Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Cruel Nature Records – 17th November 2019

Christophe Nosnibor

Nathalie Stern made her solo debut with Firetales in 2010: almost a decade on, she delivers a follow-up in the form of Nerves and Skin. The album promises to ‘builds on the experimental folk traditions of her debut, awash with vocal harmonies, synth loops and drones but with the maturity of an artist who knows their craft and is top of their game’.

Although now resident in Newcastle, Stern’s roots are Swedish, and it’s traditional Swedish folk which informs her music. While I have precisely no knowledge or experience of Swedish folk music, the compositions here, as the title suggests, conjure a sense of the barest essence of human existence. Nerves and skin the components essential to the senses, especially touch, are here exposed and highly sensitive. As much as anything it’s the organic feel that permeates the album that renders it so subtly affecting as it drifts and melds to form a sort of biological symbiosis with the listener’s internal mechanisms while it plays.

Stern’s voice is the primary instrument here, and she builds layers of harmony, often by unconventional means, with breaths and short, wordless sounds looped to form cyclical motifs atop sparse synth drones

‘Luchdora’ brings low-impact, lurching beats that thud soft and there’s a heartbeat thump on ‘Then You Talk of War’, which delves into darker territories with moody bass oscillations over which layers of choral vocals build majestically.

‘Deep Sleep’ wheezes monotonously, a lugubrious drone: Nathalie’s vocal is barely a whisper, haunting, ethereal, the melody a sing-song lullaby with an uncanny, shadowy twist that may not exactly be Chuck Palahniuk, but is still moderately unsettling. ‘Moderately unsettling’ is a fair summary of the atmosphere that creeps across the compositions as the album unfolds. Although fear chords creep all over the gloomy ‘Stig in Lucia’, it’s not overtly dark, but the disembodied vocal echoes evoke a certain cognitive dissonance.

And for all its oddness and otherness, it’s on an instinctive, human level that you experience Nerves and Skin: you feel it, somehow, almost subliminally, and it touches parts rarely reached and in ways that are abstract and indefinably, but nevertheless real.

AA

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Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

AA

Right Hand Left Hand

Christopher Nosnibor

The trouble with receiving more shit than you could ever listen to in a week on a daily basis means you lose track now only of what you’ve got, but also where much of it came from. The positive spin is that life becomes a constantly-rolling conveyor-belt of surprises, some of which are pleasant.

What’s pleasant is a matter of taste, of course, meaning not everyone in my position would be enthused on stumbling on the dark, industrial-strength electronica of Kojoohar × Ködzid Goo – less a collaboration than a collision of Ukranian Andrei Kojoohar (who produces industrial / power electronics as Kadaitcha, and synthpop / triphop / downtempo under the Fogscape moniker), and Ködzid Goo from Russia, who specialises in bleak darkwave.

It’s no criticism to say that Дотла represents the sum of its parts. ‘Сулема’ (trans:‘Sulema / (Mercury Chloride)’ sets the tone with churning atmospherics paving the way for a thudding industrial rhythm and shivering electronica. It’s low-tempo, intense and claustrophobic. There’s no space to get comfortable here: there’s barely space to breathe. Its as dark as the black on charcoal cover from beginning to end.

There are dark hip-hop elements buried deep in the songs, too, and the hybridity contributes to the otherworldly distancing that defines the sound.

Whether or not the lyrics lose anything in translation, I couldn’t comment, but there’s something fascinating about their viscerality and potent images, with the opening lines of the final track, ‘Полынь’ (trans: ‘Polyn’ / Wormwood’ being fairly typical:

Eye slits plastered with phlegm completely,

eyelashes sealed with wax tightly

All the humanity has a single mind,

and now it starts getting distracted

Wrapped in food plastic film deceitfully,

it rots in its semiconsciousness

Drowning unhelpfully in swampy lakes,

trudging scarcely through powder dunes

The same song closes off with the equally dark lines:

Dust settled on our senile scalped heads

Successively having turned into powder

We all were born at the wrong time in vain

Blossomed in the wrong place all over

Delivered in a blank monotone, devoid of emotional and humanity, it sits well with the stark, mechanoid instrumentation that thumps and grinds low-end bass throbs welded to dead-hearted beats, overlaid with icy synths.

Hard, stark, cold and dystopian in every sense, this release offers no comfort and no breaks, no hooks and no easy inroads. It’s a difficult and singular work that reminds us that we’re all on the outside, all alone, and all doomed.

AA

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Sige Records – 1st November 2019

Mellow… melodic. Mammifer’s The Brilliant Tabernacle is, well, is the title suggests, brilliant. And yet its brilliance is largely hard to define. It’s an album that drifts by almost inconsequentially, and not just on first or second listen.

‘All that is Beautiful’ introduces the album with a rolling drum beat and lilting piano that provides the accompaniment to faith Coloccia’s airy, ethereal vocal. But somewhere along the way, currents of noise build, and by the final bars, the music itself has been drowned in swelling swirl of feedback. You’re left agape, wondering ‘how did this happen’? It’s a slow and delicate swell, and it characterises the subtlety that pervades The Brilliant Tabernacle.

The album as a whole is a lot more delicate, with rolling piano and little else backing the most magnificently absorbing singing. And it’s so soft, easy, it drifts and lulls the listener. While a long way off being ambient, instead drawing on elements of folk, indie and retro pop to forge mellifluous magic. The Brilliant Tabernacle is calm and calming, and encourages a state of mental relaxation. ‘River of Light’ weaves rippling waves of sonic intangibles, while woodwind and piano ebb and flow in and out and hover in the space between post-rock and shoegaze.

Yet, in places, darker currents run below the surface, and with the complex, urgent, flickering rhythms there are hints of latter-day Swans in evidence. The ten-minute ‘Hymn of Eros’ is a vast expanse of semi-ambience, while ‘To Be Seen’ is pure 60s psychedelic folk, both musically and lyrically.

There is something both vintage and timeless about The Brilliant Tabernacle. There is also a sense of incredible equilibrium, and a cosmic hue radiates like a halo from every note: The Brilliant Tabernacle is otherworldly, but also somehow earthy in a paganistic, celebratory sense. Truly special.

AA

Mamiffer – The Brilliant Tabernacle

AdderStone Records – 4th October 2019

James Wells

Originally released in November 2018, Jo Quail’s Exsolve has been re-released, remastered, as a double vinyl effort on her own, newly-founded, AdderStone Records. It’s been expanded to include a new fourth track, ‘Reya Pavan’.

If a mere eleven months feels like an uncommonly short span of time, consider the fact that the original release wasn’t available on vinyl, and also the year Jo has had. With support slots with Mono and Emma Ruth Rundle, her profile has very much been on the up, and her performances have been consistently spellbinding.

Quail’s appeal was always likely to be subject to slow diffusion. While we’ve become accustomed to post-rock and experimental music, a solo cellist who conjures sound like a full rock band is essentially unique. Moreover, she’s more a purveyor of prog than neoclassical, and this really doesn’t sit readily with contemporary trends, however accommodating and broad-minded and receptive audiences are.

Christopher Nosnibor frothed effusively about the album on this very site a year ago and all of that still stands: this is a stunning album, and the depth and range of the sound is incredible. It has grace, it has power, it has impact, and it has blistering solos that sound like guitars. I’d challenge anyone to sit and listen to this without any forewarning and consider for a second this is the work of one person, or a solo cello album.

The new, additional composition, ‘Reya Pavan’ is the most overtly orchestral track on the album, and it oozes sadness rom the heart, while underpinned by a sonorous rhythmic throb that adds a very different dimension.

It’s not really a re-valuation as such, or a reissue, but a timely reboot, and Jo Quail is a singular and innovative artist who deserves the attention.

AA

Jo Quail - Exsolve reissue

Ipecac Recordings – 1st November 2019

You could look at this from two different angles: one – some people never grow up. Two – some people never sell out. Cunts’ eponymous debut is the product of both simultaneously. The ‘snarling LA-based punk band’ features guitarist Michael Crain (Dead Cross/Retox) and singer Matt Cronk (Qui), with drummer Kevin Avery (Retox/Planet B), bass player Keith Hendriksen (Virginia Reed) and guitar player Sterling Riley (Hepa.Titus).

So they all have other projects, and so the fact Cunts will never achieve radio play or mainstream attention simply by virtue of being Cunts isn’t an issue. Then again, their other projects won’t achieve major-league success and radio play either, despite not being graced with a media-blackout moniker, meaning that none of them has anything to lose or gain here. So yeah, fuck it: Cunts are keeping it real and keeping it antagonistic, and forget being cynical, they’re doing this for the right reasons: they’ve got the rage. Rage used to be for the young, descending into the impotent bitterness of the cliché grumpy old man. But times have changed. Older, wiser, more furious and better equipped to articulate that rage, Cunts represent the new generation of over-40s who, rather than mellowing and settling into midlife, have all the anger and need to vent or suffer an aneurysm. These are the worst of times, and we live in a divided world.

This is proper old-school gnarly US hardcore punk shit, played at a hundred miles an hour, and if song titles like ‘Ass to Grind’ and ‘He’s a Lady’ carry distinctly un-PC connotations, the lyrics reveal the band as being on the right side of consideration for difference. They’re not afraid to venture into Unsane gore territory, but shock tactics aren’t entirely without merit in a desensitized society. There’s noting subtle about an of this, least of all the over art.

‘Goin’ Out West’ gets a bit Ministry, but with glammy / goth overtones to its thudding stomp, while a number of the frenzied thrashabouts, like ‘Fail at Failure’, clocking in at 1’46”, and the 1’ 26” ‘Seagulls’ bear hints of Dead Kennedys, while ‘For the Greater Good’ lunges messily into Unsane territory, and there are a fair few tracks that clock in well under three minutes, with the longest song on the album being just 4’08” and no other songs being much over three-and-a-half minutes.

Cunts is fiery, shouty, fast and furious with the emphasis on the furious. Primally raw and brutally uncompromising, it’s harsh but vital, and punk at its best.

You could look at this from two different angles: one – some people never grow up. Two – some people never sell out. Cunts’ eponymous debut is the product of both simultaneously. The ‘snarling LA-based punk band’ features guitarist Michael Crain (Dead Cross/Retox) and singer Matt Cronk (Qui), with drummer Kevin Avery (Retox/Planet B), bass player Keith Hendriksen (Virginia Reed) and guitar player Sterling Riley (Hepa.Titus).

So they all have other projects, and so the fact Cunts will never achieve radio play or mainstream attention simply by virtue of being Cunts isn’t an issue. Then again, their other projects won’t achieve major-league success and radio play either, despite not being graced with a media-blackout moniker, meaning that none of them has anything to lose or gain here. So yeah, fuck it: Cunts are keeping it real and keeping it antagonistic, and forget being cynical, they’re doing this for the right reasons: they’ve got the rage. Rage used to be for the young, descending into the impotent bitterness of the cliché grumpy old man. But times have changed. Older, wiser, more furious and better equipped to articulate that rage, Cunts represent the new generation of over-40s who, rather than mellowing and settling into midlife, have all the anger and need to vent or suffer an aneurysm. These are the worst of times, and we live in a divided world.

This is proper old-school gnarly US hardcore punk shit, played at a hundred miles an hour, and if song titles like ‘Ass to Grind’ and ‘He’s a Lady’ carry distinctly un-PC connotations, the lyrics reveal the band as being on the right side of consideration for difference. They’re not afraid to venture into Unsane gore territory, but shock tactics aren’t entirely without merit in a desensitized society. There’s noting subtle about an of this, least of all the over art.

‘Goin’ Out West’ gets a bit Ministry, but with glammy / goth overtones to its thudding stomp, while a number of the frenzied thrashabouts, like ‘Fail at Failure’, clocking in at 1’46”, and the 1’ 26” ‘Seagulls’ bear hints of Dead Kennedys, while ‘For the Greater Good’ lunges messily into Unsane territory, and there are a fair few tracks that clock in well under three minutes, with the longest song on the album being just 4’08” and no other songs being much over three-and-a-half minutes.

Cunts is fiery, shouty, fast and furious with the emphasis on the furious. Primally raw and brutally uncompromising, it’s harsh but vital, and punk at its best.

AAA

Cunts

Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

AA

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