Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Not Applicable – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chris Sharkey’s first album released under his own name is what I suppose one might call an ‘environmental’ album. Not an album about the environment in the broader sense, or the ecological sense, but in the sense of having been inspired by the artist’s surroundings, and the music herein is a direct response to that in many ways. While so many releases from the last year have been environmental in the context of creative responses to lockdown and a shrunken vista consisting of four walls and the view from the window, paired with a pervading anxiety on account of the 24/7 news media and social media doomscrolling, Presets comes from a very different perspective. First and foremost, its inspiration is travel.

“I had been touring and travelling a lot. Lots of long car journeys, the M1, driving between shows in Europe. Long waits in airports. The occasional long-haul flight to play farther field. Throughout this period my relationship to music changed. I found that listening to songs or short pieces would leave me agitated and frustrated. I’d been listening a lot to Actress, particularly ‘Ghettoville’ and ‘Hazyville’ which really worked for me on the road. I wanted a music that develops slowly over time, drawing you in, making you forget about the clock. Music that has so much grain and texture that you could almost pick it up and turn it around in your hands, examining from all sides. Like a physical object. Music that resembles something you might see out of the window of a plane, high above the clouds, a meteorological event or a storm on distant mountains from the back seat of a car.”

I can certainly relate to the agitational effects of listening to certain musical forms while in transit: I always had to stop music and be on full sensory alert on arriving at a train station and walking through an unfamiliar city, for example, and since lockdown, I’ve not been able to listen to my MP3 player at all while walking around anywhere.

The physical setup for the album’s production was minimal, and Presets is the product of two months’ intensive recording, producing hours of material. But this was only the start of a protracted second stage, which Sharkey details as follows: “As the process continued, I would select my favourite parts and create playlists just for myself. By the end I had over 4 hours of music that lived on my phone and whenever I would travel, I’d listen. Over the course of the next 5 years: touring, travelling, listening, I slowly whittled it down to what you hear on Presets.”

In short, Presets is the product of many years’ work – not just the five years in post-recording evolution, but the years of experience and observation that preceded its creation also. It was, unquestionably, time well spent: while many of the individual segments are quite short – mere fragments – the album as a whole sees them sequenced and segued so as to feel like one continuous piece that gradually transitions between tones and shades. It’s also an immense work, clocking in around the eighty-five minute mark. It’s very much a good thing that it’s intended as a background work, because it’s practically impossible to sustain focus for that kind of time. But Presets is about not focusing, about disruptions and interruptions, about life.

It begins with quavering, key-ranging notes that do, at least vaguely, sound like guitar, before layers of processing build, before the source instrument becomes lost, evolving to conjure organ -like drones and entirely abstract washes. Before long, particularly over the course of the eighteen-minute second track, ‘the sharecropper’s daughter’, you find yourself not so much listening as floating along with the sounds as they slowly creep and shift.

The titles are sparsely descriptive and evocative at the same time: from ‘blue cloud, red fog’, to ‘scorpion bowl’ via ‘detained at the border’, there are hints of mini-narratives attached to each piece, and the sense of travel and movement does come across through the difficult drones and scrapes of feedback that build and buzz through the foggy murk.

It’s an epic work, and a major achievement.

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NIM – 17th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As labels go, Iowa-based NIM is pretty new: established only last year during lockdown, it has to date put out just five releases, initially showcasing the work of those directly associated with the label or otherwise close to its contacts – which is so often how DIY labels begin. Artists unable to find an outlet, or otherwise feeling no affinity with any particular label or scene, decide to carve their own niche by setting up for themselves. And before long, they’re not only putting out their own stiff, and stuff by their mates, but have started to build a roster.

It’s all about ethos and ethics: labels who start up because there’s a gap in the market for the music they want to hear and therefore make it themselves are very different from labels who set up with the express purpose of being a label. But NIM clearly have some ambition, as the release of the debut from Health Plan earlier this month indicated: featuring members of Blacklisters, Dead Arms, USA Nails, and The Eurosuite, they’re something of an underground noise supergroup, and the release felt like quite a coup for the label. And then, there’s this…

Again, it’s a million miles from mainstream, but in terms of pulling together some highly respected – and incredibly exciting – cult acts, this is a flagship release, the kind of thing that is almost certain to put the label on the map, in the way that the first couple of Fierce Panda compilations did in the 90s, and thee On The Bone collections some 20-odd years later, showcasing acts as diverse as That Fucking Tank and The Twilight Sad alongside Wild Beasts, Pulled Apart by Horses and Dinosaur Pile-Up. On the one hand a snapshot of the time, but on the other, an incredible document and a testament to ambition.

And so it is that Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast opens with a cover of Swans’ ‘No Cure for the Lonely’ by HUBBLE, which happens to be the ambient side project of Uniform guitarist Ben Greenberg, and also features a contribution from Rusty Santos, renowned for his work with Animal Collective, among others, and Obviate Parade, aka Paul McArthur, singer from Damn Teeth – not to mention a contribution from the mighty Health Plan.

Alright, so none of them may be household names, but they all carry some considerable cred in those more niche circles. And, alongside an array of obscuritants, they set out the NIM stall nicely, with an array of dark ambience and noisier efforts. This isn’t about establishing a ‘house’ style or otherwise making a specific statement: instead, this is as celebration of diversity, a divergent array of artists united by their lack of conformity.

HUBBLE’s cover is an almost psychedelic folk, semi-acoustic effort, while Rusty Santos wanders through quite mellow if deep trancebient territory, in contrast to the unapologetic noise abrasion of Health Plan’s ‘Food Grief’ lifted from their eponymous debut. If your tastes are narrow, avoid this: this is one for the eclectivists, and the first three tracks alone are enough to shred most brains.

Gareth JS Thomas’ ‘How You Feel’ stands out as a masterclass in thunderous, percussion-driven abrasive noise, and provides a particularly stark contrast to Obviate Parade’s noodlesome lo-fi neoclassical jazz-tinged meanderings and the frenetic post-punk squall of ###’s contribution, which lumbers hard with a Shellac-style riff and changes direction multiple times over the course of its three-and-a-half minutes.

Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast is challenging, both sonically and in its diversity: the chances are that few will like everything, and many won’t like anything at all. But those who like some will likely find more to like, because it’s a smorgasbord of weird and wonderful, and is a shining example of artistic collectivism, and Deprived of Occupation and Pleasure We Feast shows how NIM is a hub for a disparate array of artists who are doing very different things, but respect and celebrate that diversity.

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24 April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The title is pretty much a summary of this release: a collection – or compilation – of works by dark ambient act In The Absence Of Words. It’s the first of two volumes, and draws on their seventeen previous releases (discounting the 2020 ‘reworked’ version of III (originally 2017).

There are a lot of numerals to assimilate here – which is a point of interest given that the man behind In The Absence Of Words is a copywriter by day, a person who spends the majority of their time immersed in the formation of words in order to convey specific information. The craving for some time away from words is one I can personally relate to, and is one of the reasons for my pursuit of a musical project centred around noise and abstraction. We all need a break from the dayjob, and for a writer, that headspace comes not from time out of the office in the gym, but from something not only devoid of words, but which blanks out words completely, and covers over the internal monologue and that inner voice, whatever it’s saying, to wash away and cleanse the mind of words, if only for a short while.

A Collection I may assemble six compositions from a vast and swiftly-built catalogue, but it’s explicitly not a ‘best of’ intended to shift units of back-catalogue: instead, it’s a carefully-curated project where the pieces have been, as the liner notes explain, ‘carefully selected to complement each other and to create a single immersive listening experience. Each track was originally released individually on Bandcamp between 2017 and 2019 and each has been remastered and assembled specifically for this compilation.

As such, it’s less about singling out individual pieces and immersing oneself in the holistic experience, allowing oneself to simply take the journey and observe the landscape, absorbing the sights, sounds, and scents. That said, there are clear distinctions between the tracks, and these very much signpost the route from beginning to end.

As such, some notes on the passage seem appropriate, in the same way one may jot down observations from any other journey, and ‘The Meeting Point’ undulates slowly, and I’m reminded of the tranquil ripples of Prurient when they’re not devastating the ambience with a blitzkrieg of white noise and distorted vocals.

The seventeen-and-a-half minute ‘Suspension of Belief’, originally featured on debut I back in 2017 isn’t discernibly different, but swells and groans out a textural rinse that rumbles and rolls on and on, its churning grind becoming quite uncomfortable over time.

Much of the album is soft, cloud-like, with sonorous, billowing drones changing shape and form often but subtly over time, and while the second half of the album feels less varied in terms of both texture and tone, the way the individual pieces melt into one another to create a extended sonic space in which it’s possible to relax and empty your mind is credit to the artist for his selection and sequencing of the material to render such an experience.

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A Collection I

4th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

With Illusion, The Long Night threaten ‘a sonic journey capturing the deep melancholy sound of things that are likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses, adding that ‘Consisting of massive drones, chants, and field recordings, Illusion paints the picture of darkness trying to find a light in one’s consciousness.’

I’ve been struggling with certain things in recent months. Many things, if I’m honest. Reading books has been one, and listening to song-based music has been another. Concentration has been a real issue. Flitting back and forth in a daze through news items I haven’t the focus to read in their entirety, I see the theme of ‘long Covid’ as a recurring topic. But equally, I find that people I am in regular and frequent contact with – work colleagues, mainly – are feeling utterly drained and devoid of motivation. None of them has suffered from Covid-19, and I can’t help suspect there’s more of a long-term lockdown malaise that’s taking its toll on people. I’ve felt restless, listless, lacking in concentration, unable to face tasks that are beyond my comfort zone, and have immersed myself in domestic chores and cooking, outside my turgid dayjob.

And so it is that I’ve found solace in more ambient sounds. Their abstraction offers a certain escapism, and the right ambient sounds have an immersive quality that offers a distraction from everything else. Illusion is both abstract and immersive. For the most part it rumbles and drones without any real sense of direction, and that’s perhaps its strongest asset as it creates a sonic space in which to wander, lost, adrift, but away from the world.

On ‘Untold Mind’ and the murky morass of ‘Forgotten Time’, monastic voices rise ethereally from the grey smog, but for the most part, Illusion is a thick fog of amorphous, substanceless abstraction that drifts and eddies around without direction or any real sense of form. The nine-minute ‘The Myth of Now’ is a cavernous drone of immense depth and resonance that hangs heavy shadows with intermittent glimpses of light, but the overall experience is unsettling, as dark tones rumble and rise from the dark depths.

Illusion may be little or nothing more than its title suggests, but it is all we need for now as we cling to desperately to whatever we cen. And this is worth clinging on to.

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Dret Skivor – 7th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon, where plague victims were sent to quarantine – and die – is commonly known as ‘plague island’. But the ‘unprecedented’ pandemic that has circulated the globe in the last eighteen months or so has created a new ‘plague island’, where almost every element of dystopian fiction has become a reality.

There’s no question that this is a political album. The cover alone says it all: this is not some fictional place, but an album that’s explicitly inspired by a specific island that is – sadly, for many of us – very real. The UK, the tiny island with one of the highest death tolls in Europe from the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed a plague island – an island ridden with not only literal plague, but metaphorical plague, its seedy government the worst exponents of capitalist excess, and widely reputed as being more corrupt than the mafia, its racist, jingoistic bullshit-by-the-dozen prime minister with more children than he can account for, tossing money at his mistress while in a position of power, slinging multi-million pound contracts to associates to cash in on the pandemic, and misappropriating funds for a lavish refurb on his flat while unable to find the funds for more than a 1% pay rise for medics… A prime minister who would ‘fuck business’ but would still rather let ‘the bodies pile high’ than shut down and further damage his precious economy’. That’s a plague on a plague, a pestilence on an international scale, and also an absolute fucking disgrace.

It’s an island that also seems to have forgotten how small and isolated it is, both by geography and, now, politically: it’s forgotten it doesn’t have the empire it once did, and so, cut loose from the EU, isn’t an economic powerhouse on a global scale… just a tiny pathetic spec on the map, deludedly flexing its muscles and posturing while plunging further into debt by the hour. It’s a scabby scummy pit of self-importance and irrelevance, where the ruling elite trample the rest every second of the day purely out of self-interest. It’s a hellhole of division and decline that would rather cut off its face to spite its nose, all in the name of reclaiming its borders and blue fucking passports – and all of this is neatly encapsulated in the album’s opening blitzkrieg of noise overload, ‘Wading Through the Dead Bodies to Feel the Sovereignty’.

Because words alone cannot articulate the violent disgust at the country’s policies on immigration, welfare, child poverty, this barrage of cranium-crushing overload is the perfect expression of the rage and the fury – fizzing static and electronic sparks fly through a stammering buzz and headlong collisions of explosive distortion. It’s ten-and-three-quarter minutes of sonic annihilation that’s almost unbearable in its intensity and sheer abrasion. It’s weight and intensity feel like being trapped underneath a tank stuck on a mudbank. You’re clinging on as it tries to run you over the edge, where you can only hope to find a sleazy, lying scumbag lying dead in a ditch before you.

The churning earthworks continue unabated on second track, ‘Bring No Pestilence back’, which dissolves into a babbling, streaming gurgle that accelerates in pace and tapes to a treble as a thin, scrawling drone extends out over its final minutes, before fading to silence. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable, and clearly intentionally so. For all that, it’s not as unpleasant or uncomfortable as living in post-Brexit Britain in a semi-lockdown state and knowing that the future offers no hope on the horizon.

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Miasmah Recordings – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It was the heavyweight score of his debut album, Hold, that provided my introduction to the work of James Welburn, and very much piqued my interest – because in some way, sonically at least, it seems I like to be published. Almost six years to the year on, Welburn delivers another immensely heavy set with Sleeper in the Void.

According to the accompanying blurb, the album ‘feels like a story in two parts, rising lethargically, but with gargantuan power. The second begins with the momentous In and out of Blue, where Juliana Venter’s disembodied, spectral dirge takes center stage among the furious drums and bassy riffs, reaching a full crescendo with seconds to go. Parallel marks a release – Hilde Marie Holsen’s nostalgic soundscapes, pristine as glass, meeting the distant thunder of Welburn’s strings on the horizon. And finally, Fast Moon ends the record in a most surprising way – a tribal industrialized banger, complete with vile distorted beats and every other spice in demand on a blackened dancefloor.’

It’s intense from the outset, and ‘Raze’ is anything but lethargic. It begins with a modestly middling dark ambient drone, but before long, pattering drums are hammering like machine-gun fire and whipping up a frenzy while all around the drones increase in volume and intensity until there’s a veritable cyclone of sound raging all about. The experience is dizzying, suffocating.

The percussion is again punishing on ‘Falling from Time’, but while the sound is still dense and murky, the thundering rhythm, is far more mechanised, more industrial, thudding in a furious frenzy amidst an impenetrable smog of sound. The tempo is fast, and it’s relentless: you could perhaps even dance to it, although that’s not so much my thing: instead, I found my pulse accelerating and a glow of perspiration as the tension grows. Finally, the synths break into a softer swirl, although there are ominous tones eddying around as the drums finally peter out and it’s finally possible to catch your breath and compose yourself. It’s but a brief respite before crushing percussion crashes in on the doomy dirge of the title track: stuttering, stop-start detonations cut through the shoegaze on ketamine crawl of the blurred blizzard of extraneous noise.

Julia Ventner’s vocal on ‘In and Out of Blue’ and ‘Fast Moon’ (the latter of which is a grating, bulbous bass-driven beast of a cut that loops and lunged in a trill of treble and a crackle of fizzing distortion) are haunting, ghostly, and pitched against the lurching cacophony of drums and juddering blasts of noise that hit like a taser to the abdomen, it’s not only a contrast and a change of atmosphere her presence brings, but a new level of trembling intensity.

Sleeper in the Void unquestionably makes an evolution for Welburn: while incorporating many of the same elements fundamentally, their application is quite different on Sleeper in the Void in comparison to its predecessor. The basslines are less overtly structured, and Sleeper in the Void sees Welburn move further from any loose conventions of ‘rock’ toward something more abstract. It may be less direct, less bludgeoning, less reminiscent of early Swans, but it’s certainly no less intense or powerful, and it’s still dense and percussion-driven. If anything, the greater sense of nuance and Welburn’s expanded palette only amplify its menacing resonance, making Sleeper in the Void an album that may be challenging, but achieves optimum impact.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO298 – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As the title perhaps suggests, Cylene Suisse Redux is a document of the tour of Switzerland undertaken by François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley in December 2019, following the release of their first album, Cylene. That said, it’s no straight live recording, as the two longform tracks – naturally corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette each – were edited and manipulated respectively by Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, ‘giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach’.

The two musicians chose to entrust sound material recorded on the tour to the expert ears of two friends and great musicians Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach.

For Ryoji Ikeda, it was a question of finding a moment, circumscribing a fragment of time through his listening, with minimal intervention. For Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, the live recordings became material to be deconstructed and reassembled, to tell, according to his musical sensibility, a path of metamorphosis for Bonnet and O’Malley’s music.

According to the press release, ‘Cylene Suisse Redux is a prismatic substrate of a series of concerts surrounded by friendship, lakes, mountains, and by nightfall’. But how does that translate as a listening experience?

O’Rourke conjures an ominous sci-fi soundscape, abrim with other-worldly odyssey, as spooky-sounding mid—range drones hover and twist in a haze of reverb. This is the sinister soundtrack to a sinister movie set in a barren wasteland in an alien climate, as clouds of red dust drift through the thin, inhospitable atmosphere. Something is awry: danger is omnipresent, and anything could happen at any moment. Sonorous tones echo out into the emptiness, accentuating the bleakness of the sonic expanse in which we find ourselves. There is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing solid or familiar, only an ever-shifting drift of layer upon layer of sound without and signposts or markers, nothing to orientate oneself with. You feel isolated, alone, exposed, vulnerable, as you advance, with trepidation, onwards through this nerve-jangling eighteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda’s approach is quite different, and so is the end result, which starts out like a distant freight trail screeching to a halt with the scrape of metal upon metal, and it continues far off in the background as insistent drones, broad and bulbous, hover and turn, twist and whine, evolving over time. This is more what you might consider ‘typical’ ambient drone, favouring neither lightness nor darkness, and with neither a leaning toward bass not treble, and therefore not challenging and sensory aspect too hard. It’s still ominous in places, but not overtly unsettling or uncomfortable. Because there’s some sense of linear trajectory, it growls louder and darker as it progresses, swelling in volume and intensity, while the soft-edged drones develop sharper edges and become increasingly shrill, howling dissonance and pain before gradually tapering down, albeit with some afterburn.

You’re left wandering, aimless, vacant, in no-man’s land, wondering precisely how you should feel and how you should react to what you’ve just heard – and that’s as it should be. François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley create music without boundaries or definition, and that indistiction is further accentuated by O’Rourke and Ikeda. It’s for the listener to do the work, to explore and to find the points of resonance. There is much space to explore. Go forth.

Herhalen – H#023 – 21st May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release for this second album by The Incidental Crack – a collaboration between Justin Watson, Rob Spencer and Simon Proffitt – which follows last year’s Before The Magic describes the trio ‘exchanging field recordings, samples and random noise between Manchester, Wigan and North Wales, culminating in studio sessions focused on detailed processing and sound manipulation. They have yet to meet. Maybe one day when this is all over, in a pub in North Wales, free from this madness’.

As such, it’s a classic lockdown project, a virtual collaboration that proves that when it comes to the making of music, distance doesn’t have to be an object. In fact, it’s probably easier to collaborate without the logistics of brining people together in the same place at the same time. Writing on the project, Justin (one half of The Gated Canal Community and formerly of Front & Follow, a label which will be familiar to regular readers of AA), notes that Municipal Music ‘includes tracks recorded during the same period, using our now foolproof approach of sharing stuff, fiddling with it, sharing some more etc.’, adding, ‘It kept me sane at least during the last year!’

That is something that’s certainly relatable: keeping occupied has, for me, been the only way to keep myself together. I’m not saying it’s healthy, it’s just how it is. And increasingly, I’ve found abstract music easier to manage. Structured music, anything overtly ‘song’ orientated and rhythm driven is, all too often, just so much noise and instead of providing a welcome point of focus, feels just like being smacked from all sides at once. So while there may still be a lot going on in this, it’s not psychologically disruptive, and is suitably absorbing and immersive.

There are three extended-length tracks in all, which exploit the full dynamic range, with a strong focus on texture. The first, ‘The Second Cup of Tea of the Day’ is strong – certainly more English Breakfast or Nambarrie than Earl Grey or anything herbal – and probably inspired by the sound of a boiling kettle that’s been manipulated and fucked around with. However, it sounds at first more like a freight train, an extended continuous roar occupying the first three minutes before it gradually abates in volume and intensity, and gentler, softly-woven ambient drones fade in. there are still rumblings and incidental clatterings, forging a soundscape that never fully reconciles the tensions between the elements of soft and harsh, the light and dark. Bubbling Krautrock with bulbous beats collides with metallic shards of grating noise.

‘Just Passing Through’ is appropriately positioned in the middle, and is altogether gentler, softer, warmer, and pursues a more conventional ambient line. But there are peaks and troughs and ebbs and flows as the sound swells and at times shifts toward more unsettling territory, with some woozy oscillations that tug uncomfortably at the pit of the stomach before receding and allowing calmer vibes to return once more.

The third and final cut, the fourteen-minute ‘Ice Cream at the Pavilion’ starts with what sounds like the crashing of waves against a rocky beach in a storm, which strangely reminds me of a number of occasions we’ve had ice cream at the coast on family outings, because it’s always ice-cream weather for children. Voices chatter and babble and whoop excitedly, while a dolorous church organ begins to while away majestically in the background. Eventually, it’s superseded by a barrelling drone and a throbbing, slow-pulsing sound that swells and surges.

There’s a certain wistfulness and nostalgia to be found in the spaces in and around Municipal Music, although perhaps some of that’s my own reception aesthetic, a response as much to the circumstances of its creation and the allusions of the title, both of which remind me I’ve not left my own municipality in months, haven’t met any of my collaborators or friends in so very long, and yearn for both proximity to (some) people and also the countryside and country pubs. All of these thoughts wash around in my mind as the sounds surround me, and it occurs to me, finally, that Municipal Music is good music to think to.

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The Incidental Crack - artist photo

Wild Goose Chase Records – 27th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Little Musgrave – the vehicle for Brussels-based Joey Wright – was conceived and recorded during the first Coronavirus lockdown, and its homemade, DIY, lo-fi stylings are perhaps representative of the style and form that will, ultimately, prove to define the period from Spring 2020 to Summer 2021 as musicians, twitchy and desperate for release took to recording at home, minus bands, and without access to studios or even half their kit, let along bandmates. Primitive drum machines, apps, recording and even mixing on mobile phones and releasing via Bandcamp has for many been the only way.

Why not wait? You may ask. Because creatives often need to create and to put it out there: creativity is a compulsion, and for many, public reception is validation of their output, even though got many it’s equally a source of anxiety and self-doubt.

‘Matches’ is a no-messing mess of sinewy guitars chopping out some rough and ready post-punk tinged indie that lands, lay-legged and in a heap between The Fall and Pavement. Wright isn’t really a singer in the conventional sense, often adopting a more Sprechgesang mode of delivery – although that isn’t to say he can’t sing, and there are some brief moments of melodic reflection. This is also a fair reflection of the abstract / elliptical lyrical content, which is wildly veering and often abstract, but not without moments of sensitivity.

The lack of polish, while borne out of necessity, is endearing in that it also presents a lack of pretence. And, also of necessity, the fizzing guitars and simple, insistent rhythms that pump away and pin the loosely-played songs together, are found alongside, as the liner notes proffer, ‘sounds which could have been recorded live in the dentist’s chair – we’re talking drills, saws and high-pitched whines’. With trips to the dentist off the table during lockdown, one assumes these extraneous sounds were sourced elsewhere, and primarily around the home. It’s remarkable just how unsettling a blender or electric shaver can sound when recorded and played back out of context, you know.

More often than not distilled into sub-three-minute bursts, clattering percussion and jarring angles are defining features; ‘Your Reputation Precedes You’ pitches a semi-spoken word performance over a clanking industrial-edged backdrop, while elsewhere, ‘Workers’ day’ is dissonant, difficult, and antagonistic, but as a thunking synth bass groove emerges through it all, it takes on an awkward electrofunk vibe that evokes the stylings of early Shriekback – before dissolving into a mess of feedback, whirs, and buzzing, and the scratchy Fall-esque ramble ‘Stick By Stick’ collapses into mangling noise.

And while Matches doesn’t sound like The Fall per se, its wild eclecticism and the levels of discord achieved by the guitars (are they in tune, let alone playing the same key? Just listen to ‘Which of you has done this?’ to get a handle on the stylistic collisions that aren’t just characteristic but define the album.

Weird and wonderful with the emphasis on the latter, Matches is inventive and unusual. At times difficult and brain-bending, it’s also self-aware and interesting, and deserves some time to adjust to. It’s not mainstream, but it’s got real cult potential.

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Audiobulb Records – 5th May 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The wonderful thing about stories is that there are no rules – no rules about what they should contain, how they should be told, or whose perspective they should be told from. Even the standard expectations of ‘beginning-middle-end’ are an artifice, and for any convention, there are infinite ways to deviate from it. Linearity is a construct which assists in rendering events more easily navigable, but sometimes, disrupting that linearity is an integral part of the unravelling of events. Stories – be they true or fictional – are often a way of making sense of the world through the construct of narrative. Sometimes, we forge our own narratives from fragments of confusion in order to orientate ourselves, and as such, stories are instinctive and integral to our understanding the world and our place in it.

The fourth album from Quiet Noise, the vehicle of West Wales based producer Adam Wilkinson, is, like so many albums from the last year, the product of lockdown. ‘In a studio that overlooks a valley where the air breathes a lone craftsman sets to work mapping his experience through experiment,’ his biography tells us. Does this mean that Wilkinson was perhaps better equipped than many to deal with the last fourteen months, given his solitary nature? Not necessarily, but while many lockdown musical projects, which have been steeped in an air of claustrophobia, anxiety, and tension, Story Machine is a breath of fresh air that conveys aa sense of – if joy is too strong, then appreciation – of life. Perhaps it’s the fact that after four years being busy producing music for singers and film makers, Wilkinson finally has time out to return to the world of Quiet Noise to explore his own avenues of creativity. Adam explains the limitations that determined the album’s formation, recounting, “stuck at home, sitting with my wife and children while they worked from home, I set myself the challenge of creating pieces using only equipment that could fit in my space on the living room table. Motivated by my game and pleasantly surprised by what I could achieve.”

For the most part, Story Machine is an overtly electronic set that comfortably incorporates a diverse range of styles from across the spectrum – and a large portion is fresh and accessible, danceable even. The range is such that the individual pieces feel as though they each tell their own stories – but then again, taken as a while, perhaps they’re chapters of a longer story that is the album as a whole.

With bold, surging orchestral strikes and tension-building strings, ‘Grand Entrance’ is appropriately titled. ‘Climbing Trees’ is altogether more light-spirited, with a buoyant electro beat and birds twittering – although it suddenly explodes in a surge of light that’s a veritable epiphany. ‘Murmurations’ brings a very different vibe, with a straight-up dance groove. The beats are bold and uptempo, and while the top synths are quite soft and subtle, bringing an expansive but chilled later to the sound, the bass is bouncy and urgent.

In among it all, there are some moments where vast expanses of sound burst seemingly from nowhere, radiating an almost prog-rock grandiosity. These bursts of extravagance are a shade audacious, but somehow, they work. Above all, Story Machine is an uplifting experience, and in the face of so much bleakness, it’s one that’s most welcome.

AA

Quiet Noise Story Machine Cover 12 v2