Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

4th September 2019

There are two ways of going about reviewing albums: the easy way and the hard way. The easy way is to crib to the max from the press release, paint yourself as an expert on every artist however obscure they may be, while making on-point comparisons suggested by the band and their PR. The hard way is to ignore all that, listen painstakingly and go out on a limb on your opinions based purely on instinct and past experience. The hard way is to appreciate that however much you yearn to wrote objective reviews, no-one ever responds to music in a purely objective way, and reviews which take a truly objective stance are incredibly tedious to read – and to write for that matter.

So I know nothing about Kristeen Young, and expect that the cover art doesn’t really convey much of what she or her music is about. Then again, expectations exist to be confounded, and while The SubSet isn’t about goth dressmaking, the somewhat baffling choice of image is in keeping with Young’s quirky style.

‘Less Than’ crashes in by way of a starter with everything all at once: Eastern-inspired grooves collide against electronic bleepery while her vocals allude to Kate Bush in their delivery – and that’s a defining feature as she squeaks and soars her way through the album’s ten tracks. It’s an effective style that’s well-suited to the music.

Experimentalism is a prominent factor on The SubSet, and the fact there are hit-and-miss elements are par for the course and in no way detract from the overall experience: ‘Everyday Subtraction’ begins as a rather mediocre mid-pace dance cut, but steps up the drama as Young shifts her vocals unexpectedly into full-on operatic mode, while ‘In 3rd Grade’ is a tense, driving electropop shoegaze effort that throws in nods to early Garbage (back when they were exciting), before playing out on a delicate piano and soft, subtle bass and a sudden, unexpected burst of noise. When I say ‘hit and miss’, there really isn’t much miss: it’s just that some moments are more striking and distinctive than others, and Young strikes what’s probably an appropriate balance between weird and accessible to afford herself the potential of a wider audience.

‘Pretty Twogether’ is vintage electropop with a warping twist and some extraneous noise, propelled by glitchy percussion, while ‘Marine Combo Dadd’ is a semi acappella shanty with dreamy, psychedelic overtones, and it sounds incongruous, that’s because it is: once gets the impression Kristeen Young revels in creating moments of uncanniness, of oddness that are only a fraction removed from the familiar, but far enough to sit just the little bit uncomfortably. It’s a strength she works to, and well.

If The SubSet is a wildly unpredictable affair, it’s all the better for it.

AA

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New Heavy Sounds – 11th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Cold in Berlin’s evolution has followed a fairly steady but swift arc: having emerged in 2010 with the spiky attack that was Give Me Walls, Rituals of Surrender represents their fourth album. That’s a respectable work rate, and over that time they’ve remained true to their dark, post-punk gothy roots, but have become progressively slower and heavier, the guitars growing sludgier, doomier.

In musical circles, there is always a ‘new strain’ emerging, even if said strain is a revisioning of an older strain. Not so long ago, it was post-punk revivalism, then there was a vintage heavy metal return, which in turn spawned the emergence of a stoner / doom / sludge hybrid. Cold in Berlin, having crashed in on the post-punk tidal wave are now more closely aligned to another more niche strain of the latter, namely colossally heavy female-fronted bands who bring an ethereal and emotive aspect to the sludgy / stoner / heavy template. Is it lazy journalism to bracket Cold in Berlin’s latest offering alongside Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the last couple of albums by Chelsea Wolfe? Perhaps, but the references are at least instructive in terms of establishing a certain thread of stylistic commonality. But for every similarity, there are equal differences, and Cold in Berlin are most definitely a unique proposition in the way they balance the instrumental heft with Maya’s powerful vocals.

The album gets straight down to business with ‘The Power,’ which prefaced the arrival back in early September, accompanied by an appropriately moody, horror-hinting video. The bass and guitar grate and saw in unison over a slow tribal march. The tension builds and breaks in a landslide to a mammoth chorus.

The nine tracks on Rituals are heavy – plenty heavy – with some killer riffs. But that weight and the overloading overdrive is not at the expense of accessibility: the songs are clearly structured and benefit from strong and defined choruses.

Lyrically, the album is strewn with funereal imagery of death and decay, coffins and caskets, yet somehow manages to avoid cliché. The songs also pour anguish. ‘There is grief that tastes good in your mouth / there is grief that takes years to scrub out / There is darkness buried beneath my skin / there is darkness at the heart of everything’, Maya sings, pained, at the start of ‘Avalanche’ against a sparse sonar-like bass boom and a weeping drone of feedback before the drums and power chords come crashing in with crushing force. Can there be onomatopoeic instrumentation? If so, Cold in Berlin have mastered it, the pulverizing

The ritual aspect of surrender is never far from range: ‘You could string her up / you could string her up her body’s a temple for your love’ Maya sings commandingly on ‘Temples’ against a thunderous grind of heavily distorted guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Monsters’ is tense, intense, and grand, drama radiating from every note, and Rituals of Surrender is outstanding in its consistency.

Blending hefty riffology with full-lunged brooding, Rituals of Surrender sees Cold in Berlin occupy the space between doom and goth, emerging like Sabbath fronted by Siouxsie. And they do it so well: this could well be their definitive album.

AA

Cold in Beerlin - Rituals

Kranky – 16th August 2019 (rarely)

Increasingly, I’m finding a need for ambience in my life. We live in an extreme world, and in that context, a barrage of extreme metal and heavy-duty industrial makes sense – because release. We all need catharsis, an outlet. You’re never going to get that from Ed Sheeran so I can only assume his fans are so numb, so oblivious, so distanced, so disconnected, so braindead that the hell that is modern life simply doesn’t register with them.

This morning, feeling somewhat stressed by life and battling with some flatpack assembly to a soundtrack of sit 90s dance tunes and tannoy hollering being blown through my window from the Race for Life event with its start at York Racecourse, just up the road, I decided it was a good time to check out – a shade belatedly – Loscil’s latest offering.

Equivalents is what you might call quintessential contemporary ambient. The compositions are formed with layers of broad, soft sounds that sweep and drift and swish and drone, eddying abstractly to soothing effect. But there are tones and textures which break the soft, vapour-like surfaces and disturb the tranquillity: not brutally so, not to violently or abrasively as to damage the atmosphere, but sufficient to prick the listener’s senses back to attention as stuttering disturbances interrupt the delicate flows.

These moments shift the album – which I’m playing at sufficient volume to drown out the pumping beats from the racecourse wafting through the window – from background to foreground, and do so in a way that isn’t jarring.

It’s the subtleties and timings of the changes that highlight Loscil’s skill as a musician. Equivalents is more than the perfect antidote to modern life and noise stress: it’s a wonderful album.

AA

Loscil - Equivalents

Sargent House – 13th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

(Hiss) Spin it any which way, but following her last two inordinately powerful albums, which saw Chelsea Wolfe expand and deepen the depth of tempestuous noise and emotional force, the ‘eagerly awaited’ cliché was never more apt when Birth Of Violence was announced. Those two albums have left me emotionally raw and breathless since release, and I continually return to them as being simply stunning. It’s the perfectly poised juxtaposition of fragility and full-tilt riffage and noise that has impact on numerous levels and renders them with a special kind of intensity. Did I anticipate more of the same? I did I want more of the same? Could I handle more of the same?

It probably wasn’t entirely strategic, and probably more a reflection of the creative ebbs and lows, but nevertheless it makes perfect sense and sits with Wolfe’s creative arc to pull back the noise to deliver a reflective and largely acoustic album this time around. It does mean that despite what its title suggests, Birth Of Violence is altogether more sedate, and doesn’t grab you by the throat within a minute of hitting play. But then, in a world of noise, some reflection and hush is beyond welcome and necessary.

‘The Mother Road,’ unveiled back in June, opens with extraneous noise, but it’s acoustic guitar and a clean, untreated vocal that stand to the fore. Without the explosive crash of percussion and melting guitars one would reasonably anticipate based on recent for, we’re left to feel the pull of Wolfe’s tone and delicate intonation. But then it builds subtly to a rich swell of sound, a subtle adaptation of the post-rock crescendo that’s not overtly noisy, but isn’t exactly quiet either, culminating in a whirling swirl of noise around her emotionally fragile vocal.

The somewhat folksy title track finds Chelsea soaring, semi-operatic but also breathy and vulnerable and transcending to another plane, while ‘Deranged For Rock ‘n’ Roll’ finds heavy, murky percussion crash in behind her unusual pronunciation of ‘rock ‘n’ roll.’ She doesn’t sound particularly deranged, but more sedated. A lugubrious violin whines while the sound swells and surges and Wolfe soars to deliver a breathtaking climax.

‘Dirt Universe’ climbs slowly down to the gloomy depths of Leonard Cohen around Songs of Love and Hate: dark, lugubrious, and yet quietly intense. So intense.

It may be acoustic-based and considerably less noisy than its immediate predecessors, meaning it has less immediacy and less velocity overall, but Birth of Violence is an elegant and also striking album. Of course it is, it’s Chelsea Wolfe.

AA

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Wonkystuff – 5th September 2019

This one’s been a long time in coming: the liner notes document that the three pieces that make up Traditional Computer Music were ‘conceived and composed from various SuperCollider recordings over the years 2010 – 2014 [and] edited and compiled in Logic.

Then again, both Ash(ley) Sagar and Wonkystuff label boss John Tuffen have been kind of busy for most of the five years since this was finished, what with their being one half of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band, as well as operating as Orlando Ferguson and contributing to myriad other projects.

The title of this release is clearly a wilful oxymoron on the one hand, but on the other it’s entirely fitting, and a recognition of the tropes which have established themselves around digital musicmaking. Computer Music, once radical, is now a convention with a substantial lineage. And yet there is, somehow, a certain idea of what ‘computer music’ sounds like when presented with ‘computer music’ as a term, and Sagar manages to encapsulate that on this release.

The three numbered pieces – impersonal, inhuman, digital – are lengthy: 1 is 14:21, 2 is 19:24 and 3 is 18:58. And while Sagar doesn’t delve into retro robotix with bleeps and bloops, Traditional Computer Music explores digital soundscapes that have become synonymous with electronica.

Bulbous, warping drones weft and warp in the opening moments of ‘1’, with sounds of indecipherable origin – are they voices? Are they synthesised sounds? Tapering to an undulating mid-range droning hum after a couple or so minutes, coalescing to a throbbing hum around four minutes before dispersing into a vaporous mass after some four minutes, it becmes little more than a drone, before dissolving, fractured, splintered and broken, into painful howls of feedback that continue for a good few minutes before fading to darkness.

‘Part 2’ continues where ‘Part 1’ leaves off, with elongating feedback-filled drones extending outward for centuries and light-years back. It’s simultaneously evocative and sterile, again highlighting and exploring the dichotomies of digital music. Ash is one of those musicians who explores to the core. And yet his technicality is not at the expense of feeling. You can tell by listening to this that he lives and feels the music, wanky as it probably sounds.

The third and final track, ‘3’ moves into microtonal territory, which is crackly, glitchy, bleepy, and finds a slow pulsing beat thumping beneath an array of tweeting twittering R2D2 stutters. It descends into a morass of tweaking laser shots and squelchy pulsations buried under a growling generator hum ad there’s pitch-shifting and slowing drones galore. It becomes increasingly difficult as it progresses, dolorous drones and low pulsations and eternal, deliberate throbs roll on and on, before finally yielding to a climax of retro-futurist wibbles which ascend to a sustained rippling hum that’s not exactly comfortable whatever your preferences for sonic range.

On TCM, Ash shows that he probably knows the boundaries and remains within them, but at the same time tests the listener’s limits in a positive way. And yes, it’s good, and in its field, outstanding.

AA

Ash Sagar - Traditional

Metropolis Records – 23rd August 2019

In my world, The Legendary Pink Dots were just that: legendary. Heard of, often, heard, never. I’m embarrassed by this, but also accepting. There’s simply too much music and too little time, and when confronted with a band with an output as vast as theirs, where it’s impossible to know where to start, it’s easier to simply give up without starting. It’s a hurdle I overcame with The Fall in the early 90s, and maybe, just maybe, it’s time to make the first attempt at an inroad into The Legendary Pink Dots.

The album’s first cut, ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ is structured around a shuffling beat and some sparse, echo-soaked guitars. It’s got a vaguely psyche edge, but having spent the last decade immersed in some of the most far-out avant-garde oddities emerging from all corners of the globe, it seems pretty tame and safe to my ears. This is largely true of the album as a whole, although it does have some more interesting moments: ‘Junkyard’ sounds like it could be a recent Foetus outtake, and ‘Neon Claculators’ plasters scraping electronic pings and quacks and parping sax over a bubbling Donna Summer synth rhythm track before drifting into some kind of avant-jazz spacerock oddity, and ‘Itchycoo Shark’ at least had a vaguely amusing title, but sounds a bit David Tibet only minus the pseudomystical bollocks, and ‘The Photographer’ is yawningly neofolk.

The trouble – if ‘trouble’ isn’t too strong a word – with sustaining such a lengthy career as an ‘experimental’ outfit is that all too often the hunger to innovate fades, and the songwriting gradually falls to formula. I can’t think of many artists who’ve become weirder, wilder, and more challenging over time, especially not over a career spanning almost 40 years.

Angel In The Detail is 50% atmospheric and interesting, 50% tedious and pedestrian, subscribing to too many well-worn ‘experimental’ tropes, which the band themselves were instrumental in establishing. It’s ok, and given their reputation, fanbase and career place (over 40 albums and counting), is likely to be just what the fans are after. And fair enough: they’ve nothing to prove at this juncture, and questions of relevance are ultimately irrelevant.

AA

Legendary Pink Dots – Angel In The Detail

Gizeh Records / Consouling Sounds

13th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

A-Sun Amissa’s fifth album promises to build on ‘the foundations of previous record Ceremony in the Stillness (2018), incorporating some of the heavier, distorted, guitar oriented themes but this time fuses them with broken, crumbling electronic beats and primal drone movements’.

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about how Richard Knox has steered A-Sun Amissa in recent years has been his systematic approach to producing new output: following a gap of fur years between 2013’s You Stood Up for Victory, We Stood Up for Less and The Gatherer (2017), with the assistance of an array of collaborators, he’s released an album a year. This has likely proved integral to the steady evolution and the sense of progression across the last three albums. And this album being almost a completely solo effort (Knox wrote, recorded, and mixed the entire album, as well as providing the artwork) has really focused his energies on pushing himself in all directions across the album’s two longform compositions

The pieces on offer here are underpinned by vast ambient passages that are drenched in distortion and reverb, slowly unfurling before more industrial, kinetic sounds are introduced and heaving guitars come to the fore. As ever, there’s a melancholic dissonance that resonates throughout, repetition is key and moments of dread are paired with shafts of light as these two monolithic pieces unravel themselves over the course of forty minutes.

‘Seagreaves’ begins as a distant howl of dark, whirling noise, scraping, screeding, creating a dark, simmering tension and a sense of foreboding, of disquiet.When it fades out to be replaced by guitar, the atmosphere shifts from menacing to melancholy. There are hints of Neurosis, and also Earth Inferno era Fields of the Nephilim in the picked notes, gradually decaying in an organic reverb. The cyclical motif is pushed along by a plodding rhythm, forging a slow, lumbering groove that builds primarily through plain repetition. Petering out to almost nothing around the midpoint, we’re left with a vast, open and almost empty space. It’s around the sixteen-minute point that everything surges back in for a sustained crescendo, a cinematic post-metal climax that finds the guitars soar while the rhythm thunders low and slow.

‘Breath by Breath’ is subtler still, elongated drones and whispers of feedback echo as if a long way away, before a piano ripples somewhere on the horizon. The atmosphere isn’t strictly tense or even dark, but shadowy, and it’s difficult to attribute a specific sensation or mood to it. When the strolling bass and sedate percussion roll in, layers of metallic guitar noise filters in – quiet, backed off, but harsh. Voices echo from the underworld, almost subliminally. And then: a momentary pause. It’s barely a heartbeat, but everything crashes in with the driving yet deliberate force of Amenra. And from hereon in it’s incremental, but also cumulative in its growing volume and impact.

Knox describes For Burdened and Bright Light as ‘a more immersive, ambitious, adventurous record of conflicting emotions as the theme of the work tackles the contradictions of being human and explores the duality of light and dark, hope and despair’, and not only is the ambitiousness clear, but those ambitions are fulfilled. Dare I – once again – describe a work as ‘epic’? Yes: the scope of For Burdened and Bright Light is vast in every sense, and it does engage the listener’s senses and provokes contemplation through it’s shifting movements, moving not only between mods but also genre forms. The result is not only unique, but powerful and captivating, holding the attention and rewarding patience over the expansive pieces.

AA

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