Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Kasuga Records 022 – 5th February 2019

James Wells

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, less is genuinely less. The latest release from Syntax is sparse, impersonal, and keenly pursues the angle of ‘less’. In fact, Current is s sparse, so much ‘less’ that as times it’s barely there. So barely there I found that while working on this review of the album, I’d forget what I was doing and become side-tracked, distracted – by more or less anything. The fact it’s also being released as a limited-edition physical item -and SD card – that’s so much less you could easily lose it.

None of this is to say that Current is uninteresting: conceptually, it has substance and depth, and the accompanying blurb is a fascinating read, and it’s worth quoting at length:

‘Starting from the postulate that energy becomes form and form becomes energy, Current articulates — based on aesthetic rigor — the audible forms of electric current, seen as vital energy and the active principle of an artificial consciousness.

‘The analysis of sound phenomena from this perspective can be perceived as a source of meditation, which reflects a physical phenomenon on a philosophical field. Sonic details and structural artifacts (sic) are exposed to their own sonic value and examine — from a phenomenological perspective — the idea of flux, energy, artificial consciousness, self-direction and the capability of self-knowledge.

‘Within the sonic construct of Syntax, Laurian Bardoș draws strong influence from his study in medical psychology. From this perspective the evolution of his music has been greatly influenced by the study of perception and the Gestalt theory, which connects the spatial (geometric) form with the temporal form (sound).’

Sonically, Current manifests as a lot of wibbling drones and glitchy microbeats, sometimes so densely packed as to effect an almost scratching, crackling sound that creates interference against the almost subsonic low-end oscillations. Clicks, pops and hushed thumps draped in whispers and accompanied by sporadic modular pulsations that bleep, bloop, and bubble. Fizzing static, white noise, crackling distortion, whistles and sounds so fine as to create aural drizzle. Sonar echoes…. Everything is probing, exploratory, but the lights find only darkness and it’s impossible to find any sense of direction. And in this way, it becomes apparent how conventions of form and structure in music have a bearing on our bearings, so to speak, and cut loose from those conventions, Current presents something of a challenge.

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Front & Follow – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front & Follow continue their ever-fascinating The Blow series of split / collaborative releases with an album by Dunning and Underwood, aka Graham Dunning and Sam Underwood, who’ve used this release to showcase their Mammoth Beat Organ project.

I’m mature enough to refrain from making any puerile quips about mammoth organs and instead get down to the business of reviewing an album which showcases the sound of a machine they describe as ‘a modular, mechanical music contraption, designed as a two-player, semi-autonomous musical instrument’ which ‘plays unusual, sometimes erratic compositions drawing on drone music, minimalist repetition and fairground organ techniques’.

None of this prepares me for the reality – which is, arguably, one of the strongest, and also the most far-out – releases of the series yet. I’ll focus here on the music rather than the machine – which has some kind of quirky steampunk look to its construction – because while in a live context, it’s no doubt quite a spectacle, in the medium of recorded sound, the sound is all you have to engage with. And the sound is rich in strange, unsettling atmospherics, a work that nether light nor dark but hovers uncertainly in the shadows of its own casting.

The first piece, ‘Song or Chimney Sweeps’ transitions from elongated, atonal drone to trilling fairground organ, although the notes waver and wheeze, and assonance and order are rapidly replaced by dissonance and disorder and the different notes play in different times, and what begins as something playful and lighthearted pretty soon becomes a horrible headfuck. This, of course, is a good thing. The headfuckier the better as far as I’m concerned. Clearly, this is an album that calls for more vodka. Lots more.

The peeping, parping, tooting, quavering atonality of ‘Blown Coda’ is constructed around droning not-quite chords which droop like deflating bagpipes. There’s an almost child-like naivete to the mismatched conflicts of key. The way young children have no concept of key and will simply play notes to hear a sound and will play randomly – and for protracted, torturous periods – comes to mind here. Only, these are long, slow nots that trickle and weep over erratic arrhythmia. Contrastingly, ‘Acorn Factory’ is largely percussive – or at least sounds that way. Tinny, irregular beats – the sound of something hitting the bottom of a metal bucket or something – peculiar, difficult to place in a musical context.

‘Demon’, one of the pieces that’s more overtly ‘structured’ or ‘composed’ sounds like some kind of primitive drum ‘n’ bass, with clattering, ramshackle rhythms proving the backdrop to honking horn and woozy drone, all muffled by a blanket or raw, barely-there-production.

Then there’s what anyone – even the most passionate avant-garde aficionado – would likely describe as ‘weird shit’, starting with the woozy atonal discordant mess of ‘Odd Duty’ placing the emphasis on ‘odd’ and ‘Padlocks on a Bridge’ bringing together wheezing bellows notes with off-kilter percussion.

All the vodka isn’t quite enough to make sense of this sonic derangement. It isn’t abstract, it’s just warped and wilfully perverse. And it’s little short of genius.

AA

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Pelagic Records – 25th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m something of a latecomer to the Mono party, although given their credentials, I can’t fathom for the life of me why I haven’t explored a single one of the nine albums they’ve released over the last twenty years. Too much music, too little time, is probably the only real reason. And, witnessing them live by way of an introduction, my initial impression was only middling: on the night, I found more in Jo Quail’s surging waves of cello and the gritty abrasion of A Storm of Light. But context matters, and I had gone for the other two acts, and so now, with a large gin and a candle for light, I’m ready to approach their latest, the Steve Albini-recorded Nowhere Now Here with fresh ears.

‘After You Comes the Flood’ lifts the curtain on a proggy post-rock crescendo that offers up every shade of grand. It’s a crescendo that doesn’t only sustain, but swell to even more monumental proportions, with layer upon layer of sound and richer, dirtier distortion filling the background.

Quite a deal was made when Mono featured vocals for the first time not so long ago, and the performance of songs with singing seemed to be a major topic of conversation when I caught them in Leeds last year. They’re used sparingly here, and on the vaporous, shoegaze drift of ‘Breathe’, they serve more as another instrument than a focal point.

The string-soaked epic that is the title track again follows what is by now a well-established post-rock formula of long, gradual builds and rapid drops that pull back from the precipice, but it’s so magnificently executed that it would be churlish to criticise. And herein lies the album’s success: much of the material does fall under the broad umbrella of ‘standard’ instrumental post-rock (although acknowledging that Mono were one of the bands who contributed to the creation of a genre whose tag they reject is important), the compositions and their performance are masterclasses in shifting dynamics and delayed gratification. As they lead the listener through ponderous passages of awe-inspiring grace only to reveal towering cathedrals of sound just around the corner, even the predictable forms hold unexpected twists, like the sonic supernova that explodes at 5’39” on ‘Sorrow’.

Steve Albini is perhaps more commonly associated with ‘noisy’ music, but his reluctance to be credited as a producer is a reflection of his abilities as a technician, and the fact he strives to capture the essence of any given band’s sound rather than impose his own vision on their work. With Mono’s method involving playing live in the studio, the pairing makes complete sense, and it’s fair to say that Nowhere Now Here very much captures not only the sound, but the feel of a live show, with the shifting tension, emotional resonance of chiming guitars brooding in the dark, and the exhilarating rush of catharsis that effuses through a truly blistering crescendo. It’s those indefinable, unmanipulable details which make Nowhere Now Here.

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Mono - Nowhere

Solemn Wave Records – 22nd February 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Over a decade into this music writing thing and I still get a massive buzz receiving albums I’m excited about hearing ahead of release. Mostly because like many other music fans, I get impatient and overhyped with anticipation. And then… well, what then? When a work is so rich and resonant, and communicates on a level which transcends words. Describing not sound, but sensation is more than a challenge, especially when that sensation is overwhelming.

Single release ‘Sabbath’ gave me something of an Evi Vine rush and raiding the back catalogue only amplified my anticipation for BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK, and never mind the suspense, it’s a belter. No doubt much will be made of the roll-call of contributors, including The Cure’s Simon Gallup on bass and Peter Yates of Fields of the Nephilim on guitar, but the songs ultimately speaks for themselves here.

A mere six songs, yes, but when the first is a slow-burning behemoth that treads the delicate line walked by Chelsea Wolfe, it’s immediately apparent that these are songs of a rare intensity. ‘I Am the Waves’ explores brooding, hushed and downright downbeat passages which glide into deep, immersive washes with serpentine guitar lines snaking around trepidacious drums and haunting, fragile vocals. ‘Afterlight’ ups the tempo and the tension, rolling drums and extraneous electronics creating a dense swell of sound. Evi sounds twitchy, anxious, her voice adrift in multidirectional reverb. The atmosphere is fractured and strained: you don’t just listen to this, you feel it. BLACK//LIGHT//WHITE//DARK leads the listener to some dark places, but then a function of the most powerful art is often to challenge, to affect, rather than to simply exist and entertain.

The sprawling yet elegantly-poised nine-minute ‘Sabbath’ is still a standout, its contrasting passages of fragility and crushing weight the perfect counterpoint to one another. It drives and surges, on and on, a dense, textured wall of sound that’s completely immersive. Its only shortcoming is that it is, well, just too short.

‘My Only Son’ presents a more minimal aspect, a delicate piano providing the primary accompaniment to wistful, reflective lyrics. It’s well-placed, bringing things down a notch – but the incidental strings and voices bring contrast and discord, meaning it’s never an option to really settle into a sense of relaxation and comfort, and the low-rumbling electronics which open ‘We Are Made of Stars’ deepen the unsettling atmosphere. Stretching out to forge a suffocating dark ambience, voices whisper hauntingly in the distance, before the eleven-and-a-half-minute finale, ‘Sad Song No. 9’ dredges every last ounce of aching beauty from the deepest melancholy. And when the bass booms in and the guitars kick in, it soars majestically. It’s a perfect conclusion to an album worthy of the word masterpiece.

AA

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Panurus Productions – 25th January 2019

Is it a supergroup if the members of a collective all belong to acts no-one has ever heard of? Shrimp is a project which represents the coming together of Jon O’Neill (The Smokin’ Coconuts, The Shits, Skronk et al), Chris Watson (Snakes Don’t Belong in Alaska, Forest Mourning), James Watts (Plague Rider, Lovely Wife, Lump Hammer et al),Rob Woodcock (Plate Maker, Fret!) and Ryosuke Kiyasu (Sete Star Sept, Fushitsusha, Kiyasu Orchestra et al). Initially converging to perform on the bill at a Ryosuke solo show in Gateshead, this eponymous release captures the intensity of that performance in a studio setting – at least, so they claim.

Listening to this, it’s probably a claim that’s justified: it is, indeed, intense. They promise ‘a maelstrom of clanging, shrieking guitar, relentless frenetic drum savagery and inhuman vocals’, and forewarn that ‘Shrimp, in direct contrast to the weakness implied by its moniker, is the sonic equivalent of being trapped within a chitinous storm of pincers and consists of a thirty minute studio onslaught and a live recording, featuring additional electronic noise.’

Yep. It’s brutal and harsh from the outset. A cacophony of guitar feedback and whiplash explosions of extraneous noise whirl into a tempestuous frenzy around smashing percussion. The first five minutes sound like the climactic finale of something immense. And it just keeps on going from there. On and on, notes and beats and crashing cymbals flying in all directions, slowly bringing things down only to resurge and burst into a raging sonic storm once more. Deranged shrieks lie half-buried in the mix amidst all kinds of chaos that combines stoned desert rock, psychedelia and free jazz.

Twenty-two minutes in and the speakers are melting with a blistering stream of frenetic noise, formless, atonal, punishing in its complete lack of shape or musicality. After half an hour it bleeds into second piece, ‘Light as Hell’. It’s more of the same – an ear-bleeding aural tidal wave that continuously threatens to break but never does. It’s dizzying, and difficult. And yet, supergroup or not, it is definitely super, in a wild, chaotic, insane way.

Shrimp

Room40 – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mass Observation by Scanner – the vehicle of the prodigiously prolific Robin Rimbaud – surfaced in 1994 as an EP. It was (in)famously sampled without credit by Björk on ‘Possibly Maybe’, resulting in a lawsuit that led to copies of Post being withdrawn and a sample-free rerelease. Sidestepping the issue of originality and ownership – specifically the notion that lifting from a sound-collage – the controversy provided Scanner with an unexpected level of coverage and arguably brought underground avant-garde experimentalism to a new audience.

Not that any of this really made any impact on Scanner’s trajectory, in terms of musical direction or career, and Rimbaud’s text which accompanies this expanded release is objective in its assessment of its form and formulation: ‘Dehumanised communications, beatless, radio signals drawn in live to tape, and accompanied by dial tone pulses and abstract textures, Mass Observation is a highly suggestive picture of a particular place in a city at a very specific time. A form of Sound Polaroid as I tended to call such recordings.’

Words seem inadequate for describing the temporal dislocation and unsettling atmospherics woven throughout the recording – an entirely different mix from the original, as Rimbaud explains: ‘Two mixes were captured directly onto DAT tape. One of which would be officially released as Ash 1.7 Mass Observation, an EP that featured a 25 min version of one of these sessions, but until today the second longer expansive mix has never been heard. Each quite different from the other.’ Presented here as a single track with a duration of 54:29, it’s a dark, disturbing sonic journey that has no obvious sense of direction.

I’ve no interest in laboriously and meticulously comparing the different versions: Mass Observation is very much a work that invites immersion in its atmosphere, and is about the overall effect rather than the minutia of detail – which in some respects is ironic, given that the overall effect is the result of the compilation of near-infinite details, overlaid and juxtaposed, recontextualised and realigned.

This versions, however, isn’t entirely beatless: a thudding trudge fades in after a couple of minutes and hammers out a dolorous funeral march while electrical currents eddy around in the ether, at times almost hesitant, pausing as the vaporous swirls twist and drift. But when it fades, it fades and is gone, washed a way in a drift of shifting found sound. Sharding scrapes of metallic treble sheer the senses with sharp, blade-like edges and simmering drones interweave hypnotically.

Ominous rumbles and snippets of dialogue, distant, reduced to a barely audible mutter-line and occasionally rent with blasts of distortion and static from the fabric of Mass Observation. Cut through the mutter line to reveal… more muttering. Silent eyes behind screens… 24/7 CCTV and phone taps. At times, all the voices, all at once, echo across one another. They slow and blur. The snippets of conversation are mundane, humdrum, banal – but this in itself adds to the effect. This is the everyday, captured, and if anything, it resonates more now than it would have almost a quarter of a century ago. Now, surveillance has reached totality, and there is no escape.

The effect of listening to the disembodied echoes and whirring electronics of Mass Observation is disorientating, and the whole album is a paranoia-inducing, disturbing wreck of sound – not because it’s uncanny, unfamiliar, strange, but because it’s so real.

AA

 

Scanner – Mass Observation

Midira Records – MD044 – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

N + [ B O L T ] aren’t the most imaginative when it comes to naming their albums: this, their third collaboration, is, like the two which preceded it, is without title. But then, they’re in the company of The Bronx and Peter Gabriel, and the lack of titles on whose first four solo albums didn’t exactly damage his career. As is often the case with untitled albums, which come to be identified by the prominent features of their cover art, so “die Krähe (the crow)” follows the albums known as “der Hase (the rabbit)” and “das Hörnchen (the squirrel)”.

Since recording the album, [ B O L T ] have expanded to a four-piece featuring two bass players and a drummer, but this captures them still sparse, taut, minimal, and the accompanying text sets the scene: ‘Imagine an industrial area, with big smokestacks and metal architecture, mostly quiet and sometimes interrupted by machine noises and from somewhere you hear the sound of N + [ B O L T ] coming through the walls. This is what you see and hear around the studio in Duisburg (Germany), where the band recorded the album’.

While the album is by no means determined specifically by the environment in which it was produced, said environment is nevertheless a factor, an integral part of the backdrop to its formulation. And so emerges a sound described by the band as ‘black drone’.

It seems a fair description. It’s dark, gnarly, and droney after all. I’ve been around a while and this crushing, low-tempo, low-octave, percussion-free sludge-drone sounds very much like a refined retake of Earth 2. A1 bleeds into the heavy grind of A2, a gritty, cyclical stop/start bass trudge. It never stops: it’s hypnotic, all-immersive. And it’s all about the trudging bass. It’s the album’s defining feature, and if anything, it becomes more prominent, more dominant, as the four pieces progress. Progress is a relative term: it doesn’t go anywhere: it doesn’t need to and isn’t designed to. Its purpose is to trudge, while guitar feedback wraps around like… like… twisting vines, serpentine, wisps of mist.

Time slows and weight evolves over the course of the four pieces: B1 stretches its funereality over some ten minutes, the guitars only bursting in around a third of the way through. It wells to a mesh of pulverising, overdriven noise ad leaves the listener hollowed, drained. It all heads slowly and incrementally down towards the plodding grind of ‘B2’: an epoch passes between each below-the-earth bass note, while guitar feedback strains all around. The final piece stretches out over almost fourteen minutes, and begins with the lowest, lowest of bass grinds amidst a swirl of layered feedback. And it goes on: an eternity passes as a simple double-strike of the same note, so low as to register below the range of cognisance, instead nudging at the spectrum marked ‘subconscious’. And it’s as we slide into this area that the impact of this wordless exercise on weight really registers its impact.

It’s music beyond words, music beyond music. The richness and density, paired with the almost indistinguishable, melted tempo of droning sound without rhythm has an effect that resonates on an almost biological level.

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