what Soma Crew are about, showcasing a dense, murky sound, and a climax-centric approach to forging layered songs which plug hard at a single cyclical riff, nailed tight to a simple, repetitive drum pattern. Yet it’s also the work of a band who are evolving, and National Instruction marks a clear progression from their Soma EP release last autumn.

Si Micklethwaite’s vocal style isn’t conventionally tuneful, but then a melodic attenuation is by no means a prerequisite for singing in a rock band. Given the atonal drone elements of Soma Crew’s compositions, which are more focused on creating an atmospheric dissonance than a technically precise, melody-driven musicality, it works, and, bathed in reverb and a kind of fuzzy-edged soft-focus, he sounds more comfortable than on any release he’s featured on thus far.

‘Got It Bad’ features what is probably one of their most overtly catchy choruses to date, with a more clearly defined structure than any previous song – but it’s perfectly offset by a guitar line that heaves off to the left during one of the chord changes which launches said chorus. The nine-minute ‘Pyramids’ finds the band locking into the kind of groove they work the best. A spindly echo-drenched lead guitar wanders, spider-like over a chugging rhythm and spare, motoric beat that typifies their slow-burning brand of Black Angels-influenced psychedelic rock. Elsewhere, ‘Dangerzone’ is tense and angular, with eddying swells of abstract sound and feedback building into a cyclone of immersive noise close to the end. This is something they’ve got a real knack for.

Having heard a fair few of the cuts on Natural Instruction played live, it’s gratifying to observe just how well they’ve replicated the spirit and energy of the live sound on songs like ‘Remote Control’, which carries a shuddering, ramshackle Fall-esque vibe within its jagged two-chord battery. The album’s second eight-minuter, ‘Westworld’ starts of slow, sedate, but simmering: it’s never a case of if it’s going to break, but when, and while maintaining a pedestrian pace, it’s almost halfway through before the drums thud in. And then the guitars get up the volume… and then… and then… By the end, it’s still plodding away but the layers have built up and it’s a big old racket.

There’s something of a trickle toward the tranquil on the last two tracks, with the closer, ‘Maps and Charts’ being a particularly sedate – not to mention accessible indie tune. But rather than being an anti-climax, it reveals newly emerging facets of the bands, perhaps hinting that future releases will see them further extend their range.

 

Soma Crew - National Instruction

Play Loud! Productions – PL063LP

Christopher Nosnibor

Mark E Smith is not Damo Suzuki. Only Damo Suzuki is Damo Suzuki. Damo Suzuki requires no introduction, of course. However, his vast and almost immeasurably influential output seems to exist almost in the ether, his own name and that of CAN being names to conjure with, but perhaps carrying more connotations than actual connection.

Suzuki’ status as an innovator and a one-off requires no comment, either. The fact he’s been going for multiple eternities, and continues to perform sets that are completely off the wall means his reputation remains unharmed, and this release – one more addition to already impressive body of work which essentially stands to define Krautrock – won’t dent that.

As the title suggests, this set was recorded live at Marie-Antoinette, Berlin, Germany, on 24th November 2011. Damo Suzuki was joined on stage by a stellar lineup, consisting of Dirk Dresselhaus (Schneider TM, Angel) on electric baritone guitar and effects; Ilpo Väisänen (Pan Sonic, Angel) on electronics and effects; Michael Beckett (kptmichigan, Super Reverb) on electric guitar and effects; Claas Großzeit (Saal-C) on drums and percussion, and Tomoko Nakasato (Mio, JINN) on dance and electric rake. No, I have no idea what an electric rake is, but on vinyl, each of the album’s half-hour tracks occupies a side of the two-disc set.

Ordinarily, live releases take the best cuts, or the single best night of a tour. Dirk Dresselhaus’ comments which accompany the release suggest that this recording doesn’t necessarily follow that rule, and instead presents an honest account of a singular event: “I find it fairly difficult to say something about how the music in this concert came about, cause we didn’t plan or rehearse anything and hardly were able to hear each other on stage. Wherever it came from, the energy and course of this concert is very much based on group dynamics and an almost telepathic sort of communication, like a swarm of fish. When I mixed the sound later on in the studio I discovered a lot of weird things on the separate tracks: for example Kptmichigan’s guitar signal is changing level for about +/-30 dB once in a while which is a lot and was probably caused by a broken microphone cable. Luckily the fucked up parts made the sound even heavier and more distorted instead of destroying it,” he says.

At times the lack of planning and rehearsal is apparent, but in the main, Live at Marie-Antoinette captures a collective who are capable of a rare musical intuitiveness. And whatever it may have sounded like on stage, and regardless of the occasional stab of feedback and errant extraneous intrusion, the recording captures a tense, atmospheric musical soundscape which transitions across the various parts with a creeping stealth.

To draw attention to any one passage would be to entirely misrepresent the overall arc of the performance. From the tribal chants to the undulating synth-like tones to the slow-building crescendos and the sustained sonic blitzkriegs which absolutely tear through the curtains of sonic decency, each and every aspect of the set is integral to the overall experience, which is built around a series of ebbs and flows, often rising from next to nothing to a whorling tempest quite unexpectedly. And it’s true that the colossal peaks are accentuated by the shuddering volume and crackling distortion they produce. Sometimes, fucked up is good.

This is all part and parcel of the live medium: while the studio affords total control over every aspect of every element of the sound, when playing live, anything can happen. The real test of a band’s capabilities is how they deal with the unexpected eventualities and how they deliver the show to a crowd under adverse circumstances. There is no audience sound on Live at Marie-Antoinette, which means it’s impossible to gauge the audience reaction to the show. But the sound balance suggests the audience were subjected to a punishingly loud and challenging set. It’s probably one of those rare live albums where the recording is more pleasurable than the actual event.

http://playloud.org/archiveandstore/trailers/damosuzuki/trailercode.html

 

damo-suzuki-sound-carriers-live-at-marie-antoinette

LP: Let Them Eat Vinyl  – 22nd April  2017

CD and digital: Westworld Recordings – 5th May 2017

Perhaps it’s because I consider Joy Division to be one of those bands that will forever be precious of, that I’ve always been a shade sceptical of Peter Hook and the Light’s activities. By which I mean that my scepticism is not solely on account of Hook’s churlish reputation. Granted, if anyone can lay claim to ‘owning’ those bands, it’s probably Peter Hook: his bass wasn’t so much integral to the bands’ sound, particularly that of Joy Division, but defined it. But, feeling conflicted, I’ve passed up on a number of opportunities to see The Light play live, despite the fact that having been born in 1975, meaning that I was simply too young to see Joy Division, or New Order when they were good.

But then there are these four releases, which capture Peter Hook and the Light playing gigs devoted to Joy Division’s two albums, as well as New Order’s Movement and Power, Corruption and Lies. Because the sets include tracks not from the albums in question, they manifest as some sort of ‘expanded edition’ performances, throwing in demos, rarities, B-sides, contemporaneous material and a selection of classics alongside. As such, these performances are a far cry from the ‘greatest hits’ sets Hook so vehemently criticises his former band-mates for, but while as a live proposition it’s all completely valid, one has to ask why the need for the shows to be released. I mean, fine as a memento for those who were there perhaps, but aren’t these releases tantamount to a live album by a tribute band?

Maybe, but in fairness, they’re pretty good and in the main do a decent job of capturing the spirit of the songs and the bands at the time they were originally released.

The recording of the band’s performance of Unknown Pleasures was originally released digitally in 2012, and features a slew of choice cuts from the Joy Division catalogue, including large chunks of Closer alongside. The performance is solid overall, but it’s certainly a warts-and-all effort, in keeping with disc two of Still and any other live Joy Division recordings you may happen to find. The end of ‘Disorder’ is ropey enough to have been played by the original lineup. ‘Heart and Soul’ is sparse, haunting. It’s followed by ‘A Means to an End’, which is well played, but the guitar heroics don’t sit right. That said, it would be wrong to suggest that the performance is patchy: honest would perhaps be a more appropriate description.

Closer was recorded at The Factory in Manchester (where else?) in May 2011, and again, includes a lot more than simply the album from beginning to end. Again, it’s a case of taking the rough with the smooth: the vocals on ‘Colony sound more like Lou Gramm than Ian Curtis, and the high, forced, rock stylings simply don’t work. Still (no pun intended), it’s more hit than miss.

Movement stands apart in the New Order oeuvre. The set begins with a stomping version of ‘Incubation’ and there’s a good run of Joy Division material before any New Order songs are reached. The album – played in sequential order – is prefaced by New Order’s debut single, ‘Ceremony’ and transition-marking single ‘Procession’. Somewhere in my collection still lurks a cassette containing bootleg live recordings of New Order from around the time of Movement, including a set at the Retford Porterhouse. It’s a remarkable document of the early, tentative steps of a band finding their way into the light after the greatest moment of darkness. The songs sound brittle, developmental, but their spirit is ineffable. That same atmosphere is recreated with breathtaking accuracy as The Light play Movement from beginning to end: the murky mix, through which stuttering beats hammer nervously is encapsulated so perfectly on ‘Truth’ that it sends a shiver down the spine. This, I had not expected, and it’s enough to challenge the ‘what’s the point?’ position quite effectively. The point, it seems, is that these are great songs, played in the spirit in which they were first played, and this live recording serves as a reminder of just what a killer – and unique – album Movement was, and still is.

Power Corruption and Lies, New Order’s second album, released in 1983 is almost universally recognised as the point at which the post-Curtis band began to forge their own identity and in context of the other releases, this is rendered plainly apparent. The sound may still be fractal and sparse, but the focus is very much on insistent grooves and study, propellant disco beats. It also marks the point at which New Order began to produce songs which sounded very like one another, developing the template which would define their sound for much of the next decade. It also reminds us that New Order have never been a vocally-led band, keeping the voice element of their songs backed off and comparatively anonymous. And that works here, as the driving bass and buoyant synths dominate the mix.

Listening now, it’s clear that Power Corruption and Lies isn’t only a very dance -oriented album, but also an album of its time, and the fact that Hook and crew faithfully replicate the sound may be problematic in itself: obviously, the fans love it and the entire premise of Hook’s project is to play the songs as intended. But parts of Power Corruption and Lies sound rather dated now. This is no criticism of the band or its fans: I still go berserk over the details of the production of albums I love from the 70s and 80s. Ultimately, it all boils down to context, of course and the current context is, sadly and unavoidably, nostalgia.

Wading through the full set of releases is no small challenge, and probably on even the most ardent fan is unlikely to undertake, at least in a sequential or back-to-back context.

Critically, I’m still on the fence. But on balance, these aren’t bad at all.

Peter_Hook_Digi-600x425

Young Thugs Records – 12th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Straight out of the trap, DOG sounds like …And the Hangnails. They have a knack for blasting out of the speakers, full-throttle, from the first bar at the start of every album. There’s no preamble, no atmospheric or suspenseful intros, no slow-build and no pissing about: they’re in there, immediately, all riffing and explosive drumming.

That’s actually all there is: this grungey garage-pop duo have spent their carer to date maximising the impact of a comparatively limited format, namely the fact they’re a guitar and drums combo. But the trick is that they don’t sound like a duo, especially on this, their third album: the production is phat and full and with the treble backed off just a shade in comparison to their previous efforts, Martyn Fillingham’s split-signal guitar sounds thicker, denser meatier and more like both a guitar and bass simultaneously.

Steven Ried’s exceptional powerhouse drumming (this is a man who drums hard, and at a hundred miles an hour, and who makes Dave Grohl sound like some jazz tapper), sounds even more exceptional than ever on DOG. I mean, really. The guy’s a one-man percussion explosion. And again, while it’s commonplace for music critics – myself included, on occasion – to criticise little, grungy, lo-fi bands for ‘selling out’ by cleaning up their sound, aligning higher fidelity with a betrayal of their roots, in this instance at least, it would be a mistake. DOG is the work of a band which has evolved. This means that while there isn’t anything as explosively raw as ‘Fear Only Fear’ or ‘Everybody’s Luck’ from the previous albums, their edge has by no means been dulled. Yes, the songs do feel more crafted, more developed and less primal, bit it’s an incremental thing. It’s still loud, brashy, thrashy and rough around the edged. There’s still fuzz and feedback by the shedload.

But more than anything, on DOG, it’s possible to actually hear the detail and the sonic range. The result is that the full force of their live sound can at last be heard in a recorded format. Besides, it’s not as though they’ve gone super slick and delivered an album of radio-friendly r’n’b. DOG may be an album busting with hooks, but it’s also a serious alt-rock racket, and alongside the breezy surf-pop backing vocals are driving riffs galore.

DOG is without question their most accessible album to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s overtly commercial or in any way a sell-out. There isn’t a weak track on the album, and there sure as hell isn’t a big ballad at the end of side one. DOG is ferocious, relentless, sharp, to the point and represents the realisation of everything …And the Hangnails have been building up to.

It contains just ten songs, the majority of which sit around the three minute mark. And so, as is their trademark, DOG is a short, sharp blast of post-grunge garagey punk bursting with killer hooks and belting tunes from start to finish. If this doesn’t see them make some kind of breakthrough, the world is even more fucked up and wrong than I’d imagined.

 

DOG artwork

Schoolkids Records – 22nd April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

As I kid – and especially as a teenager – I thought I knew everything, and that anyone over 30 was ancient, a has-been and that it was impossible to be cool past a certain age. But even then, I envied some of the older people I knew – largely through music and record shops – who had seen punk and new wave bands I’d got into in their heyday (or at all).

Hindsight is indeed wonderful, especially when viewed from a vantage of being older and wiser – and while the early 90s felt exciting for someone who was properly old enough to go to gigs on their own on turning 18 in 1993, it’s only really now that it’s possible to really reflect on the fact that there are people in their teens and 20s who will forever curse having been born too late to experience the grunge explosion first hand.

Bettie Seveert aren’t a grunge band, but it was on going to see Dinosaur Jr – who, despite having been around a lot longer, really got to ride the crest of the grunge wave – at Nottingham’s Rock City touring ‘Where You Been’ in February 1993, that I first encountered Come, and (then) Melody Maker darlings Bettie Serveert.

24 years on from that gig and a full quarter century from their debut album Palomine, and the Amsterdam-based act deliver their tenth album: it’s a respectable and steady work-rate by any standards, and what matters is that ‘Damaged Good’ is a great alternative rock album, which displays a neat pop sensibility without in any way being cheesy, corny or lightweight. Released in Benelux last September, it’s now getting a full global release, and this is definitely a good thing. While they may not have received the press backing, or replicated the success of Palomine commercially, creatively, Bettie Serveert have still got it.

Opener ‘B-Cuz’ brings the bounce, not to mention a blend of 60s pop and punk energy and makes for a neat entry to the album. ‘Brother (in Loins)’ brings a darker, post-punk atmosphere and twists in element of 90s alt-rock to a song that has the disco pop groove stylings of Blondie. Elsewhere, there’s a purity and innocence about the vintage indie stylings of ‘Whatever Happens’, and the shuffling beat and darker undercurrents which bubble beneath the buoyant bass of ‘Unsane’ calls to mind ‘Gran Turismo’ era Cardigans. Again, this is a good thing.

In fact, there are no bad things about Damaged Good. The eight-minute ‘Digital Sin Nr 7’ finds the band indulging their more experimental and considerably noisier side, but holding it all together with a tense bass groove. ‘Love Sick’ with Peter de Bos is a driving grunge pop belter: not a song that sounds like it belongs in the 90s so much as a timeless hook-filled cracker of a tune. And herein lies the key to what makes Damaged Good not just good, but great: it’s an album of songs, and while varied in style, the quality is both high and consistent. Songs matter, and there isn’t a dud to be found here.

Bettie_Serveert_-_Damaged_Good_(cover).jpg

Metropolis Records – 5th May 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Having recently completed their ‘Swine and Punishment’ double-header tour with Mortiis, PIG, previously having lain dormant for the best part of a decade, are returning with a vengeance. Billed as ‘a supplemental sermon’ to The Gospel, Swine and Punishment, with its audacious combination of literary allusions with shameful puns, is a remix album which slots into neatly into the already extensive PIG oeuvre.

Comments on social media and YouTube suggest that The Gospel has elicited something of a mixed reception, on account of it not being as good as some of the albums released during what they perceive as the peak of PIG’s carer. Many seem disgruntled by the more overtly glam / pop direction of the album. But these people have clearly missed the fact that Watts’ output under the PIG guise had a strong pop sensibility from the very outset: A Poke in the Eye and Praise the Lard are both pop albums first and foremost, with Watts revelling in the incongruity of combining dark lyrics with often quite buoyant tunage. They’ve also clearly missed the fact that Watts’ tongue is usually positioned somewhere in his cheek, and never more so on the knowingly song-orientated and accessible Gospel. In short, to criticise it for being the album it was intended to be is erroneous.

While remix albums are – as I’ve said and written more times than is remotely interesting, but hey, I’ll say it again – often difficult, thorny and sometimes thoroughly pointless, debasing exercises, Swine & Punishment does a good job of capturing the spirit of The Gospel while at the same time extending its scope.

One of my frequent gripes about remix albums is the track repetition, and on this score, Swine and Punishment is guilty, in that it’s largely built around three tracks from The Gospel, namely ‘Viva Evil’, ‘The Diamond Sinners’, and ‘Fly Upon the Pin’; however, it benefits from the inclusion of reworked renditions of ‘Drugzilla’ and ‘Found in Filth’, as well as the previously vinyl-only ‘Violence’. Moreover, the individual mixes ae diverse and divergent enough to make for an album that’s varied and doesn’t sound like the same three tracks dished up, reheated, with a range of subtly different sauces. The sample-filled, lopping grind of the MC Lord of the Flies remix of ‘Found in Filth’ (courtesy of Cubanate’s Marc Heal) is exemplary, particularly when places alongside the stuttering, abstract electro reinterpretation of the KANGA remix of ‘The Diamond Sinners.’

The St Gregory mix of ‘Fly on the Pin’ is perhaps one of the strongest examples of how a song can be given new life by means of serious mangling, and while there’s nothing as extreme as JG Thirlwell’s treatments of ‘Wish’ to be found here, Swine and Punishment invites favourable comparisons to NIN’s Fixed by virtue of the quality and range of the reinterpretations it contains.

Pig - Swine and Punishment Cover

 

Pig - Swine and Punishment Cover