Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Ici d’ailleurs – IDA119 – 30th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

The lengthy blurb which accompanies the latest release from Matt Elliott’s Third Eye Foundation, active since 1996, covers a lot of ground. A lot has happened since Semtex, the expanded reissue of which I ruminated on a couple of years ago. And yet. Wake the Dead may not match the violence, but still packs a restrained intensity.

‘Words have no place here except to confuse matters a little further. And the 40 minutes of throbbing, hypersensitive dubstep that make up the record are not aimed at sending a message to the mind. The intention is to make souls dance, to unite them and to remind us that, despite our choices and individual convictions, we are all components of the same whole and whether living or dead, we are connected forever.’

Increasingly I find myself returning to my own reactions and responses to music, and the separation between the objective and the subjective. Any engagement with music must necessarily be subjective. Dismissing chart music because it’s vapid crap is still a subjective opinion, given that objectively, it serves a social (and economic) function and is invariably extremely well-executed and produced in technical terms, and to complain about a lack of emotional depth or lyrical complexity may on the surface appear to be an objective criticism, but a listener’s lack of connection with it is subjective. Flimsy radio-friendly fodder is entertainment: it’s music that strives to achieve different ends which is art.

Wake the Dead, while pitched as having the purpose of ‘making souls dance’, is very much art in that it exists to evoke a deeper emotional response than ‘it’s got a good beat.’ Not that the beats aren’t good, but the slow, deliberate rhythms are more of the variety one nods to rather than getting down to.

The title track sets the scene and the tone, with majestic, sweeping tones and soaring choral voices which rise towards the heavens above a slow, hypnotic semi-tribal beat has a rich resonance. The smooth, soothing cello is countered by occasional trills of feedback, creating a subtle but essential dissonance which alters the mood considerably. Gradually, over the course of the track’s thirteen-minute span, low-churning bass frequencies begin to throb and beats become stronger but also more fractured as looping echoes collide against one another disorientatingly.

‘The Blasted Tower’ combines gliding strings with stuttering, rapidfire fills, a balanced juxtaposition of soporifically soothing and twitchy tension, before ‘Controlled Demolition’ slides into murkier and rather heavier territory. With the structures less defined and a cacophonous collaging of sound pitched against warping bass tones, it makes for a cerebrally-challenging passage that culminates in a collision of brooding strings and extraneous noise.

The album’s only words are to be found on the shortest track, ‘That’s Why’, with a sampled shout of ‘Fucking pigs! I hate the fucking pigs!’ looped and mangled and fucked to fade. It feels a little incongruous, but provides a well-placed change in both tone and tempo ahead of the final cut, which takes the form of an elongated, wheezing drone graced with wordless female vocals which echo an abstract spiritual transcendence.

The six compositions segue into one another to form a continuous forty-minute suite. The atmosphere is dark, but more the darkness of twilight and shadows than pitch black small hours. There are moments where it feels a shade bleak, but these are contrasted by moments of uplifting beauty; the overarching sensation is one of a haunting feeling. As the sound fades to silence, the feeling of immersion hangs for a time. There’s no way to place that sensation in an objective context: this is about how the abstract language of sound touches the subconscious.




Superstar Destroyer – 16th March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s pleasing to see that Bearfoot Beware are still here after eight years and a bunch of EPs to release a third album. They’re one of those bands who are destined to remain on the fringes of cultdom, who will never be huge, but who produce art, and do it for the love. Now more than ever, in a climate where the industry is all about money and is populated by careerists and independent bands and venues are simply unable to sustain their existence due to the world needs bands like this. Bands who are driven by passion and a desire to make the music they want, without keeping an eye on trends or pandering to markets. They’ve always done their own thing, and ‘Sea Magnolia’ is no sell-out and offers no concessions. To anything. They’re as DIY, and uncompromisingly all-over as ever, and, best of all, they’re showing no sign of their frenetic energy dissipating or being otherwise subdued or contained in order to mould their style to accommodate commercial pressures.

The title connotes infinite blandness, an absence of character. This certainly isn’t the case where BB’s lively sonic firecrackers are concerned.

The album kicks off in shouty fashion with the angular, jolting ‘Point Scorer’, which manages to swerve in some noodly mathy moments between the jarring chords. The tracks are packed in tight, and hard on its heels slams in the riffy, grungy, ‘Without a Shot Fired’. It’s got a driving urgency and has a hard(core) edge.

If ‘Knot in the Rope’ calls to mind Shellac in terms of its instrumentation and the choppy guitars and chunky bass, it’s certainly no bad thing. It’s a big, dense, shouty sonic ruckus. And then it goes a bit Pavement just over halfway through. As it happens, ‘shouty sonic ruckus’ pretty much covers the album as a whole – and most of their back catalogue, got that matter. But Sea Magnolia feels more organised – however haphazard, chaotic and discordant it is. Because it has some nifty riffs, and the rhythm section is strong and sprightly as it leaps and lurches with precision timing from one segment to the next. ‘No Wisdom’ is particularly twisty, turny, amped up, choppy, jarring. And with the majority of the album’s nine uptempo tracks clocking in around the three-and-a-bit minute mark, it’s succinct and a lot more focused than it probably first appears.

None of the songs on here is straightforward: you won’t find anthemic choruses done to death over predictable structures, and lyrically it’s as just as non-linear in formulation. Every couple of bars you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen next, and whatever you’re probably expecting, it won’t be that. This, of course, is precisely the album’s strength. Predictable it isn’t and there’s never a dull moment. And yet for all that, they still throw in some decent hooks amidst the chaos. It’s a massive achievement – and a great album, if you can hack it.

Bearfoot Beware – Sea Magnolia


Bearfoot Beware

Gizeh Records – 2nd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tomorrow We Sail are a classic example of the kind of band who exist outside of their geography. Based in Leeds, the six-piece aren’t generally renowned as part of the local scene or prominent gig-wise, but have a reach that exists in the ether of the virtual world and into mainland Europe. Four years on from their debut, the collective have evolved their brand of folk-infused string-soaked post-rock into something even more unique.

Subdued, strolling beats and rolling piano provide the rhythmic backdrop to the nagging strings and aching vocals on the opening song, the six-minute ‘Side By Side’. It breaks into a sustained crescendo after just a couple of minutes, but it’s more a case of upping the volume and the intensity than hitting the soaring peaks which characterise so much ‘classic’ post-rock. And perhaps this is the key to the differentials which separate Tomorrow We Sail from their peers, and indeed, any other act. The Shadows is a careful and poised album which exploits the dynamic tropes of post-rock but in a contained fashion. There’s certainly nothing as expansive or sprawling as 2015’s ‘Saturn’, with its twenty-minute duration, or even the single ‘Rosa’ from the first album with its thirteen-minute running time. The Shadows is altogether more concise and all the more intense because of it. Moreover, the context feels different, the slant altered somewhat.

In some respects, the context is that this doesn’t feel like a ‘Leeds’ album. Even when the city was post-rock central a decade or so back, with iLiKETRAiNS (as they were then styled), Vessels and adopted Leeds friends Her Name is Calla all over everywhere, there was nothing this folksy or parameter-pushing as The Shadows, an album which expands the limits of post-rock. ‘The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes’ really pitches the folk aspect of the album to the fore, with a chorus of voices giving the almost shanty-like folk tune a lilting aspect.

There is unspeakable, throat-tightening beauty in the piano-led minimalism of ‘To Sleep’ which calls to mind the very best work of the now-defunct Glissando, and at the same time harks back to their debut.

The Shadows is a well-balanced collection: understated, delicate, melodic, it exists, as the title alludes, in the spaces between light and dark, exploring with deftness and sensitivity the infinite shades between.




30th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

On the strength of the cover, with its sombre-looking black and white image of a fledgling gull (I think – I’m not David Attenborough) perched atop a post with the sea behind it, all the way to the horizon where it meets a brooding sky, you would expect The Earth Swan Sings Again to mark a turn towards serious, introspective and altogether less hectic approach to music-making. And in some respects, it is.

While still incorporating the wildly disparate elements of his recent previous albums – of which there are many, and then some (he’s put out a full dozen in the last decade) – The Earth Swan Sings Again feels less manic, more refined, but no less magpie-like in its amalgamation of a broad range of genres. And on this outing, Reaks has gone even further out on the jazz trip he embarked upon with Track Marks last year. This may seem strange for an artist who doesn’t really like jazz, but Reaks is an artist who doesn’t allow genre prejudice to contaminate his creative process. This is postmodern art at its intertextual best: everything is equal, and it’s all material. What counts is how that material is used, recycled, adapted. Etc.

This all makes for a more accessible set of material, but of course it’s all relative, and songs with titles like ‘I Stroked Her Like a Leper’, ‘Her Body Convulsed’ and ‘Today Hurts More than Mercy’ are never going to have the commercial appeal of the mediocre shit of Ed Sheeran or Bastille or whatever cal R1 is spinning on an endless brainwashing loop these days, and that’s before you even get to the music itself. ‘She stretches open like a parasite’s echo,’ Reaks sings by way of a refrain on ‘She Stretches Open (Like a Parasite’s Echo)’. It’s vaguely disturbing, and entirely surreal, but in keeping with his abstract / cut-up approach to the creation of art.

Bringing a more low-key vibe that’s dominated by a post-punk atmosphere, The Earth Swan Sings Again is darker and challenges in different ways from preceding efforts. The basslines are still dubby but less rampantly wild, and more about driving by stealth. The guitars are still choppy, but veering toward the picked and understated – apart from the immense and brain-meltingly OTT jazz/prog wigouts that splurge all over the place unexpectedly and incongruously – they’re altogether more subtle. Well, the guitars, maybe: the OTT jazz/prog wigouts are maybe less so, but they work, and there’s a sense that Reaks knows all of this. As one of the most singular artist practising at this moment in time, Reaks knows what he’s doing, and also knows that one chooses art of commercial success. And this is art.

The Earth Swan Sings Again is dark and stark, low-key yet eclectic, and at times inexplicable. Of course it is: it’s an Ashley Reaks album, and when it comes to walking the line between genius and madness, Reaks has forged a career by joyously straddling it and raising two fingers to convention of any kind. Outré creative talents like Reaks are few and far between, and while the mainstream grows ever safer, ever more diluted, ever more background and by-numbers, the need to artists who rub hard against the grain grows ever greater.


Ashley Reaks – The Earth Swan Sings Again


Music Information Centre Lithuania – MICLCD097

Christopher Nosnibor

Horizons has been a long time in the making, and the artist has described it as a ‘Sisyphean process’, which, at the end, ‘only strengthened the joy of accomplishment’. The five compositions span from between 2006 and 2015. Martinaitytė’s biography is long and detailed, and covers the complex and challenging circumstances surrounding the composer’s journey to its completion. But an abridged rendering would focus on the fact that the pieces here are from what she terms the decade which represents the ‘blue’ period of her career, and that the album as a whole represents her explorations of ‘the dichotomies between proximity and distance, nearing and departing’.

It’s perhaps worth quoting from the accompanying notes at length, in order to demonstrate the full expanse of the album’s scope: ‘With this album and the individual works on it the author tells an absorbing emotional narrative. She begins with a larger picture – a multi-layered, timbrally rich sonic expression of the faraway landscapes (Horizons, 2013; The Blue of Distance, 2010); she then moves on towards her subjective relationship with the untouchable distance (Thousand Doors to the World, 2009; Completely Embraced by the Beauty of Emptiness, 2006); finally, she reaches the state of inner calm (Serenity Diptychs, 2015). Acoustically speaking, the concept of nearing is presented through instrumentation – she begins with larger orchestral and choral works, and finishes with a refined, chamber sound.’

The title track sets the album’s tone: ‘Horizons’ begins expansively, a vast, expansive sonic vista stretching for some seventeen and a half minutes and leading the listener through moments of grace and tranquillity punctuated by moments of drama and tension. The choral swell of ‘The Blue of Distance’ resonates deep and strikes a spiritual chord, albeit in a vague, abstract sense, touching as it does the corners of the subconscious. Bursts of vaporous ambience spar against distant echoes of notes. The drama surges and sweeps on ‘Thousand Doors’, a tempest of brass and strings mounting and enveloping the listener. While Martinaitytė is a master of the subtle and the delicate, her compositions equally demonstrate her capacity for the bold, with passages of grandeur and turbulence.

Contemporary classical seems to have been relegated to big-budget film scores, but Žibuoklė Martinaitytė is unquestionably an exponent of 21st century classical music. More to the point, Horizons is a powerful orchestral work which transcends genre boundaries and interacts on many levels.


Žibuoklė Martinaitytė – Horizons


Hangman Ho Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Rick Senley doesn’t do things by halves. Invariably, when I receive mail from him, it contains not one, but two CDs released in close proximity. His two solo musical vehicles, I Am A Man With a St Tropez Tan and musicforvoyeurs reflect quite different facets of his creative bent, and this has never been placed in sharper relief than on his two latest releases. I Am A Man With a St Tropez Tan’s The Tattooed Aunts and Mice on Speed is an abrasive, at times harrowing affair; its counterpart, musicforvoyeurs’ Encounter, which emerged off the back of a film project of the same name for which Senley created the soundtrack, is altogether lighter and softer, and as such, represents an almost polar contrast. That isn’t to say it’s a happy-clappy skip through summer meadows. Encounter explores the spaces between ranging depths of shade in a moving and thought-provoking way.

The eight tracks drift and flow into one another, as brooding strings forge cinematic sonic vistas over which samples pass, creating not so much a narrative, but a sense of meaning, however submerged or allusive. Death provides the primary focus of the snippets of dialogue, and while Encounter is a deeply melancholy work, its tone is ultimately reflective and contemplative rather than dark or depressing.

It begins softly, vaporous ambience washing beneath an extended sample. It concludes dramatically, with a flourish. In between, there is undulating movement and turns of atmosphere.

A humming, thrumming low-end buzz hangs heavy for a time on the second track, before majestic light and choral sweeps cascade forth. The frantic, agitated raised voice which cuts in toward the end changes the perspective and raises the tension, but Senley brings it down with a delicately picked guitar that’s dainty and soothing. Notes ripple and cascade in mellifluous glissandos. But burred edges and rumbling tones lurk just a little way beneath the surface. However pleasant and mellow any given segment of the album is, there is always a nagging reminder of an underlying tension, an insistent sense of doubt that refuses to dissipate or be shaken off. It’s this dynamic which renders Encounter such a compelling album.

musicforvoyeurs – Encounter

Click on the image to hear tracks from Encounter.


Kranky – 23rd February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tahoe is the second album from Northern California producer Fred Welton Warmsley III in his solo guise as Dedekind Cut. It’s named after the mountain lake town where he now resides, and it’s fitting that an album of such grandeur should relate to a vast expanse of natural beauty. For all the ruination mankind has inflicted on nature, however badly we as a species have damaged and decimated resources and scarred the landscape, hunted species to extinction and generally fucked everything up, the fact remains that nature will always win.

Over millennia, ice ages haves come and gone, mountains have emerged and heatwaves have created new deserts. We may have all the television, cars, space stations and satellites, but nothing man-made can protect against a volcanic eruption, flooding, landslides, mudslides, avalanches, blizzards, wild fires, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The eight compositions on Tahoe are centred round drifting, wafting drones and soft-edged, vaporous tones. It’s as ambient as the breeze, as the rippling of water in a slow-moving river. It’s the sound of drifting clouds, of tranquillity. Tahoe is an album of space, of distance, of earth and air.

It’s on the album’s three longer tracks, each of which extend beyond ten minutes that Tahoe reveals the full extent of Warmsley’s attention to detail and nous for texture ad layering. The second of these, ‘MMXIX’ picks up the pace and accentuates the dramatic tension, and it’s surge and swell arrives quite unexpectedly after the mellowness that is the title track. It’s overtly beaty – shuddering, juddering, thuds hammering dense and muddy through a bassy cyclone and booming low-end notes that hover into the abyss dominate – and the piece is just more up-front overall. Contrasts abound and the textures become more prominent as the track progresses, with skittering melodies and twittering notes flitting in all directions. The third, ‘Hollow Earth’ stretches our dark rumbles over turning air and a sense of foreboding over twelve and a half minutes, with interweaving lattices of aural contrails providing the core tone of the piece.

For all of its space, the exploratory sonic expanses conjured by soft, sweeping tones, and for its cinematic softness, Tahoe is not an ambient album. It is not background or wallpaper. It’s an engaging, detailed and in places gripping piece of work. It’s really quite something else.


Dedekind Cut – Tahoe