Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Cold Spring Records – 23rd January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Never mind the cat, listen to the whale! There’s a rather trippy, dubby crossover feel to the trilling new-age rhythmic bass-led groove of ‘Thee Whale’, one of the three tracks on the second disc of this two CD plus DVD extravaganza of a release, which includes the film Dead Cat, which was released in 1989, and shown only at a handful of cinemas that year, including once at the infamous Scala Cinema in London. According to the accompanying blurb, ‘it was never issued on general release and has only recently been uncovered by David Lewis (writer & director).’ This release finally presents the full film, re-authored from the original source. The film itself features unique starring roles from cult film director Derek Jarman (who also worked with TG on In the Shadow of the Sun back in 1980), Andrew Tiernan (The Pianist, 300, The Bunker, and Derek Jarman’s Edward II) and Genesis P-Orridge. The film features the music of Psychic TV, included here on CD1, in its complete form.

On the one hand, it’s classic Psychic TV. On the other, I’m reminded why I parted ways with Psychic TV and much of the industrial movement, when, post-TG, everyone seemed to disappear up their own arses, otherwise ceased making music that felt either challenging or essential. It’s not that none of the members of Throbbing Gristle made any decent music after the initial split, because they clearly did, and early PTV and Chris and Cosey releases are proof of this. But at what point is enough enough? At what point does it all become so much indulgence?

That the material here is lifted from the archive provides only so much justification or defence. There’s very much a sense that all of the early groundbreakers have been surpassed, and that the myriad artists they’ve influenced have advanced far beyond the parameters their forebears pushed to new places. And they were already pushing on in 1989. Listening now, in 2017… ‘Dead Cat’ is a gnarly mess of humping and pumping, grind and drone, a seemingly formless throb of grating dissonance, and it sits well enough as a soundtrack. As a musical piece, the short (23-minute) version which closes CD2 is preferable: the plaintive mewlings stretched across the shuddering scrapes, punctuated by obliterative detonations, are challenging to the ears, but in some respects it feels all rather predictable. Whereas Throbbing Gristle still sound dangerous and deranged, ‘Dead Cat’ sounds like a safe assimilation of the template.

‘Thee Whale’, recorded on 23rd January 1988, is the soundtrack to the film Kondole, which was never made, although if it had been, it would have been 23 minutes long. ‘Thee Shadow Creatures’, the track which sits between ‘Thee Whale’ and the short ‘Dead Cat’ is also 23 minutes in duration. It’s dank and ominous, muffled rumblings and disembodied voices buried amidst swampy echoes. And way off in the distance, low in the mix and submerged by the distorted tribal rhythms, tortured jazz horns honk their anguish into the subterranean depths. While recorded some years later than the other tracks – in 1993 – it’s arguably the most successful, not least of all by virtue of being the most menacing, sustaining its atmosphere to the end.

As a whole, it is a nice set. As unsettling and noisy dark ambient works go, it delivers precisely what you would expect. And, regardless of my opinions as to whether or not it’s essential on any level, it is, unquestionably, a valuable and intriguing archive document. And on that basis, it’s very much worthwhile as an addition to the PTV catalogue.

AAA

PTV - Kondole

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Klangbad Records – 20th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one difficult album to digest. It’s hard to assimilate, or even comprehend precisely what Audiac are aiming to achieve here. At first, the title track comes on like some kind of electro-soul effort with a soft-focus, analogue-hued retro vibe, augmented by some doodlesome 80s synths. But then everything goes haywire with eternal delay overlaps and there are overloading circuits and the soul turns to strain and… oh, it’s bending my brain.

Thankfully, the album’s second song, ‘People Going Places,’ is a relatively conventional piano-led post-rock ballad, with heartfelt vocals and soaring, quasi-operatic backing vocals. It perhaps goes without saying, then that conventionality is relative. It’s brimming with theatricality and bombast, a wildly extravagant composition

And back and forth it goes, alternating between weirdy and vaguely fucked-up experimental electronica and relatively straight piano songs with odd twists. There are moments of absolute beauty here, moments which not only tug on the heartstrings but nag at the corners of the soul. Audiac’s website places them as having ‘roots in the German Romantic Lied, chansons, theatre music traditions and the burlesque’.

‘Not Bound to Anything’ is scratchy and soulful: grandiose and , and there are hints of Scott Walker circa Tilt on ‘Doberman’, a bleak, piano-led piece that’s less post-rock drama than a warped and intense sonic smorgasbord, while the soft-edged ‘Dreamadream’ borders on the dreamy lounge side of synth pop. And then there’s ‘When You Say My Name’, which is subtle and sensitive, with its acapella opening and soft piano that gives way to brooding atmospherics before things get dramatic and a bit odd. JG Thirlwell’s post-millennium Foetus releases are something of a touchstone here.

Audiac could only ever hail from Germany. There’s something about the way they’re unbound by convention, about the undocumented, unspoken undercurrents of their sensibilities which belongs to Germany. Ultimately, though, So Waltz is an album that exists out of time and stands free of geography.

AAA

Audiac – So Waltz

Come Play With Me – 8th December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I know I’m prone to harping on about how awesome the music scene in Leeds is, but that’s because it is. It’s not just its vibrancy and diversity, but the sheer quality of acts – and all of the other things integral to a thriving scene, including labels and live venues – that make it so exciting. Living in York, I often feel the best thing about my location is its proximity to Leeds.

The label Come Play With Me – named after a 1992 single by enduring Leeds indie legends The Wedding Present (which, peaking at number 10 in the singles charts actually stands as their biggest hit) – have, in a very short time, established itself as an ambassador for the city and surrounding region. It’s worth noting, then, that all proceeds made from this album will be reinvested into supporting people into sustainable careers within music in the Leeds City Region, and it speaks volumes about the label and everyone involved here.

It’s therefore fitting that on this double-CD compilation (the labels first), The Wedding Present should feature alongside a number of artists who’ve previously appeared on single releases, including Officers, Deadwall (who here, somewhat audaciously, deliver an ethereal shoegaze rendition of ‘Come Play with Me’, no less), Esper Scout, Magic Mountain, Furr and RIIB (Roller Trio / Django Django and whose split single we featured here at Aural Aggro back in July).

ZoZo kick it all off with some jagged brass-laced post-punk funk. ‘No Christmas’ was the last in The Wedding Present’s 12-single run in 1992, and appears here re-recorded from a 2015 album session. It’s a strong start.

The inclusion of ‘Ghost Town’ by Fighting Caravans is particularly sweet – one of the city’s most promising bands who split before they really got going, this track makes a welcome addition to their all-too slender discography. Oh, and it’s a dense, slow-burning belter and one of the album’s (many) standouts, which also include a collaboration between Post War Glamour Girls frontman James Konapinski and American inventor Thomas Truax in the shape of the brooding ‘The Best Things’, part 80s Bowie, part Tom Waits, it’s a gritty, growling hybrid of spoken word and white soul. It’s bloody brilliant. And as a completely unnecessary aside, earlier this year I performed an afternoon spoken word event ahead of Thomas Truax playing the same venue in the evening. He graciously watched me stomp around, spewing profanities and tossing spent sheets of paper to the ground in front of fifteen people. I didn’t have the mettle to approach him after.

Officers – another band with a discography that’s frustratingly short, but who clearly favour quality over quantity of output, and who’ve actually released more in the last 18 months than the preceding five years – are on fine form with ‘Animal’, a stealthy groove-driven cut. No Fixed Identity also bring some dark, low-down grooves, but in what I’m vaguely embarrassed to refer to as an ‘urban’ context. With so many guitar-based bands, it’s perhaps easy to forget or otherwise overlook the other musical elements which are, in truth, essential to the city’s diverse culture. The same, therefore, applies to the wibbly jazz stylings of Skwid Ink, who give us an alternate take of ‘Dungeon Politic’.

Parker Lee (how have I never encountered Parker Lee before?) comes on all Pavement, but it’s Jon Jones and the Beatnik Movement who represent the noisy end of the scene – which is perhaps less represented here than is proportional in terms of the kind of bands coming out of Leeds – although Fizzy Blood show the attacking, darker side to their grunge-orientated sound on ‘Animals’. They’re still a new band and young, but they’ve evolved considerably in a short time and are showing the potential to be a serious force.

Napoleon IIIrd is something of a Leeds stalwart, and the version of ‘The Scrape’ which appears here has been remixed by Wild Beasts. It’s an eight-and-a-half minute behemoth, which builds warping electronics around a laid-back but insistent beat. On the subject of remixes, ‘Classic M’ by Team Picture (who are here credited as Group Photograph and are the only act to contribute two songs) is remixed by LPA. It’s a stripped-back dance-up reworking that’s barely recognisable, but works well.

I usually recommend albums where the proceeds are being donated to good causes in principle, but Come Play is an outstanding compilation – beyond outstanding, even.

Come Play

And you can order Come Play here.

Svart Records – 1st December 2017

James Wells

This is a tough one. There’s a lot to like on the third album from Jess and the Ancient Ones, which is pitched as ‘a magical mystery trip to the dark side of the sixties as seen through the eyes of modern-day occult rock musicians’. It has energy, for a start, and tunes, to boot. Hooks? Yep, no shortage of hooks, and groove in abundance. But there’s also something that’s rather nigglesome, and it’s not just the excessively try-hard ‘weird’ collage colver art.

Their aim, according to the accompanying blurb, was to go for ‘an organic and human approach and produced a very old fashioned album, 9 songs and 31 minutes, recorded and mixed together with their live sound engineer’.

The Horse and Other Weird Tales is very much an ‘old fashioned album’, and from the opening bars, it’s the skippy, trippy, noodly, doodly, bouncy Hammond organ that stands out in both the mix and the arrangements. The first track is called ‘Death is the Doors,’ and if you cut the first two words, you’ve pretty much got everything you need to know. And therein lies the niggle: it’s pitched being a hybrid of ‘groovy, heavy, psychedelic beat music’ ‘hard death rock’ and ‘occult head-exploding meltdown’. How this actually translates is that ‘The Horse and Other Weird Tales’ is a less than subtle confluence of The Doors and Janis Joplin with a bunch of obvious interview and documentary samples about LSD and opening the doors of perception slung in for good measure. Subtle, it isn’t, and nor is it particularly imaginative.

Song title like ‘Radio Aquarius’, ‘Return to Hallucinate’ and ‘(Here Comes) The Rainbow Mouth’ reflect the dippy, trippy, hippy leanings of the album as a whole. None of the songs in themselves are awful, and there’s an energy, sincerity, and passion which radiates from every bar. But none of this is in question: the question is, why not? It’s all about the bigger picture. Retro is fine within reason. But hen the past becomes the primary focus (really? A sing about, prefaced with a sample discussing The Catcher in the Rye?) is starts to feel all too much like reconstructionalist pastiche. That is to say, parody without the irony: The Horse and Other Weird Tales marks the point at which admiration swings toward tribute.

Yet for all the fullness of the passion with which I dislike it, objectively, The Horse and Other Weird Tales contains some catchy, memorable tunes and demonstrates that Jess and the Ancient Ones know how to navigate a melodic hook underpinned by a stompalong riff. It’s as ersatz as hell, but The Horse and Other Weird Tales succeeds in capturing the spirit of the era which inspired it.

AAA

Jess and the Ancient Ones – The Horse and Other Weird Tales

Störung – str011 – 7th July 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I need to work a better filing system for my to-review albums. As it stands, it’s literally a pile, with new deliveries being tossed on top of the pile or otherwise littering the floor next to my desk. The chaotic disorder doesn’t sit comfortably with my innate sense of order and organisation, but the pile has a life of its own. Logically, new arrivals should go to the bottom of the pile, but lifting the pile, precarious as it is, is a risky operation. The teetering stack reached a height and degree of instability this morning that lifting the disc and accompanying press release from the top caused the whole thing to slide in several directions at once. Gathering the strewn and scattered discs and press releases, many of which had become separated from one another, I happened upon The Broken Glass. This seems to be something of a recurring theme, with Miguel Frisconi’s Standing Breakage standing out as a work centred around the exploitation and exploration of a cracked glass bowl. Rather later, I located the press release, too.

The pieces on The Broken Glass aren’t nearly as haphazard as my filing, but there’s a loose and spontaneous, improvised feel to much of the album, whether the composition is a sparse (dis)arrangement of electro / acoustic instruments (‘The Broken Glass v1’) or rippling, rhythmically pulsating electronica (‘The Broken Glass v2). There is a strong sense of variation and variety between the two complimentary yet highly contrasting versions – so much so that it’s difficult to discern how it’s the same piece performed differently. On the face of it, their commonality lies in the organic incorporation of Asférico’s field recordings and the subtle washes of sound.

The album’s third and final track (a CD-only bonus), ‘Sonidos del Subconsciente II’ (‘Sounds of the Subconscious II’) is different again, and has a running time of some forty minutes. An exploratory piece which evolves gradually and naturally, it begins with what sounds like the sound of the wind, a hushed and distant rumble. way off, distant machines clank and grind, the sound of heavy industry blown many miles on the breeze Brooding string notes creep in. The low tones surge and grow and build… and then there is silence. Abrupt, unexpected and unexplained silence. It simply arrives after nine minutes. The disc is still playing. Straining my ears for the faintest hint of sound above the whirring of the CD player and my hard-drive. I stop typing, so as to listen for sounds buried by the clatter of keys. But no: there is nothing.

Is this the sound of my subconscious? How long do I resist skipping the track forward thirty seconds, a minute? Why does the silence unsettle me so? Suddenly, I’m called to leave the room. On returning, the track is at the fourteen-minute mark, and there is sound. I skip back to discover where sound resumes I turn up the volume, to discover that there had been no silence, only extreme quiet. I go back to the beginning.

And from the so-quiet calm slowly, almost imperceptibly builds a funnelling storm of noise, a howling gale of tempestuous noise, amidst which crashing explosions of metallic noise, like sheet steel against sheet steel, reverberate. And the volume and intensity continues to grow and swell, to a level that’s difficult to bare. It’s no longer mere sounds, but a physical force. It’s all-encompassing, and I find myself cowering as though on a small boat in the middle of a violent storm, while the only land is an erupting volcano.

And yes, sometimes my subconscious does sound like this: a raging barrage of relentless, surging noise, amorphous, indistinct, it’s abrasive and it hurts. Not so much the sound of breaking glass, but sound to break the psyche.

AAA

Mia Zabelka & Asférico – The Broken Glass

Consouling Sounds – 10th November 2017

The cover art to Jozef Van Wissem’s latest album isn’t only intrinsically connected to the musical contents, but is essentially an explanation. The picture in questions is a contemporary vanitas painting by the Belgian artist Cindy Wright.

More common in the 16th and 17th centuries, vanitas are, according to the Tate, ‘closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortnes (sic) and fragility of life (memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles’.

Like Wright’s drawing, Van Wissem’s music is of another time. And while any album on which the dominant instrument is the lute is inevitably going to evoke times long past, something about Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back hints only in part at the Renaissance. Across the seven compositions, Van Wissem conjures a deep, almost occultic mysticism. Humming chorial swells and sparse drums beating like thunder, all enveloped in cavernous, sepulchral echoes.

Each piece is a response to the painting, entwining Biblical references into the titles by way of referencing the origin of the term ‘vanitas’ in the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’

Just as Wright’s work is exquisitely executed with a remarkable level of detail and craft, so the playing is rendered with an intense focus, but not so as to sound stiff or stilted: the notes flow elegantly. And while the overarching theme may be mortality, Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back has an air of lightness and optimism about it, carrying in a sense of a celebration of life and hinting that what may follow may be brighter and more beautiful still.

AAA

wissem_cover_1

Interstellar Records – INT043

Christopher Nosnibor

And suddenly, one cold, wet, dark, depressing November night, an album arrives that slaps you round the face, hard, and makes its presence known. And within three songs, you know it’s probably one of the best things you’ve heard all year. And it’s a concept album.

I’d been thinking that 2017 hasn’t been a great year for music, while chewing on the irony of the fact I often berate people making the same complaint for their failure to look in the right places: there is always good – awesome, exciting – new music emerging from somewhere. Admittedly – and this shouldn’t be about me, but I find that reception of music is an intensely personal and individualism – I may not have in the most receptive of moods, or have kept up with as much of the music passed my way this year, but 2017 simply doesn’t feel like one of the greats, despite having a handful of clear highlights. But these highlights are less about objective merit and commercial success, and what’s actually stuck. This, however, is an album with immediate impact. It grabs the listener by the throat in the opening bars. And it doesn’t let up.

According to the liner notes, ‘Calamitas deals with danger babe Ruby, who stole Silvio Berlusconi’s heart, Satan deceiving us all by using the purgatory doctrine, dictator Kim Jong Senior (II), the sexiest man alive back in the days, beautiful femmes fatales with a look that kills, the man who cut off his own leg to get disablement pension (he didn’t succeed), personal misery, the best days of my life, the abyss that is staring back, etc.’ So, it’s a true story, albeit one where the narrative is buried beneath a strain of sinewy guitars and barked vocal delivering impenetrable lyrics. And that’s all good.

‘Calamitas’, we also learn, means ‘loss, disaster, damage, harm, defeat and misfortune’. These things, the album’s ten tracks convey with crystal clarity through the medium of raging, guitar-driven noise. And as much as Calamitas is a snarling, gnarly mess of brutality, it’s gritty, tense, and cut from a different cloth from so much murky metal thrashing.

I’m reminded as much of anything of the swagger of Girls vs Boys on their debut album, Hey Colossus, and Henry Blacker, and there’s a strong flavour reminiscent of Helmet and The Jesus Lizard and the Am Rep / Touch and Go label styles. There’s noodly, Shellac-meets-Tar math-grunge on ‘A Knife for Every Heart’ and ‘Best Days of Our Lives’, which builds a tripwire tension. ‘Fuck me Blind’ is darkly claustrophobic, built around a cyclical riff, sinewy top guitars and ballistic hollering. There’s also a gnarly blues undercurrent to many of the songs here, and for all the messy guitars, the bass is pure thunder and lays down some irresistible grooves over the course of the album’s ten cuts. There’s a dark, gritty vibe and a gloriously ragged edge to it all, and Markus Dolp’s gruff, Cookie Monster vocals have hints of Tom Waits and JG Thirlwell.

Some cuts do venture into all-out hardcore punk / metal attack, like the squalling black mass that is, opener ‘Anti’ but what makes Calamitas such a corking album – beyond the fact that it simply is a corking album – is its range. Yes, it’s all a bloody, brutal, guitar-driven mess of noise, as becomes a band who’ve spent two decades exploring the terrains of noise-rock, but it’s sonically articulate while it rages blindly and incogently. It’s the perfect balance, and the frenetic and the furious drive that defines Calamitas makes for a gloriously intense listen.

BUG